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Valentine’s Day has many guests longing for delicious cocktails… Adam Fournier, 2021 World Class US Bartender of the Year, offers his take on why a well-balanced cocktail maybe the sweetest treat of all and the perfect way to give guests something they love.


Valentine’s Day is a day of celebration. It’s an opportunity to reflect on romance, step outside of the routine, and communicate your feelings and appreciation for your partner. For many people this means a night out at their favorite restaurant or bar. It also means that there is a large probability that you or your partner will look at the bartender and say:

"Just make me something not too sweet."

This phrase is as ubiquitous as it is vague. It’s vague because it doesn’t actually describe a flavor. What is sweet to one guest is merely fruity to another. One person’s dry martini includes vermouth, while another’s might not. When existing in a vacuum the phrase “not too sweet” doesn’t actually give the bartender any information on how to actually adjust the drink to satisfy the request. It’s like asking a chef to make sure a dish isn't too salty without having ever tasted it. Yet if asking for a drink “not too sweet” doesn’t offer any hard information why is it such a ubiquitous request?

Just like James Bond ordering a martini “shaken not stirred” sounds cool even though it usually creates an inferior drink, saying “not too sweet” sounds good when someone is looking for guidance on what to order. Or if they are intimidated by a menu and unfamiliar with ingredients. Maybe, like an ex best left in the past, they’ve been burned by unbalanced drinks in the past. We are ultimately guides for our guests to help navigate their experience at our venue so they can have the best experience they can. Just like a good relationship it’s all about communication. Which is why the second thing this phrase says is so important…


The second thing someone asking for a drink not too sweet tells me is that the guest is interested in flavor. That they want a good beverage that will elevate their evening and that they trust you to give that to them. And this is amazing! They’re putting a massive amount of trust in you to shape their experience and all it takes is for you to be equally interested.

When I hear “not too sweet” I’m already cycling through a list of drinks and questions to serve up the perfectly balanced beverage. Are you interested in something fruity or herbal? Effervescent or still? Shaken or stirred? Spicy? Sour? Any allergies or aversions? If you’re paying close attention, you’ll notice that these are the same questions you would, and should, ask someone who asks what you recommend on the menu. This goes back to the just mentioned balanced beverage.

A really good beverage program does a lot of work to create balance. That balance, that communication between flavors, is ultimately what makes a great drink. It is going to balance sour, sweet, strong, and weak, yet even if a drink is balanced internally an individual's palette might find that balance "too sweet" so finding what the individual definition of "not too sweet" or "dry" is one of the most basic elements of hospitality.

All of that being said, there are things that can be done to focus on balance in cocktails. For instance, focus on flavor. If you are adding sweet to the drink, try to make sure that it is bringing additional flavor with it. Whether it is a complex syrup, a cordial, or a liqueur try to make sure you’re adding complexity—not just sugar. This was the approach for the Rodeo Drive where a complex syrup is used to carry fruity flavor to create a more complex yet drier Cosmo style drink:

Rodeo Drive

  1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin.
  2. Shake hard with ice.
  3. Double Strain into a stemmed cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Another trick to reducing sweetness is increasing the floral notes of the drink. This plays into the idea of balance again. There has to be a minimum amount of sweetness to balance out the alcohol of a mixed drink, so reducing the perceived sweetness of a cocktail by increasing the proportions of a contrasting flavor like acid or floral flavors can be more effective than just reducing or eliminating the sweetener.

An example of this would be the:

Partners Perception

  1. Combine all ingredients, except soda water, in a mixing tin.
  2. Shake with ice.
  3. Double Strain into a champagne flute.
  4. Top with soda water.
  5. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Ultimately, the simple request for a drink “not too sweet” is an invitation for engagement and involvement to make a guest experience memorable. It is an opportunity to elevate their night and to engage in their experience. As you have guests who may not dine out frequently, as on Valentine's Day, it is important to keep in mind that the ultimate bridge between people is language. And just like in the best relationships, understanding intent is more important than focusing on an individual phrase.

Communication is always the best way to get what you want, both in cocktails and in love.

**Kumquat, Elderberry, and Black Currant Syrup

  1. In a high speed blender blitz the kumquats being careful not to puree the fruit.
  2. In a large pot bring the water to a simmer and add the blitzed kumquats.
  3. Simmer for 10 minutes
  4. Add in the Elderberry.
  5. Simmer for an additional 5 minutes
  6. Remove from heat and let sit for 20 minutes
  7. Pass through chinois to remove solids.
  8. Add the sugar and blend until fully incorporated.
  9. Add the Ribena or Black currant juice and blend until fully incorporated.
  10. Strain into a clean glass container and store under refrigeration for up to three (3) weeks

***Rose Petal Tea

  1. Combine and let the tea steep for 15 minutes
  2. Fine strain, gently pressing on the tea to extract as much water as possible
  3. Store in a clean glass container under refrigeration for up to two (2) weeks