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Cocktail Menus: Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Recently on Facebook, I was engaged in a mostly-healthy debate about giving recipe credit on cocktail menus. 

 

Rye Cocktail Menu
Rye's cocktail menu from 2007
When we see a classic cocktail section of a cocktail menu, we know that the drinks in that section have not been invented in-house. But some cocktail menus are a single list of both classics and house creations, and that's where things get complicated. 

 

I have seen many cocktail menus that list modern classic cocktails like the Penicillin by Sam Ross and the Old Cuban by Audrey Saunders with no mention of the drink creators' names. When the cocktail menu is divided into sections indicating modern or vintage classics vs. house creations, even people who have never heard of the modern classics would have a clear indication that the drink comes from elsewhere even if the cocktail is uncredited. But when a lesser-known drink is mixed in with house recipes, it is easy for a customer to assume that the drink was created on-site. 

Say a cocktail menu lists the following drinks: Martini, Bijou, Red Hook, Lynchburg Buck, Window Washer. Some of those drinks are house creations, some are vintage classics, one is a derivation of a classic, and one is a modern classic. But without the menu indicating which are which, the customer could easily assume that most of the drinks on the menu are made in house. In this case, does the bartender have an obligation to credit each recipe, lest it appear that he is claiming that those recipes are his own creations? 

Last year, a restaurant publicist forwarded me some house cocktail recipes after I requested some for a story I was writing. Included among them was a recipe for a modern classic from their menu. I quickly informed her that it was not a house creation, but the fact that even the publicist for the restaurant couldn't tell which recipes were house creations and which were originals was a bad sign.

Had I published that modern classic recipe and credited the bartender who put it on the menu rather than the drink's creator, not only would I get called out as a dummy, the original drink's creator could be justifiably mad that someone else was taking credit for his cocktail. 

This was actually the case at another cocktail bar: the menu was a mix of modern classic and house originals, with no indication of which was which. The drinks' creators heard about this menu and were nonplussed. The menu was later revised and now credits drinks not created in house with the bartenders' names, while the house creations are uncredited. 

As the debate on Facebook went on, some people argued that the original drink's creators could always be found thanks to the internet, so it isn't neccesary to put everyone's name on every drink and clog up space on the menu.

My counter-argument is: Look at the Cosmopolitan. We often credit three people now: the drink's creator, the person who refined the recipe to its modern form, and the person who did the most to popularize it. But for most of the past 30 years, credit has been given to the person who made it popular. It just took two decades to sort that out.

A very worthy counter-argument to the 'all drinks must be credited' theory is what happens when you add variations? As with the Cosmo, drinks take on new forms as time goes on and ingredients change.  If I'm a bartender who puts a Cosmo variation on a cocktail menu with a different name, do I need to add a line saying "Version of the Cosmopolitan", and/or do I need to name it a variation of the original drink, like Neopolitan?

If I call my drink the Camper Amazingness with no explanatory line on the menu am I guilty of implying that the drink was a 100% original thought, or is it fair to assume that every cocktail is based on every other cocktail and therefore we don't need to credit anything anymore?

And since nobody (that I know of) makes royalties off cocktails, does it matter? 

I think my opinion on that matter is pretty clear - give credit where it's due, by placing drinks in a section that indicates they were not created in-house (such as "classics" or "from our friends"), by listing the name of the drink's creator on the menu, or by citing the drink as a variation either by giving it a variation on the original cocktail's name or just by stating "a variation of...".

But I'm wrong a lot of the time. What do you think? 

 

 

Camper's Book: Tonic Water AKA G&T WTF is now available for sale.

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