The Only Chart You Need To Mix A Proper Cocktail

Pop Chart Lab takes you behind the scenes of creating its newest infographic, a massive chart showing 200 cocktails—including what’s in them and what the proportions should be. It wasn’t easy.

We’d been trying to complete a chart of cocktails for over a year. It’s sorta been Pop Chart Lab’s white whale. This journey started, as every PCL chart does, with a bunch of research dumped into Excel. In December 2010, we compiled a document of nearly 200 cocktails broken down by ingredients.

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Then we moved into OmniGraffle. In our first attempt, we grouped the spirits, wines, liqueurs, cordials, etc., and then started drawing lines connecting each ingredient to the appropriate cocktail. We then drew another line connecting the cocktail to the appropriate glass along the bottom of the chart.

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We could tell right away this likely wasn’t going to work. The ingredients were taking up way too much space, and every cocktail connecting to a glass at the bottom was creating a huge bottleneck. Just to make sure, though, we started color coding and pushed a little further.

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Convinced this wasn’t going to work, we put the idea on the shelf for a few months. In September, we were working on a chart of the ingredients in candy bars, and we ran into a similar problem. The majority of the bars had milk chocolate in them, which meant a lot of lines running to the same place.

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Our breakthrough here was putting the chocolates in the center, the candy bars in a ring around the outside, and then the other ingredients at the top and bottom.

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We knew this same arrangement could work for the cocktails chart if we put the shared ingredients in the center and the cocktails in a ring around them. In this draft from November, we used Excel to make a pie chart of the spirits and then put that in the center, the liqueurs and bitters on the left, mixers up top, and garnishes on the right.

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This was looking promising, but as we filled in more of the chart, it was getting tough to read.

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The solution was to move more into the center pie chart. In this next version, all alcoholic ingredients—spirits, wines, bitters, and liqueurs—were moved into the center pie chart, with mixers up above and garnishes down below.

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This proved to us that the concept could work, so we moved into working in Illustrator, where it’s easier to draw curved lines than in OmniGraffle. We started with an old-time-y treatment, complete with overly long subtitle. Here it is before we filled in any of the connecting lines.

And here is what it looked like after we spent 40 hours drawing lines. If you look closely within this jumble of vectors, you might be able to find the exact moment at which we lost our sanity.

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A ridiculous amount of work went into this, but the lines were so dense that we couldn’t even follow them to proofread it. The only solution here would have been to increase the size of the poster, and with 1-point lines we were already at a 27"x39" poster. To make this legible, we probably would have needed to print it on a 4'x6' piece of paper. So instead, we did the smart thing and ruthlessly culled the list of cocktails down from 175 to 68. We lost a lot of good cocktails (such as the Flaming Homer), but it was worth it to get a more legible poster. We also switched the look from the staid old-time-y style to a Saul Bass-influenced '60s vibe.

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The reduction in cocktails let us do a few other cool things, like include the ratios for each of the ingredients as well as the serving glasses, which made the chart a lot more functional. We also shook up the center pie chart to give it a more kinetic look.

Click here to buy "Constitutions of Classic Cocktails" for $36.

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22 Comments

  • Matthew Ross

    I have an app for cocktails too. But I see this more as a piece of artwork rather than a functioning chart.

  • AKWintermute

    I think its quite readable for the amount of information being presented. Its only difficult on the computer screen due to the scrolling involved. I'm guessing the some of the closer colors might be a little more discernible in a proper print then on most peoples uncalibrated monitors.

  • Cynthia

    Fun and well done but perhaps you should spend more time drinking cocktails and eating chocolate.

  • Hm

    Clever and pretty, but not actually very useful. I have a pocket sized book and an app that both do a much better job at helping to make cocktails. But I appreciate the effort and idea that went into this.

  • Sean

    Too bad that $10 promotion didn't last longer... would have definitely bought it.

  • Ashley

    Some time ago, I saw this chart in a bar. Tried to track it down then and had no luck. Lo and behold, I found it today. Much more readable. Of course there's also far fewer cocktails but at least you can actually mix a drink based on it. http://engineers-drinks.blogsp...

  • Ashley

    It looks cool but... an infographic that you can't read kind of misses the point of an infographic which is to visually represent data in a way that allows you to read and understand it quickly and clearly. It's pretty much just a pretty picture. I think you should have gone with your first impression that this wasn't working.

  • NikoXeno

    Ashley, I definitely concur. Infographics and visual diagrams are supposed to represent data and information through a design that registers some sort of feeling within you, and visually gets you to understand the design concept. What was the initial design concept of the diagram -- to show the ingredients? To represent different families of classic cocktails? I'd say that starting out with some design concept, then following through along that path would make for a more interesting diagram. Diagrams aren't just charts, nor are they "maps", nor are they just "cool" to look at.

  • Pop Chart Lab

    Thanks for the feedback. We tried to balance the amount of data with readability, but let me just say that the printed product is a lot easier to read than trying to look at it on a computer screen. It's a huge poster at over seven square feet.

  • Brian

    There's no bourbon in a Sidecar - that needs to move over to the brandy side of the chart. Put me down for a pre-order of version 2.0.

  • tberno

    Classic Margarita recipe: one part tequila, one part Cointreau, one part fresh lime juice, shake with ice and serve on the rocks with a salt rimmed, shallow bowl glass. No sugar, sweet and sour, simple syrup etc. Per Margarita Sames, San Antonio, Texas (professed namesake of the beverage). Trust me on this one.

  • khd8n

    MARGARITA. I live on Margaritas. How in the world is that not a classic cocktail??

  • Pop Chart Lab

    We had tequila on an earlier version of the chart, but it's actually not featured in very many classic cocktails. The only truly classic cocktail with it is the Tequila Sunrise. Tequila is usually consumed straight, so we left it off this chart.