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Crafty or Crappy?


EvergreenDan
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I think we all have our own "know it when we see it" definition, but can we do better? Any thoughts? Age and history help, but aren't sufficient. Having interesting / challenging flavors helps. Being balanced (esp not too sweet) helps. Tasting of alcohol helps ... and maybe it's necessary?

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I think that "craft" can apply to two things. One is the recipe itself; the other is its preparation. I can't give you a very good definition of the former (classic, on the other hand, I could do), and the latter is a list of the basics: quality ingredients thoughtfully prepared and served.

Chris Amirault

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I think the term, craft,is the chef/mixologist equivalent to "artisanal" for farmers and cheese-herders. It is meant to suggest uncommon skill and care in preparation; but to me it doesn't have a lot of real meaning.

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Well, sure, back in 2006. But most of those elements are now standard issue in a lot of cocktail programs that start with "cra-" but don't end with "-ft." Doesn't stop those programs from claiming they're craft...

Chris Amirault

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...

(classic, on the other hand, I could [define])

...

If it wouldn't be too far OT, I'd actually be interested in hearing a definition for this. My opinion is that generally folks play very fast and loose with the label of "classic" as it refers to cocktails. Are all old drinks classics? Are all new drinks that originated in Pegu, Zig-Zag, etc, classics? I'm increasingly taking to using the word very narrowly indeed. I'd even go so far as to say no more than two dozen--and ideally far fewer--drinks fit the strictest definition of the word: a definition that, once abandoned, makes the term all but meaningless.

At least that's my take on it. What's yours?

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Here's the "What makes a cocktail classic?" slide from my intro workshop:

enhance the spirit base

layer & direct different flavors

technique serves the cocktail

treat your ingredients with respect

quality, not quantity

recipes are guides: taste & adjust

about 2-3 oz booze per drink

~25% dilution

beware the sweet

classic recipes form the basis for innovation

My crack, anyway....

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Here's the "What makes a cocktail classic?" slide from my intro workshop:

enhance the spirit base

layer & direct different flavors

technique serves the cocktail

treat your ingredients with respect

quality, not quantity

recipes are guides: taste & adjust

about 2-3 oz booze per drink

~25% dilution

beware the sweet

classic recipes form the basis for innovation

My crack, anyway....

Those things definitely describe the classics, but are all drinks fitting the description given classics? There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of drinks on menus across the US alone at this very moment that qualify. Surely you don't suggest they are all "classics" in the sense that a Manhattan, Negroni, or Daiquiri are?

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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No, I don't.

This is just an attempt to characterize, for people used to drinking watery vodka sours, what makes a classic approach to cocktails "classic." The first five principles are the key; the next five are just additional points.

Chris Amirault

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To my mind there are several different interrelated uses of "classic" that make sense.

The first would be that any pre-prohibition cocktail is "a classic-era" cocktail.

Cocktails coming from this era, as well as the relatively few that come from the years immediately thereafter and can be viewed as an outgrowth and continuation of this aesthetic, which have endured the test of time to be regarded as foundational and great cocktails are "classic" cocktails.

Modern-era cocktails which are so immersed in the classic-era aesthetic and ingredients as to seem as though they came from this time are "neo-classic" cocktails.

Modern-era cocktails which seem to have joined the pantheon of "standard drinks" that everyone knows and acknowledges as being foundational and great are "modern classics."

"Craft" doesn't mean much to me in the context of cocktails. All cocktails are "craft" unless they're somehow being mass-produced.

--

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Here's the "What makes a cocktail classic?" slide from my intro workshop:

enhance the spirit base

layer & direct different flavors

technique serves the cocktail

treat your ingredients with respect

quality, not quantity

recipes are guides: taste & adjust

about 2-3 oz booze per drink

~25% dilution

beware the sweet

classic recipes form the basis for innovation

My crack, anyway....

Hmm. Not so sure about that first one. Do cocktails like the Negroni and Last Word and Corpse Reviver No. 2 "enhance the base spirit"? Can we even think of these drinks as having a base spirit? Also, what does that mean, exactly, "enhance the base spirit"? This seems to imply a certain aesthetic where the base ingredient is clearly discernible and is merely "enhanced" by the other ingredients -- like a "booze with a dash of this and a drop of that" technique. But I would argue that plenty of classic cocktails don't follow this aesthetic at all. Even something like a 2:1:1 Sidecar strikes me as not necessarily being "enhanced cognac."

--

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"Enhance" as opposed to "hide/obscure."

I believe -- and I think I'm not alone here -- that most classic cocktails seek to bring the spirit into a compelling relationship with other ingredients. This is distinct from the desire to mask the qualities of the spirit in many of the drinks that, at least in my burg, people have come to think are "cocktails."

S'all.

Chris Amirault

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OK, for fun and illustration purposes, are these craft cocktail recipes?

Drink #1

2 oz Brandy

1 oz Pineapple syrup

1⁄2 oz Curaçao

1⁄2 oz Maraschino Liqueur

6 ds Angostura bitters

Drink #2

1 oz Blackstrap Rum

1 oz Peach liqueur

1 oz Orange juice

1 oz Pineapple juice

Craft or crap, and why? (PS, I'm really concerned about the recipe, rather than the preparation technique. Assume the cocktails are prepared with care (fresh ingredients, good technique, careful measuring, etc.)

Edited by EvergreenDan (log)

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

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OK, for fun and illustration purposes, are these craft cocktail recipes?

Drink #1

2 oz Brandy

1 oz Pineapple syrup

1⁄2 oz Curaçao

1⁄2 oz Maraschino Liqueur

6 ds Angostura bitters

Drink #2

1 oz Blackstrap Rum

1 oz Peach liqueur

1 oz Orange juice

1 oz Pineapple juice

Craft or crap, and why? (PS, I'm really concerned about the recipe, rather than the preparation technique. Assume the cocktails are prepared with care (fresh ingredients, good technique, careful measuring, etc.)

I'd say crap and crap, if forced to evaluate these that reductively, due to the complete lack of balance in both. 2 oz brandy and 2 oz sugars in the one and 4 essentially sweet ingredients in the other seem to locate them in the typing monkey school of mixology.

But then again, similar recipes to #2, although with real navy rum instead of the blackstrap, appear often enough in books such as the Savoy.

This is an old problem, dating back to the renaissance and their arguments about the worth of classical literature. They couldn't really solve it then and we won't be able to solve it now. Either classic is anything from the classic period, good or bad, which excludes the most careful modern practitioners, even though their work is more classical than many of the real classics, or it's anything from any period that upholds the highest standards of the past, which leaves us with a very reductive view of the culture we're drawing inspiration from and lays us open to massive fights about the canon and aesthetics in general.

For what its worth, the people in the Renaissance who best succeeded artistically--Shakespeare, Ariosto, Rabelais, etc.--forged ahead with a wide knowledge of the classics and an equally wide capacity to disregard those models if they wanted to do something different.

aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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David, I think I agree -- crap and crap. The Brandy drink is the Bengal from the '37 UK bartender's manual. The rum drink is a recent user-creation submitted to Kindred Cocktails which maybe needs curation.

From the discussion above, here's a stab at a definition to spark conversation:

  • Include only high-quality spirits and liqueurs (no Midori, MD 20/20, Apple Pucker, most flavored vodkas)
  • Use only fresh and/or high quality mixers and flavoring ingredients
  • Use accepted preparation techniques
  • Be no sweeter than slightly sweet unless
    • balanced with bitter or
    • balanced with complexity or
    • presents unusual flavor combinations, or
    • intended as a dessert cocktail

    [*]Taste of alcohol, rather than just the mixers

    [*]Express (rather than suppress) the flavors of the alcoholic ingredients

    [*]Pedigree is helpful, but not essential:

    • Be a classic -- a cocktail created long ago made and with frequency since or
    • Modern creation from a respected mixologist or
    • Modern creation from an unknown mixologist which presents interesting flavors or combinations

Thoughts?

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I think it's a good start, though I'm skeptical of the part about sweetness. There are quite a few tiki-style drinks that basically consist of sweet juices, a little lime for sour, and some rum. They are more than just a little sweet, not particularly complex, and not containing unusual combinations. Are they getting excluded?

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... sweetness. There are quite a few tiki-style drinks that basically consist of sweet juices, a little lime for sour, and some rum. They are more than just a little sweet, not particularly complex, and not containing unusual combinations. Are they getting excluded?

Perhaps you could post up a craft tiki cocktail that has these characteristics, for the purpose of discussion.

Here is Beachbum Berry's Mai Tai:

Recipe: In your shaker pour 1 ounce each fresh lime juice, Rhum Clément VSOP Martinique rum, and Appleton Estate Extra dark Jamaican rum; 1/2 ounce orange Curacao; and 1/4 ounce each orgeat syrup and sugar syrup. Add at least 2 cups of crushed ice, then shake well for around 10 seconds. Pour unstrained into a double old-fashioned glass. Sink your spent lime shell in the drink, and garnish with a mint sprig.

With equal parts lime and sweet ingredients, that seems to fit as a craft cocktail (which I think it pretty clearly is).

Or here's the Soggy Dollar's Painkiller:

1 oz Rum (Brittish Navy)

1 oz Rum (151)

2 oz Pineapple juice

2 oz Orange juice

1/2 oz Coconut cream

1 pn Nutmeg (as garnish)

Now there's no lime in this and coconut cream is very sweet. Still both fresh pineapple and fresh orange juice have some acid. It is more than "slightly sweet". I think this is probably a craft cocktail (when otherwise prepared well), even though it isn't my cup of juice.

Maybe the way out it to allow "tropical" drinks to be "a bit sweeter" than would otherwise be allowed?

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While origin has an importance, I think the essence of a craft cocktail is in the care in the creation both of the recipe and preperation.

A Manhattan is undeniably a classic cocktail. And the numbers of bad ones are legion. What define a craft cocktail Manhattan is where the bar has carefully selected the base spirit, the vermouth, the bitters and what other items (if any) go into it. Figured out the proportions which work best for those ingredients and then serve it with care and precision.

Tiki drinks are another example. They became abominations, but Donn and Vic worked out recipes with precision and balance.

A.

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Certainly carelessness all but guarantees a craptail. And it's easy to recognize carelessness in preparation because there are a limited number of preparation techniques and they are more-or-less widely accepted. In some recipes, you can detect carelessness in the recipe itself, but it maybe harder to distinguish if a lack of care from careful, but poor mixology.

I suspect that the creators of both drink 1 and 2 above created them with care. The former was good enough for Craddock to include it and the latter was posted with a specific rum and appropriate crafty instructions.

Craft cocktail recipe creation requires both care and good execution. I'm hope to poke at a definition of good recipe creation execution.

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

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So Dan made me join so I could post my thoughts on this thread instead of debate-via-email...

I agree with what Andrew says about the intent of the person who makes the cocktail - If you don't care about ingredient selection or technique, you're going to make a bad cocktail. If you think that anything in a Martini glass is a Martini, chances are, you're going to make a bad cocktail. Intent tells you more about a cocktail than anything else.

I'd also like to extend this point a bit by talking about balance. I think that to a certain point, balance in cocktails is overrated, as balance is not only a physiological issue, but a sociological one. Champagne on the whole was a lot sweeter 125 years ago than it is today, but that didn't stop people from pairing it with oysters. Drinks like the Bengal (from the 1937 U.K. Bartender's Manual) seem to modern palates to be unbalanced, with almost equal parts spirit to sweet, and low acid. I'm going to make it tomorrow and will report back, but my suspicion is that it has an interesting balance from the woody brandy and the large quantity of bitters.

Thanks... now be kind to a newbie ;)

Zachary

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I'd also like to extend this point a bit by talking about balance. I think that to a certain point, balance in cocktails is overrated, as balance is not only a physiological issue, but a sociological one. Champagne on the whole was a lot sweeter 125 years ago than it is today, but that didn't stop people from pairing it with oysters. Drinks like the Bengal (from the 1937 U.K. Bartender's Manual) seem to modern palates to be unbalanced, with almost equal parts spirit to sweet, and low acid. I'm going to make it tomorrow and will report back, but my suspicion is that it has an interesting balance from the woody brandy and the large quantity of bitters.

Welcome, Zachary. And we agree about balance, which is why I said that you want to "layer and direct" flavors, not "balance" them. In this very forum, bostonapothecary is responsible for my jettisoning balance from my vocabulary, in fact.

Chris Amirault

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Chris,

I think that "Layer and direct flavors" works well - I think about it as building "accords" as in perfume, for example using Cynar to bring out the smoky aromas and flavors on Islay scotch. Thinking about what your ingredients smell and taste like is the first step toward making craft cocktails.

Thanks,

Zachary

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So.... Dan was right.

I ended up making pineapple syrup today, and made the Bengal, with brandy that was probably too good for it (Germain-Robin single barrel Viognier):

2 oz. "old" brandy

1 oz pineapple syrup

1/2 oz orange Curacao

1/2 oz Maraschino

6 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake, strain, garnish with a slice of lemon peel.

As written, this is not only quite sweet, but Maraschino-forward, which was a surprise. The pineapple does its usual texturizing thing, but the addition of 1/4 oz lemon juice works nicely, opening up the drink and bringing the brandy towards the front. I think it has redeeming qualities.

Thanks,

Zachary

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