Everyone from the casual weekend drinker to the everyday alcoholic has their favorite drink and is familiar with the specific language used to order it– a dry vodka martini with a twist of lemon. While there is a certain amount of jargon and complexity to the language used when ordering a drink, on the other side of the bar there is another level of language and jargon used by bartenders and cocktail crafters. Within the realm of bartending and drink making, written works in the official style can be found in various cocktail recipe books and blogs, and writings on various alcohol history and production processes. One source in particular, the Craft of the Cocktail by Dale Degroff, is a compilation of alcohol history, descriptions of flavorings, drink making methods, and recipes. It is a sourcebook for both advanced and beginning bartenders.
Along with the official style usually comes a system of bureaucracy. While there is no governing body or set hierarchy of bartenders, a subliminal community exists within the culture and profession. There is a clear distinction between the beer-pouring college student behind the bar and the up-scale Las Vegas cocktail chef. The use of official style generally signifies an expertise that is beyond the average person’s comprehension. When you are employed by an establishment who expects you to provide your own menu of fresh drink recipes this involves a level of understanding beyond pouring a beer from a tap.
Working for high-paying clientele is an extremely desirable position that requires you to maintain a larger amount of knowledge (or an appearance of one) over the customer. Through the use of texts like the Craft of the Cocktail bartenders learn and communicate about the intricacies of mixing drinks and liquor appreciation.
The Mai Tai, on the other hand, calls for an aged Jamaican rum when made according to the original Victor Bergeron recipe. Whiskey that is used in cocktails should come from an established producer and be properly aged. And with the exception of fruit brandies and eau-de-vie, all brandies are much improved with barrel age.
This is primarily supposed to be an introductory text for beginning bartenders written by a “master mixologist”, Dale Degroff who received his notoriety while bartending at New York’s Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Plaza.
While this passage is generally straightforward and readable, when put into context it exudes official style. Surprisingly, the selection above scored a 16.5 grade reading level and a 34.4 Flesch-Kincaid reading ease. This is interesting considering bartending is an occupation that requires minimal to no education. However, being able to work within the official style places you ahead of others in such a competitive market. Those who can create an appearance of sophistication and knowledge will be successful in the occupation and move to higher paying and more reputable establishments.
Although it is an introductory text, Degroff assumes you have prior knowledge of the “Victor Bergeron recipe” without any previous mention of it. Other jargon and euphemisms are apparent throughout the text. Although the use of advanced terminology is unnecessary in teaching beginning bartenders, a display of extensive knowledge is central to being a good at the job. The appearance that you know an endless amount of cocktail recipes and are educated in the production and flavorings of spirits is an essential aspect of being a successful bartender.
An easily definable characteristic of official style is the use of passive voice. This passage is entirely impersonal, hiding both the actor and the action. Passive voice receives its fair share of criticisms. However, in this case it is unimportant who the actor is. It is more important that we draw our attention to the thing being acted upon. For example, the drink which is being made. It is unimportant to us who is making the drink, rather we just want the information about how it is made. In this case passive voice is entirely acceptable and should almost be the preferred direction to take.
In other parts of the text the use of complex sentences is a prevalent feature. For example, “The complex flavor of the finer premium gins, for instance, is achieved by passing the high-proof spirit through a final distillation in a pot still, with botanicals that flavor the gin and provide that unique aroma.” Or “The vanilla and caramel flavors that sweeten bourbon are the dividends returned as the spirit passes season after season through the layer of caramelized wood sugar (created by charring the wood), just under the charred oak inside a bourbon barrel.” Both are overtly complex and complicate otherwise simpler ways of stating what was trying to be said. Here lies the aspect which is not necessarily an important facet to bartending texts. Aside from the apparent attempt at sounding more credible there is little excuse within the sphere of bartending to set aside clear and concise language. In a medium that is aimed at educating inexperienced people clarity is key.
Despite the overuse and generally negative opinions about the official style, there are real world applications and reasons for the existence of it. Sometimes it is necessary to create an impression of knowledge and establish your place above others. Other-times clear and concise language is required. It is merely situational, and within the sphere of bartending the existence of the official style serves a necessary purpose in order to create a separation between bartender and patron that is beyond the physical bar-top.