Hi there friends;
If I may offer an update on book progress (we hope, incidentally, to share updates on our progress roughly once a month or so):
As we outlined in our last update, most of our time is being spent now on re-structuring, re-writing, and photographing recipes. This, we noted last time, will take a while (on the order of months); we’ll try to avoid sounding repetitious about it.
Additionally, Sarah and I also spend time discussing various challenges this book presents. One challenge is the question of how we organize these recipes. An obvious mechanism for this is clustering drinks by predominant spirit used: e.g. a bourbon section, a gin section, etc. This, however, poses a few problems. First, that’s how almost every other cocktail book is organized, and we find that uninteresting and unimaginative. Second, it’s often not how people think about what they want to drink, nor is it at all the way our Chefs here think about our cocktails. Finally, almost none of the Aviary recipes lean heavily on the character of a single spirit. The Green Thumb, for example, features rum and gin, but I doubt those of you who’ve tried making it would describe it as either a rum drink or a gin drink per se.
Rather, Sarah and I ask ourselves what we think when someone asks us what we want to drink or offers us a menu at the Aviary. The first thing we often ask ourselves is “What do I feel like drinking?”, which is more a mood than a particular spirit. A gin drink, for example, can be deep, savory, and spirit-forward (as in the case of a Negroni), or can be presented in a light, refreshing, citrus-based form (as in the case of a Gin & Tonic). It’s not enough to simply say “I’m in the mood for gin”, we posit. So we’ve been exploring ways to cluster the recipes based more on the experience one has drinking them.
We’re not convinced this particular example is the best one, but it’s a thing we’re exploring as we slowly familiarize ourselves with the Aviary recipes. If it’s not obvious by now, a good deal of the effort involved in this stage is simply acclimating ourselves to the vast library of Aviary recipes. We (Sarah and I) are not intimately familiar with every single one; we don’t know every backstory or creative process that led to every drink, so a good deal of our effort is simply trying to snag time with the Chefs to talk with them about all of this. We find ourselves in the peculiar position of being designers, photographers, and impromptu journalists, each of which requires its own skillset that we’re honing as we go.
Another discussion we’ve been having with ourselves, Chef Achatz, and Chef Micah is about exploring ways in which we can present not only finished recipes, but material that exemplifies the creative process here. This could take many forms. We’re debating a section, for example, of Ideas That Have Failed, or Things We Can’t Do But You Can. The latter case is a particularly fascinating one for us to explore: we have many recipes here that are complete, 100% delicious, awesome recipes, but for one reason or another simply can’t be scaled for restaurant production. Sometimes these recipes are presented to people who book the Aviary’s Kitchen Table, sometimes the chefs may simply surprise a guest and send one out to test it, but ultimately many great ideas don’t actually make it onto the menu because of the overhead involved in making the drink for dozens of guests a night. Such recipes would be totally reasonable to offer to someone making these at home, though.
What about food? The Aviary serves food (incredible food!). How does this sit into a book about cocktails without feeling out of place? Does it belong at all? Sarah and I, being fans of the Aviary first and foremost, definitely would like to include it. But such a decision requires lots of conversation with the chefs about which dishes should be included, which nicely express the personality of the bar, etc.
Most of you reading this probably know that hidden within the Aviary space here in Chicago is a small speakeasy we call The Office. While The Office does offer a very, very small menu of drinks that visitors are welcome to order, the real magic of a visit to The Office is what the bartenders here colloquially refer to as “Dealer’s Choice”. Here’s roughly how this goes: a guest is asked what they’d like to drink. Or maybe they’re asked what they like, in abstract terms. Oftentimes a guest THINKS they know what they like (“a gin drink”, e.g.), but isn’t thinking about flavor in an abstract sense. Sometimes the guest is asked to describe a favorite memory, or a favorite dish, or even weirder questions like a favorite scene from a movie or a favorite past relationship. This information is whisked away to the Office bartender, who creates a drink on the spot for the guest based on the information given. The whole experience has an aggressively bespoke, conversational, gossamer quality that Sarah and I both love immensely and find exceedingly difficult to capture in a bottle. How do you present such an experience in a cocktail book? We’d like to figure out how to talk about it elegantly without dissecting it to the point that the magic is lost.
Progress on all of this is currently a bit slower than it might normally be, however, due to our efforts opening a second Aviary location in New York City. This has involved sending a portion of our Chicago team to NY to help train new staff members, develop the space the new bar will occupy, etc. Part of this team includes Sarah and myself, who, in addition to dedicating our time and attention to this book, also manage all media matters for the Alinea Group (which covers photography/videography/illustration/design/web needs across all of our restaurants: Alinea, Next, Aviary, Roister, and now Aviary NYC). This past week, for example, she and I were in New York photographing the new locations, along with some of the food being developed for the menu there.
More news on the state of things again next month.