When the late bartender Sasha Petraske opened the pioneering Milk & Honey on New York’s Lower East Side in 1999, he sparked an international cocktail renaissance that renewed the diligence of a Prohibition Era craft. At the same time, another industry was in the first stages of its own ascension: tech. Google had just emerged from beta. Windows 98 was the dominant OS. The internet’s early surfers were using dial-up modems and amassing free-trial AOL hours. And the onset of social media, led by Friendster and MySpace, was less than five years away.
Since then, the startup and drinking cultures have experienced concurrent evolutions. Speakeasy-style bar concepts with imaginative cocktail programs, once an attribute distinct to America’s coastal capitals like New York and San Francisco, are sprouting up in second cities and throughout Europe, awakening dormant scenes in places like Paris, where even the most pretentious wine snobs have discovered the subtle pleasures of a well-nourished whiskey. Tinctures, foams, spirit-infused mists — bartenders are looked upon as modern mad scientists, deploying whiz-bang gizmos and molecular techniques to manipulate flavor profiles. (In true science-fiction form, some even create new menus and test recipes in their own laboratories.)
From the petri dish that is Silicon Valley, the tech revolution continues to march steadfastly into new frontiers. The Internet of Things has changed the way we consume content; music apps condensed a vast ecosystem of albums and songs and delivered it to our fingertips; any product is now available on a digital marketplace; movies and TV shows stream to our smartphones; the sharing economy has modified our lifestyles forever, rendering commonplace fixtures like taxis and offices less and less useful. And that’s before considering the impact of social media. Charting new courses beyond Facebook’s relationship manicuring platform and the rapid-fire news feed — and unfiltered opinion soundboard — of Twitter, it’s now penetrated every aspect of our lives, from dating to job networking to photography, transforming humans into brands, just as the contours of bartending have been redrawn to include aspects that go far beyond serving a whiskey diet.
The genetic makeup of the tech and cocktail giants highlights two polar strains of innovation. One is Einstein, the other Picasso. Simplicity versus complexity. Nondescript hoodie or tattoo sleeve? Disparate as they may seem, though, they all meet at a single intersection: Ingenuity. To toast these two incubators of forward progress, Surface tasked 12 industry-shaping bartenders to imagine tech and digital media companies, from Uber to BuzzFeed, as cocktails. Each took on a brand headquartered in his or her city. The results are a window into the very nature of creativity itself. Liquors, garnishes, glassware — the inspiration for the recipes differ, but each one shows off an acute cleverness. “Both cultures are similar in that they’re trying to push the boundaries,” says Christina Cabrera of San Francisco’s Barbarossa, who was tasked with dreaming up a Google drink.
As for where the two universes diverge: “Trying new approaches to a traditional cocktail is what keeps people intrigued. But unlike the tech world, and I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing: In my world, sometimes staying true to the classics is preferred.”
The coders probably have an algorithm for that.
NETFLIX: SUZANNE MILLER OF NOVELA, SAN FRANCISCO
“I wanted to convey the colors of Netflix while getting a little cheeky (because if you’re not having fun, you can’t Netflix and chill). Naturally, I chose tequila as the base; is there a better spirit for loosening up? The Manhattan glass is dramatic, which fits the cinematic theme. The charred strawberry fan is the perfect garnish—and flirt fruit— and the Ancho Reyes chile turns up the heat. For even more spice, add a Tajín rim to half of the glass. Just remember to binge onGame of Thrones, not booze.”
Netflix and Chile
1 1/2 oz Reposado Tequila
1 oz watermelon juice
1/2 oz Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur
3/4 oz lime
1/2 oz Tajín agave syrup*
1 dash Fee Brothers Rhubarb bitters
Combine all ingredients and strain over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Char strawberry fan with kitchen torch; place on ice and edge of glass.
*Tajín agave syrup: Make 2 oz simple syrup (sub agave for regular sugar) and mix in 2 tsp of Tajín. Simmer for five minutes and strain into glass.
Tumbler glass, Saint-Louis.
AMAZON: BRYN LUMSDEN OF DAMN THE WEATHER, SEATTLE
“There’s a building in Seattle called the Pacific Tower, which is more commonly known as “the Old Amazon Building” because it used to be the company’s corporate offices. I used the words “Pacific” and “Tower” as the pillars for this drink. Peruvian un-aged grape brandy is the starting place, since Peru is located by the Pacific Ocean. From a flavor standpoint, pisco plays well with vanilla and other warm spices, and vanilla pairs well with rose, a prominent note in the delicate Italian digestif Amaro Montenegro. It comes in a Collins glass—the tallest bar glass—which represents the tower. Best served via drone.”
1 1/2 oz pisco
3/4 oz lime
1/2 oz Amaro Montenegro
1/2 oz vanilla syrup
3 oz soda
Build in a Collins glass and stir. Add ice and garnish with a thin slice of pineapple.
Collins Glass, Christofle.
GOOGLE: CHRISTINA CABRERA OF OLD BUS TAVERN AND BARBAROSSA LOUNGE, SAN FRANCISCO
“I came up with a cocktail that speaks to the techies I envision inhabiting the Google headquarters on a daily basis. These are all young kids who have slowly taken over San Francisco, and we’re showing them how to drink. My cocktail is a bit of a tweak on one of my recipes at Barbarossa. It’s a take on the leftover milk in a bowl of cereal, with a kick at the end. The name is super fitting for what is happening in the city right now. Consider it the beverage of choice for the brogrammer playing video games in his underwear.”
Revenge of the Nerds
1 oz Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey
2 oz bourbon
2 oz Cinnamon Toast Crunch milk*
3/4 oz maple
2 dashes Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters
Shake and then double-strain into a milk bottle over crushed ice. Grate nutmeg for garnish and add a red-and-white straw.
*Cinnamon Toast Crunch milk: Bake 3 cups of Cinnamon Toast Crunch at 300 Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Let cool and then pour 4 cups of milk over the cereal, and let it steep for 30 minutes. Strain through a chinois and add a pinch of salt and 2 tbs of brown sugar. Whisk.
Bottle, Bottega Veneta. Old-fashioned tumbler, Saint-Louis.
FOURSQUARE: NATASHA DAVID OF NITECAP, NEW YORK
“Foursquare is all about being in the know and on top of trends. The idea was to use the template of a popular cocktail like the Negroni and substitute four trending ingredients or flavors—mezcal, jalapeño-infused tequila, Aperol, Lillet Rosé—then serve it over a flavored ice cube. The drink changes over time, as do trends.”
Just the Tip-pler
3/4 oz Vida Mezcal
3/4 oz Jalapeño-infused Casa Dragones Blanco Tequila*
3/4 oz Aperol
3/4 oz Lillet Rosé
grapefruit ice cube**
Combine all ingredients into a mixing glass and stir with ice. Strain into a double rocks glass. Garnish with a grapefruit ice cube.
*Jalapeño tequila: Combine the seeds of four jalapeños with 750 ml of Casa Dragones Blanco Tequila in a container. Let sit for 20 minutes. Strain and refrigerate.
**Grapefruit ice cube: Strain the juice of a fresh ruby grapefruit, pouring the liquid into a two-by-two-inch ice mold, and freeze.
Tumbler, Calvin Klein Home.
SNAPCHAT: BRITTINI RAE PETERSON OF MELROSE UMBRELLA CO., LOS ANGELES
“Like a good buzz, Snapchat is fleeting. Pictures and videos can only be viewed once, and then poof! That’s the idea behind the smoke: It’s there for a second, but quickly dissipates until all that’s left is a little flavor in the cocktail, similar to the memory you have of a Snapchat. The other component of the app is the ‘story’ where posts can be accessed for 24 hours. That’s where the yellow Chartreuse ice sphere comes in. It lingers for a bit, then eventually disappears. As it melts, the flavor changes, just as a story is always evolving. The yellow Chartreuse is also a tribute to Snapchat’s signature color.”
Catch Me If You Can
1 1/2 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
1 1/2 oz Botanist Gin
2 dashes Miracle Mile Yuzu Bitters
2 dashes Miracle Mile Orange bitters
3⁄4 oz Yellow Chartreuse ice*
Note from Peterson: “The style is a variation on a martini. In proportion, it’s like a 50/50 martini; we’re just serving this particular variation over ice.”
Add gin, vermouth, and bitters in a mixing glass. Add cold draft ice and stir to chill. Strain into a fancy double old-fashioned glass containing the yellow ice ball. Place cocktail underneath glass dome and smoke cherrywood with smoking gun, trapping the smoke inside the glass dome. Let cocktail sit for about 60 seconds. Lift dome and let smoke slowly evaporate from drink. Garnish with a lemon zest.
*Yellow Chartreuse ice: “Place 3/4 oz of yellow Chartreuse in an ice-sphere mold, then fill it to the line with filtered water. Add two small drops of yellow food dye and let freeze. (I did a few molds to be on the safe side, since freezing alcohol isn’t the easiest.)”
Old-fashioned tumbler, Saint-Louis.
BUZZFEED: GREG SEIDER OF MANHATTAN CRICKET CLUB AND SUMMIT BAR, NEW YORK
“Much of BuzzFeed’s content is packaged as a listicle or comes in the form of a quiz. So I created a drink as a quiz: Which musician is your cocktail? I also took a page from the outlet’s book and plagiarized myself—using a recipe from my very own, Alchemy in a Glass, and fronting it as an original. I give you the John Lee Hooker, inspired by the legendary blues singer, who’s my musician. You could come up with 32 reasons to drink it, but you really only need one: it’s delicious, and more tempting than clickbait.”
John Lee Hooker
2 oz Michter’s Bourbon
1 oz Vietnamese cinnamon agave
1/2 oz lemon juice
2 dash sarsaparilla orange bitters
2 oz Lagunitas Hop Stoopid IPA
Spray lapsing-infused Peat Monster Scotch
Add the ingredients into a shaker tin and fill with ice. Hard shake for eight seconds. Double-strain over ice into a pilsner glass. Top with IPA, mist with scotch infusion, and garnish with an orange swatch.
Glass, bartender’s own.
INSTAGRAM: CARLOS YTURRIA OF THE TREASURY, SAN FRANCISCO
“Avocado toast and smoothie bowls just don’t inspire a double tap the way #cocktailporn does. This drink incorporates literal and figurative aspects of Instagram. I was inspired by the colors in the new logo: a green lime wedge; yellow, orange, and blue tooth picks; and red cherry ginger ice. It’s poured into a long, faceted glass, an ode to the many lenses of a camera—and filters on the app. This is one selfie that isn’t #basic.”
1 1/2 oz Tanqueray Bloom Gin
3 oz tonic water
4 cherry ginger ice cubes*
5 regular 1-inch ice cubes
1 lime wedge
Garnish with a lime wedge on three picks.
*Cherry ginger ice: 36 oz cherry juice, 2 oz ginger juice, 2 oz lime juice, 4 oz water. Mix all ingredients together. Freeze in ice molds of your choice.
Highball glass, Baccarat.
LINKEDIN: RAMON GARCIA OF ALCHEMIST BAR AND LOUNGE, SAN FRANCISCO
“We can all relate to the challenges and stresses of professional life, so I wanted to create an invigorating cocktail using ingredients that promote energy and relaxation, much like LinkedIn seeks to ease the networking process. The botanicals in the gin combine with the herbs of the absinthe to provide energy. The elderflower, lavender, and chamomile tonic are natural calming agents that preserve inner balance in any situation. To fully connect to the essence of LinkedIn, I introduced ice cubes made with dashes of blue Curaçao that match the color of the logo, and garnished the straw with a business card. For those on the job hunt, this is the ultimate funemployment elixir.”
1 1/2 oz London Dry Gin
1 oz Génépy des Alpes
3 oz Fever-Tree Elderflower
3/4 oz Falernum
3/4 oz lime juice
1 dash absinthe
Combine the ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake for five seconds. Strain into a Collins glass with blue Curaçao ice cubes.* Top off with 3 oz of elderflower tonic water and garnish with citrus wheel. Keep it professional: Punch a hole in a business card and attach to a straw for effect.
*Curaçao ice cubes: Add a bit of blue Curaçao to an ice cube tray.
Murano glass, Bottega Veneta.
TWITTER: CHASE WILLIAMSON OF CADENCE, SAN FRANCISCO
“Pisco’s popularity in the States, like Twitter itself, was born in San Francisco. This cocktail is in shot form because tweets are short and to-the-point 140-character-shots into the digital universe that can lead to regret. Of course, an egg-shaped glass needs a bird—in this case, a garnish made out of a blueberry absinthe marshmallow to represent the brand’s emblem. This one’s worth a RT.”
3/4 oz Campo de Encanto Pisco
1/2 oz blueberry syrup*
1/4 oz lime juice
Blueberry absinthe foam**
Twitter bird marshmallow***
Shake quickly to chill the liquid. Add blueberry absinthe foam on top of the liquid shot. Place blue Twitter bird on top of the shot glass. Slam the shot, then eat the marshmallow.
*Blueberry syrup: Take a pint of ripe blueberries cut in halves and add to 8 oz of water. Put on stove and let simmer for 20 minutes until the color and sugar are extracted. Strain liquid and add 4 oz white sugar. Dilute and refrigerate.
**Blueberry absinthe foam: 8 parts blueberry syrup, 1 part lime juice, a dash of absinthe. Add 1-percent-by-weight soy lecithin. Using a milk frother, froth until foam can be scooped with a bar spoon and added to the top of the drink.
***Twitter Bird marshmallow: 230 g water, 37 g egg whites, 1 tsp salt; whip until you see medium peaks. 450 g white sugar, 300 g blueberry absinthe syrup, 125 g glucose, enough water to create wet sand, 30 g bloomed gelatin. Heat in a pan to 240 Fahrenheit; combine with the above meringue. Pour into sheet pan, allow to set, and once ready carve out a Twitter bird.
Liquor glass, Puiforcat.
SPOTIFY: RYAN CHETIYAWARDANA OF WHITE LYAN AND DANDELYAN, LONDON
“Given the company’s Swedish and English links, it might seem obvious to use aquavit or gin as a base, but given its connection to music, I chose a backstage favorite for the heart of the drink: Jack Daniels. Linking to the Spotify green is fresh lime, apple, and a dash of absinthe (also known as a ‘spot’), all wrapped up with a little floral lift and touch of bubbles to provide an uplifting cocktail that’s perfect for dancing—with a premium account, no less.”
2 oz Jack Daniels Old No. 7
1/2 oz lime juice
1⁄2 oz pressed green apple juice
2 dashes absinthe
1 oz egg white
1 dash orange blossom
Add all ingredients except the champagne to a shaker. Shake without ice, then with ice, and strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top it off with fizz.
Collins Glass, Christofle.
“Consider this Tumblr in a tumbler. The platform is designed to be easy to use—a simple scroll leads through blog posts, GIFs, and photos. I wanted to mimic the same layered effect, which is why the blueberries and bitters bookend the cocktail. The mint creates a light, aromatic component to pair with the fresh berries. And what post on Tumblr is complete without a cat? Word to the wise: Too many rounds can lead to grammatical malfunctions. Maybe the ‘e’ fell out in a late-night Uber?”
The Cat Swizzle
1 1/2 oz Plymouth Gin
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/4 oz ginger syrup (1:2 fresh ginger juice to sugar)
1/4 oz simple syrup (1:1 sugar to water)
In a 10 oz tumbler glass, muddle blueberries at the bottom and fill with ice to pack the berries. Meanwhile, build ingredients in a shaker tin with a single, un-muddled blueberry. Shake ingredients with ice long enough to bruise the blueberry and lightly color the liquid. Strain slowly into the glass to keep the muddled berries a separate layer on the bottom. Dash Peychaud’s and Angostura on the top layer of the ice, then top with fresh ice. Garnish with a mint bouquet and cat-topped swizzle stick.
Tumbler glass, Baccarat.
UBER: THE BON VIVANTS OF TRICK DOG, SAN FRANCISCO
“Sure, UberX is more convenient, but who can deny the allure of UberPool’s unknown possibilities? The same principle applies to a night out, which is why we designed a cocktail meant to be enjoyed by up to four people. At the most, you should only know one other person in your ‘pool.’ You never know, you might end up making a new friend. Or at the very least, save a buck or two.”
1 1/2 parts Tequila Ocho Reposado
1/2 part Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur
1/2 part Campari
1 part Small Hands Foods
Pineapple Gum Syrup (available online or in specialty stores)
1 part lime juice
1 1/2 parts unsweetened rooibos tea
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice and empty the shaker’s contents into a large bowl (the “pool”). Squeeze half a lime with a juicer, flip the shell inside-out to make a small bowl (the “hot tub”), skin-side in. Fill it with an ¼ ounce of absinthe, and light on fire. Garnish with 5 sectioned pieces of star fruit (editor’s note: not pictured).
Punch bowl, Baci Milano. Silver straws, Christofle.