The Best Ways To Find The Right Spirit For You, According To A Bar Director ─ Exclusive

If you're not a regular drinker or don't have one particular spirit that tickles your tipple fantasy regularly, you've probably been asked, "Well, what do you like?" on more than one occasion and with no good response. The problem is, you may not know what you like ─ and that's okay! There are so many spirits to choose from, and each one is different, special, and unique. With all the options out there, ranging from warm, bitter, and spicy to sweet and floral, and just about everything in between, it can be a challenge to find one that works best for you. We're not mind readers or fortune tellers, so we can't choose for you ─ but we did ask an expert in the industry, Sidney Williams, bar director for Officina 1397 Hospitality Group, to share some helpful pointers.

Finding a spirit that you can genuinely enjoy on its own or in a cocktail doesn't have to be a frustrating task, nor should it be. Maybe you love how a Manhattan looks when you see someone order one and want to know if you're a Bourbon person. Perhaps you love a whiskey sour but haven't found the right whiskey to take it from a good cocktail to a great one. The best part? Once you do figure it out, there's no wrong answer. It should be fun and simple, and Williams has given us the tools to make it so.

Look to the seasons

Like so many other events in life, drinking is a seasonal sport. While some prefer to stick to their drink of choice year-round, that may not be the best fit for you, especially if you're unsure of your taste. If you're uncertain about which direction you want to go in regarding a base spirit for a cocktail or simply something to sip on, Williams suggests looking to the seasons.

For him, the key is simplicity. Reach for something with warmth for cozy fall flavors, like Bourbon, or perhaps something with more oomph in those dark winter months, like a dark rum or an Anejo tequila. This can be especially helpful around the holidays when the flavor list writes itself and can make finding a holiday tipple almost too simple — pumpkin spice, cinnamon, vanilla, cranberry, and cloves are all easy wins. Alternatively, on the hottest of summer days when you need something light and refreshing, something bright and floral like gin, or sweet like pineapple-infused rum, may be what you're looking for to sip on poolside all season long.

Figure out your flavor

The alcohol flavor wheel is a lengthy one. If you've ever taken the time to listen to an expert rattle off tasting notes about a certain spirit, you'd be amazed by the adjectives they can conjure up to describe what's in that little tasting glass. Bourbon, all on its own, has an entire tasting wheel dedicated to the seemingly infinite tasting notes that it can produce. So, what's your flavor?

When a new patron comes to Williams at one of his bars, he starts with important questions to determine what style and flavor may work best. "I might ask if they like a shaken or stirred cocktail," he said. "If they want to sip on a spirit, I ask questions like, do you prefer fruity, spicy, savory, clean, complex, etc." In this case, starting with a flavor profile and working from there may be the best way to figure out the spirit that will most efficiently strike your fancy. Craving something sweet? Perhaps start by trying some brandy options, like Calvados and apple brandy. Ready for something with a little heat? Ask your bartender for their go-to Scotch options to spice things up.

Work your way back from a cocktail of choice

While sipping on a spirit neat or with an ice cube hits the spot for some, it might not be the right vibe for others. Perhaps it's too aggressive from an alcoholic perspective, or doesn't come with enough flavor or excitement. Whatever the reason, if you're unsure of the right spirit for you but don't want to start by tasting a bunch of spirits neat, start with the finished product instead. Find the cocktail that's right for you based on the flavors you like, and from there, determine if that base spirit is a keeper.

The flavor wheel that works so well for describing spirit flavors? You can also use that same wheel to figure out your go-to cocktail. For something complex, perhaps a Vieux Carré is up your alley, and you may find that you're a lover of brown spirits like cognac and rye. For something simple but strong, lean in with a dry gin martini. Despite how intimidating this drink may seem, you may find that this no-nonsense cocktail is exactly what you've been looking for.