What’s that drink called?
It might be “nothing,” or “I don’t know”––and that’s a beautiful thing.
As a food journalist, I occasionally meet a bartender who has an unnamed cocktail recipe. They’ve been perfecting it for a while. Many of them prefer to remain anonymous. That could be justified if it’s still a work in progress. But these cocktails were such a rare and unappreciated beauty. I was confused as a polar bear in the Sonoran desert. Maybe it’s time to fix that.
That’s how they create classic cocktails. The mixologists who imagined the classics we know and love had very high expectations. And their creative bartending shined through with no restriction as the recipe passed from person to person. It’s a testament to how stumbling upon an interesting idea can lead to greatness.
You’ll see here unnamed, anonymous cocktails that were, by chance, built to define the future of mixology.
Stage #1: Casual/Stumbled Upon Genius Is Often the Best for Cocktails
A bartender stumbles upon a great, rare flavor combination and offers it to a regular customer. The cocktail is still unnamed. It’s just a delicious combination of ingredients. The regular asks for it again, and the closest thing to a name is “that really good drink you made me last Friday.”
The drink isn’t reminiscent of any lifestyle, ideal or place yet. There’s no specific garnish or color. It’s just a good-tasting drink. But that can be enough to spark an idea. Any semi-unique, enjoyable cocktail can pique someone’s interest. “Why don’t I show this to my buddy mike?” a mixologist might think.
Showing it to his buddy “Mike,” they come up with a few ideas to perfect the drink’s flavor and presentation. Taking this incomplete drink to another person begins the journey from this first stage to the second stage of a classic cocktail. For now, they’re just experimenting around and seeing where they can take the central idea they stumbled upon to the next level.
The drink you see above is a perfect example of the first stage. Call it unnamed cocktail_1. It was one of the many unnamed cocktails I tried in Dubai, where I interviewed some local bartenders. It tasted pretty good but didn’t have a very inspired garnish.
Sadly, unnamed cocktail_1’s recipe was also kept anonymous. To give an idea, it was like one of those weird food combinations––bacon and caramel, for example. It had a very rich undertone that I couldn’t quite describe, mixed with lime and passion fruit juice––one of the most interesting flavors I’ve ever tasted. Once it goes through the stages we talk about below, I’m sure it’ll take off.
Stage #2: Unnamed Cocktail Recipes Are Perfected From Person to Person
Every drink needs a little drama. “Mike” and our anonymous bartender become estranged. Anonymous bartender made a politically incorrect joke at Mike’s father’s funeral, leaving Mike to perfect the drink recipe further on his own. He goes about as far as he can before handing it off to another person. Then they become estranged because Mike also made a politically incorrect joke. Jeez Louise, see a therapist, will ya?
The drink passed down from mixologist to mixologist, the flavor is slightly altered into a rare, more perfected drink. It comes polished and palatable, unlike Mike and anonymous bartender’s sense of humor. But there’s still one step missing––having an identity. Stage two is a middle-aged man just ready to buy a Corvette. He does it because it makes him feel cool, but this isn’t him. Only once he’s fully blinged-out is he ready to settle down and become his true self in stage three.
Unnamed cocktail_2, on the right, is an example of a cocktail in transition between stages two and three. Its flavor is one-of-a-kind while still being palatable to the masses. But it’s trying to replicate the class of a drink that already exists––the Mojito. This will change soon.
Stage #3: Minimal Restrictions Let the Rare Beauty of Individual Bartenders’ Style to Show Through
From the ashes of these uninspired garnishes will rise a new identity––one to pair like a good pair of shoes. The cocktail’s garnish represents its flavors creatively without copying anyone’s homework. With how rare the recipe’s flavors are, that may sound like a simple task. But it can be anything but.
Composing a song from scratch, even from an experienced pianist, can end up sounding like a hit song from four years back. Similarly, in mixology, we often end up like unnamed cocktail_2. Its recipe is also secret but had notes of nuttiness, marzipan, lime and mint––unique and accessible to the masses. But its garnish didn’t scream, “I have marzipan!”
In stage three, more anonymous bartenders get their hands on this cocktail. With the minimal restrictions placed on its decor, presentation changed rapidly. Finding a balance between what looks good and what will communicate the drink’s flavor. It morphs into something completely different visually, and even the drink’s color can change. Only then do you get to the final cosmetic stage.
Stage #4: Anonymous Bartenders Have Expectations for Their Unnamed Cocktails
To your right is unnamed cocktail_3, the most fully-formed stage of unnamed cocktails––the form that sparks popularity. The bartender who makes it to stage four believes it’s basically complete but doesn’t want to be associated. This could be for a variety of reasons, like a lack of confidence in their own ability or not feeling uncomfortable with taking credit.
The anonymous mixologist has a solid idea of the garnish, color and flavor profile. They even know the images the drink is supposed to conjure up––poolside lounging or Michelin star meals etc. By now, this cocktail has been made multiple times. But it still has no name or bartender to take credit. This can change, but it often only makes it to the other end with a name and no credit.
Being weary to be associated with a new beverage seems reasonable, but you may be asking questions about credit. Remember that these drinks go through many mixologists, and the original idea is seldom made by the one who perfected it. You only see true creatives and visionaries realizing the value they’ve added through collaboration and perfection. Since that isn’t everyone, it’s rare for mixologists to give their names.
Stage #5: Let’s Get Popular
All that’s left from here is for the beverage to explode in popularity. Because of credit reluctance, the drink could end up with either the name given by its final creator or just a person who really likes it. Maybe that’s sad, but that’s just how it goes with recipes. Sometimes a drink has no credit, and its name isn’t even from the creator.
Those are the 5 stages that take an unnamed cocktail to an instantly recognizable, well-known beverage with a moniker of its own. Unnamed cocktail variations move through a slew of anonymous bartenders, each perfecting a crude yet pleasantly unique concept stumbled upon by dumb luck. That’s why this type of mixed beverage is such a rare beauty. And that’s also why I say to all of the mixologists reading: experiment and pursue dumb luck––it could be the next cosmopolitan.