Recipe Etiquette

by Gaz Regan · Friday, November 30th, 2012 · gaz's Cocktail Book

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I think that it’s important, whenever possible, to find out how specific cocktails were originally made.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

14 Responses to “Recipe Etiquette”

  1. colin blackley says:

    THANKYOU and ahmen to that.

    people getting bogged down just stay bogged.

    some people once said, “the world’s flat” (and that can make sense too) but where would we be if nobody pushed against those boundries????

    ‘nough said i reckons

  2. Rob McHardy says:

    Amen to that, though a name check in the interest of professional courtesy and respect is welcome. Nearly all the bartenders will gladly share their recipes with each other and rightly so as it means we are confident of finding others and are motivated by this enjoyable and perpetual quest for the drink that will make our guests go “wow”

    By the way, do check the other bartenders name before printing. Jamie Bourdreau wasn’t impressed by his new name on our menu.

    • Gaz Regan says:

      There’s nothing better than making sure to give credit where credit is due, and thankfully, as far as I can see, the global bartending community is pretty damned fabulous about that. Thanks for commenting, Rob.

  3. Maggie Meskey says:

    Hallelujah!!! Great post as usual, Gaz. Xoxo.

  4. Jeff Harrison says:

    I dunno…if I was the one credited making a drink as popular as the Cosmopolitan, I’m not so sure I would give a toss about how people messed with it; I would hope my ego’s already been satisfied by then.

    • Gaz Regan says:

      Funny thing is that Cheryl’s exactly like that. There’s no ego thing with her, but she’s happy that we found her and recognised her. Click on the link in this posting for the whole story

  5. Anita says:

    I agree up to a point. We don’t need to be slavish to the original recipe, but once we tinker too far, it seems a name change is in order. In context of your bearnaise sauce example: if it’s made with, say, half bacon fat in place of 100% butter, I’d say we’d call that “bacon bearnaise” (much like “rye manhattan”). What if it’s made with red vinegar and thyme instead of white + tarragon? That’s pretty far from bearnaise, even if the ratios are identical and the technique the same, so a new name’s needed, to my mind.

    • Gaz Regan says:

      Good points, Anita. I doubt very much that we could ever come up with a hard and fast rule here, but if I make my Negroni with more gin than Campari and vermouth, I think it’s still a Negroni. If I use tequila instead of gin, though, at the very least I’d call it a Tequila Negroni.

    • Ted Wilson says:

      This is exactly the issue I have with using a classic name for a drink that’s not even close to the classic drink. It’s one thing to change proportions or to use, say, Cointreau instead of another Triple Sec – or vice versa – but quite another to replace a key ingredient with something completely different. For example, Gaz’s venerable Negroni. I had something they called a Negroni that was Plymouth Gin (good), Aperol (well, I might let that slide), and … Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur? Sorry, this wasn’t even close to a Negroni. This approaches false advertising. If a joint is presenting a part or all of its bar menu as a “classic” menu, then I think the mixology has to at least get in the same ballpark as the original drink. Otherwise, just come up with another name. And related to this, why do so many folks think they have to put their own little twist on a drink that’s already damn good? Put on the twist – and then make it your own drink by giving it your own name!

  6. Absolut Citron was on the market and behind bars in 1985 ? Hmmm, I must have forgot !

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