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Food - How to name a cocktail

Six Atlanta bartenders discuss the underappreciated art of naming a drink

Thursday August 20, 2015 04:00 am EDT

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Does the name of a cocktail really matter? Would the Manhattan still occupy the ranks of classic cocktail royalty had it been called the Hoboken or the Pasadena? Does the right name have the power to propel a drink from ignored to embraced? We asked some of Atlanta’s top bartenders — Kellie Thorn (Empire State South), Miles Macquarrie (Kimball House), Paul Calvert (formerly of Paper Plane), Cole Younger Just (Last Word), T. Fable Jeon (of Miso Izakaya), Greg Best (formerly of Holeman and Finch) — about the naming process, what makes a good cocktail name, and their favorites cases of cocktail naming eloquence.


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If you had to boil down to three words the elements that make for an effective cocktail name for you, what would those words be:

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Paul Calvert: A formal invitation.

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Kellie Thorn: Concise. Memorable. Pronounceable.

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Cole Younger Just: Reference. Whimsy. Concept.

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T. Fable Jeon: Context. Legibility. Timbre.

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Greg Best: Clear creative purpose.

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Miles Macquarrie: Reference. Information. Research.

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What’s an example of a great cocktail name you’ve seen around town?

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KT: Miles Macquarrie’s Afternoon Delight is just super catchy, memorable, and fun. It’s like, why didn’t I think of that? It manages to be both kitschy and amazing, and is a subtle reference to the drink’s riff on the classic Death in the Afternoon.

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CJ: Paper Plane’s Wally Headbanger — it’s just such a clever play on the classic Harvey Wallbanger.

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PC: Greg Best has one called Never Mind the Maneuvers. It sounds familiar, but at the same time frustrating, and the name demands that the drink be sampled. It’s a mix of aged rum, Lillet Blonde, lemon juice, and a black pepper-honey syrup.

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GB: I’ve always loved Miles Macquarrie’s Gutter Pop. It’s a great example of setting the bar low (no pun intended) and easy, only to overdeliver the hell out of the drink with taste and texture.

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Do you have a favorite name that you’ve come up with?

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KT: Two World Hero. It employs French Armagnac and American rye, and the name is a reference to Lafayette — who was a key figure in both the French Revolution and the American Revolutionary War. OK, that’s a bit nerdy and weird, but us bartenders tend to love reading and research, and it’s fun to utilize some of those stupid facts.

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GB: Tough one. I’d probably choose the Undeniable Truth. It was meant to portray the clear beauty and sound reason behind a well-made martini.

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CJ: Turkish Razorblade. It’s just a fun name to say, and ties back to the ingredients — Turkish raki being one of the main ingredients.

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Other general rules you follow when naming a drink?

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MM: If the drink references a classic, we try to plug that classic name in and keep it simple, like the Fresh Hop Daiquiri in the menu right now. We also try to make names that are relatively gender neutral, since if it’s too feminine or too tough that might cause some to hesitate in ordering it. And we Google every name — we don’t want to end up with a name that’s already being used on a different drink around town or in prominent bars elsewhere.

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FJ: My framework for developing cocktails is to build drinks keeping sense memory in mind. If a drink, with all its variables, can recall for someone a great narrative in a specific time and place, then it’s a success in my mind.

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KT: Work it around with colleagues — we’re always asking others what they think of a name, pulling in the hive for inspiration and advice.

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When you employ some arcane trivia or something that may be a bit of an inside reference, is it out of hope that someone will get it and connect with the meaning?

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PC: This is a deep question. There’s no satisfaction to be found in the terrifying fact that it may be impossible to convey real meaning to another person. Thinking about this makes me want a drink. That said, it’s always nice to wink at a kindred spirit via a menu.

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GB: I am absolutely guilty of using inside jokes/references. Though I don’t reference with intent to be “inside” with anyone. There is a profound joy when someone sees or understands the reference, and calls it out. Kind of like an Easter egg hunt for the brain.

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KT: It’s a great way to connect when people get something. We’re in the people business, and it’s totally fun when people ask about a name and it starts a conversation. I’ll do tongue-in-cheek references snuck in for fun, but also try to be careful to not go overboard. It really depends on the particular bar and who your audience is. That’s important, and you need to cater to that.

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And how about bad puns ... good idea or not?

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MM: Funny/punny names can work if they make sense. We had a Gins and Roses, made with gin, Lillet rosé, and a rose petal liqueur. If it fits, that’s silly in the right way.

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KT: Empire State South Beverage Director Steven Grubbs and I will go back and forth — he tends to get really silly playing on words, like if there’s dill in a drink, coming up with What’s the Dill, or What’s the Dill-io, or Let’s Make a Dill ...

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GB: In general, puns (even bad ones) create a level of approachability and humor, which I believe can be used as a bridge for the less cocktail-inclined to join us.

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One last question: Worst cocktail name ever?

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GB: “Who let the dogs out?” Don’t ask. I refuse to tell you where I saw this.

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Want to christen your own cocktail? CL’s Cocktail Name Generator can help. The name of your new favorite drink-to-be is just a click away.