Creating a Great Drink Menu

Names of alcoholic beverages on display board, close-up
Getty Images/Werner Dieterich

There are a couple of reasons why a drink menu is a great option for a cocktail party.

  1. Guests are "forced" to step out of their drink barriers and maybe try something new.
  2. Drinks can be customized for the party's theme or occasion.
  3. The cost is significantly lower because you do not have to stock a full bar.

Getting Started

Creating a simple drink menu works for any party or gathering because it can be tailored to any occasion and purpose; from a simple 3-martini menu for a business open house, to a beach party where the blender's whirling your choice of 4 margaritas, or a themed party where the color of the drinks and garnish make the difference.

Your first decision in creating a drink menu is to choose an aspect that you want to focus on. There are literally thousands of cocktails available and no matter what drink theme you decide, there will surely be cocktails to fit.

Example 1: Martinis with Similar Mixers

This menu is all about keeping it simple, but it's also one where cheap spirits will break it completely. So buy the good stuff. The key here is to create a cocktail menu that employs the same mixers in each of the drinks. This will allow guests to compare similar drinks and significantly cut your cost.

Stock sweet vermouth to turn any of these sweet or perfect. Vodka is another option, but it doesn't add much flavor to the martini so it is fine to leave it out.

Example 2: The Forgotten Classics

Take guests back to the golden age of bartending by reviving some of the forgotten classic cocktails.

Many of these cocktails require more time to prepare and you'll want to practice before serving to guests, but once you get them right you'll really be showing off your skills behind the stick.

Example 3: Taste of the Tropics

A tropical drink menu is perfect for any summer cocktail party. Blue drinks are always popular so I like to include at least one and I also like to stick to rum and tequila as the base spirits. If you opt for the tropic cocktail menu, be sure to have the freshest juices available and get creative with fresh cut fruit garnishes.

Example 4: Keep the Blender Whirling

When you think of frozen drinks Margaritas, Daiquiris and Coladas are probably the first to come to mind. While they do make great drinks, choose some of their unknown flavor variations for your party instead, just to spice things up a little.

Example 5: Warm It Up

This is perfect for the cocktail parties during the holidays because it is all about hot drinks.

If you prepare ahead of time with enough of each ingredient laid out in bowls or carafes this menu can be a breeze. You'll want to have an electric tea kettle or prepare these in the kitchen.

Universal Garnishes: Lemon, Orange, Nutmeg, Cinnamon Stick, Clove

Example 6: Single Spirit

This menu is great for an exclusive or unknown spirit that you want to feature. Scotch, pisco, cachaça, and sake are great choices and allow guests to sample the mixability of the more unfamiliar distilled spirits. The alcohol brand really makes a difference here -- you can narrow it down to one super-premium brand.

This Scotch menu is well-balanced with just enough variety.

Example 7: Special Themes

This is where the creativity really comes in. When you have a special theme to work with you have endless possibilities.

For an example, this is a Rocktini menu created for a jewelry rock stacking party. Drier, up drinks were requested by the hostess and we went with gemstone colored drinks and renamed them temporarily to fit the rock theme.

  • Bitter Blue Boulder (Yale Cocktail) - Gin, Dry Vermouth, Blue Curacao, Bitters
  • Dry Stone Sour (April Rain) - Vodka, Lime Juice, Dry Vermouth
  • Rockin' Rum (Bacardi Cocktail) - Rum, Lime Juice, Grenadine

Final Drink Menu Thoughts

It's best to keep drink menus simple, somewhere around 3 to 4 drinks. Too many drink options can delay orders, and some people will spend more time looking over the menu than they will socializing. Too few, and you run the risk of not appealing to many of your guests.

Print a drink menu or two to sit on the bar. Make it easy to read and understand. If you rename a common drink to fit a theme, include the common name so that your guests can find the recipe later and make it at home if they wish. It's always a good idea to laminate or cover your menu with contact paper, anything to protect it from spills.

Offer flexibility with your menu. For instance, if you're serving a rum cocktail and have cola on hand, a Rum and Coke should not be out of the question.

Include a mocktail or non-alcoholic alternative for designated drivers and others who do not drink. Juice-based mocktails such as the Beach Blanket Bingo also open the possibility of stirring up alcoholic drinks like a Sea Breeze.