How To Find The Highest Value Cocktails On The Menu Every Time

Today, for a change, we're not talking about "best value" (i.e. budget-friendly options like a well-whiskey neat or a rum and coke) — we're exploring the "highest value" cocktails on the menu, and the clever trick for spotting them right away without giving your bartender the third degree. 

According to veteran bartender and former bistro manager Zanny Steffgen, bar menus are organized with careful calculations in mind. For a thrifty sip, says Steffgen, look for cocktails toward the end of the menu. As the bartender tells Insider, "Restaurants tend to put the cocktails with the biggest profit margins at the top or in the middle of the list." But, what exactly constitutes a high-value drink? Steffgen didn't say, exactly.

In the utilitarian sense, the best value drinks would mean the best bang for your buck, aka the highest ABV per glass. Tried-and-true spirit-forward Old Fashioned, a Sazerac, or the aptly-named Corpse Reviver would all be smart bets. But, strong, economical drinks don't have to taste like paint thinner, either. The French 75 is essentially an elevated jungle juice sweetened to palatable perfection with Demerara simple syrup.

If you're at a tiki bar like Porco in Cleveland, order a frozen Jet Pilot. It's a delicious, borderline lethal combination of tropical spirits, and it's inconspicuously listed toward the middle-end of the menu. But, that's "best value." When it comes to cocktails, "highest value" can mean a few different things. And, what if you're reading a bar menu that isn't organized in list form?

Last is certainly not least

Since not every drink selection is displayed as a running list, it can be tough to spot with some establishments' menus. At the world-renowned NYC bar Death & Co., for instance, the menu is divided into sections like "Light & Playful" and "Boozy & Honest," based on cocktail strength and flavor profile. The World's Best-recognized Katana Kitten similarly lists its cocktails by section, like "Highballs" and "Boilermakers." But, the way we see it, the "highest value" cocktails tote the most expensive spirits or the most unique ingredients — and, indeed, these can often be found toward the end of the bar menus written in list format. 

At Moongate Lounge in San Francisco, the first drink on the menu ("Minor Snow") is made with tequila and blood orange amaro, and by the menu's end, the cocktails feature more obscure, one-of-a-kind ingredients like fig leaf, coconut rice, snow jasmine, and thistle cardamaro. Similarly, at Mother's Ruin in Chicago, the first few listed cocktails are made from awesome albeit fairly basic combinations of spirits: The "I Have Got to Start a Family" is bourbon and rye, but "Party Dad," the last cocktail listed on the menu, is made with the award-winning Jack Daniel's Bonded. A few clicks above Party Dad, patrons will find offerings made with falernum, basil honey, and chamomile — more premium and niche ingredients you're probably unlikely to find in the average home bar or recreate on your own.