What Defines a Cocktail?

For some reason (probably because I’m a dork), a few months ago I started worrying about what defined a cocktail: the proportions or the ingredients? If you read DIY Cocktails (which is a great book, by the way), they define cocktails by the proportions: two parts strong to one part aromatic (makes manhattans), three parts strong to two parts sweet and one part sour (makes margaritas), and so on.

But a lot of cocktails have different proportions according to different people, yet are still defined as those cocktails. For example, one of my favorite cocktails is the sidecar. I make it with two parts strong, one part sour, and one part sweet; but I’ve come across recipes where it’s proportioned more like a margarita, recipes where the sweet and the strong are equal and there’s very little lemon juice, and everything in between. A sidecar is defined by its ingredients: brandy, triple-sec, and lemon juice. How you mix them is up to you, but you’re still mixing a sidecar. The same is true with nearly any other cocktail you can think of: a cosmo has to have cranberry juice and vodka; a martini can gin or vodka and vermouth.

So, I’ve come to the conclusion that the ingredients “make” the cocktail—or at least define it—not the proportions. Because of this, I think coming up with original cocktails is actually *really* difficult, maybe more so than coming up with original food recipes. If you want to invent a new cocktail, you have to basically use a new ingredient (this is why so many “modern” cocktails use obscure ingredients, which drives me crazy fyi) or combine classic ingredients in a way no one’s tried before (good luck with that).

What do you think defines a cocktail, the ingredients or the proportions?

  1. liquidpersuasion posted this

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