Lifestyle / Alcohol

The Seemingly Infinite Innovations in Cocktail Development

With the increasing diversity of ingredients becoming available worldwide, the possibilities are limited only by our minds and words.

Jun 26, 2021 | By Abram Yum
Image Credit: Photo by Ash Edmonds on Unsplash

Being able to create new cocktail recipes seems like a truly mind-boggling task bordering on alchemy. Given the countless different cocktails already created, it makes one wonder how many more different combinations are still out there still waiting to be uncovered. In our humble opinion, the answer is an infinite number. The innovations in cocktail development are really only limited by what we are willing and daring enough to try. Fear of creating something undrinkable is often what holds us back from freely experimenting. However, if we consider that everyone has a unique palate, there are technically no bad drinks. Therefore, you could say that the infinite cocktail recipes are closely linked to our individual tastes and the words we come up with to describe them.

The origins of the cocktail and mixology (the art of mixing drinks) are shrouded in mystery. Archaeological discoveries show that many ancient civilisations had the practice of producing fermented drinks which they mixed with various ingredients such as honey, spices, and different fruit juices. Admittedly in these early civilisations the purpose of mixing wasn’t necessarily for drinking pleasure but to make these fermented drinks less unpleasant. The Roman Emperor, Lucius Aurelius was prescribed a mixed wine-based drink to make his medicine easier to swallow. Soldiers in the Roman army also reportedly enjoyed Posca, a medicinal drink used by the ancient Greeks.

Image credit: Courtesy of Seb Hirsch

But I digress. The interesting point here is how these drinks went from unpleasant medicinal concoctions to widely enjoyed beverages. The fact that perceptions could shift in such a way suggests that while some may find these mixtures unpalatable, there are always others to whom these flavour combinations may appeal to.

Take for example, the humble Bloody Mary. While cocktails generally bring to mind sweet, decadent, flavours, the Bloody Mary gets straight in your face with its unconventional spicy, salty kick. It was invented by Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot in the 1920s as a response to an influx of Russian immigrants into France and their love of vodka. While patrons at his bar in Paris loved the concoction, it met with lukewarm response when he returned to the United States, driving him to up the ante with black pepper, cayenne pepper and Worcestershire sauce. The drink is now popularly drunk at brunches as a hangover cure.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Causey

From this, we can clearly see how individuals have their own preferences when it comes to taste. While most see it solely as a necessary evil to sober up, there are some who will knock back several glasses of these at parties simply because they love it.

Furthermore, if we examine the many variations of the Bloody Mary, it gives some insight regarding the development of cocktails. Bartenders are, by necessity, a creative bunch and can never leave anything well enough alone. When lovers of the classic cocktail decided to experiment with different ingredients to enhance the drink, they created new recipes which would eventually become distinct, officially recognised cocktails. For example, someone had the idea of clam juice into the mix. Unthinkable? Perhaps. But it resulted in the Bloody Caesar, now the national drink of Canada. The takeaway here is that the only right way to mix a drink, is the way you like it. Bartenders are growing wise to this fact and are bravely experimenting with bold techniques and ingredients which results in the continuing evolution and innovation of cocktails.

While visually similar to the Bloody Mary, the Bloody Caesar involves the addition of clam broth or clam juice for an extra layer of umami; Image Credit: Scott Little

Continuing along this train of thought, as people continue experimenting with different contrasting flavours, they will inevitably stumble upon a combination that appeals to them. These combinations may catch on over time and influence the adjectives we use to describe such flavours. As these adjectives become more widely accepted and used, they become established as legitimate terms in our vernacular. Take for example the trend of combining sweet and savoury elements in the last decade. Many of us enjoyed dipping French fries into ice cream, and probably still do, eliciting looks of disgust from our parents. Yet, in the 2010s, the seemingly novel combination started trending with many restaurants offering dishes such as chicken and waffles or candied bacon. It even led to the creation the colloquial term, “swalty”, a combination of sweet and salty to describe these new dishes.

Swalty Kettlecorn leaned into the craze around sweet and swalty food, even going as far as to incorporate it into their brand name; Image Credit: Swalty Kettlecorn
The Bacon Me Angry; Image Credit: Courtesy of Angry Orchard

Thus, as we develop adjectives to describe these unconventional flavours, we legitimise their use in our daily lives, ingraining them into our language to the point that they become commonplace. This resultant sense of legitimacy surrounding unusual flavour combinations can therefore embolden mixologists, who are spurred to experiment freely to produce new and unconventional cocktails, such as the bacon fat-washed Bacon Me Angry. A concoction marrying bacon fat, vodka, maple syrup, bitters, and apple cider.

In conclusion, the possibilities in cocktail innovation are quite literally limitless. Given how everyone has their own unique preferences, even if a cocktail recipe were considered unpalatable, chances are that there will be others who can appreciate its unique flavours. It is these variation in palates and our ever-evolving modern vernacular which fuels free experimentation in the world of mixology and results in the seemingly infinite creation of new cocktails.

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