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