Overcoming cocktail collywobbles

How to order the perfect cocktail...Photo / Thinkstock
How to order the perfect cocktail...Photo / Thinkstock

Does cocktail culture frighten you? Do you panic at the sight of words like "cachaca", "absinthe" and "oregano" on a drinks menu?

It doesn't have to be that way. Every new drinker has to start somewhere. We asked around for tips on discovering and ordering new drinks.

Think of a drinks menu like a food menu.

Once you understand the basic ingredients, cocktails are simpler than most dishes at a fine restaurant.

"You know what green beans taste like, you've had a white sauce before, you've had Moroccan spice," said Dean Hurst of SideBern's in Tampa, Florida.

"You understand those, so you're kind of tasting them in your mind."

Know your likes and dislikes.

If a bartender asks what you like, he or she is often asking about spirits (light or brown, gin or vodka, rum or bourbon, etc). But the more specific you can be, the better.

What flavours do you like? Sweet? Spicy? Savoury? And what cocktail do you usually prefer?

"If you walk up to a bar and are a scotch-and-soda guy, or if you like vodka and Red Bull, that would give me some parameters to work with," Hurst said.

Pick a good time and place.

If you want to experiment with cocktails, don't go late on a Friday or Saturday, when the bar will be slammed. Go early in the evening - or better yet, on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

At Mandarin Hide in St Petersburg, Florida, there's a bartender who "loves that shift," said bar manager Jason Fackler.

"He just sits and makes drinks for people, and he has this experience with them, lets them try liquors that they've never tried before."

Ask nicely, and you might get a sample.

If you seem like a good customer, and especially if you're a familiar face, bartenders will often let you sample a spirit beforehand. (But don't even think about asking for a nip of that Johnnie Walker Blue or Remy Martin Louis XIII.)

Mix things up.

Find martini glasses unwieldy? Ask for a martini in a rocks glass. Prefer lime to lemon? Ask for a Tom Collins with lime. Try a martini with vodka instead of gin.

Let the bartender be your guide.

You may think you don't like gin, or whisky, or vodka. But if you're genuinely curious, keep an open mind.

"If you come in here with an adventuresome spirit, to try new things, hopefully I can take you on a little bit of a cocktail journey," said Bob Wagner of Ciro's Speakeasy and Supper Club in Tampa.

"I know a dozen varieties of Manhattans that were all created by various people around the world."

Don't be a cheapskate.

If you leave feeling like you just left an advanced course in mixology, tip accordingly.

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