Slideshow: Ask A Bartender: How Do You Go About Creating New Drinks?

Start With The Abstract
Start With The Abstract
"Cocktails usually begin with an abstract concept, such as a feeling in a certain place or era. Cocktails for fall—right now, I'm making drinks that help you reminisce on the feeling, smell, taste of fall. Think rich warming spices, smoke, crisp apple and juicy pear, and cedar. Once the concept is there, I try and map out a list of potential spirits, and begin the process of building the cocktail. I almost always have a complete cocktail recipe with measurements before I begin to test, and it takes a little tweaking, but I am generally within a half ounce of what the cocktail will contain in its final form." — Kristin Almy (Grand CafĂ©)
Know the Audience
Know the Audience
"It depends on what I'm creating for, for a menu, for a competition, for a themed party.... First, you have to know your crowd, are they serious cocktail drinkers? Or just having fun? Then it's budget and strategy on how to make the cocktail affordable, cost effective and how to implement. For the most part, I'll pick a spirit I want to use and build around that. I think about seasonal flavors and then whether I want it boozy, or something lighter and need to add citrus. If I go the citrus route, I try and keep in seasonal." —Kevin Diedrich (Jasper's Corner Tap & Kitchen)
Limit Yourself
Limit Yourself
"A mate of mine is a chef at [Brooklyn restaurant] Dressler and on his day off we get to indulge in what we've been referring to as "Food Mondays". I buy random ingredients and he has to come up with something vaguely resembling a meal. It's kinda a take on that trashy British television show 'Ready, Steady, Cook'. Anyway—someone has to provide drinks for Food Mondays, so why not apply the same principles to the bartender (i.e., me).

So when coming up with new ideas for drinks I find it helpful to first limit yourself or be forced to create something drinkable with whatever you have. You also might want to have a little bit of a think about what you're going to be eating while you drink. For the sauteed cod and polenta we ate last week we drank a take on the caipirinha, but with home made ginger syrup and an orange twist." — Kahil Nayton ( Larry Lawrence, Terminal 5 )

Start With An Idea, Work Backwards
Start With An Idea, Work Backwards
"When I am in the process of creating a new drink, I usually start with noting the flavor specifics of the base spirit and work from there. I build drinks in the same way that I cook; I know what I want to end up with and work backwards. It's important to taste everything on one's bar to build an internal database of taste. I cannot stress enough knowing what is on the bar that you work in and trusting your palate. There have been times when I was given a list of ingredients and built a drink around that. Recently, it was Absinthe, Batavia Arrack, egg, bitters; it worked. I love being given abstracts to work from. As far as trial and error, I have been running about a 3:1 success rate." — Elizabeth Powell (ArtBar)
Start Simple, Let Magic Happen
Start Simple, Let Magic Happen
"I think of a flavor, or a particular spirit, or sometimes something as random as a fruit I find at the market and think—I want to drink this. Then the magic happens. Once you're armed with the proper tools (mentally, I mean, of knowledge in spirits, balance, classics, etc.) there is certainly trial and error but not as much as one would think. Although tasting is fun, I usually find my way in 2 or 3 tries. If not, I just throw a fit and get mad that I'm not at Milk & Honey or Death & Co or PDT." —Victoria Levin (The Tangled Vine)
Paralleling the Kitchen, Keeping It Seasonal
Paralleling the Kitchen, Keeping It Seasonal
"I like to think seasonally when making a new drink. We have access to such phenomenal produce in this area [San Francisco] which we use so much of in our kitchen, I want the drinks to show off what we can do in the bar, as well as the kitchen. With me there's always quite a bit of trial and error, but it's not so bad since I get to taste the successful drinks as well as the failures. It make you a stronger bartender and also gives your palate the chance to evolve." —Brian Means (Fifth Floor)
Idea Working Through Others
Idea Working Through Others
"For me it starts as a complete image and flavor in my head—but then, it takes talking to Chris (our pastry chef), sometimes Dougie (chef de cuisine) and both Mary and Greg (other bartenders) to bring the idea to reality. The idea bounces around, mutates, and then becomes the drink. It takes tweaking with paints, essences, ice... the entire drink has to work for it to be finished and some never are—they are always changing—and that is part of the drink; we have a drink where the flavored ice changes every week." —Todd Maul (Clio)
So Much to Think About
So Much to Think About
"Trends and innovation are very important (as they are with food) along with filling the needs of the restaurant. Our Carbonated Bottled Cocktail list at Garces Trading Company is a great example of that—we filled the void of creating great cocktails in a venue without a bar. I get everyone involved during the trials and errors from chefs, servers, hosts... everyone." —Brandon Thomas (Garces Group)