One question I get asked more often than most is how young/new bartenders can learn what the correct recipes and methods are for the seemingly endless classic cocktails that get ordered in their bar. We spend so much time stressing the menu cocktails found on our menu that the old favourites can be brushed aside. In a time where guests are interested not only in house cocktails but also very educated and savvy about drinks and cocktails in general these classics will get ordered… often.
When I first became interested in cocktails there were a handful of Vancouver bartenders preaching the classics already. I’m grateful I came up in this industry with these guys – they were the pioneers of Vancouver Cocktail Culture, not just in the creation of fantastic new drinks – but also stressing the importance of learning how to PROPERLY make the drinks found in the cocktail books that were stuffed in the corners in pretty much every bar; Mr. Boston, NY Bartender’s Guide, Bartending for Dummies (Seriously). It became a race – who could uncover or re-discover the next forgotten classic and make it popular again. The Mark Brands, Nick Devines and Jay Joneses of the world were creating a culture of vintage bar ware, antique glassware and knowing that just because a cocktail recipe was close to 200 years old – doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to mix one up.
Don’t be mistaken – the Donnelly Group was in on it too. When I first transitioned over to Granville Room I was faced with the task of learning a list of about 25 menu cocktails split into 3 categories: New York Classics, London Classics & Contemporary Cocktails. There was the Fancy Gin Cocktail, French 75, Gin Daisy, 209 East, Bellini (not slushy FYI), Manhattan and so on – each category listing cocktails that were either invented or made popular in that era/area. This was 2005 when almost every bar didn’t have a cocktail menu, they had a Martini List. Simply by slapping the suffix -tini onto some form of beverage or fruit and pouring some vodka into a shaker your Martini list was seemingly endless. Got a flirtatious or sexual undertone to add? Even better (I’m looking at you Flirtini, Lip Gloss & Tan Lines).
So where does that leave us in 2016? Well, back then there were only a handful of sources for bartenders to learn on the fly. I mentioned the Mr. Boston & Bartending for Dummies. There was also Drinkboy.com, a now defunct website started by Robert Hess that was basically a text forum for bartenders to upload and discuss recipes (The last article was posted in 2009). There was also a UK publication from Simon Difford called Class Magazine. It had its ups then downs and is now back in a weekly online format and better than ever (thank you Odd Firm of Sin). There was Dale Degroff’s book and not much beyond that. Today there are almost too many sources to keep up with them all. Imbibe Magazine is bi-monthly, Difford’s is going strong, as is Chilled Magazine. Every bartender is on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram and likely a blog that is updated multiple times a week if not daily.
Here is a shortlist of my must-read for cocktails sources to round out the ones mentioned above:
Formerly an avenue for information on the upcoming TOTC – they have definitely stepped up and with the introduction of Tales365 are now hosting Live streams of bar personalities, posting articles and are updating their social media all the time.
Arguably the best North American drinks publication out there. Its bi-monthly but they release articles all the time. A great source for all things beverage (coffee, beer, cocktails & spirits). Imbibe day is always a great one.
Bartender at Large (podcast)
Available via IOS podcast app. It is one of the Best bartenders in America (Eric Castro) chatting with other bartenders and his friends about our industry, cocktails and other topics.