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Fine-tuning and Editing: When does a cocktail deserve a name?


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I've been coming up with a flurry of new cocktails over the past few weeks, and then having the recurrent problem of writing down working recipes with the intention of tweaking them later. These recipes never get names, since it seems wrong to enshrine a drink that's not as good as it can be and that I may never drink again.

I've had a hard time with actually tweaking the drinks, though. I thought it might help to consult the collective wisdom of eG. So, a few questions:

1. What is your process for refining the recipe for a drink?

2. How do you decide when a drink is "done"?

3. What makes a new drink worthy of a name?

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Hi Turk (can I call you Turk?)

Firstly, if you haven't already visited the site, I highly recommend kindredcocktails.com. It is a great database for professional and home bartenders alike to catalog their cocktail creations. I've posted many on there, even though I don't consider most of them finished, and am still refining all of them. For me, it's mostly a place to write down thoughts and ideas, although there are many, many quality quaffs to be found.

As far as refining a drink and deciding when it's done...well I guess that's all subjective. I love anything "brown, bitter, and stirred", but my wife doesn't, so if I'm creating a cocktail with her in mind, I'll start with a basic idea, then refine it until it's something she likes, which is usually something sparkling and a tad sour. And though sometimes during the refinement process cocktails kind of wander off on their own, it's also useful to keep in mind something Antoine de Saint Exupery once said: "It seems that perfection is acheived not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove" (although I often forget that, and it's probably something that never occured to Donn Beach).

I also think that drinks are rarely ever "done". There are always going to be variations on variations of cocktails, or some bartender will tweak ratios ever so slightly so that a cocktail will stay basically the same, but with a little bit of his or her own personality. Martinis, I think, are a perfect example of this; I was told once there is no right way to make one, but there are a lot of wrong ways. A martini made 2:1 with Angostura orange bitters and made 3:1 with Regan's follow the same basic formula, but will taste noticeably different. The only thing you can really say is "done" about a martini is the fact that it will have some combination of gin, vermouth, and bitters.

Naming cocktails is probably the hardest part. To me, cocktail is worthy of a name when it is (relatively) unique, and it is something you would be proud of serving someone. Although the Savoy Cocktail book would disagree, I don't believe a martini made 2:1 with no garnish is worth of a new name; it is simply a variation of a martini. A 2:1 martini made with half a part of Benedictine, however, is substantially different from one without, and I think worthy of a new moniker.

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Turk is fine. We're all friends here, right?

I also think that drinks are rarely ever "done".

Naming cocktails is probably the hardest part. To me, cocktail is worthy of a name when it is (relatively) unique, and it is something you would be proud of serving someone.

Putting a drink on the menu says the the drink is "ready" (probably a better word than "done.") I know that bars can and do tweak recipes once they're on the menu, and that a good drink produces dozens of variations. My real question is this: what's your standard for saying "These are the proportions I'm going to use for this version of this drink when I make it again"?

I'm a non-professional (as if that weren't readily apparent from me even asking these questions in the first place)-- and without the forced finality of a menu, it's hard to draw a line around a drink and decide that it's "ready." Would it have been better with 2 more drops of bitters? Should it have been 5:2:2 instead of 3:1:1? I know there's no absolute answer to these questions, but I'm sure others must have a better process for refining drinks.

By the way, I am going to steal that St. Exupery quote.

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