"So we do the ‘classics’.... No, no, no, no, not those classics, everybody does those classics. We do the classics that time forgot. But we don’t just do the classics that time forgot, we do the classics that time forgot with a twist.... No, no, no, not just that kind of a twist, our twists are way twistier than anyone else's twists...
...We've got vacuum-reduced cod liver and tomato seed-rinsed White Ladies... We've got a gypsies slipper and pistachio-soaked shrub... We've got a dandelion and daisy-infused Daisy, garnished with three ferrets whiskers…"
I am really impressed with the level of sophistication and libation-literacy among modern drinkers. It seems there is no limit to humanity’s dedication to the art of getting trashed. Cocktail culture has long since moved on past the image of stuffy, bourgeois indulgence, or even pink-drinks-for-the-girls. Today it is met with a similarly hip, artisanal reverence as most other corners of the F&B realms, all the way up and down the spectrum from well-heeled and exclusive to the consciously low-rent.
When it comes to the endless search for more challenging, creative recipes, the need to stand out and have a draw, the need to be doing more than the expected, the need to be revered by peers and have guests bow down at your white hot drink-dispensing alter, means there are incredible lengths bartenders go to to display authenticity and trailblazing innovation in their drink recipes.
I have almost unlimited enthusiasm for trying out someones own creations before settling for my preferred default universal orders (classics). I want to support this effort toward shared drink-based journeys into deliciousness, and talk (tiresomely) until the small hours about the minutia of booze anthology. But…
there is one aspect that bothers me in this effort to woo patrons with mouth-watering or indeed logic-defying ingredient combos listed under a drinks name - if you are going to tell me ‘ingredient X’ is in the drink, I might quite like to detect that in the final product.
Now I’m not talking about ingredients listed among many other competing and complex flavour profiles to make up a greater whole; I mean if you are going to set out your stall and call something an ‘ingredient X’ Gimlet* for example, then I am now fully expecting to taste some evidence of that ingredient in the final serve. There is simply no point, and in fact it is downright dishonest, to call a drink ‘ingredient X’ if there is no discernible evidence of it in the flavour profile. Now a Gimlet is a strange example to choose, because you may be forgiven for thinking that a drink which is so fundamentally all about an 'ingredient X’, in this case lime, then to modify the flavour profile means it might as well get a new name entirely of its deserved own. Here in lies the art of the ‘twisted’ recipe.
*I have in the recent past encountered two local bars offering ‘twisted’ Gimlets. One did it swell, the other not so well.
Exhibit A, the Celery Gimlet. Delightful. It was fresh and suitably limey, true to the drinks roots, but was rocking a very definite celery strain throughout, a flavour compliment that worked perfectly due to the strong and opposing forces of tartness and sodium. I think there was a a touch of vinegar in the mix and one other modifier to smooth off any rough edges, but essentially, a really nice well developed drink with complexity, worth another round.
Exhibit B, a Chrysanthemum Gimlet. Already you may be suspicious, knowing that on the one hand you will be expecting a mighty wash of sweet lime juice and gin, where does the delicate floral waft of chrysanthemum infusion fit in? The answer is, no where. Not at all. Not even the slightest hint. Why? Because it's a Gimlet. At its’ heart a hefty lick of gin and generous dousing of lime and sugar. It was a futile exercise, and while chrysanthemum would in another vessel in some other more delicate form work well with gin, it was completely lost here, pointless, and basically misleading.
Do us all a favour, don’t call a drink a Kippertini unless it has actual kippers, that I can actually taste.
There are tried and true ratios and formulas to use as jumping off points, occasionally doing homage twists might be appropriate, but don't be beholden to this reverence toward 'the classics', or even the classics that time forgot. Some things are best not meddled with, and you should just be confident enough to distance yourself from the slavish familiarity and perceived authenticity of basing all your creations around long since established and already great drinks. Drinks that evolve at first as a narrative, inspired by an individual, an event, an anecdote; a compliment of ingredients that belong together by some cosmic force, never before used in unison, there are plenty of ways to get busy creating your own modern classic.
Be out there with your recipes and ingredient pairing, but do at least be there.