For the home bartender, part of the fun is the experimentation.
It can be joyous, disappointing, expensive — or all three.
But Trent O'Connor and Brendan Dorr, two local bartenders, have some suggestions for a winning formula.
Dorr, the bartender at B&O American Brasserie has won many awards for his recipes, most recently for a Barenjager Honey Liqueur he ominously called "El Oso" (The Bear).
The cocktail, which is made out of Barenjager, tequila, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and Jerry Thomas' Decanter Bitters, earned him $1,000 in September and a trip to Oktoberfest in Munich.
O'Connor's award is only a week old. On Monday, he won a contest sponsored by Tuaca liqueur for a cocktail he calls Tuaca Chesapeake, which is served in an Old Bay-rimmed glass.
The two bartenders agreed that the key to a winning recipe is balance.
At the contest, what set O'Connor's entry apart from the others was the peaceful harmony of all the flavors.
O'Connor said the inspiration for his was where he grew up — Annapolis — but that the flavors had to provide contrast. He knew the liqueur he was obligated to use — Tuaca — was very sweet.
So he had to counterbalance that with the saltiness of Old Bay and the tanginess of freshly squeezed lemon juice. He also added soda and Smirnoff Citrus
Dorr echoed his sentiments, saying the contrasts in flavors worked well, "just like with a chocolate-covered pretzel; you get that salty-sweet thing going on that makes you lick your lips and go back for more."
O'Connor declined to give the specific recipe for his cocktail because he may want to patent it.
But he said by playing with the ingredients he used, home bartenders might come up with their own versions of a Tuaca Chesapeake.
Although he said it took him two days to come up with a final version, and some 30 people had to try it, he wasn't sure it would be a success until the competition.
"I noticed mine was the only one everyone kept drinking," he said.