On vacation, when you head to the bar to order a drink, ask the bartender for a recommendation. This is the safest strategy. This is the wisest strategy. This will ensure you get both variety and the relevant cultural experience.
But! Sometimes you’ll have to make this decision for yourself, and it can help to have a game-plan. At the very least, you should have a sense of what “genre” of cocktail fits the vacation vibe. (Order a Piña Colada at brunch, in Iceland, at your own peril.) And if nothing else, let these pairings whet your appetite for your next adventure, whether it’s in the snow or at the beach or roaming through the city.
The scenario: Aprés-Ski drinks in the lodge
The drink: Hot Toddy
Few things in life are more soothing than the mix of warm water, honey, and whiskey after a day shredding the slopes. Or maybe the slopes shredded you? Either way, this is a cocktail that demands the right setting. In the lodge you’ve found it.
Honorable mentions: Irish coffee, Hot chocolate.
The scenario: A toast before exploring the city’s nightlife
The drink: Old-fashioned.
Maybe you’re in Lisbon. Or Medellin. Or Rome or Istanbul or Kuala Lumpur. The point is that it doesn’t matter — in virtually any large city, you can’t go wrong with an old-fashioned to launch the evening. It’s an unimpeachable choice.
Honorable mentions: Gimlet, Negroni.
The scenario: Romantic getaway on the coast, at sunset
The drink: French 75
You could order champagne. You could order wine. Both are fine options, but both are expected. The French 75, with that inspired (and unlikely) combination of champagne and gin, is something of a statement: this trip is different, this night means something.
Honorable mentions: Malibu sunset, Campari
The Scenario: Poolside cocktail, or a scorching-hot day at the beach.
The drink: Mojito
The rummy start. The minty finish. In fairness, there are plenty of acceptable times to enjoy a mojito — at an outdoor café during the afternoon, or even an indoor café at night (it’s a versatile drink) — but the sweet-spot is somewhere outdoors in the heat, ideally someplace tranquil or even exotic, with the sun kissing your skin.
Honorable mentions: Mai Tai, Sangia, and yes, fine, Piña Colada.
The scenario: Nightcap after a long day of museum-hopping.
The drink: Manhattan
You’ve earned it. And the drink is simple on the surface (whiskey, vermouth, bitters) but sneakily complex…just like basically every museum.
Honorable mentions: Scotch and soda, Cognac.
The scenario: Celebrating the completion of a rugged hike, basking in the jaw-dropping views.
The drink: Beer.
We’re including this for credibility. One thing I’ve found is that virtually everywhere on the globe — from Southeast Asia to Iceland to Europe to South America — after doing something outdoors that’s physically strenuous, there is no better drink than a beer. (With the possible exception of our Honorable Mention.)
Honorable mentions: Water.