From the Bar: Cocktail Evolution

Editor’s Note: While we in the prototype space are not yet ready to serve cocktails at 3pm, Bar Manager Amy has found an interesting science project revolving around cocktails! – Carrie

Image courtesy Kenny Hindgren (Flickr)

In an impressive display of procrastination and scientific prowess, Jim Harriman of has created a phylogenetic tree of cocktails. The epiphany came when Jim realized that all drinks have common ingredients, and new cocktails must have been developed when someone modified a current recipe. For example, a Tom Collins and John Collins are the same except for the substitution of Bourbon for Gin in the John Collins. If the new recipe is successful, in that many people like it and request it, the recipe gets propagated.
For his phylogenetic tree of cocktails, Jim represented each ingredient as a different gene, and created family trees based on presence or absence of a trait using the PHYLIP computer program. His tree maps out 90 drinks containing about 512 unique ingredients, or genes. Cocktails group into families around common ingredients. Although the tree could stand uprooted, Jim rooted the tree in vodka, since so many cocktails contain that ingredient.
The useful thing about the tree is that you can use it to experiment with your tastes. Unfamiliar drinks that are “related” to your “go-to” cocktails have a high probability of becoming your new “to-to” drinks. For example, if you are looking to try a new drink, and you know you like the Alabama Slammer, you can look at drinks grouped around it for likely candidates for your next bar trip.

The poster with the cocktail phylogenetic tree. Bottoms up!

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