Some cocktails have serious sex appeal. They’ve got the looks. They’ve got the name. And they’ve got it where it counts. Everyone wants a piece of them.
What’s so special about them?
It’s a fun topic to banter about. But it’s also important on a more serious note too. We need to know so we can replicate that sex appeal for our own cocktails. So it’s time to consider all the aspects that contribute to a cocktail’s sex appeal.
The first and most obvious factor is the taste. Cocktails which taste good are more popular than those that don’t.
The greater part of A Cocktail Education revolves around teaching you how to make your cocktails taste good. So I’m not going to say much about it here.
Except to emphasize the incredible importance of personal taste. Everyone has their own tastes. So any and every good cocktail will be liked by some and disliked by others. There’s no issue with that since nothing and no-one can appeal to everyone.
Yet clearly some cocktails do have a broader appeal than others. Once again there is no issue with this. Just as with people, cocktails are far better off sticking to their essential nature and excelling in their own niche. Rather than compromising their nature in a vain attempt to win ephemeral popularity.
They say that the first bite is with the eye. This is as true for cocktails as it is for food. So we should always try to ensure that our cocktails are looking good.
But what do I actually mean by this?
Well I like to think of it in terms of men’s appearance and fashion. Not ladies appearance or fashion as that’s much more complicated.
For men, smart/casual is a good look for most occasions. You’re not wearing your fanciest clothes or your schmutters. You can express your own style, but without being ostentatious. And above all you look smart. Clean shaven or neatly trimmed facial hair. Similar care given to the hair on your head, whatever your style is. Proper attention given to personal hygiene.
So it should be with cocktails. The default aim is to present them in that smart/casual look. Looking good, but approachable.
So we want to present them in a clean glass. No drips running down the side. No smudges we failed to clean up. And definitely no lipstick marks on the rim we failed to clean off from last time. Smart.
We should also consider the correct liquid level appropriate to the glass. If you’re using tall glasses like highballs, slings or hurricanes, they should be served close to full. Otherwise you feel like you’re getting half a drink. Whereas a martini glass or coupette benefits from having some space between liquid level and rim to prevent spillages. And when making two of the same cocktail, make sure that their liquid levels are equal.
And our garnishes should also be smart. Tasteful. Adding multiple twists, stirrers and paper umbrellas doesn’t add to a cocktail’s sex appeal. It detracts from it. Just like how a couple of pieces of tasteful jewelry or a watch may improve a man’s sex appeal. But a dozen pieces of cheap bling detracts from it.
It’s also true that some cocktails just have a certain cachet which improves their sex appeal. While others will always face an uphill struggle.
Some of this is in their looks. But a great deal more is in their name.
Classic cocktails have it easy. Their name recognition alone attracts attention and will drive interest and sales. This is human nature. Even now, over half a century after his death, the Kennedy name still means something. People automatically pay attention to it. Even if its owner has nothing in common whatsoever with JFK.
But some old names are clearly sexier than others. While some have been elevated to iconic status, others are just old. And as fashions change they may slowly be forgotten.
House cocktails have it a lot harder. Like a young adult without family connections striving to get noticed. It’s easy to be ignored when you’re surrounded by others with instant name recognition. I go into this topic in greater detail in the Cocktail Naming Conventions post.
To stand out, they have to do something different. But in their own style. Good examples of this are the naughtiness of the Sloe Sour Bitch or New York Tart. Or the moreish appeal of a Nutella Martini.
Je ne sais quoi
In the end, it is all these different aspects which come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts. To give a cocktail true sex appeal. At least, they do if you can get the balance right.
With each of the factors I have talked about there are many different directions you can go. Many different styles you can adopt. When crafting a cocktail it’s important to make sure that the styles you choose for each facet are in harmony. If you achieve this, then your cocktail may have that je ne sais quoi. If you don’t, then it may end up a jumbled mess.
One last point to remember is that fashions change. Just as in the world of clothing. A suit may be just as timeless as a Dry Martini. But you rarely see men wearing cravats with them anymore. Be prepared to change with the times. But don’t compromise your principles to do so. For both cocktails and people it’s far better to remain who you are and go out of fashion than try to change your essential nature and end up nothing.