This book isn’t a study in cocktail history; that work is best left in far more capable hands (looking at you, David Wondrich, Gary Regan, and others). Nor is it a scientific study of cocktails (thanks, Dave Arnold!). Our six root cocktails are less a historical lineage than an approach to understanding the fundamentals. By studying each of these six drinks, you will learn the mechanics of a particular family of cocktails as well as important lessons in technique and ingredients that will elevate your overall cocktail game. We’ve spent much of the last fifteen years not only studying cocktails but also teaching them to countless other bartenders. In that time, we’ve found that this strategy—teaching these six drinks, studying their DNA, and explaining how they’re connected with other drinks—is a proven method that demystifies the overwhelming diversity of cocktails.
This is where the written recipe enters the real world, where the abstract becomes real, and where the exactitude of technique can make the difference between a good cocktail and a great one. All great artists—from painters and poets to cellists and chefs—begin by studying the classics in their chosen field, and then they emulate and practice those classics until they’ve developed their own signature style and can create original works. We take a similar approach, examining each root cocktail, studying how others have made variations on each recipe—by substituting one ingredient for another or adding a touch of something new and flavorful—and considering what each new variation accomplishes.
Throughout the book we use a handful of terms that help explain the function of an ingredient (or collection of ingredients) in every cocktail. Together, three areas of focus—core, balance, and seasoning—help illuminate the inner workings of cocktails. We define the core as the primary flavor component of a drink. The core can be one ingredient or many. In the case of the Old-Fashioned, this is whiskey, while in the Martini, the core is comprised of both gin and vermouth. While the core is the heart of any cocktail, every cocktail is balanced by ingredients that enhance the drinkability of the core by adding sweetness, acidity, or both. Finally, we season our cocktails with ingredients that complement or contrast the core, adding intrigue and dimension. These three components (core, balance, and seasoning) are fundamental to understanding how cocktails work—and once you do, creating new cocktails is fantastically easy.
Should you be here for recipes alone, flip toward the back half of each chapter, where we offer variations on each root recipe, as well as recipes for members of that cocktail’s extended family. If fancy gear and advanced techniques are your game, each chapter concludes with a section on next-level techniques that can help you reimagine familiar ingredients and create new ones, delving into topics such as sous vide infusions and syrups, clarified juices, alternative acids, carbonated cocktails, and more.
You can read this book from cover to cover or just cherry-pick at your leisure. And while we’ll be thrilled if you discover a handful of recipes that become new favorites, we hope you’ll dig deeper than that. If you take the time to master these six classic cocktails—the Old-Fashioned, Martini, Daiquiri, Sidecar, Whisky Highball, and Flip—you can master them all.