What Makes a Cocktail Snob so Obnoxious?

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I have to admit, albeit begrudgingly, that it is sometimes those with the most distinctive tastes--and sometimes the most abrasive attitudes--that make us better bartenders. I'm talking about snobs. It's their insistence on attention to the finest details, their unrealistic notion of what is possible behind the bar, and their singular expression of taste that assure we will work twice as hard, twisting over backwards in some slinky-like stair crawl to meet their expectations. That is, if we make the effort and don't dismiss them out of hand.

Take the example of David Embury, famous cocktail snob, who wrote the much-revered bartender's guide The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, first published in 1948. He was never a bartender, and it shows. His recipes are frequently too boozy or tart, his insistence on certain products or procedures obscure.

Try making his absurd Sidecar recipe (eight parts brandy to two parts lemon and one part triple-sec) and you will find yourself choking down a glass of brandy with a dash of orange liqueur and lemon juice.

At the section opener on the Sidecar, he chides:

This cocktail is the most perfect example I know of a magnificent drink gone wrong.

Cocktail-savvy editors should have asked him to move this sentence to the end of the section.

Yet because of this one line and the subsequent recipe, I have made a heroic effort to study the proportions and best his recipe. It pushed me to explore various recipes and evaluate each one separately. If one takes it in the right spirit, snobs become connoisseurs and their solipsism appears to stem from the dictum: know thyself.

Here's my own Sidecar recipe:

2 oz. brandy
1 oz. Cointreau
½ oz. lemon juice
Combine ingredients, shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

This is still a little tart, and some might prefer to serve it with a sugared rim.

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Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He sits on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail. More

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He travels throughout the country and around the world in search of great drinks, and the stories behind them. Derek's methodical approach to cocktails was profiled in the Wall Street Journal's "A Master of Mixological Science" and his martini lauded as the best in America by GQ. He's been in numerous media outlets featuring his approach to better drinking, including CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX. Derek is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartender's Guild and on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.
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