When I began bartending in 1989, Fuzzy Navels and Sex on the Beaches were all the rage. People did not want to taste the alcohol in their 'cocktails'; it seemed instead that they wanted to suffocate in a thickness of sugary liqueurs and sickly sweet juices. Those types of drinks all have a singular flavor profile: sweet.
The backlash of that cloyingly sweet cocktail trend is that today I have an innumerable amount of guests that approach the bar looking for a 'dealer's choice' cocktail that have been programmed to recite one condition: "I don't like sweet drinks." They immediately shy away from menu items with sweet ingredients, and because of that, really miss out on some fantastic drinks. If I served them a Rickey with literally no sugared component at all, they wouldn't know quite what hit them.
Today, while some cocktails are obviously sweeter than others, there are a slew of well-balanced modern cocktails that lean slightly toward the sweet side of the flavor spectrum, unlike their saccharine cousins from the '80s and '90s.
For example, at the Whistler we serve the Vermont Cocktail. A quick scan of the ingredients might send someone who "doesn't like sweet drinks" running for the hills. While it does include both maple syrup and apricot liqueur, the sweetness of those two components is balanced by lime juice, bitters, and the qualities of a sturdy dry gin backbone. The Violet Hour serves The Riviera: a terrific cocktail that, at first glance, might seem too sweet. However, thanks to the talented bartenders behind the bar's menu, it's pineapple-infused gin and Maraschino liqueur are perfectly tempered by the bitterness of Campari and the acidity of lemon juice.
A bartender worth his or her salt will be able to guide their guests toward a cocktail that is just right or them. I don't want my customers to miss out on legendary libations like the Mai Tai, just because it's recipe has been bastardized over the years. I want the people who visit the Whistler to trust that I won't try to sell them a French Martini.
The next time you are looking for some guidance choosing a cocktail at your favorite cocktail spot, take a moment before telling your bartender, "I don't like sweet drinks."