The changing art of the drinks list

The changing art of the drinks list

credit: Javier Feria @

It could be a single sheet of paper, or a hastily updated blackboard, or a carefully designed bound book. What it certainly won't be is the dusty plastic-bound tome of old

Picture the scene: you step through the door of an exciting new bar. You take in the surroundings, absorb the atmosphere. The staff greet you warmly and direct you to the all-important drinks list. It's your guide for the evening – but how is it put together?

Fancy a pint?

Oh for the days when 'fancy a pint?' meant 'chose between lager and ale'. The amount and type of beer available has changed dramatically, which means almost all bar operators have had to navigate new ground. Amy Williams, manager of Inn Deep in Glasgow, explains their approach. 'We only stock small or craft breweries, which I think is really refreshing,' she says. They offer a huge range from all over the world, with an emphasis on unusual brews, which means staff often lead choices, 'We like to get something that nobody has heard of, something that customers should try.' That doesn't mean just anything can make it onto the list though, with Inn Deep saying no to as many beers as they accept – competition is fierce from brewers battling to get their products onto the lists at go-to beer bars, hoping to expose their wares to the widest possible, switched-on audience.

Wine time

'A wine list is an evolution,' says David Ramsden of Edinburgh's Fat Pony Wine Bar. A well-known face who has run several restaurants in the city, he says when he started the Fat Pony he wanted to have 'something a bit finer than the wine bars that were around at the time' but soon found he needed to make room for some old favourites on the list too. 'It takes a great deal of time, care and discussion,' says Ramsden. He also mentions the importance of working with the right suppliers, who act as a bridge between bar and producer because, 'the wine world evolves at a fairly terrifying rate.' And while the Fat Pony focuses on wine, Ramsden believes you can't exclude any type of customer in these competitive times so there's also a small but well-thought out range of beers and spirits.

Shake it up

Cocktails are big business and even the most mainstream bar will have at least a short house list, of varying quality. Bramble was at the forefront of Edinburgh's cocktail revolution and general manager Michael Lynch notes that cocktail bars have to keep things fresh. Their list changes every three months, but not wholesale: 'We sit down and look at what needs to change, whether it's to do with the season or if we think something isn't current or is overdone.' Best-sellers aren't immune; if the team think it's time for a change, they're swapped out. It's a two-step process to get a new cocktail on the menu; creations are passed by the team first, then by the owners. And while standing out is important, Michael stresses, 'we still want to stay approachable. We just try to be clever in how we do things.'

There's a great deal of pressure on bars to be ahead of the curve. We've already seen the gin list and the rum list, and with an explosion in craft whisky just around the corner, we'll no doubt soon see a huge change in the way whisky is curated, presented and sold. Just another page on the list or a reflection of a global marketing industry focused on selling alcohol to an ever-thirsty public? You decide.