Cocktail recipes: Publish or perish

All-star mixologist Jim Meehan talks to Eater about why he shares his cocktail recipes:

Do you think the cocktail world sees publishing recipes as revealing secrets? Or more as a way to share and communicate?

I think they fall on both sides. Certainly some of my colleagues are not as giving as others as far as recipes go. Some people proudly consider some of their recipes to be things that they developed over years, they spent a lot of time and energy and resources on them and don’t see the need to just give them away.

But I think there are others, like myself, who are on the complete opposite side. It’s more along the lines of publish or perish. Maybe not perish, but become irrelevant. Maybe it’s because I live in New York, but I find that in New York when you think of a great idea, if you don’t act upon it someone else is going to be acting upon it. I feel like great ideas are more the result of intelligent people putting different things together. So do you want to be remembered, do you want to at least document that when you did it? Or do you want to rely on the oral traditions to verify that? I personally prefer to stake claims. I’d rather document it.

I’m with Meehan on this. A cocktail might appear on my menu for just a few months before it’s replaced with something new. A recipe only lives on if other people make it, and hearing that other people are enjoying my drinks is gratifying. There are merits to making complicated, ephemeral cocktails that only last a season, but it’s also nice to see them proliferate.

And, for the most part, I don’t see that much value in keeping recipes secret. I earn much of my living by getting people to come to my bar and pay for drinks; publishing recipes is a good way to establish a reputation for creative cocktails. Or as @CaptDavidRyan put it in a different context on Twitter recently,* “content is a loss-leader, ie advertising for something not so easily stolen.” Individual recipes are much easier to duplicate than the full experience of visiting a bar.

Some previous posts on mixology and intellectual property:
Mixing it up without IP
Dark and Stormy and the piracy paradox
Two Pimm’s, one cup

Also, I highly recommend Jim Meehan’s PDT Cocktail Book. Though the recipes can be a bit esoteric, it’s a beautifully illustrated and insightful look at how one of the best bars in the country does its work.

*Post updated for clarity.


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