Drink what you want. Seriously. Don’t let the artisanal cocktail revolution and the small-batch bourbon bubble guilt you out of your margarita (rocks, no salt) or your Chopin and tonic. But if you’re looking to drink as carefully as you eat, let science and keen observation be your guides. In other words, be judgmental.
You need a bartender who measures, with a jigger or a measuring cup. Cocktails come from recipes, after all. And you need a bar that uses fresh fruit and a juicer. Don’t panic if the citrus juice comes out of a container. According to expert barman and writer of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique, Jeff Morganthaler, juices keep their peak flavor for up to about a day.
Pro bartenders shake drinks with juice in them and then double-strain the pour. They should use big ice cubes: crushed ice over-dilutes a drink; real cubes achieve the proper chill and dilution. How hard they shake doesn’t matter; how long does. Bar genius and author of Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail, Dave Arnold, advises between 8 and 12 seconds.
Drinks that are all spirit are stirred, not shaken. Observe the liquid rise above the ice to about three-quarters the height of the glass. At that point you’ve reached the correct temperature and volume. Thanks to the antifreeze properties of ethanol, a good, long stir sends your drink below freezing. That equals tasty.
Before ordering beer on draft, watch the bartender build a pint. It should have a thick (but not superfluous) foam that creates a lovely lace effect on the side of the glass as you drink it down. If that doesn’t happen, something’s wrong—with the temperature, the gas mixture, or how the glasses are washed.
Frequenting bars with speed pourers on the bottles and Rose’s lime juice? Go for something simple: rocks or neat. In the right bar—with the right juke and the right person—a Coors with a Wild Turkey back is the best cocktail on earth. Order the 101-proof bourbon—the higher alcohol content has more flavor.