Last month, at Tales of the Cocktail, ... Eben Freeman, best known as the creator of smoked Coke and "solid" cocktails at the now-defunct Tailor in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood, gave a seminar on protecting one's intellectual property as a bartender. ... [H]e came up with the idea for the talk after becoming fed up with other bartenders and establishments taking credit for and profiting from his recipes and techniques. ... "Someone needs to get sued ... to set a precedent," he told me.
"In no other creative business can you so easily identify money attached to your creative property," Freeman went on. "There is an implied commerce to our intellectual property. Yet we have less protection than anyone else."
Less protection, as eGullet Society members know, because the ingredients and ratios of ingredients cannot be copyrighted.
We've been through this before in our discussion about culinary plagiarism started with this "Sincerest Form" Daily Gullet piece. But the world of cocktails is a bit different, particularly, Freeman asserts, given the preponderance of the "brand ambassadors" that big producers hire to push product:
The bartender not only acts as an advocate but is also expected to create signature cocktail recipes using the product he or she is pushing. Only, these days, the model is so prevalent that liquor brands will tap just about anybody to be a brand ambassador. Oftentimes, these young bartenders ... don't have the experience required to create their own cocktail recipes. And so they Google a recipe and tweak it, or simply use something they learned from a mentor....
[Freeman said,] "In no other creative field do you find people who are so easily able to insert themselves into the scene."
Though I find the brand ambassador trend somewhat unnerving as well, I also worry about reducing the amiable tradition of bartenders sharing their recipes with each other into the goose that lays Diageo's golden eggs. Society members have shared hundreds, if not thousands, of cocktail recipes in eG Forums, members that include Don Lee, Dave Wondrich, Audrey Saunders, Paul Clarke, Toby Maloney, Phil Ward, and many, many more. What a shame if that tradition -- which is many decades older than the eGullet Society -- were to be eradicated.