What Constitutes A “Fancy” Cocktail

There are so many cocktails out there, but what exactly constitutes a “fancy” cocktail? This is a discussion that has been carried on throughout the years by many a mixologist. What exactly constitutes a “fancy” drink? Many bars advertise fancy cocktails that really have no more to them than the average drink that any bartender could mix. The idea that a third bottle of liquor plays into the ingredients of any drink seems to raise its esteem to that of “complex”, when in reality it’s a fairly simple mix of flavors. Other times it comes down to the kind of vessel that a drink is served in. Stick a tequila sunrise in a chilled copper cup and put a cherry floating on a rose petal, and suddenly the patron feels like they’ve ordered a drink fit for a king. 

What is the true definition of a “fancy” drink? What do the true mixology masters of the modern era think constitutes a challenging array of subtle flavors, to tease and tantalize a well-honed palate? The history around calling another set of drinks fancy has mainly been scoffed at by professional cocktail literature such as Haney’s, Steward and Barkeep Manual. This delve into the history of cocktail making claims that calling a drink “fancy”, was really just a way to upsell it to the clientele. It became a way of appealing to the higher echelon of society that didn’t want to drink what every other plebian imbiber was tossing down their gullet. 

But you’ve come this far, and want to know what my opinion, your humble booze afficionado that knows his way around a bottle or two. Well, here it is: A “fancy” drink, is one that actually takes some thought to make. I’ve had drinks in bars that were so dark because no one wants to see what the place actually looks like, and in well-lit shimmering baroque booze slinging bars where the bartenders all go by the term “mixologist”, because anything else would be considered insulting to their craft. In either place, if the pourer of my drink took time to create a beverage that took my tongue to a number of locations before the final swallow, then they made me a “fancy” cocktail. Whether they go by the term “mixologist” or “bartender”, it comes down to the time they put into their craft to create an adventure for those that enjoy a good drink.