Jump to content


Welcome to the eG Forums!

These forums are a service of the Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to advancement of the culinary arts. Anyone can read the forums, however if you would like to participate in active discussions please join the Society.

Photo

Creating New Drinks...But What If They Suck?


  • Please log in to reply
22 replies to this topic

#1 weinoo

weinoo
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 6,165 posts
  • Location:NYC

Posted 14 January 2013 - 02:56 PM

The estimable Derek Brown has written an interesting piece for Table Matters. It's entitled Bartenders: Stop Making (Up) Cocktails, and in it Derek touches a few chords that I agree with.

For instance...

Too often, bartenders, rather than sharpening our axes, studying, searching and trying to find meaning among the thousands of cocktails already created, the neophyte–and even sometimes seasoned veterans, I’m afraid–indulge in the worst possible fantasy: that of some mixological Prometheus who steals the eternal flame of creativity from the old, stuffy Gods and re-imagines it as lavender-infused ice or cinnamon-ancho rim. The unfortunate result is that it’s our liver and not theirs that is forever picked at by these often vile and outlandish combinations.


And how many poorly made Manhattans or Martinis have we all endured?

Derek's right. In my opinion, that is.

Agree?
Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"
mweinstein@eGstaff.org
Tasty Travails - My Blog
My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs
Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

#2 ChrisTaylor

ChrisTaylor
  • host
  • 1,849 posts
  • Location:Melbourne

Posted 14 January 2013 - 03:09 PM

It's fairly common, unless you go to a place that bills itself as making the big classics, to go to a restaurant or bar, even, and find that they can make a dozen or two dozen sickly sweet 'originals' but cannot make anything so simple as an Old Fashioned or Negroni without having to look it up in one of those counter-top flip books. That said, I've been surprised at places I really didn't expect to be able to make Old Fashioneds the old way (right down to using a cube of sugar instead of simple).

Edited by ChrisTaylor, 14 January 2013 - 03:10 PM.

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between


#3 radtek

radtek
  • participating member
  • 290 posts
  • Location:San Antonio, Texas

Posted 14 January 2013 - 11:30 PM

Well I was satisfied to make the standard classics and serve them in a classy place for 7 years. Even though I could whip up a mind eraser or slippery nipple that sort of drinking pisses me off, really. But, I can't fault enthusiastic mixologists for trying to sharpen their game. Experiments however, are best perfected behind the scenes and not tested on the patrons.

#4 EvergreenDan

EvergreenDan
  • participating member
  • 909 posts
  • Location:Boston

Posted 15 January 2013 - 06:52 PM

Zach Pearson (the Kindred Cocktails editor) got a bit steamed up: Creation and Craft

I think Derek has it wrong. Rather than blame creativity, blame a lack of knowledge, talent, and taste. Why cocktail and not food? Can you imagine a chef suggesting that chefs stick to well-made classic?

Edited by EvergreenDan, 15 January 2013 - 06:52 PM.

Kindred Cocktails | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

#5 Tri2Cook

Tri2Cook
  • participating member
  • 3,531 posts
  • Location:Ontario, Canada

Posted 15 January 2013 - 08:05 PM

I think Derek has it wrong. Rather than blame creativity, blame a lack of knowledge, talent, and taste. Why cocktail and not food? Can you imagine a chef suggesting that chefs stick to well-made classic?

Agreed. A drink doesn't suck because it's new, it sucks because it sucks. If I try an original in a quality bar and happen to get a turd, I still want them to keep creating.
It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

#6 Zachary

Zachary
  • participating member
  • 117 posts

Posted 15 January 2013 - 08:32 PM

Tri,

Exactly. Or as a wise person once put it, survivors survive. Drinks are classics because they've proven themselves, but at one point, they too were experimental. Without creativity, we don't get the Jasmine, barrel-aged cocktails, or other cool stuff. A bad drink once in a while's not a tough price to pay.

Thanks,

Zachary

#7 gfweb

gfweb
  • participating member
  • 3,390 posts

Posted 15 January 2013 - 08:43 PM

Wouldn't a good bartender know a lousy drink when he tastes it?

#8 weinoo

weinoo
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 6,165 posts
  • Location:NYC

Posted 15 January 2013 - 09:11 PM

Wouldn't a good bartender know a lousy drink when he tastes it?


One would hope. I think the problem is there just aren't really that many good bartenders that know what the hell they're doing.
Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"
mweinstein@eGstaff.org
Tasty Travails - My Blog
My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs
Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

#9 Adam George

Adam George
  • participating member
  • 353 posts
  • Location:London - UK

Posted 16 January 2013 - 03:31 AM


Wouldn't a good bartender know a lousy drink when he tastes it?


One would hope. I think the problem is there just aren't really that many good bartenders that know what the hell they're doing.


This is one thing that separates the hacks from the decent bar keep: Knowing when something you have made isn't good enough and taking criticism gracefully.

Manning the Bar
A Cocktail Blog


#10 Tri2Cook

Tri2Cook
  • participating member
  • 3,531 posts
  • Location:Ontario, Canada

Posted 16 January 2013 - 04:43 AM

Wouldn't a good bartender know a lousy drink when he tastes it?


Hopefully. I'm not sure what the criteria is for a drink that sucks in a general sense. If a drink that would never be seen on the menu in a craft cocktail bar is loved my millions of people, does it suck? Or does it just suck to a select group of people? If a drink is loved by the crowd at the craft bar but anybody outside that crowd thinks it's horrible, does it suck? There are lots of drinks that have remained popular for the long term that I'm pretty sure would be placed in the "sucks" category by most here if we made a list, so I'm not sure time can be the criteria. To me, a drink doesn't suck if I like it... no matter what the guy down the bar from me thinks.
It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

#11 weinoo

weinoo
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 6,165 posts
  • Location:NYC

Posted 16 January 2013 - 06:37 AM

Well I was satisfied to make the standard classics and serve them in a classy place for 7 years. Even though I could whip up a mind eraser or slippery nipple that sort of drinking pisses me off, really. But, I can't fault enthusiastic mixologists for trying to sharpen their game. Experiments however, are best perfected behind the scenes and not tested on the patrons.


This is a good point, although I'd like to expand on it further. I know a few bartenders. I've hung out in a few bars that are considered to be on the high-end, cutting edge, whatever it is you want to call it. I can't tell you how many cocktails I've tasted before they were put on the menu...if they ever made it that far.

So yes, perfecting drinks behind the scenes is a good idea; but trying them out on a few select patrons can often give a bartender an idea as to whether the drink even deserves to be on the menu.

And let's take a look at technique. I don't care how great the cocktail a bartender has invented is. If it's not served at the right temperature, or properly diluted, then it sucks. And that's the same whether it's a slippery nipple or a Manhattan. And that's one of the points that I think Derek is making - learn how a classic drink should taste and should be served - then move on to your brilliant idea.
Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"
mweinstein@eGstaff.org
Tasty Travails - My Blog
My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs
Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

#12 rotuts

rotuts
  • participating member
  • 4,674 posts
  • Location:Boston MA

Posted 16 January 2013 - 07:04 AM

but then there was the Flaming Moe ! :biggrin:

as you can tell Im a wine drinker.

Edited by rotuts, 16 January 2013 - 07:08 AM.


#13 liuzhou

liuzhou
  • participating member
  • 1,649 posts
  • Location:Liuzhou, Guangxi, China

Posted 16 January 2013 - 07:17 AM

Wouldn't a good bartender know a lousy drink when he tastes it?


Possibly, But he'd still sell you a Bacardi Breezer or get fired.

#14 rotuts

rotuts
  • participating member
  • 4,674 posts
  • Location:Boston MA

Posted 16 January 2013 - 07:24 AM

had to look it up. interesting marketing strategy

http://www.doheth.co...Bacardi_Breezer

#15 Iheartnegronis

Iheartnegronis
  • participating member
  • 9 posts

Posted 19 January 2013 - 12:46 PM

Here in Portland it's not so cut and dry. There are hundreds of bartenders who create a cocktail menu where the drinks are 80% vodka and have blue Curacao in them....I've learned my lesson by ordering Old fashioneds, Negronis, Manhattans because bartenders who have that 80% vodka menu usually can't make a simple Negroni if their life depended on it. This is just in my experience.

We then have the second tier bartenders who claim to know the "classics" and their whole menu is filled with disguised classic drinks. They rename them and put a twist on the originals but the problem I've found is...most of the time the drink isn't as good as the original.

Then there's the great Barternders who have mastered the classics and have branched out into their own experiments. I remember one of the first bars I went into when I was 21, Jeffery Morganthaler was tending and I ordered a simple Sazerac . He gave me a "really? well alright!" expression and made one of the best I've had to this day. (6 years ago). I've since tried every homemade cocktail on his menu and they're absolutely incredible. I guess my point is, my test of a great bartender is if they can nail the classics. Too many bartenders skip even learning the older obscure cocktails.

I got a DEATH GLARE from a bartender who didn't know what a Corpse Reviver #2 was and he worked at a bar claiming to serve vintage cocktails....

#16 EvergreenDan

EvergreenDan
  • participating member
  • 909 posts
  • Location:Boston

Posted 29 January 2013 - 04:27 AM

Haha. CR#2 does indeed sound like a frat boy drink if you have no idea what it is.
Kindred Cocktails | Craft + Collect + Concoct + Categorize + Community

#17 weinoo

weinoo
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 6,165 posts
  • Location:NYC

Posted 29 January 2013 - 07:00 AM

Then there's the great Barternders who have mastered the classics and have branched out into their own experiments. I remember one of the first bars I went into when I was 21, Jeffery Morganthaler was tending and I ordered a simple Sazerac . He gave me a "really? well alright!" expression and made one of the best I've had to this day. (6 years ago). I've since tried every homemade cocktail on his menu and they're absolutely incredible. I guess my point is, my test of a great bartender is if they can nail the classics. Too many bartenders skip even learning the older obscure cocktails.

I got a DEATH GLARE from a bartender who didn't know what a Corpse Reviver #2 was and he worked at a bar claiming to serve vintage cocktails....

Great post - these are the points I believe Derek was making in his article.
Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"
mweinstein@eGstaff.org
Tasty Travails - My Blog
My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs
Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

#18 slkinsey

slkinsey
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 11,087 posts
  • Location:New York, New York

Posted 29 January 2013 - 01:43 PM

I think this speaks to some larger issues having to do with the balance of creativity and restraint, fecundity and limitation. On this, the great composer Igor Stravinsky had some interesting things to say:

"The creator's function is to sift the elements he receives from [imagination], for human activity must impose limits on itself. The more art is controlled, limited, worked over, the more it is free. . . . I shall go even farther: my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit."


It's not just a matter of mastering the classics if you want to know how to make great cocktails. Because you can master the classics without really understanding them, and certainly without learning how to apply those principles to your own imagination. Rather, if you want to make truly great cocktails (or truly great anything) it is a matter of constraining yourself, of doggedly going back over and over the same ground, of discarding those good ideas that never quite became great cocktails, and engaging in a rigorous process of refinement until you've arrived at something. This is a process that takes time and attention. And various bars and bartenders will have a different take on it. At the lowest rung of the ladder are those without the tools to create good cocktails. Getting towards the top of the ladder are two different types among those who understand the principles and have a distinctive voice. There are those who lean towards sprezzatura and abundance in creative output, and there are those who lean towards rigor and curation in creative output. Both approaches can make for awesome bars. Usually, however, the latter type are the ones whose works are more enduring, and it's worthy of note that the revival-era bars with short and highly curated "house cocktail" menus seem to have produced the most cocktails that are "generally accepted as modern classics." So I think it all depends on what you want to do.

Arguably, the sprezzatura/abundance approach is more fun. But this is not something a bartender can just jump into. The bartenders who do this well are masters of their craft who have chosen a certain creative path. After however many years of the rigor/selectivity process in which they acquired their skills and refined their aesthetics, they were able to loosen up and explore their creativity. And even these prolific masters discard most of their ideas. As Mitch points out, once you're around a while you get to see plenty of "works in progress" that may or may not make it onto a cocktail menu some day -- and sometimes an idea may take a year or more to find the right expression. "Getting creative" isn't someplace you start from, it's someplace you end up. I think the author is speaking to the large numbers of bartenders who are trying to start off "creative" and ending up with the expected result. This, of course, applies to many other creative endeavors in life beyond creating new libations.
Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

#19 haresfur

haresfur
  • participating member
  • 1,073 posts
  • Location:Bendigo Australia

Posted 29 January 2013 - 02:07 PM

There is a corollary that we would be better off if the drinking public spent more time learning about, drinking, and appreciating the classic cocktails.

If nothing else it would give bar tenders practice making them and consumers who would know when the new drinks just don't stack up.
It's almost never bad to feed someone.

#20 mkayahara

mkayahara
  • participating member
  • 1,795 posts
  • Location:Guelph, Ontario

Posted 29 January 2013 - 07:34 PM

"Getting creative" isn't someplace you start from, it's someplace you end up.

Amen, Sam.
Matthew Kayahara
Kayahara.ca
@mtkayahara

#21 ChrisTaylor

ChrisTaylor
  • host
  • 1,849 posts
  • Location:Melbourne

Posted 30 January 2013 - 03:01 AM

There is a corollary that we would be better off if the drinking public spent more time learning about, drinking, and appreciating the classic cocktails.

If nothing else it would give bar tenders practice making them and consumers who would know when the new drinks just don't stack up.


There are some very good new drinks. I mean, to dismiss new drinks outright and wholesale, it's like dismissing any new innovation in cooking or any other form of creating. Some of these are just restrained twists on a classic and popular formula. Others, like a few standouts in the beta cocktails[i] book, are a few steps away from the Martini/Old Fashioned-level of simplicity (i.e. two or three readily avaliable ingredients). It's just that, like with cooking, I guess it's really hard to make something that's new [i]and good without first having a solid grasp of the basics. I suspect having a base of simple recipes and using those to develop something of a palate, a sense of what has long-lasting appeal to a wide audience (or at least to people that have a palate similar to yours), gives you a solid point of reference when you set out to 'invent' something new. If you want to make some sort of Thai-inspired fusion dish, for instance, then you'll be served well by experience cooking the big classics and knowing the importance of acknowledging and socialising the core flavours of the cuisine (saltiness, sweetness, heat, et al).

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between


#22 haresfur

haresfur
  • participating member
  • 1,073 posts
  • Location:Bendigo Australia

Posted 31 January 2013 - 03:56 AM

I'm not dismissing new drinks, just that a foundation in the classics can be valuable on both sides of the bar.
It's almost never bad to feed someone.

#23 brinza

brinza
  • participating member
  • 431 posts
  • Location:Pittsburgh

Posted 13 February 2013 - 11:36 AM

I think the author is speaking to the large numbers of bartenders who are trying to start off "creative" and ending up with the expected result. This, of course, applies to many other creative endeavors in life beyond creating new libations.

This is it right here. One of the problems with some of the so-called craft cocktail bars is that they think the concept means that they are supposed to invent all their own cocktails and that they must be odd and unusual (in order to give the appearance of being innovative), meanwhile they've completely skipped over the part about serving classics and/or well-made cocktails.

There is a corollary that we would be better off if the drinking public spent more time learning about, drinking, and appreciating the classic cocktails.

If nothing else it would give bar tenders practice making them and consumers who would know when the new drinks just don't stack up.

Actually, I think what got lost is that "craft cocktails" should first mean well-made cocktails, before it means classic cocktails or new "innovative" cocktails. The drinking public doesn't necessarily need to learn about classic cocktails if they go to a place where the drinks are well-made. Once someone tastes a perfectly made classic, they suddenly realize what a good drink really is. If they are served something bizarre and don't like it, they might be soured on the whole concept of craft cocktails and go back to the sea of flavored vodka swill that they are more comfortable with.

I agree with a lot what both Derek and Zach had to say--I don't think their ideas are diametrically opposed. I bet it's safe to say that they both want the same thing from a bar or bartender, but have taken different approaches to delineate the reasons that so many of them are failing to grasp the craft cocktail concept. I think most of us just want to be able to walk into a bar and simply ask for a Manhattan or a Sidecar or an Old Fashioned and have it well-made. I would love to be able to order a Martini and not have to specify that I want gin. No, I don't want "your twist" on a classic. Well, maybe I do, but call it something else, don't use the name of a classic to sell me your pet project. When I look at a cocktail menu for the first time, the first thing I do is look at all the base liquors. If there are plenty with whiskey or gin and at least a few with brandy or rum, I know that there is at least some potential here; someone's thought about this. Then I scrutinize the supporting ingredients and go from there.

Edited by brinza, 13 February 2013 - 11:40 AM.

Mike

"The mixing of whiskey, bitters, and sugar represents a turning point, as decisive for American drinking habits as the discovery of three-point perspective was for Renaissance painting." -- William Grimes