How to Make a Cocktail For Someone Who Doesn’t Know What They Want

home bartender. photo by matt and tish

Now that I’ve spent a few years as a home bartender, I’ve picked up some tricks on how to make drinks for people who aren’t quite sure what type of cocktail they like.

Whether a new drinker (just turned 21), or simply an intimidated bar drinker, I’ve found that the majority of people that I make drinks for haven’t tried enough cocktails in their life to know exactly what they like, so here are 5 questions I always ask people before I make them a drink:

  1. What flavors do you like – especially citrus, even foods, etc? If they love oranges, make an Orange Blossom Special or Screwdriver. Or avoid the Cucumber Martini if they hate cucumber.
  2. Do you have a liquor preference? Often, people will know enough to say “I hate gin,” or “I love gin,” (both of which I hear pretty regularly). If they like rum, make them a tiki drink. I once heard, “I’m allergic to juniper,” which as well all know, is a curse worse than death, because gin is awesome.
  3. How sweet do you like your cocktails? This one is huge, because even if they say the like Margaritas, for instance, but don’t like sweet drinks, you can just ease up on the Triple Sec a bit. If they love sweet and love vodka (see #2), then I’ll make them a simple 2 oz vodka + 1 1/2 oz liqueur cocktail like this one.
  4. What are some cocktails you already like? Here’s a specific one I do a lot: when people tell me they love Gins and Tonics, I tell them “let me make you the best G&T you’ve ever had,” and I get out the Jack Rudy Tonic syrup. Making upgraded versions of drinks they already love is an awesome route.
  5. Do you like it? At a commercial bar, this is nearly impossible, but one of the biggest advantages of a home bar is that it’s a lot easier to say you don’t like something. I always ask people if they like the drink I made, and I let them know it’s ok if they don’t, I’ll gladly pour it out (or maybe drink it myself) and make them something else.

 Special thanks to Matt&Tish for the photo.

Gin and Milk

gin and milk cocktail


I’ve had the book Old Man Drinks for over a year, and it took me this long to get up the nerve to make one the the signature cocktails in that book: Gin and Milk.

Being a simple cocktail, Gin and Milk is totally qualified to be a featured recipe on this blog, but frankly, I’m not much of a milk guy. I don’t even drink my cereal milk after my bowl is through – I just dump it down the sink.

Being a gin lover, though, this cocktail interested me. It seems like it’d really work as we approach fall and winter, the nutmeg on top is a great addition to the flavor, but I’ll just tell you: it tastes like a moderately boozy glass of cold milk. But that’s ok, right?

Gin and Milk (from Old Man Drinks)

  • in a shaker, combine:
  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 cup milk
  • fill with ice and shake until very cold
  • pour into a chilled Collins glass
  • top with a shake of nutmeg

Simple Cocktails Podcast Episode 12

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We ignore all the cocktail party rules and talk religion! And booze. We drink the elixir of life and Lisa has mixed feelings. It’s a liqueur that’s been around before color! We do some patriotic drinking as we make the Liberty. Apples are hard to garnish with. Greg has another.

We reference the Alaska Cocktail and a Monk’s Old Fashioned at some point, too.

Download Episode 12.

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If you enjoyed the show, please write a brief review on iTunes. That would help us get the word out and raise the visibility of the show. Thank you!

Spodee White

spodee white

Spodee was one of the first liquors I reviewed at Simple Cocktails, almost exactly 2 years ago. The team behind some of the most unique drinks of our generation (for instance, Hendrick’s, Sailor Jerry Rum, and Art in the Age) are now introducing us to Spodee White.

On the podcast this week, we described the original, red Spodee as a cheap, strong, chocalatey wine…and we didn’t mean it in a negative way. Spodee Red goes well with stuff like soda (Spodee and Sody, he he) or even for breakfast with orange juice.

Now it’s time for the new stuff: Spodee White. Still packed in a 500 ml milk jug, and still a fortified wine at around 18% alcohol, White is a $9 “country wine” too, but a very different taste experience from Red.

Where the original Spodee was only fruity from the wine base, White has added coconut and pineapple, and is in many ways a ready-to-pour tiki drink. As of yet, I’ve been drinking it just as you see it above, straight out of the fridge and poured over ice. Like we mentioned on the podcast, I think an awesome way to serve White would be shaken with a equal part of coconut water.

Like many inventions from the minds at Quaker City Mercantile (and particularly from Steven Grasse), Spodee White is a unique liquor that opens up a world of great new cocktails. Every bit of liquor from them is edgy and new, and every detail of their presentation is respected and analyzed, but their ultimate goal is making great liquor, and they always tend to succeed.

Simple Cocktails Podcast Episode 11

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Greg gushes for quite a while about Steven Grasse. We do the world’s first podcast review of Spodee White…at least we think so. Here’s the old Spodee review (light switch included). Greg gushes some more about Steven. Lisa diverts us to Disneyland. “The tip of my tongue says whee!'” Kids and cocktails? “All of your inspiration is me.” We finish with another 1:1:1 cocktail, the first one Greg ever made.

Download Episode 11.

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If you enjoyed the show, please write a brief review on iTunes. That would help us get the word out and raise the visibility of the show. Thank you!

Green Dragon Cocktail

green dragon cocktail

Lisa and I recently compared 3 different types of Chartreuse on the podcast and it reminded me how much I love the stuff. I looked through my recipe books for Chartreuse cocktails, and found the simplest one ever. This is a vodka-and-green version of the Alaska, a gin-and-yellow Chartreuse cocktail. Try it out, but sip it slowly – vodka’s 40% alcohol and green Chartreuse is 55%!

Green Dragon

  • 1 1/2 oz vodka
  • 3/4 oz green Chartreuse
  • stir with lots of ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Kingston Cocktail

kingston cocktail

The Kingston is a bit of a clash between styles – it’s both tropical and royal in one sip. Mostly a rum-based drink, the Kingston is jazzed up with a bit of gin, which adds some flavor, which works pretty well. It certainly drys out a drink that would be pretty sweet based on ingredients alone. Try out the Kingston and let me know what you think:


  • combine the following in a shaker:
  • 1 1/2 oz Jamaican rum (author Stuart Walton says, “it would be inappropriate to use rum for any other location.”)
  • 3/4 oz gin
  • juice of half a lime (which is about 1/2-3/4 oz)
  • 1/4 oz grenadine (I used Jack Rudy)
  • fill with ice and shake well
  • strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wedge


Simple Cocktails Podcast Episode 10

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Talkin’ prohibition. “We are against beating your wife.” Mason jars suck. “This moonshine is somewhere in my blood.” How do you use moonshine in cocktails? We make a grown-up chocolate Coke, the Piranha, and Greg is surprised that people like it. Lisa’s a crooked woman? Greg doesn’t know the rules about women.

Download Episode 10.

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If you enjoyed the show, please write a brief review on iTunes. That would help us get the word out and raise the visibility of the show. Thank you!

Campari Soda

campari soda

I mentioned in a recent podcast episode that a great cocktail would be an Amaro shot and club soda. Amaros are sweet and bitter and if you’ve developed the palate for it, they can be really refreshing.

For this drink, you’re not limited to Campari – substitute any other amaro of your choosing (I bet Aperol or Averna would be really good choices). Obviously, the recipe is very simple: a two-ingredient refresher!

Campari Soda

  • in a tall glass filled with ice, add:
  • 1 1/2 oz Campari
  • top with club soda
  • serve with a straw (Kegworks sent me the one I use here)

Beefeater Gin

Beefeater and Beefeater 24

I can’t believe I haven’t tried Beefeater yet. I had a gin Old Fashioned with it at a bar in Seattle like 2 years ago, but that was the only time I had it until recently. What a shame!

Beefeater is a standard for London Dry gins, with it’s recipe dating back to 1820 (that date is stamped on the bottle). Beefeater 24 is a new premium-braded version of the classic recipe.

Since they’re relatively close in creation and location, I assumed Beefeater would taste like Tanqueray. While it’s certainly a classic London Dry gin, its flavor is pretty distinct. Beefeater has 9 botanicals, standards that you see in most London Drys, but one ingredient in the list really takes the lead: lemon peel. Beefeater is lemony and tart, which works well in lots of popular gin drinks like a Tom Collins or a Gin and Tonic, I can see why it’s often chosen as the well gin at bars.

For the premium Beefeater 24, the distillery adds more citrus and some rare asian teas to the distillate. Because Beefeater already has that lemon tang to it, 24 tends to lean more toward a faint tea and tart orange in it’s taste.

50-50 Martini

There’s a Martini variant that I occasionally drink, and Beefeater is a great fit for the 50/50:

50/50 Martini

  • 2 oz gin
  • 2 oz of a quality dry vermouth
  • 1 dash of orange bitters
  • stir vigorously with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass*
  • garnish with a lemon twist

*I used an RSVP Stainless Steel Cocktail Glass in this photo.