Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cocktails & Ego

It's not a foreign practice for cocktail fans to simply make up a drink as they go. Maybe we feel like having a whiskey drink and don't know which, or maybe we have a few bottles with just a bit left in them that we want to get rid of; it's quite common for us to just get a few ingredients, throw them together, and see what happens. Sometimes the results are quite nice, and recipes are honed to result in a great original drink.

Well, a few years ago this happened to me. I wanted a gin and vermouth drink and I only had sweet vermouth, so I cooked up a quick ditty. Gin, sweet vermouth for its sweetness and herbal character, a dash of Angostura bitters for spice, and I peeled a bit of orange over the top of the drink for a bright fruity punctuation. I did this in my preferred proportions for a Martini or Manhattan. I didn't have a name for it, but it ended up looking like this:

2 oz London dry gin
.5 oz sweet vermouth
1 dash aromatic bitters

Stir together with ice, strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

It was delicious, and I found myself making these all the time in the following months and years. What seemed eerie to me, however, was that such a simple drink with such common ingredients with such a classic recipe structure hadn't already been invented. One could even simply call it a sweet Martini or a gin Manhattan, by a stretch. Well, I took to the Mixoloseum Bar chatroom one night to ask the experts if there were such a drink that existed.

The best answer I got is that it was a variation on the Martinez cocktail. The Martinez is much like the recipe above, except that it uses orange bitters instead of the aromatic, a lemon twist instead of orange, and sometimes adds a dash or two of Maraschino liqueur. (The Martinez is a very old drink, and recipes that you'll find vary widely)

But then I came across the Hearst cocktail, and old favorite of David Wondrich, one of the cocktail demi-gods that we should all worship and adore. The Hearst varies from my above recipe by adding just a bit more sweet vermouth as well as the addition of orange bitters along with the aromatic.

Then I found myself readdressing the online cocktail list of Robert Hess, the single figure who pulled my tastes away from tiki and toward classic cocktails. His page documents the vintage Martini recipe from around 1900, when dry vermouth was not so much en vogue. This recipe is essentially a Martinez without the Maraschino!

And then comes along Erik from the Underhill-Lounge who is known for mixing and reviewing every single cocktail in the great Savoy Cocktail Book in alphabetical order. He's already at the S's, and recently mixed the Sunshine cocktail, which differs from my above recipe only by the proportions of gin and vermouth! (I've been known to make fun of the Savoy as an entire book of Martini variations)

This is getting ridiculous, I said to myself. I looked harder and found that even more folks had the same bright idea that I did...

Cocktails similar to mine above, and how they differ (using a generalized recipe):

More sweet vermouth, lemon twist instead of orange, additional orange bitters
vintage 1900 Martini
More sweet vermouth, lemon twist instead of orange, orange bitters instead of aromatic
classic Martini
More gin, sweet vermouth instead of dry, lemon twist and aromatic bitters instead of the orange counterparts
More sweet vermouth, additional orange bitters
More sweet vermouth, less gin
More sweet vermouth, less gin, lemon twist instead of orange, optional Boker's bitters
two variations of the Yale
Less gin, additional orange bitters, additional Maraschino
Less gin, more sweet vermouth, orange bitters instead of aromatic, and no twist
Less gin, more sweet vermouth, lemon twist instead of orange, additional creme de menthe

I could go on. If I considered all cocktails with this basic structure and additional dashes of other ingredients, the list would continue to grow. And aside from the addition of strong ingredients like aromatic bitters and maraschino, these drinks are mostly going to taste the same, if not very similar.

Why create a new name for each one, then? I dunno... ego? Probably not. As you can see, I, your lowly DJ, effectively created this recipe from common sense and minimal creativity all by myself, and so it goes to show how the same thing probably happened to bartenders and mixologists during the past 100 years.

Yet I have the power of the internet. I have databases at my disposal. I see the universality of the recipe I created. I know that others more creative, more talented, and smarter than I have already crafted such masterpieces, and so I shall let my modest persona lay prostrate as these mixologic giants tower above me. My voice need not join this already harmonious symphony. I sit only as a learned spectator, appreciating the craft as someone who occasionally and humbly partakes.

So what am I calling my drink? Nothing. It deserves no name, and certainly isn't qualified to be an "original remix". It's simply a variation on any of the recipes you see listed above. More important than any name is that you make it for yourself, or any others listed on this page, and enjoy.



  1. Back in the day, it could have been done out of necessity. There were very few drink books and drink names were taught to you by the more senior bartenders.

  2. No ego involved ... I'm a firm believer that the majority of what happens in mixology are variations on a theme and yet new drinks are named. Sure "higher end" places come up with really cool drinks that are new but ...

    Name your drink! It's yours damn it.