Mix it up: Can a cocktail be subject to copyright?

Philip Salter
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WHAT’S in a name? I’m with Juliet on this one: a Rose Petal Martini by any other name would taste as sweet. A few years ago, US bartender Eben Freeman put his head above the parapet and suggested cocktails should be protected by intellectual copyright. He may now wish he hadn’t – the idea was shot down from all directions: journalists, bartenders and economists all took offence.

Freeman was inspired to speak out because he claims to be the inventor of fat-washing: a process in which melted fat is mixed with a spirit then chilled; the fat is then skimmed off leaving the flavour of the fat in the spirit. It may be that we have him to thank for one of the seven wonders of the modern world: bacon vodka.

Ironically, he probably could have claimed a patent on the process, but this doesn’t mean he should have. As the economist Milton Freedman once noted: “[T]here are many ‘inventions’ that are not patentable. The ‘inventor’ of the supermarket, for example, conferred great benefits on his fellow men for which he could not charge them.”

All this is prelude to a recent encounter in Café Murano with the cocktail Gin & It. A Gin & It is normally gin, sweet vermouth and bitters. The “It” in the name stands for “Italian vermouth”, which is often considered a synonym for sweet vermouth. However, Café Murano uses dry vermouth to make a drink with the same name, meaning it’s actually closer to how an original Dry Martini would have been made (it was then called dry because it didn’t contain sweet vermouth).

The reason Café Murano serves its Gin & It with dry vermouth is simple enough: it tastes better that way. They were experimenting with the recipe in a team tasting and decided they preferred it with dry vermouth. For my taste buds, Café Murano’s Gin & It is a superior drink – though others may disagree. One lesson worth learning is that if you’re not happy with a cocktail for any reason, most bartenders will make you something else for free if you’re polite about it.

A steak and kidney pie doesn’t taste the same in every restaurant. Allowing bartenders the freedom to share, experiment and even copy drinks drives forward the evolution of cocktails – it’s survival of the tastiest.


35ml Tanqueray Gin
25ml Martini Bianco
A few drops of Bob’s Orange Bitters

Stir ingredients over ice then strain into a chilled martini glass