In Drink What You Want (Clarkson Potter, June.) veteran bartender deBary takes an egalitarian stance on cocktails.
What’s the biggest mistake home bartenders make?
I wouldn’t call it a mistake, but I’d say it’s fear of failure. There’s this idea that you have to be a world-class bartender to make drinks properly, and that’s just not true. It’s like saying that you can’t make yourself a sandwich because you’re not a chef. The confidence to do what you want and drink what you want is the biggest hurdle.
Your chapters begin with a basic drink with just a few ingredients before taking a deep dive into similar drinks. Why did you choose that approach?
The idea of a cocktail is really broad. You don’t have to think too hard to come up with something new. Once you have an idea of the basic recipe, you can look at it and come up with ways to make it more interesting. I’d say about 90% of drinks have a deliberate and obvious call back to a simple drink like the fundamental nine drinks—margarita, daiquiri, old fashioned, etc.
Vodka can be somewhat of a polarizing ingredient in cocktails, and some bartending books omit it entirely. Yet you offer a recipe for a Cosmopolitan.
I love that drink (laughs). I think the whole vodka snobbery thing is very 2009. There was a moment when people were trying to educate the public about drinking something that wasn’t vodka, and I was definitely one of those people who was trying to introduce customers to blanco tequila, whiskey, or gin and open their eyes to other possibilities. But I think that conversation has happened. Shaming someone for their preferences is not what hospitality is about for me. Vodka may not be the best choice for every cocktail, but it’s another tool to consider.
What do you think customers will be looking for in terms of cocktails once the quarantine is over?
I don’t think it’s going to be so much about the drink as it will be about the setting. When you go to a restaurant or a bar, the actual item sitting in front of you that you’re paying for is only about 20% of the experience. The rest of it is the people you’re talking to and the experience provided by the staff.
Your charity organization is especially significant these days. How’s it going?
I’m the founder of the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation, and we are focused on addressing some structural issues in the restaurant industry and advocacy, but obviously this is a unique time. We started a Covid-19 relief fund in order to provide financial relief to workers who are facing a crisis. We also work with other nonprofits providing other forms of support to restaurant workers, whether it’s financial support, mental health, or food pantries.