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Classic or contemporary — which drink style is best?

Whereas Whiley might use the Daiquiri as a jumping off point, what you’ll end up with is a world away from the drink created in the 1890s.

There is no one way to travel. Some bartenders like their Jerry Thomas and their classics; others like to push the boundaries out a little further.

Like Matt Whiley, the bartender and owner behind Re in Sydney. I like to take the classic recipe as a basis and then challenge it,” he writes in his book, The Modern Cocktail - Innovation + Flavour.

Throughout the process of constructing a drink I will always think about how closely it is linked to a classic — I’ll notice if it’s in the daiquiri style, for example, but I don’t think that just because a drink stems from a classic recipe that it’s necessarily the right recipe for right now.”

So Whiley’s book doesn’t feature the Daiquiri. Instead, his recipes push the boundaries of flavour and what’s possible in drinks, recipes you won’t find in any classic cocktail book.

Over the years, Whiley has been inspired by chefs at many of the world’s most forward-thinking restaurants; one of the first bartenders employing the services of a forager, Whiley himself has a detailed botanical catalogue stored in his mind. It’s this that he uses to experiment and innovate, pushing flavour towards new possibilities.

Now turn to At The Bar, however, the cocktail book of The Everleigh written by Michael and Zara Madrusan, and look up the Daiquiri there. 

For one, there is actually a Daiquiri recipe. Whereas Whiley might use the Daiquiri as a jumping off point, what you’ll end up with is a world away from the drink created in the 1890s. The Everleigh’s approach, on the other hand, is a little more classic in style.

Just don’t be fooled into thinking that The Everleigh’s approach is staid or limited. Far from it. Turn to their Daiquiri recipe, and adjacent to it is no fewer than seven variations on the drink, made by substituting one ingredient for another. Add a little mint to the Daiquiri and it makes a Maison Charles; use aged rum, swap out the sugar syrup for grenadine and whack it with some mint, and you’ve got yourself a Detroit Daisy.

This classic approach, exemplified by The Everleigh and its forebears like Milk & Honey, doesn’t limit a bartender’s creativity, instead it encourages her to be better acquainted with the back bar.

Madrusan refers to this approach as the cocktail branches; he scoured every cocktail book he could find to compile some 2000 cocktails under no more than 25 ‘mother’ cocktails, something he began doing in 2006 in response to the bartender’s choice style of service at Milk & Honey in New York.

Two topflight bartenders, known around the world. Two approaches, both of which are obsessive about details and understanding and learning. But the end result? Drinks that are rather different in construction.

They will share this one other thing in common, however: they’ll both be delicious.

So is one approach better than the other? Are classically constructed drinks better than the contemporary drinks of today? That likely depends upon where you stand. It might be the time of day. It might be the occasion. Have you just eaten, perhaps? 

In the end, it’s a matter of style. 

From one end of the spectrum to the other.

You don’t get much more basic than this old highball, the Salty Dog. What is it? It’s one part of either gin or vodka, and two parts of fresh grapefruit juice, built over ice in a glass rimmed with salt.

You either like it or not,” wrote the English author Sir Kingsley Amis, and that tells you just about all you need to know.

That is, until Luke Whearty steps up to the drink. 

Whearty’s contemporary take on the American east coast classic applies his mastery of technique and conception — he and Whiley are likeminded creatures — and takes the drink to new heights.

Watch how he does it, here.