How cocktails happen

on 01/02/12 at 10:57 am

Occasionally, misguided people ask why there’s a booze column in a newspaper section called Food. To people who don’t drink cocktails, there’s the false sense that drinks aren’t really, you know, “culinary” in the way, say, pickling or grilling or sous-vide-ing stuff might be.

I’m always quick to point out that cocktails are one of the great, traditional early American foodways. Cocktails, I reflexively add, are one of the United States’ finest contributions to world culinary culture. Then I usually quote H.L. Mencken, who famously called the martini “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.”

Once my defensiveness subsides, I tend to point out that creating a new cocktail is one of the purest, most straightforward forms of recipe development, and one that almost anyone can do. Even those who are inept in the kitchen can mix a brand-new cocktail, and sometimes it can border on genius.

This mad-scientist experimentation is what makes cocktails so dynamic. As the irrepressible Crosby Gaige writes in his classic 1941 “Cocktail Guide and Ladies’ Companion”: “It is my honest and considered opinion that cocktails are living organisms like the cells in your body. They fluctuate like the tides. They are subject to the laws of supply and demand, and are ruled and governed by the caprice and creative instinct of each individual mixer.”



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