Published on December 8, 2018

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illustration by Phuong Nguyen

If you’ve ever envied the person who can stroll confidently up to a bar and demand their cocktail of choice without a second guess or a stutter, you’re not alone. For the indecisive drinker, the simple question, “What are you drinking tonight?” can be a scary one. If you’re sick of responding with “I’ll have what they’re having” or “anything with tequila,” we found the secret to drink-ordering confidence—and it’s waiting for you in a flowchart.

Cocktail books look pretty stacked on the bar cart or paired with kitchen cookbooks, but their pages are often filled with puzzling concoctions. Carey Jones and John McCarthy, the husband-wife author duo behind Be Your Own Bartender: A Surefire Guide to Finding (and Making) Your Perfect Cocktail wanted their cocktail book to feel approachable. Featuring over a dozen flowcharts and 150 original recipes, Be Your Own Bartender is designed to lead readers to their ideal drink with a fun (and functional) roadmap. Depending on your mood, taste, or the occasion, each of the book’s mini quizzes will tell you what you should be sipping on.

“Some cocktail books are so advanced that only cocktail nerds like us could figure it out. What we really love about the book concept is that it’s not just recipes. We wanted it to be fun and interactive so you can really find what you want,” says Jones.

While beverage geeks will appreciate the pair’s adventurous recipes, the amateur entertainer and home bartender will also find comfort in its pages. The simplest way for readers to start is by turning to their spirit of choice (there’s a vodka chapter, a rum chapter, etc.). There, they’ll be tasked with working through a beautiful flowchart. “So, you want a gin cocktail—really ginny, or kinda ginny? If only kinda ginny, do you like fruity flavors or floral? Is this just for you, or for a party? And so on.” Jones explains. You get the gist.

One of our favorite flowcharts reveals drinks based on your personal approach to party throwing—account for everything from your level of spontaneity down to your friend group. While there are over 30 resulting cocktails, we asked Jones to share her favorite wintry sips for the list. Make these five concoctions for large crowds on a stormy night or treat yourself to a solo glass once the fire begins to roar.

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illustration by Phuong Nguyen
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illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Montenegro Sbagliato

Light and dynamic, but not too sweet.

“There’s a legend that someone was making a negroni and they mistakenly grabbed the prosecco instead of the gin—which makes no sense because you would never do that—but that’s the story. Sbagliato means mistaken in Italian,” explains Jones.

While the classic is called a Mistaken Negroni, Jones and McCarthy replaced the Campari with an Italian liqueur that’s just as bitter. “It has an orangey, vanilla character,” she adds.

Recipe

Makes 1 drink

1 1/2 ounces Amaro Montenegro

1 ounce sweet vermouth

1 dash grapefruit bitters

2 1/2 ounces sparkling wine

One 3- to 4- inch orange peel, for garnish

Thin half-moon slice orange, for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a wine glass over ice and stir briefly. Garnish with a thin half-moon slice of orange and a 3- to 4- inch orange peel, spritzed skin side down over the surface of the drink before being added to the cocktail.

For a crowd: Ensure the sparkling wine is well chilled. In a pitcher without ice, combine all ingredients multiplied by your number of guests, and then serve and garnish as directed.

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Reproduced by permission of Countryman Press. All rights reserved

Lucky in Kentucky

The whiskey drink that goes down faster than an Old Fashioned.

“Unless people know that they want to drink an old-fashioned or a Manhattan, we tend to keep it lighter for parties. Lighter drinks tend to be more accessible, and a lot of times whiskey drinks are the heavier ones. This is our take on a more dynamic drink,” says Jones.  

The two main ingredients, Campari and bourbon, create a soothing balance of sweetness and bitterness. A touch of citrus and hard cider brightens the beverage up.

Recipe

Makes 1 drink

1 1/2 ounces bourbon

3/4 ounce Campari

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1/2 ounce maple syrup

1 dash Peychaud’s bitters

1 1/2 ounces hard cider

1 1/2 ounces soda water

Half-moon slices grapefruit, for garnish

Combine all ingredients except the hard cider and club soda in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously, and then strain into a tall glass over fresh ice. Top with 1 1/2 ounces of hard cider and 1 1/2 ounces of soda water, and stir briefly. Garnish with few half-moon slices of grapefruit.

For a crowd: Combine all ingredients except the club soda and hard cider, as directed in the “Shaken Method” (page xv). Immediately before serving, add the club soda and hard cider to the pitcher and give a brief stir. Garnish as directed.

Cold in Quogue

Serve this at a winter brunch.

“Aperol Spritzes are super popular right now, and while there’s nothing wrong with drinking an Aperol Spritz in the winter, it’s definitely a summer drink at heart. This is our winter version of that,” says Jones.

Campari gives this cocktail a rich and more bitter flavor profile, while a splash of clementine juice makes it feel festive.

Recipe

Makes 1 drink

4 ounces sparkling wine

1 ounce clementine juice

1/2 ounce Campari

Clementine segment, for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a flute. Garnish with a clementine segment.

For a crowd: Ensure the sparkling wine is well chilled. In a pitcher without ice, combine all ingredients multiplied by your number of guests, and then serve and garnish as directed.

Noreaster

The seasonal aperitif.

“This is a great fall/winter drink that’s on the lighter side,” suggests Jones. “You could easily have one or two before dinner.”

Comprising dark rum, ginger beer, and hard cider, this option is a great fit for the entertainer who wants to spend less time stirring and more time talking. Approximate prep time? 30 seconds. Dark and Stormy fans will want to give this one a try.

Recipe

Makes 1 drink

1 1/2 ounces Mount Gay Black Barrel

2 ounces hard cider

2 ounces ginger beer

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Lime wedge, for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a tall glass with ice and stir gently to combine. Garnish with a large lime wedge, squeezed into the drink and then added to the glass.

For a crowd: Ensure the hard cider and ginger beer are well chilled. In a pitcher with ice, combine all ingredients and stir; then serve and garnish as directed.

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Everyone’s Invited

A universal crowd-pleaser.

“This one actually came from a holiday punch we invented for our own family a couple of years ago,” says Jones. “It starts with Apple Jack—a dark brandy that has the character of a whiskey. Blood orange and cranberry are two great wintry flavors (sweet and tart). The sherry gives it its underlying savory feel.”

Recipe

Makes 1 drink

1 1/2 ounces Laird’s Bottled in Bond Straight Apple Brandy

3/4 ounce oloroso sherry

3/4 ounce 100% cranberry juice

1/2 ounce blood orange juice

1/2 ounce blood orange oleo saccharum (see below)

2 dashes grapefruit bitters

Half-moon slice blood orange, for garnish

Fresh cranberry, for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously, and then strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a half-moon slice of blood orange and a bias-cut cranberry on a cocktail pick.

For a crowd: Use the “Shaken Method” (page xv).

Or try a variation, without oleo saccharum…  Another equally autumnal version: 1 1/2 ounces Laird’s, 1 1/2 ounces fresh apple cider, 1/2 ounce oloroso, 1/4 ounce lemon juice, and 1/4 ounce simple syrup, plus one big dash cranberry bitters per drink. Works well with bourbon too.

 

Want to do some experimenting of your own? Jones shares her top four tips for making drinks on the fly.

Start with a drink that sounds good to you.

If you’re going to bother to buy the bottle, don’t make something that sounds super crazy or that you think will make other people happy.

Plan.

A lot of the ingredients in our book are pretty easy to find, but you have to make sure you have all the elements on hand. A lot of times people will look at their bar cart and say, “Oh, what do I have? What can I do with this?” That’s totally fine if you’re just mixing up drinks for yourself on a Tuesday.

Don’t overthink it.

Have confidence. I think sometimes people can get really intimidated by cocktails, but technically they’re not that difficult. Start with something simple and appealing and go from there.

Tap into your cooking skills.

Anything in cooking that you’d associate with winter, you can in cocktails too. Think about spices like cinnamon or apple cider on the stove or the cranberry you put in the Christmas garland—all those flavors almost always translate to cocktails.

 

Jones and McCarthy also run a column for the Food & Wine website called Liquor Cabinet Roulette. Be Your Own Bartender is McCarthy’s first cocktail book and Jones’s second.

 

See more cocktail recipes: 

Inventive Crockpot Cocktail Recipes to Get You Through the Holidays

11 Large Batch Cocktail Recipes to Satisfy All Your Party Needs

This Bar Is Known As The Willy Wonka of Cocktails, And Here’s Why