How NOT to Name a Cocktail

Subtle, right? Image: sarawuth702 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Sex on the Beach, the Slippery Nipple, Liquid Cocaine, Skip and Go Naked. Some time ago, these were all popular cocktail names but today, with the newfound respect given to cocktails, they just don’t fly.

According to Brian Van Flandern, executive director of mixology and spirits education for Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, the largest liquor distributor in America, there are three cardinal rules for naming a cocktail:

  1. It should have no religious connotations or references. For example, The Madonna.
  2. It should never be vulgar or offensive. For example, The Panty Dropper.
  3. It must not infringe on a copyright or patent. For example, The Avengers or The Incredible Hulk.

The goal of a cocktail name is simple: To invite a guest to order it. However, there are many ways in which you can put a guest off. An easy way to do this is to name a cocktail with a foreign name which is hard to pronounce. “You intimidate the guest and they shy away from saying it, or feel foolish when the server corrects them,” Van Flandern explains.

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Joy Richard, head bartender of Basic Kitchen in Charleston, S.C., ran up against this when she named a drink Joie de Vivre, which means “Joy of Life” in French, “but I had to change the name after a few days because no one could pronounce it or had any idea what it meant,” she says.

Conversely, says Van Flandern, a cocktail name should:

  • be thought provoking or tell a story or invite the guest to inquire about the name;
  • be short and easy to pronounce (alliteration is always good);
  • be clever, cheeky or a pun.

If you can tell a story with your cocktail name, it invites queries from the guests, says Van Flandern. “It should invite the guest to inquire as to what it is, and the bar staff should be well informed on it and forthcoming when the guest asks about its name.”

Read this: What’s in a Name? Tips for Naming Cocktails

And if you can, have a cocktail’s name say something about the ingredients; the bar/restaurant; or the city, state, etc.

Salvatore Tafuri, head bartender at The Loyal in New York City, once named a cocktail Mr. Berry and says it bombed “because it didn’t really resonate with the drink’s ingredients or the story I associated with it.”

Another of Van Flandern’s rules states that cocktail names should never indicate that the drinker will get quickly hammered. “You want to promote social responsibility. If you suggest drunkenness will ensue, he says, “it demeans and underscores not only your establishment but the whole industry.”

Read this: Modern Cocktail Trend, Old Fashioned Ingredient

And make sure the cocktail sounds inviting to drink. A name like Dr. Cheese’s Gloppy Green Glue will put customers off and they’ll never consider ordering it.

Offensive names are one of the easiest ways to put customers off. Freddy Schwenk, bar director at Geist in Nashville, Tenn., once titled a cocktail Faithful Mistress. “I probably made a lot of women uncomfortable unintentionally, and I also gave a few asses an opportunity to say, ‘I’d love to have a Faithful Mistress,’” he says.

Likewise, there was once a cocktail at Jimmy at the James in New York City called The Frat Boy containing Everclear, muddled maraschino cherries, citrus amaretto, and crushed ice. “Needless to say, the college boys weren’t big fans,” says co-owner and mixologist Johnny Swet.

Johnny Contraveo, beverage manager at About Last Knife in Chicago says he once made the mistake of using an inside joke when he named a cocktail The Bitter Sting of Disappointment. “It was sort of an inside joke between me and a friend. The cocktail wasn’t actually bitter at all, so it even further muddied the waters. People looking for a bitter cocktail might have been disappointed.”

Read this: Raised by Wolves: Lessons in Concept to Buildout

Inside jokes are not a good idea, says Van Flandern, “because they mean nothing to the guests and don’t invite them to inquire.”

“Coming up with names can be difficult at times, especially when your focus is on making sure the cocktail you created is not only great, but represented correctly through its name,” says James Urycki, mixologist at Travelle Kitchen + Bar in Chicago. 

“What the name represents is very important, since some guests will select a cocktail solely based on its catchy, often pun-driven name. This can present a problem if the cocktail isn’t something that’s palatable for everyone. These types of names seem like a great idea, until the drink starts getting sent back because it wasn’t what the guest expected from its name,” continues Urycki. “Remember, just as much careful thought that you put into creating your cocktail should be put into the name. The gratification from your guests will be instant when they realize how much thought and energy went into your final product.”

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