Back in 2006, when David Kaplan and Alex Day opened Death & Co. in New York's East Village, the dimly-lit drinking den was one of the few bars offering innovative spins on classic drinks. But today, the craft cocktail culture couldn't be stronger and the guys are thrilled. "You can now find a proper cocktail in most restaurants and neighborhood bars," says Kaplan. "We hear people nonchalantly ordering cocktails that were incredibly obscure a few years ago." The duo's first book, Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails, is stocked with insight on the philosophy of drink-making as well over 500 recipes culled from the celebrated bar's seasonally-changing menu. We caught up with Kaplan and Day to discuss the art and science of a good drink.
What's one of the biggest mistakes guys make when mixing their own cocktails?
Overcomplicating their recipes. Less is more, almost always. Master the simple classics first: martini, Manhattan, old fashioned, daiquiri and so on. Once you're comfortable with these, you can start substituting out the base spirit (like aged tequila for the whiskey in an old fashioned, for example) and playing around with the other ingredients. We call this the Mr. Potato Head approach at Death & Co, and it's one of the most important drink-creating strategies our bartenders use.
For men just starting to build their home bars, what are some important tools that might come in handy?
The most important tool to have is a jigger. It doesn't need to be fancy, just accurate. The next tool to invest in is a good mixing spoon, a long one from a solid piece of twisted metal. Cocktail Kingdom is a great source for quality tools.
Do you have a go-to cocktail or does it change
with the seasons?
Love a negroni or any negroni variation, but the go-tos do tend to change frequently. As we've been promoting the book this fall, they're the Elder Fashioned (an old fashioned with elderflower liqueur) and the Joy Division (an absinthe-laced martini).
The Joy Division
2 oz Beefeater dry gin
1 oz Dolin dry vermouth
½ oz Cointreau
3 dashes Vieux Pontarlier absinthe
Stir all the ingredients over ice, then strain into a coupe. Garnish with the lemon twist.
Recipes reprinted with permission from Death & Co. Published by Ten Speed Press.