For the first Ask a Bartender article I decided to cover some of the questions that as bartenders we get on a nightly basis. Some are funny, some are outright questionable in sanity. While some people cross the line, most are pretty entertaining. So here are a few to get started. If you would like to send in questions, send them to mike[@]ambitionlifestyle.com and your question might show up in next week’s column.
Question: I don’t know what I want, can you make me something fruity?
By far, as a bartender for over 14 years this might be the single most thing a person has asked me. As a bartender we know this is code for they don’t drink often or are freshly 21 and don’t quite know what they like yet. The person is usually looking for either something new to become their go to drink or are simply just trying to be social with their friends and don’t want a drink that knocks them on their ass and ends their night before it starts.
Some bartenders will take this as a challenge. They will give you their signature drink and see if they can convert you to their team. Other bartenders will give you something very simple. Maybe a vodka mixed with cranberry or something of the like.
My first question is usually what do you normally like food wise? What kind of fruits do you like? A good bartender will ask a question before giving an answer. That said… Most will answer with “you choose” or a simple “I don’t know.”
I like to mix it up. Give you a little of both of those solutions. Doing something simple as a vodka and cranberry says that you as a guest/customer aren’t worth my time to think of something. Going overboard with a signature drink sometimes can be overwhelming for a new drinker and completely turn them off or the alternative… knock them out for the night early. Neither of those solutions are a good choice for the first round. Be creative but not boring.
My solution? If they do answer the questions I present, then go that route. But since most won’t have an answer, I like to take a Bacardi Razz rum or Effen Black Cherry vodka if available, mix it with sprite and a splash of cranberry. What’s the difference between that and a simple vodka and cranberry you ask? It not only gives them something simple but turns them on and educates them on the name brand of liquors. Next time they go in to a bar they will ask for a brand of liquor versus just something fruity. It’s also a delicious blend, adding the flavor of the Razz or Black Cherry to an otherwise common mixture.
Question: Can you make me something strong?
Yes, yes I can… But will you taste it? Or further more… if you taste it, will you enjoy it? This question is much more tricky than appears on the surface.
First, as a guest do they know the difference between something with a high alcohol content versus something that just tastes strong such as a bourbon or scotch? Are they usually guests of a bar that serves “strong” Island Ice Teas or much like the fruity question, do they just not know what they want and just want something that will get the job done.
When a guests ask me that question, I usually try to judge their state of mind. Are they angry? Having a bad day? Are they happy and in a party mode? Do they want to simply get hammered or are they looking to forget their problems. It makes a big difference.
If a guest is having a bad day, the easiest solution is a nice bourbon on the rocks. A Maker’s 46 or Basil Hayden does the trick nicely if they like dark liqours. Great for sipping and still doing the job. If they are looking to have the time of their lives and have a party, then the solution above in the fruity question about your signature and go to drink applies. Making a drink that has strong overtones of liquor is more what that person is looking for. Either way, the actual alcohol content rarely varies. It’s just a matter of what hits you faster. A rum or tequila will hit you more quickly because of the sugar in the liquor. Same as wine. It infiltrates your blood stream much faster.
So what’s the answer? Really depends on how you read the guest. I would suggest staying away from the “easy” strong Long Island Iced Tea method though. Most of the time, the next words out of their mouth is “I can’t taste the alcohol,” leaving you mouth open in shock knowing how much you put in the glass. Just avoid that situation from the get-go.
Husband, father, craft bartender, writer and content creator.