How Not to Be a Cocktail Slob
1.) Start asking “Why”
Let’s say you’re at a bar, and you want to educate yourself more about what you’re drinking and what’s going on. Take a quick look at how your drink is made. Why did your bartender stir that drink and shake that drink? Why did she strain that one through a little sieve?
Even if you don’t ask these questions out-loud, a curious mindset is the first step toward learning a thing or two about cocktails. And even if there’s nobody around to answer your questions, chances are you’ll be able to infer some things, especially by tasting your drink.
“Oh wow, I didn’t get why there was a lemon twist in this drink until I tasted it. It really transforms the whole cocktail. Maybe I’ll pick up some lemons next time I’m at the grocery store.”
And this segues nicely into tip number two:
2.) Train your senses
A lot of us walk around every day using our eyes and ears to make things happen. This makes sense. It’s how we move from place to place, and it’s how we communicate. Unfortunately, the world of smell, taste, and flavor often takes a back seat. And so when it comes time to exercise these senses in a cocktail setting, they’re woefully underdeveloped.
The best way to beef up your sensory perception is to go out of your way to taste and smell new things. And going back to tip number one, this requires curiosity.
One exercise you can do, especially if you’re really timid about trying new things, is to take that one drink you know and love (Maybe for you it’s a rum and coke. Maybe it’s a mojito with store-bought mojito mix) and start adding just a little extra flair when you make it. Tonight, maybe add a squeeze of fresh lime. This weekend, add a sprig of mint. These are the baby steps that will help you get excited about flavor and begin working those atrophied sensory muscles that have fallen into disuse.
3.) Learn to identify when you’re being marketed to.
This is a big one. One thing about cocktail snobs that you can’t deny is that they tend to know what they’re talking about. They know the difference between an Islay and a Speyside Scotch. They know which style of vermouth to use with which cocktails. And they know a good deal on a bottle when they see one. Basically, they use their knowledge base to cut through a lot of the marketing static that exists in the spirits world.
This is not to say that all major liquor brands make bad stuff, or that great branding doesn’t add something to the experience of a product. But if you’re the kind of person that orders a “jack and coke” at the bar, you’ve already been programmed by the media, and you should probably see what else is out there.
The obvious pitfall here is that big brands that tend to make cheaper products also have the best bar placements and merchandising displays at the liquor store. They use their market power to assert their dominance, which means less variety and more marketing.
If you want to learn more about how you can start to identify better quality spirits, check out Episode 22 of this podcast – Decoding Spirits Labels.
Our last tip for how to avoid being a cocktail slob is:
4.) Find your “Zone of Proximal Drinking”
What the heck does this mean? Let me explain.
There’s a concept in educational psychology called the Zone of Proximal Development (or ZPD), and this concept explains how people learn most effectively.
If you already know how to do something, you’re not learning. And on the other hand, if you’re presented with a task that’s so far beyond your skillset that you can’t do it, you’re not really learning anything there either.
The sweet spot where learning tends to take place is just beyond your comfort zone. Perhaps in the presence of a more skilled person who can help you along the way. This is the Zone of Proximal Development, and it can applied to all types of learning, even about cocktails.
The two key points here are to push yourself, and to find someone who can be a guide. If that’s a friend, or a bartender, that’s great! But if no one is available, maybe there’s a podcast out there that can help you along your journey. Would that be convenient?