Designing a Drink of the Night
A couple of weeks ago, our friend Dave (not to be confused with our friend Dan) texted to ask if we’d be willing to help with a party. The answer to that question is almost always, ‘Yes.’ We created Roberts & June because we think that good drinks make for good parties, and because we’re dedicated enough to good parties to do what we can to put a good drink within reach for any partygoer.
This particular party was a small happy hour to celebrate Dave’s sister’s 30th birthday. It was also in Seattle; so it would have been a bit of a commute to tend bar. Thankfully, that’s not what Dave was considering. He wanted us to design a custom drink in honor of his sister. That was perfect, not just because it’s easier to do from three time zones away, but even more because we’ve seen just how much people love drinking a drink made especially with them in mind. For guests of honor and other guests alike, it has a way of exceeding expectations. It communicates to the guest of honor that the party was specifically for her, and it gives the other guests the feeling that the party they’re at is unique.
Of course, the drink still needs to be good.
We asked Dave for some ideas: favorite spirits and flavors, a theme or mood for the party. From his list of ingredients, tequila and ginger stuck out. We thought that maybe we could design a good, zesty ginger version of a tequila old-fashioned. Our first attempt, though, was more harsh than zesty. So, we added some cinnamon to warm it up, and a small amount of ginger ale–not enough for it to be a mule, but enough to take the edge off. That seemed to work.
Just a few more steps take it from being a solid drink idea to being a true Drink of the Night.
Three Keys to a Successful Drink of the Night
Give it a test run
Even if it ruins the surprise a little, we always like to give the guest of honor, or at least the host, a preview drink. You can clearly tell from their facial expression whether you missed, it was meh, or you hit the mark; and you definitely want to know that before the party.
Since we were a continent away, Dave had to preview the drink on himself. He dutifully tried six variations on the drink (what a trooper!), tweaking the ratios on all of the ingredients. Luckily, this time he ended up liking the recipe as we drew it up. Often, you end up going with one of the tweaks. Sometimes, you need to start from scratch.
Little touches put it over the top
We always like to provide menus or recipe cards to go with our Drink of the Night. Or maybe a unique garnish (it doesn’t need to be elaborate, even a straw to match the color theme of the night goes over well). Maybe both. These little touches add to the sensation that this drink was thought of ahead of time, with you in mind. We sent some printable recipe cards and menus Dave’s way, and he confirmed that these accessories added to the intrigue and to the anticipation that they were about to drink something special.
Strike the balance between favorite and unexpected
We asked Dave why he suggested tequila and ginger as possible directions, and this is what he said,
I wanted to bring something to the table that my sister was somewhat familiar with, but never had before. Whether ginger or the cinnamon sticks, the combined flavors built a newness to otherwise known ingredients.
Dave got the secret to an effective custom drink exactly right. You want something familiar, taken in an unexpected direction. You never want to try to take someone completely out of their comfort zone; they’re very likely at that point to grab for a beer or glass of wine instead. But if it’s just their favorite there’s, of course, nothing special about that. A drink of the night needs to be familiar enough to be comfortable, and unusual enough to create surprise.
In this particular drink, we did that by combining two ingredients that Dave’s sister was unused to having in the same cocktail. Often you can create the same effect by swapping out one base for a different one, or by changing the form of the drink from a martini glass to a highball or vice versa.
Apply these three tips to a fairly solid drink, and you have yourself the perfect way to make your guest of honor feel like the party was truly thrown just for her.
The Thirty Cocktail Recipe
- 2 oz tequila
- 2 tsp ginger-cinnamon simple syrup*
- 1 dash grapefruit bitters
- 1/2 oz ginger ale
- Combine biters and syrup in old fashioned glass
- Add tequila
- Stir gently to mix
- Add ice.
- Pour ginger ale on top.