Creating a Cocktail Menu

The trendy modern cocktail bar now makes more cocktails than ever before, a cocktail menu is no longer an additional extra but an critical ingredient in today’s bars. The types of cocktails that bars now have on their cocktail menu’s has also changed with the more developed palates of today’s cocktail drinkers.

The influx of superior quality products in most of the major bar markets in the world & the more culinary styles of progressive cocktail trends have made developing a cocktail menu a challenging prospect that will have a major influence on the success of your bar.

The 3 secret of a great cocktail menu are balance, variety & quality.

Cocktail Menu Concepts

When creating a cocktail menu the concept of the cocktail menu should first be established. Do you want to focus most of the cocktail list on a certain style of cocktail or variety of spirit or do you want to focus on having a large variety.

Single style cocktail

Single style cocktail menus are popular because it is easy for staff to remember the cocktails. The most fashionable single cocktail style bar is the Martini bar. It is however essential to have other cocktails apart from martini & martini variations available as not everyone likes a martini. If opening a single style cocktail bar focus 50-80% on one style with the remaining cocktails to give your cocktail menu variety.

Single spirit cocktails

The next style of cocktail bar is the single spirit bar. I used to work at a bar named Rockwell’s in London that had around 120 different varieties American whiskeys so the focus of the cocktail list was about 60% bourbon cocktails again about 40% of the cocktails where non bourbon cocktails & the most popular cocktail was the Vanilla Mojito a rum based cocktail. The most popular spirit currently for single style spirit cocktail menus is currently Vodka but Gin & Rum bars are also increasing in popularity. In countries such as Italy Grapper bars & Germany Schnapps bars are also popular. The great advantage of single style spirit cocktail bars is you can have a large variety of a single style of spirit & also predominantly with vodka bars, infusions have become trendy. If you can get the right products to complement & give balance you are on a winner.

Standard Cocktail bar

The most popular style of cocktail bar is to just simply go for variety, with a cocktail list with a cocktail for everyone unique palate. It is essential to still have quality cocktails but as the saying goes variety is the spice of life. In cocktail bars with a large variety of cocktails offered it is imperative to concentrate on the consistency. Unless you are in an area with many other bars as competition & your bar needs to be unique to draw clientele I would recommend a standard cocktail bar is the best option.

So now that we have looked at the concepts of cocktail menus for cocktail bars it is important to look at the make up of a quality cocktail list.

The Signature Cocktail

A signature cocktail in short is a VIP cocktail that sets the standard for your cocktail bar, this cocktail should be original, cutting edge & of exceptional quality. This is the cocktail you want your bartenders promoting to guests & giving to VIP clients. Your signature cocktail should only use the finest ingredients. Some bars make the mistake of trying to have a whole cocktail list of signature cocktails this is a mistake as the saying goes keep it simple stupid. Never have more than 2-3 signature cocktails on your cocktail menu. A signature cocktail in short is marketing.

Classic Cocktails

These are cocktails that have accomplished popularity over a long period of time, they include household names like the martini, margarita, Daquiri, Manhattan, Old fashion, Mojito & many more. All of the classic cocktails tend to be balanced cocktails when made properly. The classics are also perfect for creating modern variations, the variations you can create with classic cocktails are endless. Cocktail bars are using fresh fruits, herbs, vegetables, even more recently jams & sauces. The modern bartender is a chef of liquid my advice is when first starting keep it simple. Classic cocktails & variations should make up about 40-90% of your cocktail menu.

Regional Cocktail trends

With the large marketing done by liquor companies sometimes cocktails can become popular within a region, coming from Sydney an example would be the Midori splice which is a combination of Midori, Malibu, pineapple juice & cream although I am not personally a fan of this cocktail it is greatly popular in regions of Sydney. A cocktail that has gained popularity in the region where your bar is situated should at least be considered for your cocktail menu.

Regional Cocktail Trends

Sometimes a style of cocktail may be extremely popular within a region, this was a lesion I recently learned when mixing some cocktails for my 3 sisters. I made a Vanilla Mojito, Basil Grande & a Coriander Ginger Martini all cocktails I love but they just didn’t hit the spot with my sisters. I then made an ice cream cocktail that tasted just like a chocolate milk shake & was told it was the nicest drink they had ever tasted. Creamy cocktails are all the rage in the local suburban bars of the area. The lesson for me was to not forget those who don’t yet have developed cocktail palates by including regional cocktails on your cocktail menu. Regional cocktails should make up 10-40% of your cocktail menu.

It is worth noting that for those who you are introducing to the wonders of cocktails, who do not have developed palates that sweetness is very important.

Adventurous cocktails

The classic cocktails became classics because people drank them, loved them & kept requesting bartenders all over the world to make them, don’t be scared to have totally new cocktails on your cocktail list. I recommend having 10-20% modern new cocktails on your cocktail menu. Maybe one day a cocktail you created will be as famous as the Martini.


A Mocktail is just a non acholic cocktail & any good cocktail menu should contain a small selection for those who don’t drink.


Although not suitable for every bar they can be very successful addition to a cocktail menu’s in nightclubs & pubs

Cocktail Menu Size

Now the big question how large to make your cocktail menu, well that depends a lot on your venue. It isn’t as hard as you think to have an extensive cocktail list. The secret of having an extensive cocktail list is to have lots of simple variations of the cocktails on your menu. Example your bar might have a martini, lychee martini, basil martini & a lemongrass martini each cocktail is very similar so therefore easy for your staff to remember. Another example would be a mojito, vanilla mojito, apple mojito & ginger mojito. So my advice is create first a small to medium base cocktail list & then create simple variations to complete your cocktail menu. To many individual cocktails can be very hard for your bartender to remember effecting consistency & efficiency.

Try to change your cocktail menu seasonally to take advantage fruit & herbs that may only be obtainable at specific times in the year.

Finally involve your team in the creation of your cocktail menu & get them to create some of the cocktails for your cocktail menu. A bartender will sell passionately something he has created.

For any further support in the creation of a cocktail menu Earth Bar can assist.

go to the top of the page

Earth Bar Magazine

Earth Bar Magazine