Recently I bumped into an article on the most excellent Difford’s Guide website with the following title:
“Is contemporary bartending too intent on seeking out lost and forgotten drinks, with its nose stuck in a history book, rather than harnessing the products, processes and technologies of today to create a new generation of truly original drinks?”
The above is the thesis put in question and answered by both authors of the article (one says yes and the other one says no).
In my opinion the one thing can not be seen without the other, it’s a process.
When a bartender manages to recreate a long lost and forgotten drink, you will see a very happy bartender. He or she will cradle the glass with shaking hands and hold it aloft whilst crying from joy.
In Beachbum Berry’s case, he has done the same, but it would have been while kneeling in front of a Tiki statue.
“Barchaeology” is necessary, you have to know where you come from. How did technique and taste evolve since several hundreds of years? Which cocktails survived and why? What exactly makes a classic, be a classic?
It is a re-discovery necessary to complete the re-birth of a global cocktail culture, the ongoing cocktail-renaissance. And most of the bartenders really live this, they don’t re-enact it. Like most renaissances, they reach back to make a huge leap forward.
And drinks evolve anyway, a Dry Martini today is not a 19th century Dry Martini. Not only is it a different recipe, but also made with contempory products, processes and tools.
When the bartender puts his rediscovered cocktail on the menu, it will still be perceived as a “new” drink by the guest. And in fact it indeed is a new drink and will be made – more than not – with products, processes and techniques of today.
If by ‘new techniques’ is meant: molecular mixology, then the points of my perfectly waxed handlebar moustache start to tremble (if I would have a handlebar, that is). It is like molecular kitchen, fun, quite creative, but after a while you had it. I cannot imagine people who visit such a place twice, unless you really desperately want to impress someone…with amnesia. When you do that with drinks, you’re less of a bartender than a “mixologist”.
I love the old drinks, the classics and I don’t understand why they automatically would be seen as simple or unimaginative because of their age. They are difficult enough and some quite challenging in taste also. Instead of constantly craving something new, we should be delighted with what we’ve discovered so far and then try to master it.
And the same goes for the guests, it is already difficult enough for them to confidently make a choice out of a menu. The Gin & Tonic craze was very interesting to monitor in this point, the only thing people remember is: “instead of a longdrink glass, you have to make it in the biggest wineglass you can find, as a garnish you use your entire vegetable garden, because – you know -there’s no such thing as enough botanicals. When the gin you use hase 40 or so botanicals, it is better to add 4 more, just to be sure…oh and no Schweppes, it has been banned by the World Health Regulation or something”.
I say, let the bartenders rediscover long and forgotten drinks if they want too, while the guest is still trying to get his head around the classics. Once the public knows their classics, the bartenders will already have a new style of drinks ready. Look at what they do with beer cocktails.