Cocktails: Getting the recipe right for the perfect drink

CocktailsAn expected garnish to the cocktail renaissance is the great number of cocktail recipes being published in print, online, and on coasters! The up side is that more people are making cocktails at home as opposed to a decade ago.

With exploration come the inevitable questions. At BevX our Cocktail of the Week feature is one of our top three weekly segments each week without fail. As you can imagine, we get a lot of questions regarding cocktail making. One persistent question — and a good one I might add — concerns the recipe itself. We are hardly the only publication to offer a recipe for a Mai Tai, Margarita, or Negroni. Occasionally a curious reader will ask why our recipe differs from another trusted source. “What is the right recipe for a Mai Tai?” is a common refrain. (The BevX Mai Tai recipe)

Unfortunately my answer is so vague, seemingly politic, and irresolute that it makes my teeth hurt. The best way that I can explain it is by making an analogy that many people can relate. “What’s the right recipe for jerk chicken (here’s one), chili con carne, Bolognese, or coq au vin?” Surely great chefs across the globe don’t use the same exact recipe for these classic dishes. Does just one of thousands of award-winning chefs possess the right recipe? Of course not.

Just because we can all acknowledge that there are no proper recipes for classic dishes and classic cocktails we must also concede that passions can run pretty high on the subject. Many bartenders, like chefs, cling to their chosen recipes like a first time swimmer to a flotation device. I have no problem with this sort of zeal, as it is fodder for great cocktails. Variations on the basic construct are always welcome when due respect is given to the original. However, when a chef decides to explore his feng shui-loving inner child and drapes a sweet and spicy peanut sauce atop my Eggs Benedict I’m sending it back post haste. The same ethos applies to cocktails.

While I’m very open to most substitutions and tweaking of ratios in classic cocktails there are some liberties that I cannot support. I simply can’t understand why anyone would want to use añejo tequila in a Margarita but there are many that do. I insist that the Margarita is a cocktail that celebrates the fresh and vibrant flavors of pure, un-aged tequila with fresh lime and orange liqueur. By the way, the orange liqueur must also be free of the influence of wood as well. I’m further disturbed by añejo tequila Margaritas being sold as upscale versions of the original, furthering yet another myth that tequila aged in cask to the point that it looks like and tastes like bourbon is preferred to pure tequila. But that’s a rant for another day.

The take away nugget from this exploration of cocktail recipes is that like all things designed to delight our palates become very personal. If you want a greater portion of gin in your Negroni, more Vermouth in your Martini, or Bourbon in your Manhattan then add it boldly.

Sean Ludford is a regular contributor to See Sean’s rants and insights at

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