The idea of a “Pattern Language” is well known and well received in the Software community. Since the work of the Gang of Four1 it has helped in the communication of solutions and the discovery of new ones Cocktails have a pattern language which is well recognized by professionals but not by consumers. In this post I hope to make the Cocktail Pattern Language visible and useful to cocktail consumers and amateur bartenders.
What is a cocktail?
To begin with a “cocktail” is defined, classically, as the mixture of a “spirit”, sugar, water, bitters. This itself is less of a recipe for a specific drink as it is a pattern for all possible cocktails. While the modern concept of a cocktail has expanded from this origin it is still a good starting place for this discussion, and a fundamental example of cocktail patterns.
What is a pattern?
The elements of this language are entities called patterns. Each pattern describes a problem that occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice. – Christopher Alexander2
Basically by “pattern” I mean a name for a particular way of doing something, a solution to a problem. A pattern does not dictate the only way to do something but shows the “shape” of the solution. The specifics of the situation will always cause variations.
Examples of Patterns
The easiest way to describe what cocktail patterns are is to give examples.
The recipe for a Manhattan is 2 parts Rye (or Bourbon), 1 part Sweet Vermouth and Angostura bitters. The recipe contains a main spirit: Rye, bitters: Angostura, and sweet: Vermouth (which also adds more kick and bit more bitter).
The simplest variant is The Rob Roy, replace the Rye with Scotch. Next simplest are the Dry and Perfect variants: Dry instead of Sweet Vermouth, or equal parts of two respectively.
A more differing variant is The Toronto: 2 oz. Rye, .25 oz Fernet Branca, .25 tsp sugar, Angostura bitters. While on the surface it doesn’t sounds like the same drink it is if you break it down. The main spirit is still Rye. The bitter & extra kick is added by the Fernet and Angostura while the sweet is provided directly by sugar.
Thus the pattern of a Manhattan is a whiskey paired with bitters and sweet.
One cocktail which is (in)famous for its variants is the Martini. The pattern of a Martini is simply Gin (or Vodka) and Vermouth. Martinis can be Sweet, Perfect or Dry. The amount of vermouth can vary depending on the taste of the drinker. Different garnishes can be used, additional ingredients can be added as desired.
One variant is The Bronx. It is a Perfect Gin Martini with the addition of Orange Juice: 6 parts Gin, 3 parts Sweet Vermouth, 2 part Dry Vermouth and 3 parts Orange Juice.
Another variant is The Vesper Martini which is essentially a Dry Gin Martini: 3 oz. Gin, 1 oz Vodka, .5 oz Lillet Blanc3. It replaces the Vermouth with Lillet (similar to Vermouth in that it is a fortified wine with herbal ingredients).
One last variant is The Martinez which is basically a Sweet Martini: 2 oz Gin, .75 oz Sweet Vermouth, .25 oz Maraschino Liqueur and Angostura bitters. Here the Sweet Vermouth is augmented with Maraschino and a bit of bitters is added.
A final pattern I’ll mention is the sour. Drinks in this pattern are The Whiskey sour, the Gimlet, the Daiquiri. The pattern here is a spirit along with a good amount of citrus juice (Lime often) and some sugar.
Why it is useful
The usefulness of speaking of patterns is to have a common terminology for discussing the situations designers already see over and over.4
Patterns in cocktails can be very useful to the bartender because it helps them choose the next drink for the patron. The patron may, as I do, say “I like Manhattans” or “I’d like something like a Daiquiri” and the bartender can rattle off a series of variants upon that pattern, or even invent their own.
Also the patterns overlap. For instance a Manhattan and a Sweet Martini have the same basic pattern: 2 spirit to 1 Sweet Vermouth. So a person who likes Manhattans may slide into Sweet Martinis and thus explore a whole new pattern of cocktails.
Thus the patterns of cocktails, as in Architecture and Programming, allow one to have a language to talk about the problem and possible solutions to it and to find new areas of discovery.
Gamma, Helm, Johnson, and Vlissides. Design Patterns. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1995. Print. ↩
Alexander, Christopher. Pattern Language. New York: Oxford UP,
Due to recipe changes the current Lillet Blanc is sweeter and less bitter than previous versions. A better ingredient would be Cocchi Americano. ↩