The Cocktail Ina Garten Always Orders To See If A Bar Is Worth The Hype

Ina Garten is a woman who likes to keep things simple. When it comes to cocktails, she's made her love of tangy bar staples known, from margaritas to cosmopolitans. So it's not surprising that The Barefoot Contessa opts for a bright, refreshing classic cocktail when testing to see if a bar is worth the hype.

And what is her cocktail of choice? A whiskey sour. Yes, this simple concoction of whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup, shaken until frothy, is a great way to set a baseline for quality and care at a bar that may be unfamiliar or new. After all, when there aren't too many moving parts involved, it's easy to check to see if the bartender is using the correct ratio for a balanced whiskey sour – whether they use fresh lemon juice and simple syrup instead of commercially produced sour mix, and whether their attempts at shaking ends up in a sticky glass and a wet counter.

Proper technique for a whiskey sour

The main things you (and Ina Garten) should be looking for from a proper whiskey sour are technique and quality of ingredients — including garnishes! If you see your bartender grab a maraschino cherry from an open case on the bar that's probably been sitting out for days, get out of there. Same thing if they pull out a bottle of store-bought sour mix. This cocktail should be made with fresh lemon juice and simple syrup, and your drink shouldn't end up tasting either cloyingly sweet or overly astringent.

There are many ways to shake up a whiskey sour – from your choice of bourbon or rye whiskey to a light addition of bitters to using fresh egg whites or an egg white substitute. If an egg white is being used, you might check to see if they dry shake the egg white and cocktail before adding ice, which will make it extra frothy. Bonus points if so.

If no egg white is used, the drink should still be shaken long enough that it gets frothy, but not so long that it comes out watery and diluted. And real pros will double strain your whiskey sour through a fine mesh sieve after shaking.

The classic cocktail test

Ina Garten isn't alone when it comes to her "whiskey sour test." It's common practice for beverage industry professionals to judge a bar by their execution of a classic cocktail, something with only a few ingredients and an established recipe. 

The whiskey sour — along with drinks like the negroni, daiquiri, and old fashioned — is basically bartending 101. So if you end up with a bad one, you probably don't want to stick around and take a risk on one of the bar's more experimental drinks.

Substitutions are a big thing you should look out for. Many bars will offer their own take on traditional cocktails, say, with a generic red aperitivo subbed in for the Campari in a classic negroni, or walnut bitters instead of Angostura bitters for an old fashioned. And while these could turn out to be delicious, you want to know that the bar stocks classic cocktail ingredients — and that they know how to use them.

You also want to check how they pour; are they using a jigger or eyeballing the measurements? A structured cocktail needs more attention to ratios than a mixed drink, or the flavors won't be appropriately balanced. But at the end of the day, your tastebuds will be the most accurate judge of whether or not someone's rendition of your favorite drink is worth a second round.