29 May 2015
On cocktails, websites, and originality.
Cocktails are my thing. When one spends all day on the computer, it’s very important to have a non-computer “thing”. A few years ago I had a very good friend who was a cocktail bartender, and even though I learned how to spot a properly made Negroni vs. a disaster (one does not shake a Negroni), the act of making the actual drinks was a mystery to me. I knew there was some logic to it, but I was still in awe when I saw a bartender mix something up off-menu. Ah, the magic of the “mixologist” – which, for what it’s worth, is a term most bartenders consider a bit of a joke.
Anyhow, sometime last year I decided to start making my own cocktails instead of just snootily commenting on others’. I spent my pocket money on spirits and liqueurs, took an online course, and started a cocktail blog. I became quite obsessed, and was just about ready to drop the websites thing and get behind a bar (that hasn’t happened, but I still flirt with the idea).
Back to my point. Cocktails are about patterns. It is really not hard to make a cocktail, and it’s not hard to come up with a new cocktail on the spot. Really. It’s all been done before (I mean, there are exceptions, but for the purposes of this article bear with me).
Let’s talk sours.
Take a daiquiri for instance. First of all, a daiquiri is not a frozen strawberry drink. Here’s the classic recipe:
2 oz white rum
3/4 oz fresh lime juice (you better squeeze your own)
1 oz simple syrup
Yeah, not pink and frozen with an umbrella. And now a margarita, also not frozen and no mix involved:
2 oz tequila
3/4 oz fresh lime juice (again, squeeze your own)
1 oz Cointreau
And a sidecar:
2 oz cognac
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
See what I mean? The standard formula for a sour is two parts spirit to one part sweetener and to 3/4 sour. Now you can make literally hundreds of drinks by substituting other sweets, sours, and spirits. Way to go, you mixologist, you.
Now, let’s bring it back to the web. Look at a few websites and tell me how often you see this pattern:
Logo on the top left
Menu to the right of it
A footer with additional links
Every time I make a website and use these patterns, I feel like a cheater. Yet, when I create an off-the-cuff sour during my weeknight home-bartending ventures, I’m stoked! What’s the difference?
I’m a designer, that’s what. I’ll speak for myself, but we designers have a ridiculous streak of pride. By nature we want to make original things, we want to innovate, and do anything but copy.
Now, here’s how I like my daiquiri:
1 1/2 oz white rum
1/2 oz Smith and Cross Jamaican rum
3/4 oz lime
3/4 oz simple syrup
Different, but the same. I cut down on the syrup a bit, but after you drink a certain number of daiquiris you realize what you like. And Smith and Cross? Stole that idea from a bartender at Dutch Kills.
I like to think of design that way - there are certain formulae that work. Let’s use those as the foundation, and add our own flavor. Take them and make them your own. Substitute and synthesize. Instead of avoiding these patterns because of my scoffing, inner designer, I’ll make my websites like I make my daiquiris.
P.S. Life Pro Tip: To make friends with a (cocktail) bartender, go solo on a slow night (Sunday-Tuesdays are best) and sit at the bar. Ask them how they like their daiquiri, and order that. Then ask how they like their Negroni and order that. Then say, “I’ll close it up with a shot of Fernet, and one for yourself if you like.” Odds are you won’t pay for the shot.