Eileen Callahan of Champagne Travels at the Carlton Hotel in St. Mortiz Switerzerland

I’m someone who loves the classics, especially at the bar. Champagne is, of course, my go-to, and I always love a good martini. But sometimes, after chatting with the bartender, I feel inspired to try a new cocktail. And, each time I do, I’m so happy I stepped outside my comfort zone!

With so many bars and bartenders specializing in mixology these days, there are more chances than ever to explore the world of mixed drinks and to open up your horizons to new ingredients and flavor combinations. But mixology can be a bit intimidating, even if you’re not usually shy around the bar. So, I thought I would offer some suggestions to encourage you to forgo your standard gin and tonic the next time you’re out in favor of something new.

Mixology isn’t as pretentious as it sounds

Although mixology has become a trend in recent years, the word actually dates back to 1948, and a large part of the scene is about playing with and refining techniques from times past. In general, mixologists aim to help evolve the field of bartending, sharing new possibilities with customers and developing techniques to elevate simple cocktails.

Mixologists are skilled at creating innovative libations with inspired blends of ingredients, but in my opinion, mixology isn’t just about shaking drinks–a good mixologist is willing to share his knowledge with the customer and help her explore the world of mixed drinks without being snooty about it. Chances are, if you are imbibing at a high-end locale, the mixologist behind the bar will be more than happy to answer your questions and explain his or her process. I always learn something new when I chat up the bartender to ask about what he’s making or how she’s making it! Don’t be put off by the fancy title–most mixologists will be glad to discuss their craft with you.

Ingredients matter

The revival of mixology has had a big impact on the alcohol world at large–as bartenders became more focused on mixing refined, well-balanced cocktails, they sought out new and better spirits, and new products were created to meet that demand.

You might see ingredients you’re unfamiliar with on the menu at a mixology bar, from unique spirits to house-made syrups to unusual garnishes. For example, Experimental Cocktail Club in Paris, one of my favorite spots for trying out a new drink, uses a homemade orgeat syrup in the Ô Moritaké cocktail, a mix of sake, whiskey, orange bitters, and lime juice.

Mixology has even inspired some brands to revive old recipes–in one such instance, the book Imbibe! by David Wondrich is said to have inspired Bols to bring back their genever, a malted spirit that was the precursor to gin. Mixology is about more than just a fancy shake or lighting something on fire–the quality of the ingredients that go into the cocktail is of the utmost importance.

Eileen Callahan of Champagne Travels in Balthazar in New York City

I’m a purist and I don’t really like sugary drinks, but thanks to fresh ingredients and natural sweeteners like agave, I can enjoy a mixed drink without worrying about a sugar headache the next day. The “Harlequin” at Death & Co Bar in New York City, for example, is sweetened with honey, giving it the perfect touch of sweetness. If you’re like me, you should know that a mixed drink from a mixology bar will probably be far less sugary than, say, a daiquiri from your local bar, thanks to its fresh, high-quality ingredients.

Mixology can be budget friendly

For many people, the word “mixology” conjures ideas of obscenely expensive cocktails, which can be a turn-off for more budget-conscious drinkers. But don’t let this idea deter you from the world of mixology altogether!

If the bartender suggests a drink that’s out of your price range, tell him that it’s a bit over your budget. Usually, a good mixologist will know how to substitute a different brand of spirit to make a great cocktail that’s more budget-friendly. For example, the “Dreams” cocktail at Beaufort Bar at the Savoy in London features Cristal champagne as one of its ingredients, making it the most expensive glass on the menu, but it’s worth asking to see if your mixologist could substitute a more affordable sparkling wine instead.

Champagne Travels

You should also feel free to ask your bartender about any discounts or happy hours, which are also great opportunities to enjoy a fancy cocktail without breaking the bank.

The classics are fair game, too

Mixology isn’t just about creating unusual or surprising drinks. In fact, visiting a mixology bar can be a great opportunity to see an old favorite through new eyes.

Eileen Callahan of Champagne Travels at The Carlton St. Moritz Switzerland

Many bars have imaginative interpretations of classic cocktails–Atlas Singapore, for instance, has a range of elevated gin and tonics, like the “Gin Tonica,” made with modern American gin, yuzu tonic, rosemary, orange, and bay leaf. The Campbell Bar in New York, on the other hand, has a selection of updated Old Fashioneds, including the “New Fashioned,” made with Casamigos reposado tequila instead of the traditional whiskey.

While you’re discussing drinks with the bartender, feel free to ask him whether he can riff on one of your old favorites to create something new.

Eileen Callahan of Champagne Travels Atlas Bar Singapore

I hope this article has shown you that despite the hype, mixology doesn’t have to be intimidating. There are options for everyone, and a good mixologist will know how to help you choose the perfect drink for you, whatever your taste or budget. I hope that next time you’re perusing a drink menu, you’ll consider stepping outside your comfort zone.

Cheers to trying new things!