Top 10 creative cocktail menusBy Amy Hopkins
With so many classy bars competing at the top end of the market, it’s increasingly important to have a creative, meticulously executed cocktail menu.
While many bars have unusual themes to stand out from the crowd, it takes a lot more to create a truly innovative cocktail menu brimming with expertly crafted drinks.
From to fragrance-led lists to Surrealism-inspired serves, leading mixologists are constantly striving to release ever more creative cocktail menus which capture the consumer imagination.
Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards recently named New York’s The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog as the bar with the World’s Best Cocktail Menu, but which other bars are pioneering a unique new cocktail vision?
Click through the following pages to discover out pick of the top 10 creative cocktail menus from around the world. If you think any deserving names should have been included in this list, let us know by leaving a comment below.
The innovators at the Quinary bar, based in Hong Kong, launched a new summer menu last month featuring what the venue claims is the first selection of cocktails to use Jägermesiter as a “main ingredient”.
Promising to “satisfy your insatiable needs”, the new offerings include Prey, presented in a brown paper and combining Jagermeister with cinnamon smoke and pineapple and orange flavours to give the “tropical juiciness” a lift. Alternatively, Milestone – named in homage to the first use of Jagermeister as a focal cocktail ingredient – is made using spiced apple cider cordial, fresh lime juice and wasabi powder.
Now one of the most revered and exciting bars in London, whenever Nightjar releases a new cocktail menu, it always causes quite a stir. Earlier this year, the bar team launched a new menu which will once again be presented on the bar’s signature playing cards.
Divided into four sections – Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, Postwar and Signature – the menu explores the origins of some classic but forgotten cocktails and breathes new life into them. The Ward 8, which traditionally comprises of rye whiskey, grenadine and orange juice, is given a Nightjar twist with Bulleit Rye infused with pickling spices, blood orange marmalade and a crust of Korean BBQ spices on the rim for a smoky, sweet twist. The Inca is one cocktail for the braver imbiber due to its generous sprinkling of dehydrated mealworms as a garnish.
At the same time as the menu was revealed in April this year, the founder of Nightjar announced they are to open a second, larger venue, called Oriole. The bar will feature a cocktail menu devoted to exploring the flavours of the world.
The Dead Rabbit
New York’s The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog was not only recently named World’s Best Bar title at the Spirited Awards in New Orleans, but also received the coveted World’s Best Cocktail Menu title. In a deviation from the historical focus which made the bar famous, Dead Rabbit revealed its third cocktail menu in celebration of its second anniversary.
Crafted by Jack McGarry, co-founder and managing director, and spearheaded by newly appointed head bartender Jillian Vose, the menu is the final installment in the venue’s trilogy and comes in the style of a graphic novel depicting the tale of Lewis Morris Pease – a Protestant minister sent to New York’s famous Five Points neighbourhood to convert its Irish Catholics.
It is split into four sections: Winter 1850, Spring 1851, Summer 1851 and Fall 1851, with each section including a biblical quote, a fictional diary entry from Pease and illustrations showing the life of Five Points. While the story which streams throughout the menu maintains the bar’s focus on history, Vose started with a “clean slate” when creating the new serves.
As high end cocktail bars aim to provide a more holistic sensory experience for their customers, The Ritz-Carlton in Berlin opened a new in house venue last year – called Fragrances – which pairs perfume with cocktails. Founded by bar manager Arnd Heissen, Fragrances provides a selection of hand-picked perfumes by revered designers including Giorgio Armani, L’Artisan Parfumeur and Annick Goutal, Yves Saint Laurent and Guerlain, which have been paired with cocktails using spirits from Diageo’s portfolio.
Upon entering the venue, guests will be greeted by 15 cocktails arranged as small works of art to invite guests to touch and smell them. The aim is to enable guests to “sniff out” their favourite fragrance and the matching cocktail, while it is hoped the exclusive fragrances will trigger fond memories and provide a “brief escape from everyday life”.
Available cocktails include La Nuit de L’Homme by Yves Saint Laurent, a blend of lavender infused Tanqueray 10, rhododendron sake, fresh lemon, and vanilla-vetiver-patchouli-grapefruit-eucalyptus-syrup. A few months later, London’s Hotel Café Royal partnered with Parfums Givenchy to create an exclusive cocktail collection celebrating L’Atelier de Givenchy fragrances.
Opened by the creative minds behind Hong Kong’s Quinary bar, The Envoy’s menu is inspired by tea and its shipment around the world in the 19th century. Also based in Hong Kong, the bar is situated on the third floor of new boutique hotel The Pottinger and is the fifth venue from Tastings Group.
Signature serves, many of which are inspired by fictional works of literature and film, include the Dinosaur – inspired by Steven Speilberg’s Jurassic Park (Absolut Elyx, Godiva chocolate liqueur, milk, Milo ice ball and Milo powder) and Dewdrops of the Heart, inspired by David Copperfield (redistilled pandan vodka, green tea, jasmine tea and pandan syrup).
Earlier this year, Mr Fogg’s in Mayfair, London, launched its “groundbreaking” Around the World in 80 Cocktails menu, celebrating the different flavour combinations found in the world’s many countries, continents and cultures.
Modeled on the trinket-laden drawing room of explorer Phileas Fogg’s, the bar created 80 “compounded libations” to mirror the travels of its eponymous character’s endeavours. Drinkers are guided by the limited edition map that allows them to select from four flavour profiles, each one relating to a different quarter of the world map: Spicy Aromatic Exotic, Sweet Fruity Sharp, Woody Rich Bitter and Fresh Light Delicate.
The cocktail and location are accompanied with an anecdote by Mr Fogg himself on how the cocktail came to be.
Another Hong Kong offering, The Farm is situated on the roof of popular venue The Pawn and features a herb-inspired cocktail menu using ingredients grown on its “urban farm”. Launched in April this year, the bar includes a space filled with more than 20 different herbs, using rare and unusual varieties such as Paris Market, buckler sorrel, jaglo nero and bronze fennel.
The rooftop space is the brainchild of head chef Tom Aiken, who has worked in the position since the venue reopened in 2014 having undergone a refurbishment programme. Several herbs from The Farm are used in the bar’s cocktails – created by Pawn’s mixologist Joanna Kent – which include There’s Something About Mary made from Cabeza Tequila, Luxardo apricot brandy, watermelon, chilli, salt and pepper and lime.
London bar Dandelyan, opened by famed mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana, has a similar USP, serving botany-inspired cocktails which use ingredients reflective of the British countryside.
In 2010, the team behind Bon Vivants launched San Francisco-based Trick Dog, described as a “kick ass, well-made, no bullshit, neighborhood cocktail bar with great music, delicious drinks and food”. In the latest Spirited Awards 2015 at Tales of the Cocktail, the bar was named as a finalist for the World’s Best Cocktail Menu title, which eventually went to New York’s Dead Rabbit.
The bar’s 12 cocktails are named after each of the star signs and are catered their individual character traits. The Aries cocktail, aimed at those who are “reckless and determined”, consists of Pierde Almas mezcal, Ancho Reyes, Pampero rum, Pedro Ximenez, and black tea bitters.
London’s Artesian, which was recently named Best International Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards, is renowned for its bold cocktail innovation. Never one to shy away from blending different mediums and testing established industry boundaries, the bar recently followed up its hugely successful Unfold and Explore menu with a new Surrealim list.
Inspired by erotic cookbook Les Diners de Gala by Surrealist artist Salvador Dali, the menu stays true to its surrealist theme throughout and gives drinkers a whole new perspective on flavours by pairing seemingly opposing ingredients. Alex Kratena, Simone Caporale and the rest of the Artesian team hope to topple the “notion of reality, every day objects and, one again, the idea of the traditional ‘serve’”.
Serves on the menu include Join the Colony, which is served in an ant-shaped structure and includes a cocktail made from Absolut Elyx, wheat, almond, juniper and bergamot flavours, poured over a granola consisting of three ingredients representing fruity, savoury and sweet notes.
Opened only this week is ABQ – a London-based pop-up bar inspired by the hit TV series Breaking Bad where visitors are encouraged to “cook” their own cocktails, a nod to the prolific crystallised meth creation featured in the show. Based inside a converted RV motorhome, the bar has been kitted out with gas masks, blue crystals and chemistry flasks.