What Are Craft Cocktails?

Craft cocktails have exploded onto the scene in a major way. A lot like the rise in craft beers and artisanal foods, craft cocktails are made by people that care about their craft and take a great deal of pride in creating the best experience possible for their customers. My interest was piqued, so I did a little digging and found some interesting things about craft cocktails that I’d like to share with you.

So let’s start with the obvious, what are craft cocktails? Craft Cocktails refer to cocktails where every ingredient is of high quality and is specifically tailored to the drink. There is a lot of attention to detail, and they usually take longer to make, but a good craft cocktail is definitely worth the wait. 

Craft cocktails are made by bartenders who are actual trained mixologists (i know, be more pretentious), as opposed to someone just throwing together a long island iced tea at Applebee’s as quick as they can and calling it a day. There are many characteristics that distinguish craft cocktails from your everyday drink, so let’s find out what makes these beverages so unique, as well as some answers to other commonly asked questions about these drinks.

What Makes Craft Cocktails Different from Standard Cocktails?

Craft cocktails are differentiated from what would be considered standard cocktails (Martini, gin and tonic, etc…) in more than a few ways. Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of a good craft cocktail.

  • Craft cocktails are made by someone who can whip you up some of the classics like a Negroni, Old Fashioned or Manhattan without breaking a sweat. These master mixologists want to challenge themselves by experimenting with new combinations and flavors, trying to find just the right mix that really sets off your taste buds. They have tried and failed many times trying to make the perfect concoction and now, out of their failures, many great tasting craft cocktails have been born!
  • Many craft cocktails contain a high amount of alcohol in them and are definitely a lot boozier than your standard gin and tonic. This is a good place to mention that you can definitely start to feel a bit tipsy after just one craft cocktail, even if your alcohol tolerance is fairly high.
  • There is a definite emphasis placed on the presentation of craft cocktails as well. Whether it is the color of the drink matching the garnish, the shape of the ice cubes in the drink, or the type of glassware used to house the beverage, craft cocktails are always the prettiest girl at the bar.
  • Craft cocktails almost always have at least one liqueur in them. Liqueurs add flavor, substance, and sometimes even a little bit of color to make your craft cocktail pop.
  • One of the most important aspects of a good craft cocktail is the use of fresh ingredients. From house made syrups to freshly squeezed orange, lemon and lime juices, no ingredient is overlooked in the construction of a craft cocktail. Sometimes the bars even use their own house made whiskeys or vodkas made especially for their craft cocktail menus. The ingredients don’t always have to be handmade,  but they do have to be of a certain quality and they definitely have to be fresh.
  • Craft cocktails are made with at least mid-grade booze, and most times the selections are closer to top shelf than bottom. For the amount of money you’re shelling out for one of these things, there sure as hell shouldn’t be any Popov or Jim Beam floating around in your glass.
  • Typically there are a fair amount of ingredients that go into the making of a craft cocktail. Most times there are at least four or five things that go into the drink, and some more advanced recipes call for ingredients numbering in the double digits! This also means that most worthwhile craft cocktails will take a fair amount of time to prepare.
  • The ice in your craft cocktail should look pristine. It shouldn’t look dingy or look like the bartender just bought a couple of bags from the party store a few hours back.

Where Can You Get A Craft Cocktail?

With the recent surge in popularity of craft cocktails, you don’t have to go to a basement in Manhattan and give them a secret password to enjoy a great tasting drink. There are so many restaurants that serve their own house specialties now that it’s probably harder to find a place that doesn’t serve craft cocktails than one that does!

If you are in any decently populated urban area, your options to grab a craft cocktail should be plentiful. If you live in or around a major city, they will be downright overwhelming. This is great because it allows you to try so many different variations and find out what you like and what you don’t without having to travel a great distance.

Tip: If your bartender can’t make something fairly simple like a proper Negroni or Old Fashioned, or they’re pouring orange juice from a Tropicana container, you’re probably not at a good spot for craft cocktails.

Why Are Craft Cocktails So Expensive?

Well folks, there’s really no getting around this one. Craft cocktails are definitely more expensive than your standard Jack & Coke. There are a couple main reasons for this discrepancy in price.

The main reason would be the quality of ingredients that are used in the drink. As we read above, a lot of things in the cocktail are made by hand or are “top shelf” options. Those things are always going to cost more, plain and simple.

Another reason craft cocktails cost a lot is that there are many more ingredients in them than most other drinks. Typical drinks consist of just a few (two or three) elements, whereas most craft cocktails usually have at least five ingredients, and many have significantly more. 

Tip: Remember, just because a drink might be expensive it doesn’t always mean that it is a craft cocktail. I’ve definitely had to pay upwards of $15 for a whiskey and cola in places like Manhattan or South Beach, and they certainly weren’t anywhere near the quality of similarly priced craft cocktails.

Great Craft Cocktail Recipes

A simple Google search of this term will yield an overwhelming amount of craft cocktail recipes. This is a wonderful example of the uniqueness of the craft cocktail, as everyone seems to have their own way of mixing things up. They are almost like snowflakes and fingerprints in this regard, you might find something similar but you’ll never find an exact match.

Since there are literally thousands of recipes out there (way too many to list here), I would encourage you to do your own search and see what tickles your fancy. Chances are you’ll find more than a few delicious choices.

Hopefully this post has helped you gain a greater understanding of what a craft cocktail is and how to differentiate them from “normal” cocktails. Next time you’re out and about and see something intriguing on the drink menu, don’t be afraid to find out what it’s all about!

How Do You Make A Craft Cocktail?

This is probably a question bartenders get asked all the time but there really is no right or wrong way to make a craft cocktail. As discussed above, you really only need a few things: Good ingredients, time, and imagination. A little bit of patience would probably go a long way as well.

If you had a great drink recently but think it would have been lights out with some cinnamon in it, throw some in there and give it a try. If you have a totally off the wall idea that you think will taste great, go ahead and mix away. 

The worst that can happen is you find out it wasn’t very tasty and try again. The more times you fail the more experience you get, and with experience comes greater abilities. That’s the beauty of craft cocktails, there really is no limit to what you can do with them.

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Matt Pingel

My name is Matt Pingel and I run WhatShouldIDrinkTonight.com. I enjoy writing, drinking, and relaxing, so this site makes perfect sense to me. My favorite drink of choice right now vodka and soda water, because my wife told me I needed to lose some weight when I wanted a medium sized blizzard from Dairy Queen. She's got some nerve...

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