10 Cocktail Lessons We Learned From the Death & Co Book

Soon after Death & Co. opened in late December 2007 in New York's East Village, it became — and has remained — one of Manhattan's "it" bars. Not because the place was trendy but because it was home to exquisitely made cocktails and an atmosphere of such welcome that you wanted to stay all night. Today, Death & Co. continues to play a vital role in the New York cocktail scene with one major difference: David Kaplan and Alex Day, also owners of Honeycut in DTLA, now call Los Angeles home. 

October saw the release of the duo's eponymous cocktail book, which not only chronicles the hundreds of cocktails created at the bar but also celebrates the employees who created them and the patrons who drink them. Death & Co. manages to be far more than a cocktail book, though.

It is a testament to a new era in the cocktail kingdom where the creation of drinks and the enjoyment of them has formed a new synthesis of pleasure and conviviality. That said, here are 10 things you, too, might learn from the Death & Co. cocktail book.

10. If you are stumped trying to name a cocktail, you can apparently look to song lyrics, movie titles, literature and inside jokes for inspiration. We'd really like to know where the "Slap 'n' Pickle" came from.

9. It is acceptable to infuse whipped cream with cereal flavors. Witness Death & Co.'s Honey Nut Cheerio–infused cream.

8. A line drawing of a gun with a lemon rind coming out of the business end would be a rockin' tattoo.

7. But seriously...  If you want to see whether your bartender knows what he or she is doing, order a daiquiri. As the good book says, "You can see into the soul of a bartender by ordering a daiquiri." If it is a perfect balance of "sweet, sour and boozy," that bartender can make any other drink you may request.

6. At Death & Co., they divide bitters into two categories — "lifting," which "heightens and brightens other similar flavors in a drink," and "binding," which "acts like a zipper to connect disparate ingredients." And here we thought they were just something to dash on top. 

The Little Engine with Famous Grouse Scotch
The Little Engine with Famous Grouse Scotch
Death & Co.

5. We have Death & Co. to thank for the Scarlet Ibis rum, a collaboration between the company and spirits importer Eric Seed. Its combination of aging, citrus and dried fruit flavors combined with a 49% ABV rum make for a great spirit in shaken and stirred cocktails.

4. To add acidity without flavor or sweetness, use acid phosphate. It's useful when balance — always key to a cocktail's success — is in question.

3. Death & Co.'s "Mr. Potato Head Method" — swapping out one base spirit for another — will generally create an interesting cocktail variation. As Phil Ward, who created Death & Co.'s first menu, states, "Every great drink is the blueprint for many other drinks." Witness Ward's Oaxaca Old-Fashioned, which started something of a mezcal cocktail revolution, or Scott Teague's Negroni variation, the Fail-Safe, which uses Plymouth sloe gin and Aperol.

2 . "What a great cocktail should be: a whole that's much better than the sum of its parts."

1. For the fullest enjoyment, read the Death & Co. book with cocktail in hand, preferably one from said cocktail book. There are tons of recipes.   


Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book "Gin: A Global History."  Her book "The 12 Bottle Bar," co-written with David Solmonson, was released on July 29. Email her at ljsolmonson@gmail.com. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.


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