Innovation has become the new buzz word in many worlds - particularly food and drink. However, along with the tagline 'craft' it can be extremely misleading. Many of the 'newest innovations' and the so-called leading innovators are really repackaged versions of something that's long been on the market, or simply an attempt by those piggy-backing on a trend to lure customers who are attracted to what is proffered as the latest offering.
I say this as someone who believes in the paramount nature of innovation - not out of bitterness, but as a rallying call against those who believe there can be nothing new or believe there shouldn't be. There will always be new things - technologies, comedies, tragedies and artworks - it's part of our nature, and also, as the idiom goes; innovate or die. We need new things to pique our interests, stave off boredom, and to push ourselves and our industries forward. It does need to be for reasons other than marketing though.
However, this is not something that is out of the reach of all of us as individuals - or of your drinks. The magical panacea does not lie in the self-declared leaders of industry: It lies in your morning cup of tea or coffee. Now, I'm not referring to the caffeine pick-me-up, the artisan roaster/specialist buyer or the moment's reflection (although I love these all, too) - the key lies in you and your cup.
Your morning routine is something wholly unique - your idiosyncrasies are void of pretensions or pomposity (hopefully!). They reflect your genuine tastes, and showcase your dispositions and aversions. Crucially they give an indicator to what you prefer. Many folk I know outwardly profess to not like bitter things, yet drink their morning coffee heavily roasted and black. Sure, it displays one type of bitterness, but if you know you hate, or love your coffee like that, you can start to tailor your other choices in light of this.
When you understand your own palate in this way - void of marketing, jargon and external influences - you can begin to innovate in a true sense. Having studied Biology, I've often borrowed a cue from genetics. When nature 'creates' something new, it is often through the mishaps of genetics - substitution, addition, deletion or inversion - and these can easily be applied to your drinks. A good basis in the classics will put you in great standing, and from here you can innovate to your own preferences. Remove an ingredient (try a Mojito without the mint), sub one in (try a Margarita with apricot liqueur instead of Cointreau), flip the ingredients (try a Manhattan with more vermouth than whiskey) or try a little addition (try a Last Word with some added Aperol). The examples I've given are actually lesser known Classic Cocktails but once you're happy getting the balance right, you can take your own preferences and create your own path of innovation.
Ultimately, this is what true innovation is about; Innovation in any means should be about accessibility and relevance. If you create something that's relevant to your own tastes, you're guaranteed to make something new by virtue of your own unique disposition, and hopefully you'll find a new favourite for you and your friends. Hopefully it'll also open you up to some of the more experimental wonders that can be found in our fantastic array of bars.
As an example, here's one of my favourite drinks I made at one of my favourite bars in the world - Bramble - which recently celebrated its 8th birthday and has been a bastion of innovation for just as long. A simple play on the familiar, but in a unique and very tasty way.
'Rum N Coke Float'
50ml aged rum
20ml cola syrup (you can decant it off a coca cola gun)
1 whole egg (trust me)
'Dry' shake without ice, then shake with cubed ice. Double strain into a chilled, small Coca Cola glass and garnish with a squeeze of lime peel over the surface.