The Cocktail Wonk Manifesto – An opinionated overview of drinking for people who need to know more

The world of cocktails and spirits can be overwhelming. Most folks enjoy a good drink but put them in front of a cocktail menu more complicated than an Applebee’s and they freeze – “Uh… Gin and tonic, please?”  I can’t count how many times somebody has told me “I don’t like brown liquors” or “I don’t drink gin”.  Weil, maybe you had a bad college experience or perhaps your only experience with rum was  Bacardi silver, in which case I beg you to give the many finer rums another chance. These encounters are an opportunity for me to challenge long held beliefs and perhaps turn somebody onto something they might love.

The world of spirits aspires to make their products appear artisanal – Everything is unique and special – A flower grown just for you! But the reality is that the multitude of different spirits out there can be easily categorized and understood.   Here, I’ll shed some basic, commonsense categorization of sprits and highlight differences between categorically related spirits. After all, it’s obvious that Triple Sec, Orange Curacao and Cointreau are all roughly the same thing, right?

Beyond the spirits are cocktails. There is no shortage of fancily (or badly) named drinks.  Web sites and mobile apps advertise their 1000s of recipes (as if that’s a good thing). However, most of them are crap. Good drink recipes are gold. Here you’ll learn the classic patterns and the variations that are almost effortlessly easy to improvise on once you know how things fit together. Likewise, too many recipes call for a particular brand of spirit. Without knowing the basic classification of a spirit or ingredient, it’s hard to know what else could be substituted, perhaps for even better effect.

The overarching goal here is to quantify, simplify, and apply a rigorous approach to understanding cocktails.  I’m a big fan of Nathan Mhyrvold and his “modernist cuisine” approach to cooking – demystifying and explaining in scientific terms what was previously just a nebulous “art”. On the other hand, even without Nathan’s budget, I believe anybody with some enthusiasm can put together a small home bar that impresses your friends with the classy drinks you make. Just stay away from the whipped cream vodka!

While I don’t work in the spirits industry, my prior experience doing deep dives into topics has made me realize how passionate I am about learning about all things drinking related – from bottle sizes to creating pure ice at home to aging your own cocktails. This enthusiasm for all things liquor has spilled into other areas of my life such as travel – If it’s at all drinking related, you’ll see it here sooner or later!