The other night, I made the big mistake on eavesdropping on a couple of young off-duty bartenders having a conversation about the state of cocktails today (don’t ask me why I felt the need to do so). These guys have probably been making drinks for about two years, yet one was consoling the other, who was considering dropping out of tending bar and searching for a more rewarding career in the kitchen.
“I’m tired of making the same drinks all the time, and there are only so many different drinks out there. I feel like I’ve learned all there is to know.”
In some ways it might seem as if we’ve run out of drinks, especially when the lion’s share of drink orders on any given night of the week are: Old Fashioneds, Martinis, Manhattans, Negronis, and Margaritas. But are we in danger of the next generation of bartenders abandoning the hard work so many have put into the cocktail renaissance, simply because they’re tired of making classic cocktails?
The truly upsetting thing about these two was that in the same breath, they referred to themselves as “craft” bartenders, as if a craftsperson somehow isn’t someone who tirelessly (and happily) works on the same thing, over and over again for eternity, in the unattainable pursuit of perfection.
But their uninformed definition of the word “craft” aside, these guys got me thinking. Have we run out of drinks to make, and is everything just a modified version of something else?
Well, the obvious answer is that of course we haven’t. In the hundreds of cocktail books that line the shelves in my home office there are thousands upon thousands of drinks that I’ve never even heard of, much less tried. But the classics are classics for a reason, and it’s rare that we unearth a recipe that can even stand up to the likes of the Manhattan.
I’ve had discussions with bartenders who have delved deep into historic cocktail books and retrieved cocktails that were essentially undrinkable, simply because they became bored with making “pedestrian” and “easy drinking” cocktails for people. Is that what we’ve arrived at, and does anyone else think that selling drinks that people don’t enjoy is going to come back around and bite this whole industry on its ass?
There has never been a time when cocktails have been more widely accepted than now, and there is a seemingly endless array of new products arriving on shelves every day, particularly when compared to the selection that was available to us when I started out behind the bar. There are literally billions of possible combinations yet to be discovered, so bartenders, I implore of you: don’t give up quite yet. The best may very well be yet to come.