Cocktail Menus: Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
March 07, 2013
Recently on Facebook, I was engaged in a mostly-healthy debate about giving recipe credit on cocktail menus.
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?
Sometimes tracking down who created the cocktail can be a time consuming pain, even though the Internet makes things easier. I would just recommend people don't take credit for things they don't create (i.e. listing drinks under "House Cocktails" that weren't invented there).
Giving credit is cool, but isn't always required.
Posted by: Darcy | March 07, 2013 at 09:02 AM
I ran into this issue a lot while writing my book, but luckily with a book I had the luxury to print credits, links, and even the background on some drinks. Menus can be tricky.
Here's how I think about naming, take it or leave it:
Until a drink becomes an established classic, why not name it the same way a chef names a new dish? such as: "gin highball with elderflower and lemon" or "sherry and benedictine flip" or even "spiced tiki drink with floral syrups" to summarize a particularly complex concoction?
Why not reserve the naming until something happens and it's time to tell a story about the drink?
Posted by: Kevin Liu | March 07, 2013 at 09:27 AM
Listing cocktails you knowingly borrowed from another source as "In-House" cocktails is definitely a no-no (and an obvious one at that). I'm shocked that this even happens and imagine it must be due to a misunderstanding of the term "In-House" -- perhaps the menu makers are using "In-House" simply as code to tell patrons that "These Cocktails Are Not Classics".
So, based on that it's clear that any cocktail that isn't yours should be on some sort of a "Modern Classics" or "Something Different" type list. But crediting the original bartender feels like a step towards territorial disputes and the deep dark world of branding overkill.
Posted by: Cocktaildemocracy.wordpress.com | March 07, 2013 at 09:39 AM
I'm with Darcy on this; As long as we're not talking about wholesale stealing of a menu designed by someone else, assigning credit is a polite nod to the creator of a drink, but far from necessary.
In a cocktail bar, I'm more impressed by a bartender who makes great drinks rather than scouring the internet, menu archives newspaper columns, magazine articles, and scholarly books on what drinks came from where, when, and by by way of whom. The average customer probably has far less interest in such things than do booze geeks like us. As writers who want to get the facts right, it's our job to care about such things. As drinkers, though? Eh ~ I'm more concerned that bartenders don't shake my Manhattan or prepare a Hurricane using a powdered mix than in being punctilious about naming the creator of the Chartreuse Swizzle* every time it crops up. Nice; not necessary.
I prefer uncluttered menus. Less is more. Much simpler and straightforward to note those drinks created in-house and not take credit for things one did not make than to demand our bartenders' skill sets include bibliographic archaeology.
* Thank you, Marco; these are on tonight's menu.
Posted by: Mbrowley | March 07, 2013 at 09:43 AM
I don't think in any case I've seen this done on purpose - listing someone else's cocktail under "House Cocktails." But if it's just "Cocktails" and a mix of originals and other peoples' creations, it can be confusing.
Posted by: Camper English | March 07, 2013 at 09:44 AM
Fucking bartenders and their egos.
Who cares who created the drink?!? Do chefs attribute every menu item to the originator? What if proportions are changed? How do you attribute then?
A menu is a compilation of recipes thoughtfully chosen to represent a restaurant/bar. If there isn't a single original recipe on the menu, but instead is completely well thought out, adapted recipes both modern and classic, is it any less of a menu than otherwise?
Attributing recipes is for historians and nerds, ( I've often been both) but sometimes (most times) people just want to have fun and a drink without having to think about useless details like who originally came up with the recipe. Especially since the odds are the original recipe isn't being followed to perfection anyway.
Posted by: Jamie | March 07, 2013 at 09:45 AM
There's power in a name, a sort of resonance that can draw a customer's attention to a menu item and even possibly enhance their perception (and enjoyment) of a cocktail, story or not. I'd be very sad to see random names like "The Belly of the Whale" or "Al Capone's Corpse" fade away and I imagine many a bartender would grumble at the scraping out of one of the more whimsical elements of their job.
Posted by: Cocktaildemocracy.wordpress.com | March 07, 2013 at 09:48 AM
Nice foundation for a productive discussion Mr. English.
I wonder if it might be worthwhile to consider the role of innocence amongst members of the greater drinks producing and consuming community. Is the existence of any given cocktail program predicated on our egoist desire to be nerdy and obsessive, or rather on the necessity of making good drinks?
For me it is both with an emphasis on the former. I would rather be condemned to drink vodka for eternity than put a drink on paper that I haven't researched the hell out of. On the other hand, I know lots of wonderful folks, excellent bartenders and respectable managers, who simply don't have an extra 4 hours a day to spend delving into the minutia of cocktail history.
Taking into consideration the epic amount of time we spend with our noses in cocktail books, I find it kind of amzaing how often my peers and I unwittingly reinvent obscure classics.
I have often considered printing a menu with the title at the top "These are some things to drink that I think are nice" followed by numbered cocktails with no names... "4 please".
I would also like to hear more of your thoughts on the monetary aspect of this subject. You mentioned that nobody makes royalties off cocktails and that seems to be true, but there is some intrinsic value in a truly original creation. People discover a drink they like and tell friends, they write about it, they come back to have it again. All of these things result in more money coming through the door. Is this really all that far removed from the concept of a royalty?
In the end I agree with your stance and we should all expect respect from one another.
There is nothing new under the sun.
Posted by: Joseph Haggard | March 07, 2013 at 10:03 AM
I did it just like you: I credited Tony Abou-Ganim when I used his American cocktail, and called attention when the drink was a riff on this or that original.
Posted by: dy godsey | March 07, 2013 at 10:03 AM
I don't see how cocktails are ANY different than food. How many restaurants have you been to that have given credit to the creator of the chicken salad, or the burrito? It just doesn't happen, why should it be any different with liquid? Grow up.
Posted by: B | March 07, 2013 at 10:09 AM
Camper, I'd have to say you're on target.. Since we can't copyright recipes like books, poems, or other forms as an artistic medium,(and I'm assuming that we agree that cocktail creation is an art), we should be decent enough to give credit where talent has manifested itself. It takes a lot of dumping booze down the drain, or the gullet of an unaware experiment participant, to perfect a recipe.
Posted by: Jeff Johnson | March 07, 2013 at 10:11 AM
This is done in the restaurant industry all the time. Everywhere you go there's bacon wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese now, but who invented those? I don't know. Obviously, someone in the past 10 years. Chefs change restaurants, and bring with them the recipes from the last restaurant they were at. And all the ones before that. And recipes are gotten out of cook books all the time. My point is, I don't see why cocktails and bars should be or would be held to a higher standard than restaurants.
Posted by: Gregory | March 07, 2013 at 10:17 AM
There is value in being the creator of a drink (or technique or blog) that becomes popular- not in sales of that drink, but from the more lucrative consulting gigs, etc. that come from it. Otherwise it would be hard to advance in bartending.
Posted by: Camper English | March 07, 2013 at 10:39 AM
Drink name is a very important part of my menu experience as a bar patron—as well as an opportunity for creative fun on the part of the bar. I'm always disappointed when I pick up a menu of unnamed drinks, as part of the pleasure of ordering has been taken away. Imagine betting on a horse race with a bunch of unnamed steeds.
Posted by: Dinah | March 07, 2013 at 10:48 AM
Here's why I, as a bar patron, like seeing the name of the bartender and/or originating bar credited:
- It shows that the bar has made the effort to bring together a well-thought out list of options, reaching beyond the resources they have in the building.
— It gives me ideas for places I might want to go in other cities.
— The connectedness and good sportsmanship of the bar community shines through.
— I just generally like seeing credit where credit is due.
— It suggests that the individual contributions of the bartenders are valued and respected by management.
— I enjoy a sense of history with my drinks (which is why it's also fun to see those classics credited not only with the where but the when they came from).
— It's an indicator that the bar is taking care with what it is serving me; if they get the credit right, they're probably also particular about ingredients and technique.
— Over time, I gain a sense of drink trends around the country.
Posted by: Dinah | March 07, 2013 at 10:59 AM
This will come up in future posts, but I'm totally against this New Simplicity movement in which the best bartenders in American have 10 drink cocktail menus and they're all classics and they rarely change and now it's all about FUN again. I think this menu thing is a small part of that with the logic of "Why give people information? They just want GOOD DRINKS AND FUN?" Well great job guys, you've just recreated TGIFridays.
Posted by: Camper English | March 07, 2013 at 11:01 AM
My thoughts on this:
- It's not necessary to give credit to a drink's origin, but it's a nice touch and helps educate the customer
- If a house creation is a spin on an existing drink (classic or otherwise), naming it in a similar fashion to the original is enough of a nod to indicate respect
- Taking existing drinks and arbitrarily renaming them (i.e. calling the Sidecar a "Pouty French Girl") is a heinous and despicable act of ignorance and ego.
Posted by: HomeBarBasics | March 07, 2013 at 11:07 AM
The comparison to chefs is a bit unfair. Chefs and cooks have no obligation to talk to their customers, bartenders do. And the inevitable topic that always comes up is the cocktail menu! Surprising, I know.
It is a fact that a good story about a drink increases customer engagement and tips. Having a few details about a drink, like the name of its creator, helps to lubricate the conversation. But the bartender better know the story, or make one up quick, otherwise it is useless.
Posted by: Darcy | March 07, 2013 at 11:09 AM
I think it *is* fun to see who made the drink and what city they're from. It doesn't take up any more space than some of the crappy descriptions that are out there.
Drink creators are a mostly un-heralded lot, so why not put their name out there? The only thing it does is create goodwill. If people don't like it, no one is forcing them to read it.
Posted by: Rick | March 07, 2013 at 11:47 AM
I didn't read all the comments so this may be repetition ... I believe giving credit shows well on the house; when the guest enjoys a very special cocktail. It says to the them that the house celebrates the craft at the highest level.
It would encourage me to come back and enjoy more of the house offerings.
Posted by: Dale | March 07, 2013 at 11:50 AM
I've been watching the new Nightjar menu pictures on facebook with interest and puzzlement. Almost all the drinks I've seen so far are loosely, very loosely, based on classics with major variations. So loosely, I'm wondering why they are even using the original drink names.
Posted by: erik.ellestad | March 07, 2013 at 11:53 AM
Yeah, well, you couldn't get a good Vieux Carre at TGIF...
Posted by: erik.ellestad | March 07, 2013 at 11:55 AM
I suppose it might help them sell more to newbie drinkers if the names are familiar? It's a good question though- at what point is a cocktail so varied from its inspiration that it is no longer a variation?
Posted by: Camper English | March 07, 2013 at 11:56 AM
For all those people who already have heard of William Schmidt's Delicious Sour?
It's the perennial problem.
The flip side of credit and attribution is execution and variation.
If I've made up a drink, say the Ashtray Heart, and another bar is making it badly or differently, do I still want to be credited to me on the menu?
Posted by: erik.ellestad | March 07, 2013 at 12:25 PM
I kinda think you'd still want to be credited, but I dunno. I had the worst Old Cuban in the world in Vegas, but it doesn't make me think any less of Audrey Saunders.
Posted by: Camper English | March 07, 2013 at 12:32 PM
Posted by: Victoria | March 07, 2013 at 01:32 PM
Personally, for me, I think that if you're investing the time to put together a cocktail menu with cocktails that you KNOW is based off something else someone made...you should probably give them credit. If I used someone elses work on a paper for my thesis and didn't quote them...I'd get kicked out of college. It's plagiarism. There is an established, if rough, history of cocktails. Include whatever information you can, really. But give SOMETHING. The bar I frequent gives the dates of cocktails. It sidesteps the whole "who made it" and focuses on when it was made. If it says 1890s...not an original. If it says 2012...well that's a fine drink you've created. Well done.
Also, comparing the cocktail industry to chefs is unfair. Cuisine is inherently different than cocktails in terms of their history. Cooking/cuisine have been around for a long...long...long time so it's difficult to attribute dishes to individuals. There has only really been a push to document dishes since, say, the 60s but many dishes were created and existed far before books were even affordable and prevalent. For cocktails...not so much. With the beginnings of it cemented in the late 1800s and fortified by the Prohibition era (all taking place within a time-frame that HAD printing readily available), its not a matter of new discovery...just attribution. People can argue over who made it all they want...but for most popular cocktails there's maybe a handful of people that can be cited as a "creator".
Posted by: In With Bacchus | March 07, 2013 at 01:32 PM
oopss entered before I finished..so yes.. I have designed and created and have been since 2004. My Valentino cocktail was well recieved,by Rye and I thank the boys for doing this for me. They show respect as others should. Just be original when creating your menus. Catagorize or not..Its really up to the designers and the reflection of the restaurant or bar..stay true and honest..don't lie, cheat or STEAL.
Posted by: Victoria | March 07, 2013 at 01:44 PM
As a bar manager I like to keep things, like cocktail menus, as simple as possible. It's actually kind of an obsession for me. Adding the originator's name on a cocktail is as necessary as it is on a food menu. It simply isn't.
As a bartender, I'd like to be credited for any drinks that I create. It isn't a major focus for me, though. If I keep making excellent drinks with wonderful ingredients that should happen. Right?
In addition to making drinks, if one cares to be remembered, one should get out there and mingle. Blog, attend conferences, socialize with other bartenders, enter competitions, etc. If those efforts fail we can always turn to bragging, boasting, and filibustering.
Posted by: Andre Bland | March 07, 2013 at 02:29 PM
Thanks for posting our menu from 2007 Camper. To be fair, the drinks credited on the menu were for bartenders who won a monthly mixing competition. If you won, your drink went on the menu with credit. That's how it was set up.
I do like the idea of citing bartenders, and contacting bartenders for a heads up if you are enough of a fan of a particular drink to want to run it on a menu.
I always thought it might be fun and good for the industry to put out a call to all interested bartenders to submit a worthy drink or two that they would like to be known for. To create a wiki-like resource of such drinks. Sort of like Food and Wine magazine's annual cocktail book. In this case, the content is offered by bartenders hoping to see their recipe adopted more widely. It could be moderated by a trusted spirits writer or something.
Posted by: Greg Lindgren | March 07, 2013 at 04:48 PM
Good luck finding one of those!
Posted by: Camper English | March 07, 2013 at 05:01 PM
Cocktails are little liquid pieces of working class art. Something that was created by the blue collared but transcends its humble beginnings. Graffiti comes from similar humble beginnings, and like crafting drinks that art form is limited to a few tools. In the case of most bars its just the basic spirits in the well and a few odd modifiers. In the Graf world it's a measly 26 letters and 10 digits. In both worlds styles and combinations of these ingredients are often found to have been done before, sometimes much much earlier then we thought. A few years ago the phrase "everything old is new again" best described the cocktail scene. In the Graf world we said "graffiti is the art of biting (styles)". Where we still argue over the birth of drinks amongst the bartending illuminati the art world had found a simpler answer. Because in the end we are all influenced by someone, we all were mentored by books and videos, or living legends if we were lucky. We all work long shift hustling for a living. The same as that poor soul who uses aerosol as his chosen art medium. I vote that we do our best to live by the simple street artist code, "Honor amongst thieves".
Posted by: M.Callahan | March 07, 2013 at 05:43 PM
I've had arguments & counter arguments running through my head all day about this and in lieu of pouring them out onto Camper's comments section I felt I would just pose a question and two links to two talks I've recently related to and applied their theory's to many discussions recently about the hospitality industry.
Should we as bartenders really care about what somebody else is doing with somebody else's drink as long as it's helping satiate a guests experience?
In this first video Paul Bloom discusses why we feel an original art piece should be worth more than a print or forgery.
Second video has Kirby Ferguson discussing patents and remixes as a way to further develop ontop of others ideas and previous breakthroughs.
Posted by: AlexWBlack | March 07, 2013 at 11:25 PM
Posted by: Joseph Haggard | March 08, 2013 at 10:19 AM
We always do a page of our specialty cocktails (made in house) on a page or two and then we do a "classics" page which is devoted to one cocktail book or one cocktail creator every menu change. This way our guests get a little history on the book, the bartender and the drinks, while being credited.
Posted by: MyAmericanDram | March 10, 2013 at 01:48 PM
Why does this article not state who wrote it?
Posted by: mixingcocktails | March 12, 2013 at 11:04 AM
See that picture and bio up to the right? That's who wrote it.
Posted by: Camper English | March 12, 2013 at 11:13 AM