I frequently get emails from bartenders who get upset when they see anyone making specific drinks who use their own recipes, rather than the original formula. Recently I heard from someone who couldn’t stand the thought of making Mai Tais with rums other than Wray & Nephew, for instance, since that was the brand that Trader Vic used when he first created the drink.
“I hope you’re using the 17-year-old bottling,” I told him. That was the one that the Trader used, and the only place you can find it these days is at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast. Order one of their Mai Tais and get ready to pay £450 sterling for it.
It wasn’t too long ago that I heard from another bartender who believed that, unless a Negroni is made with equal parts of gin, Campari, and vermouth, it can’t be called a Negroni. I beg to differ.
I’ve tackled this question so many times that I’m pretty much bored to death with it, but I’ve obviously not convinced the whole planet yet, so here I go again:
First I need to point out that there is no regulatory board governing the names of drinks, quantities in recipes, etc. And next I should say that I believe we’d do ourselves a service by looking toward the world of food for guidance in this matter. After all, both chefs and bartenders are in the business of following, or creating recipes, right?
If a chef makes a Béarnaise sauce, do you think that he or she first finds out how Jules Colette, the chef who created the sauce Paris in the 1800s, made his Béarnaise? No, of course not. Do you complain about a dish of shepherd’s pie because it has no peas in it and your mother always put peas into a shepherd’s pie? No, I bet you don’t.
To cite a cocktail example, let’s look at the Cosmopolitan. Cheryl Cook, the woman who invented the drink in 1985, made it with “Absolut Citron a splash of triple sec a drop of roses lime juice and just enough cranberry to make it ‘Oh so pretty in pink.’”
Toby Cecchini and Dale DeGroff both twisted her recipe, removing the Rose’s lime juice, replacing it with fresh lime juice, and calling for Cointreau instead of generic triple sec. Is it okay to call their versions Cosmopolitans?
I think that it’s important, whenever possible, to find out how specific cocktails were originally made. But most bartenders out there, I think, enjoy putting their own twist on all classics, so let’s not get bogged down in minutiae. Don’t you love going to Tommy’s for a Margarita because they make their very own version of the drink there? And it’s still a Margarita, right?
See also “How to Name a Cocktail” by Darcy O’Neil