Introduction -
Hiya guys, my name is Oron Lerner, I'm a bartender from Israel. This here is the slides and texts
from a se...
Just what is Creativity? –
Creativity is a continuous process of defining our work limits, working within those limits and...
Scientifically, Creativity is measured against problem-solving skills, the further away the solution
is from the average, ...
How many times have you seen a bored child walk up to a table filled with various sodas and
light drinks and condiments an...
and no longer ponder various other solutions.
Preparation -
Preparation comes in two different time frames. The long term ...
own estimate – 5 years of dabbling in new cocktail making and real bar work before a
bartender's creations develop a uniqu...
Shumi (趣味, Hobby, Taste, Elegance) –
Shumi refers to a relentless devotion to one hobby or profession. There is no differe...
This is an undefined range of knowledge that is not necessarily related directly to your Shumi,
however it is helpful in f...
Technique #1 - Twist on a Classic
Taking advantage of the base of knowledge built during preparation, it is common practic...
Technique #2 - Role Playing
A known recipe has logic behind it. Take the ingredients of the recipe, and translate them int...
Curacao = relatively high alcoholic content, fruity flavors of oranges and high sweetness.
grenadine = Mostly color appare...
Please note, this is NOT an El Presidente, it is merely a recipe that is based on one possibly
interpretation of what an E...
Technique #3 - Incubation.
Just let it go.
Silly as it sounds, our subconscious is a powerful thinking engine, independent...
Try not to settle for a solution that isn't creative, innovative or exciting enough. Rather, stick
with the problem until ...
then check these sayings to see if they make any logical and relevant connection with the
original challenge. While a comp...
Next, play around with the flavors and find ways to incorporate them into the drink. A flavor can
come as a liquor, liqueu...
Technique #6 - Abstract Context
An abstract idea, an emotion or specific experience can also ignite your inspiration and g...
already, and the garnish – a cigar, thus indicating a long and slow sipping and relaxing
experience, all of these elements...
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Cocktail creativity seminar

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This is the text and slides of a seminar dealing with cocktail creativity and the science of creativity done in Art of the Cocktail festival at Victoria, BC, on 2012.
It deals with the sciene of creativity, as is relevant to the bartending world, as well as detailing techniques for coming up with new and creative recipes.

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Cocktail creativity seminar

  1. 1. Introduction - Hiya guys, my name is Oron Lerner, I'm a bartender from Israel. This here is the slides and texts from a seminar given in Art of the Cocktail 2012 on behalf of EuroWineGate, and a great big thanks do they all deserve for letting this happen. Before we start I'd like to share a small insight – when discussing creativity people would often find their minds drift to new ideas and techniques and we cannot help ourselves but lose focus, which is a great sign that this topic excites you. Those of you who can take a break, examine a notion or idea and then come back to the text are welcomed, those of you who can't help it grab a piece of paper and doodle anything that comes to you during this read. Don't fight it, just let it happen, it's part of this process and it’s a long enough written mass for breaks to be welcomed in betweens.
  2. 2. Just what is Creativity? – Creativity is a continuous process of defining our work limits, working within those limits and then finding new ways to exceed the limits and find new ones. For example, for a bartender creativity would start by learning the various tools of the trade and how to work with the various ingredients in his bar, the limits of his creative work are what is available to him right now. Until a point when those are no longer sufficient and new ingredients start pouring in or the bartender finds new ways of expressing or combining those ingredients, such as infusing a spice into a spirit that will give him an entirely new ingredient to work with.
  3. 3. Scientifically, Creativity is measured against problem-solving skills, the further away the solution is from the average, most acceptable solution the more creative it is. 'Problem' in our case can be defined as 'a need to come up with a new cocktail recipe', in which case mixing whiskey, bitters and sugar (an Old Fashioned essentially) might not be the most creative new drink recipe available as it already answers an existing frame, it is 'close to an average and an already acceptable solution'. This is not to say that one cannot get creative with an Old Fashioned cocktail formula. We'll get to that later. 'Problem' can also be defined differently. The creative process is also about finding new problems or redefining old ones. For example, is this about finding new cocktails? Or creating new experiences? Or re-shaping an entire cocktail menu? And how can we use the difference between a cocktail and an experience to create something…well…creative? The very discussion and redefinition of the creative challenge will often send you on a new, exciting and creative journey. "Every problem is an opportunity in disguise" The second part of the creative process is about criticism, preferably self-oriented, that gives the creative process its context. There is a result that needs to happen at the end of this process, be that one great new cocktail recipe or an entire menu, but the reality of the bar business shapes our context – drinks must be priced accordingly, hence what ingredients and amounts can go in them. They should have a certain portion of alcohol in them – too much or too little makes the drink lose its context. The cocktails have roles within the menu – a menu that is entirely just sour, even if refreshing and pleasant might wear down the guests looking for something of a different nature. Defining our context will also help define our creative challenge and assure more realistic results.
  4. 4. How many times have you seen a bored child walk up to a table filled with various sodas and light drinks and condiments and start mixing his own kind of 'cocktail'? these creations usually end up as having a bit of every liquid on the table, possibly some ketchup, pepper, salt, sugar and some ashtray leftovers. Is this a creative process? Yes. It is also a very creative drink, but it lacks context. Creativity bereft of context is very poor art. "It can't just be weird man, people have to dig it" / Winton Marsalis Since randomly adding ingredients to a shaker does not a creative cocktail make we should treat creativity as a process and not a specific point in time, it is a set of techniques, guidelines and suggestions that will help foster this process and encourage us to be more creative. Before we continue further into what creativity is, let us discuss what creativity is NOT – it is not a unique talent, it has little or nothing to do with intelligence, nor is it genetic in any way. It is a way of operating, a way of thinking that literally anyone can adopt. There are, however, a few common traits to people who have a tendency to be more creative - 1. Be playful. Play with possible solutions, don't be afraid to try something just because it might be absurd or might fail. 2. Have fun. Nobody really finds a creative solution when he's not open minded and enjoying him/herself. 3. Take your time. Free time is essential to this process. Find it. Make it happen. Studies have been able to find other common habits amongst creative people: - They are devoted to their work, and more of this devotion when we discuss Shumi. - They have a drive for independence and therefore also to take responsibility for it, this refers to the infamous ability to fail – and learn from it, that are so essential to the creative process. - Have an urge for originality and are willing to spend their time on a problem until a creative solution is found. - Show flexibility in thinking processes. State of Mind – Opened and Closed. The open state of mind is when creative ideas are formed. It is a secluded play-time of the mind that you have (preferably) cleared in the schedule to do just that – sit, think, write down any creative idea that comes up no matter how ridiculous or absurd. Do not test any of the ideas yet, do not finish any other chores. Just meditate for an hour and a half about the problem you have defined. Only after said period, should you examine the various solutions you found and proceed to executing them. This would be the closed mind mode when we are aiming at accurate results
  5. 5. and no longer ponder various other solutions. Preparation - Preparation comes in two different time frames. The long term preparation is the slow acquisition of required knowledge of the craft and profession, the various techniques, ingredients, their process and flavors, what might work with what and what is an already acceptable combination. These are our defined limits and it can take several years to learn the boundaries of our creative requirements (such as, is it within our context to infuse cigars into rum? Answer: No, it's apparently very poisonous). Originality requires an origin, without knowing what already is you can never really be creative no matter what the fantasies about 'new and upcoming stars with huge talents who can just create out of nothing a new and super exciting drink' tell you, even such stars must have this preparation time, meant to build up a bank of knowledge from which to draw your inspiration. Without this bank of knowledge you are, in a way, Alice in Wonderland – going on a road but having no destination. Research has shown that it takes poets as long as 5 years before their creations live up to any creativity measuring standard in poetry. Painters take 6 years, composers and chess players take as long as 10. And though the research does not detail bartenders, we've taken a measure of our own based on Gaz's 101 Best New Cocktails books, checking to see how long the various contributors to the book have been in the business of creating new drinks and came up with our
  6. 6. own estimate – 5 years of dabbling in new cocktail making and real bar work before a bartender's creations develop a unique style that might just be his/her own. Short term preparation is the process of getting into the open mind mode – defining the problem, its boundaries and context, the results required, clearing enough schedule time to ponder different solutions, researching various aspects of the problem (how to best utilize different ingredients, what fresh fruit are available this time of the year etc..) When you decide to come up with a new range of drinks, maybe a whole new menu or maybe just one drink, here are a couple of basic ideas you might want to consider - 1. Combine group-work and working alone. Various stages can benefit from group work better, such as defining the problem as a group will give you better context to work within. 2. Do not stress or push it. Alfred Hitchcock would force his writing staff to stop their work and busy themselves with something trivial or irrelevant whenever he'd think they're stressing it. Creativity does not work well under pressure. 3. 5 Minute rule : 5 minutes is the minimum life span of ANY idea. Whenever a new idea comes up you may discuss only its positive aspects for 5 minutes before any negatives are brought to the table. 4. Prime yourself to creative work. Priming is the notion of getting prepared for something even in an unconscious way. Just set in the schedule a "creative free slot" with enough time. Doing this in advance helps prime your subconscious and guarantee better focus. 5. Whenever you encounter an assumption or a rule, attempt to find ways in which it is not true or may be changed. Japanese artists have two very related terms that I will also try to explain, in an attempt to further discuss creativity. The terms are Shumi and Shuyou.
  7. 7. Shumi (趣味, Hobby, Taste, Elegance) – Shumi refers to a relentless devotion to one hobby or profession. There is no difference between the two, and there are no plurals for this one – just one field of interest that pushes to develop it and into it endlessly. This term explains why passionate bartenders are more creative than others, it is a major motivator in coming up with new and exciting drinks, however it is not sufficient. Shuyou (修養, Discipline) -
  8. 8. This is an undefined range of knowledge that is not necessarily related directly to your Shumi, however it is helpful in fostering the creative process within it. Knowledge of origami, cooking, politics, arts, psychology and any other field that isn’t cocktail-creation nevertheless helps you become more creative, bringing in new context to create within and new inspiration to draw from. It is the combination of Shumi and Shuyou that allows an artist to be both creative and relevant in his work. Inspiration - Is that exciting moment when we link between a new solution to an old problem. You'll know it hit you when you have a sudden need, a drive, an urge to experiment. To test your idea, to execute it, it will lift you up and force you to implement something new and you will immediately say "why didn’t I think of this earlier?" Much like humor – a joke's punch line is the connection between two separate concepts being linked together, as in Terry Pratchett's Pyramids – "What our ancestors would really be thinking if they were alive today is 'why is it so dark in here?'" – and only understanding where our ancestors are, physically, today will we understand why that is the case. Inspiration comes from anywhere and is very capricious, hence it is useful to have a pen and paper available with you at all times. But take it from other great artists and just tell your inspiration to come back at a more convenient time. Next comes the experimentation. This is a different mode than the rest of the process in that it is a close-minded one. You have an idea, you want to try it, alter it, try it again, alter it some more, until it meets your requirements, until it is indeed a solution to your 'problem'. In the experimentation stage it is less helpful to ponder random new ideas or play about with an ingredient that isn't relevant, put those creative parts aside and focus on getting the idea into liquid form with as little interruptions as possible. Remember, it is an acceptable practice even if a sad one, to pour a bad experiment down the drain. Its ok to make mistakes and to fail, it is an essential part of the creative process and as long as you do not repeat your mistakes but learn from them you are making very desirable progress.
  9. 9. Technique #1 - Twist on a Classic Taking advantage of the base of knowledge built during preparation, it is common practice to take an existing known classical recipe and substituting one or more ingredients with others. The known ratio and well established balance of the source-drink, along with careful choices regarding the new ingredients based on understanding them guarantees minimal need for experimentation for a quick solution to our creative challenge.
  10. 10. Technique #2 - Role Playing A known recipe has logic behind it. Take the ingredients of the recipe, and translate them into their attributes and roles in the recipe. Which is the sour, which is the bitter, what flavors do they bring? herbal? floral? fruity? are they strong or weak alcohol-wise?. Next, mix up the attributes until you find a new ingredient that can fulfill the new attributes until all the cocktails' original attributes are filled. You now have a list of ingredients that still answer to the original drinks' logic even though nothing remains or resembles it. This will require you to play around with the ratio, as the ingredients have changed somewhat and the new drink will be nothing like the original source but will follow the logic behind it. Example - El Presidente is a classic cuban cocktail. Though it has many versions, for the purpose of this example we'll start with this one: 1.5oz Cuban Rum 0.75oz Sweet white vermouth 0.25oz Curacao 0.25tsp grenadine Translate these into their roles and attributes in the cocktail recipe: Cuban Rum = Crisp, dry yet complex. A base spirit and the main body of the drink. Sweet white vermouth = Low alcoholic content, delicate sweetness and mainly herbal flavors
  11. 11. Curacao = relatively high alcoholic content, fruity flavors of oranges and high sweetness. grenadine = Mostly color apparently, but also a bit of tartness and sweetness when using real grenadine, as well as just a hint of texture. Now instead of a recipe with ratios and ingredients we have a recipe with attributes and flavors and can alter those. For example, if we mix the high alcoholic content and lots of sweetness attributes of the curacao with the herbal flavors of the vermouth we could substitute the 0.25oz ingredient with herbal liqueurs such as Chartreuse. If we link between the lower alcoholic content and delicate sweetness of the vermouth with the fruity notes we could substitute them for other fruity liqueurs. However if we take this further and even replace Fruity with Floral we could use the wonderful June liqueur. A bit of further tampering and the result, as was served was - June's Elections - 1.5oz Excellia Reposado tequila 0.5oz June Liqueur (reduced amount for better balance) 1tsp yellow Chartreuse Stir, strain, enjoy.
  12. 12. Please note, this is NOT an El Presidente, it is merely a recipe that is based on one possibly interpretation of what an El Presidente is. The beauty of this process is that as a group you can translate the recipe into its logical components and then separately each would come up with an entirely unique and creative recipe, all adhering to the original one but untraceable. On some basic recipes this is common practice – Sour drinks, basically being composed of spirit, sour component (lemon, lime or other) and a sweet component, sometimes with egg white and/or bitters. Same goes for various stirred drinks (1.5oz spirit, 0.75oz modifier, 0.25oz liqueur with maybe a dash of bitters as an example), collins, cobblers, fixes, skins, blazers and whatnots that have a basic structure and style but no defining exact recipe.
  13. 13. Technique #3 - Incubation. Just let it go. Silly as it sounds, our subconscious is a powerful thinking engine, independent of our conscious thoughts and mind. Let it work on the problem while you take a metaphorical vacation (complete with Hawaii style tan-bed and a blue cocktail with a small paper umbrella in it if possible. I find blue cocktails and paper umbrellas foster a lot of creativity). Creativity flounders under pressure and stress. If you're under pressure and cannot find the solution, distract yourself. Go to a bar, have a drink, have a chat with a friend or just go to sleep. The answer will come to you later on.
  14. 14. Try not to settle for a solution that isn't creative, innovative or exciting enough. Rather, stick with the problem until you come up with a better solution. This is the essence of brainstorming and the preparation stage – write down many different solutions, examine all of them and keep on looking, as opposed to the instinctual habit of finding the quickest easiest solution to the creative challenge and rushing off to implement it. Science has already shown that the longer you ponder a problem, and the more possible solutions you come up with, the better and more creative your result is. Technique #4 - Ingredient Context As mentioned, creativity requires context to work within otherwise one finds oneself drinking ketchup. Limitations, it seems, actually enhance the creative process as they allow us to better define our limits – and those, once defined, can be crossed or manipulated. This technique takes on a single starting ingredient as the context for the next creation. Find a new ingredient, preferably one you haven't tasted yet or an item you want to incorporate into a cocktail. Taste it and write down your impressions of it. Then, based on your written impressions try and find other flavors or ingredients to add to the mix: 1. Enhancing existing flavors - add what you sensed, what you felt in the ingredient. If you tasted pineapple, then adding pineapple to the recipe is the logical step. 2. Enhancing complimenting flavors - find flavors that would compliment what you found, although they may not be present in the initial ingredient itself. If there was pineapple notes in the spirit and coffee works well with pineapple, perhaps a cocktail combining this spirit and coffee would also work well. This is a logical chain. There's X in the drink. X and Y work well, therefore the drink might work well with Y too. Creativity however, is not subject to logic and it is acceptable for some steps to be illogical and still yield a positive, creative result. For this we have the next notion – 3. Add absent flavors - what flavors aren't there? what aren't complimenting? what flavors do not even remotely exist in this drink? what flavors will NOT work with this drink and how can we make them work nevertheless? remember that creativity is a lot about challenging known assumptions and finding new and creative solutions to old problems. Po: Intermediate Impossibilities - Edward de Bono's research on creativity deals with just that – absurd and illogical processes that nevertheless lead to creative results. Based on an illogical process, de Bono suggests you randomly discuss various aspects of the creative challenge, the initial context-ingredient or any other aspect of the matter. Say things that are ridiculous, absurd, illogical, irrelevant, be playful, have fun, joke around – and
  15. 15. then check these sayings to see if they make any logical and relevant connection with the original challenge. While a computer can generate many more random connections, it can never translate these connections into meaningful recipes – and every bartender will find different meanings to different connections thus leading to a truly unique and original technique. For example, taking the pineapple-scented spirit, one can discuss the pineapple as the spirit of hospitality thus making the drink a shared drink or a punch, one can link the pineapple to Tanqueray gin (whose emblem is a pineapple) and see if gin works with this spirit or one can relate to the tropical climate required to raise pineapples and make the drink a 'wet' one (i.e. sweet). None of these connections are logical and yet all may work very well. Technique #5 - Flavor Bouncing This is a technique for creating multi-ingredient very complex cocktail recipes based on combining flavors, at either one of the possibilities explained in the Ingredient-Context technique above. At the first stage, focus only on combining flavors. Ignore ratios, measures or specific ingredients if you can. The trick is that any flavor added to the mix should work well in your opinion, with all the other items already on the list. So, pick a starting item - ingredient or flavor. Think what might work well with it and add your second flavor. Then try to come up with another flavor that works both with the first and second items, then add another. Every item added should work well with the rest of the items on this list, at least to your personal taste. Stop adding items when you've hit your event horizon - when you can no longer imagine how the flavors will combine and what the end result might be.
  16. 16. Next, play around with the flavors and find ways to incorporate them into the drink. A flavor can come as a liquor, liqueur, spice, fruit or in many other ways - infusions for example or possibly some ingredient that has that flavor as part of its profile. For example, Allspice can be the peppers themselves, allspice liqueur, a base spirit infused with allspice. It can also be the combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves (originally believed to form the flavor of "allspice", hence its name) or it can come in the form of allspice-foam or an allspice garnish. Play around with whatever seems right and experiment. In one of our experiments we came up as a group with the Event Horizon cocktail, each taking the resulting flavor matrix and translating it into completely different recipes that are all expressions of that idea, this practice gives you great insights into the preferences of your fellow bartenders as well. Be that a fruity, faux tropical styled drink where every item on the matrix is an ingredient - 1.5oz El Dorado 12, 1.5oz Angostura 5, 1oz Surinam cherry liqueur, 1oz Pitanga liqueur, 1oz Coconut water, 1oz Pineapple juice, 1oz lime juice, 0.5oz Green Chartreuse, 0.5oz Black Cardamom, Star anise and Cocoa beans syrup. Shake, strain, garnish with all hell. Or be that a heavier, more complex and less fruity/citrusy kind of drink - 0.75oz El Dorado 12 infused with Cocoa beans (already have plenty of coconut flavors), 0.75oz Angostura 1919 infused with Black Cardamom, 0.25oz of each of the liqueurs, Green Chartreuse rinsing of the glass, 2 dashes of Angostura bitters and a lime-peel as garnish, stir&strain.
  17. 17. Technique #6 - Abstract Context An abstract idea, an emotion or specific experience can also ignite your inspiration and get your process going. Choose an experience you've had or a familiar emotion and focus on its components. What starts it? how does it feel? what do you sense when that experience hits you? Then look for ways to evoke those through the drinks' recipe and presentation. Try these challenges for practice - Create a cocktail that will make your guest laugh or cry, evoke a sense of euphoria or surprise or find a way to get some tension as in a good mystery/detective story through your drink. Attempt to recreate the sensation of dinner cooking, or the cozy warm feeling of staying under the blankets on a cold winter evening, or the sensation you get when you enter a blooming orchard surrounded by wonderful floral smells that get you drunk from freshness. Examples: Fresh Grass cocktail - literally meant to re-enact the feel and sensation of freshly cut grass Muddle 3 cucumbers in a shaker tin, add 8 fresh sage leaves, 1.5oz G'Vine Floraison, 1oz Fresh pear juice, 2tsp lemon juice, 0.5oz simple syrup. Shake, strain, add 0.5oz of spicy ginger beer, a tsp of good quality olive oil and garnish with sage leaves. Kofuku (Euphoria) - a part of an emotional-cocktail series, meant to evoke specific emotions. Cocoa is known to contain Theobromine that is the active component causing the chocolate-induced euphoria, along with the drinks' style – a nightcap meant to be had after a long day of work, thus drank right at the point when all the days' troubles have washed away
  18. 18. already, and the garnish – a cigar, thus indicating a long and slow sipping and relaxing experience, all of these elements combine to create a sense of end-of-the-day euphoria. 1.5oz Excellia Anejo tequila infused with cocoa beans and black cardamom, 0.75oz tawny port, 0.25oz Tempus Fugits' Creme de Cacao, one dash of each chocolate & orange bitters. Garnish with a Hoyo de Monterrey no.2 cuban cigar and orange zest twist.

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