If you’ve been bartending for some time, you likely hold a deep respect for the classics and know how to appreciate a well-made cocktail. You understand how important it is to use quality ingredients and follow each recipe to a T. However, sometimes you can’t help but get a little creative behind the bar.
Whether a guest requests something special or you’re feeling a bit rebellious, switching things up with different garnishes, ingredients, and presentation styles can instantly elevate a standard cocktail.
Below, you’ll find six creative ways to take your favorites to the next level—and thoroughly impress anyone who tastes them.
1. Incorporate Small-Batch Spirits
Most cocktail recipes call for generic big-brand liquors because they’re consistent and widely available. While some deliver a few key tasting notes, these large-batch liquors often pale in comparison to local, small-batch spirits. That’s because family-run facilities have more freedom to experiment with local ingredients, fun infusions, and new flavors.
Explore the local distillery scene, pick up a few bottles to incorporate into your cocktails, and put a refreshing twist on old classics. Taste-test each new concoction before adding it to your menu. To ensure a balanced flavor and mouthfeel, you might need to adjust ingredient ratios—or even the ingredients themselves.
2. Taste the Rainbow
Layered cocktails like the tequila sunrise look just as good as they taste and are sure to impress anyone who sees you make them. However, you can whip up a few color-changing cocktails if you want to take things up a notch and completely blow guests away.
Many bartenders use butterfly pea flowers to turn drinks from indigo to pink. But you can take a slightly easier route by using Empress 1908 Gin, which already contains the butterfly pea blossom. With green elements like mint, the indigo gin looks almost blue. Add citrus or tonic water, and it’ll change to a rosy pink.
3. Get Creative With Your Cubes
Mixologists have been perfecting cube-to-drink ratios for decades in an effort to avoid watered-down drinks. You can even buy special molds to make giant slow-melting cubes and spheres. Yet, no matter their size or shape, the ice will eventually melt and dilute those last few sips.
Don’t let boring ice ruin your cocktails! Instead, spruce them up by freezing herbs, smoothies, coffee and milk, simple syrup, juice, and even fruits to keep drinks cold. These ingredients will infuse beverages with even more flavor as they thaw and melt. Plus, you can still use all those fun ice molds you’ve collected over the years.
4. Step Up Your Garnish Game
Another great way to elevate standard cocktails is by using wild and wacky garnishes. Even the heavily garnished Bloody Mary could benefit from this tip.
For instance, instead of sticking to plain old olives and celery sticks, you could add a skewer with lobster meat, shrimp, or even a cheeseburger slider. If you play your cards right, you could turn this drink into an entire meal.
Edible flowers, citrus twists, and fruit wheels can also help you step up your garnish game. Try stamping citrus peels with edible ink to really impress guests and keep them coming back for more. Who knows what message you’ll send with their drink next time!
5. Put On a Smoke Show
Smoking cocktails have been around for some time now, but if you’ve yet to add them to your repertoire, now is the best time! By simply torching an herb, spice, or wood plank, you can add depth and complexity in a way that’s both thought-provoking and thrilling for guests.
For example, you might use a smoking torch to burn a piece of pecan wood. Put it under a glass dome with an Old Fashioned for one to four minutes to enhance the smells on its nose without making it too bitter.
Wood chips pair best with spirit-forward cocktails. It adds more delicate, earthy flavors to light, tropical cocktails by smoking herbs and spices.
6. Say Hello to Hemp
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the non-psychoactive chemical found in hemp and cannabis. Believe it or not, it’s been creeping onto cocktail menus for the past few years. When you consider how relaxed it makes you feel, it’s easy to see why. After about two drinks, the CBD-alcohol concoction should have you feeling calm and mellow. Pure CBD oil tastes earthy and plant-like, making it an excellent addition to many cocktails.
Gin-based drinks and ones with a botanical twist are terpene-rich, so they make good candidates for CBD additions. Spirits with stronger flavors like mezcal, tequila, and bourbon also pair well if you’d rather mask the oil’s earthy notes.
Whether you're a seasoned bartender looking to add some new tricks to your repertoire or someone who just enjoys mixing up a drink every now and then, we hope you've found these tips helpful.
There are many different ways to approach cocktails, even the classic ones. With a little bit of creativity and experimentation, you can take your cocktails from ordinary to extraordinary in no time at all. With these tricks up your sleeve, there’s no telling what you’ll shake up and serve next.
Do you have any tips to make a standard cocktail more exciting and visually appealing? We're always eager to hear your thoughts, so share away!