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Drinks Bartenders Make When They Want to Impress Someone

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Whipping up a cocktail for someone is a lovely gesture, whether it’s a simple Highball or a complicated tiki classic like the Pearl Diver. But if you really want to blow someone away with a drink, there are certain libations that stand out above the rest. So we asked 17 bartenders, “What is the cocktail you make when you really want to impress someone?” Check out their libations of choice, and whip one up the next time you want to look extra good.

Smash

"The cocktail I make to peacock a bit for cocktail nerds is a Chartreuse Smash—interesting flavors, fun presentation, and odds are they’ve never had it before. It’s two ounces of green Chartreuse, one ounce of lemon juice, a quarter ounce of maraschino liqueur and 6-10 mint leaves. Shake and double strain over crushed ice (fill a fresh cloth with ice, hold it tight in your hand, and bat at it with a muddler until it’s the desired texture). Guests love it." - Zack O’Leary, Barcelona Wine Bar New Haven

“My go-to drink when I’m really trying to impress someone is a Whiskey Smash variation. I start by muddling mint, lemon wedges and honey. Then I add a couple types of bitters—Angostura and Hellfire—and finally I ditch the whiskey and sub a combination of reposado tequila and mezcal. Shake it up and strain over fresh ice, and garnish with a mint sprig. The mint and the spice really work well together, while the mezcal adds an amazing smoky element. Works like a charm.“ - Kayla Hasbrook, Scampi

“My go-to drink is the Whiskey Smash. It’s my favorite drink and the drink that turned me on to cocktails. I can tell a good story about the experience, and guests really appreciate the attention to detail in the way it’s prepared.” - Peter Vestinos, AceBounce

Last Word

“My favorite thing to do is convince gin haters that gin is beautiful and wonderful, and the gateway cocktail to do so is the Last Word.” - Cat Cannon, Federal Galley

Old Fashioned

"A drink that I make for a customer when trying to impress them is by far my Old Fashioned. I know that it is a traditional drink and really only appeals to whiskey/bourbon drinkers, but I have been told time and again that it is one of the best they have ever had. A classic cocktail that will leave someone with a great impression!" - Meghan LeMoult, Barcelona Wine Bar Fairfield

“I like to make people a proper Old Fashioned with rye, Angostura and orange bitters, simple syrup, and orange and lemon twists over a large cube. Many people have had plenty of Old Fashioneds, but made well, this drink cannot be beat. There is a reason it’s such a popular classic. The rye base and addition of orange bitters add a layer of complexity that send this drink off the charts of delicious.” - Brad Nugent, Porter House Bar & Grill  

“I think showing people the proper technique for how to make a great Old Fashioned at home is the best. It is so easy and so many people make it a fruit cocktail. Just a little sugar cube, some bitters and a lemon twist put together just the right way is one of the best cocktails anyone can have.” - Aaron Blakely, Yves

Vermouth

"I don’t like to go for bells and whistles when I try to impress someone. I much prefer waiting until a guest is done with their meal to surprise them with a vermouth tasting. I’ll usually give them a small sample of Cocchi Americano, Byrrh Quinquina and Casa Mariol Vermut Negre, each on the rocks with an orange peel. I love the opportunity to talk about how vermouth is more than just a Martini add-on, and it’s actually pretty delicious!" - Catherine Larkin, Barcelona Wine Bar Stamford

Pirata

“One of my favorites is a Pirata or skinny Painkiller. It is based off a cocktail we used to drink in Puerto Rico where they serve the drink in a coconut. I was never told the recipe, but I was able to come up with something close. It features dark rum, coconut rum, a splash of pineapple, coco water and a splash of coconut cream. It's a much lighter Painkiller and super tasty. Tastes even better out of a coconut on a Caribbean Island.” - Morgan Hurley, Mex 1 Coastal Cantina

Mezcal

“When I want to impress someone, I always look to the trendy cousin of tequila—mezcal. I incorporate any fresh fruit that I can get my hands on in my mezcal creations for a crisp, smoky  cocktail, perfect for any occasion." - Eunice Figueroa, Thompson Playa del Carmen

Mexican Manhattan

“A Mexican Manhattan made with a muy [extra] añejo tequila and chocolate bitters is one of my favorite drinks to make when I get that customer at the bar who wants me to impress them. It’s not a drink that’s breaking new ground in the craft cocktail world, but many patrons can find the craft cocktail scene inaccessible. Doing a twist on a classic cocktail makes that part of the spirit scene a little more approachable as well as makes people rethink their notions on how to drink tequila.” - Marshall Emerson, Volcano Rabbit

Ramos Gin Fizz

“When time allows, the Ramos Gin Fizz still dazzles. Otherwise, I think many bartenders reach for the Holy Trinity (Gin Martini, Manhattan, Old Fashioned) to showcase their masterful skill with the classics.” - Adam Demerath, Upland

“Definitely the Gin Fizz. It’s difficult for a few reasons: You need fresh egg whites to make the foam. You need to use thin, tall glassware so the foam properly rises to the top. And to mix it all properly requires at least 3-5 minutes of shaking, aka lots of arm strength. But to really impress, you can add décor to the top of the foam, like small dots of raspberry syrup.” - Andreas Rahn, Noir at The Charles Hotel

Palmetto

"To impress a connoisseur of cocktails, I'd mix up a Palmetto. It's a pre-prohibition, upside-down Rum Martinez. This drink is smooth and serious." - Mario Salas, L.A. Jackson

Whiskey Sour

“The S&S Sour is the drink I make when I want to impress someone, which is our house Whiskey Sour. We use an orange oleo saccharum for an additional layer of citrus. The S&S Sour is also made with an egg white, which acts as a platform for the 'S&S' stenciled garnish of Angostura bitters.” - Griffin Elliot, Swift & Sons

Pisco Sour

“A Pisco Sour is definitely a cocktail that will impress a customer because it’s an amazing cocktail with body, flavor and a unique spirit that not many people are familiar with.” - Justin Gutierrez, Yuyo

Something on Fire

“When trying to impress someone, there's not one cocktail that is a go-to—instead, I prefer to customize a cocktail specifically for them. I run them through the gauntlet of questions: What spirits do you like? Strong and stirred or citrus forward? Herbs? Fruits? Spices? Any allergies? Then I like to make something specific for them according to their answers. And if all else fails, light something on fire, always impressive!! - Milos Stevanovic, Commons Club

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