Science Technology
Evolution of the drink
drink_phylogenetics_2009010.jpg

Over the holidays Jim Harriman decided to investigate the family tree of alcoholic drinks. To do this, he screen-scraped all the mixed drink recipes he could find online and crunched the recipe data with a program that generates phylogenetic trees, drawing relationships between drink species with matching ingredient genes.

Note that you can make out several different “kingdoms” of drinks after a close look at the tree. I can make out the Gin kingdom, the Orange Juice kingdom, and the Amaretto kingdom, for starters. Then we have the outliers, like a 110 in the Shade, which nobody in his right mind would drink. These are the platypuses and slime molds of the drink world.

I’d love to know how closely this resembles the actual heritage of the recipes in the list. In fact, it would be incredibly cool to do something similar with food recipes. If you processed the ingredient list and preparation details for the world’s apple pies, chicken soups and breads, what cultural information might that hold?

If you want to take a stab at something like this yourself, you can use a free package call PHYLIP to do the computation. It’s the same program used by Jim to create his drink family tree. If you discover anything, make sure to send us a link.

Phylogenetic Tree of Mixed Drinks
PHYLIP – PHYLogeny Inference Package

2 thoughts on “Evolution of the drink

  1. I haven’t dug into this system in great detail, but it doesn’t really appear to follow my understanding of the evolution of mixed drinks very much. Drinks evolve largely as cultural products and, as such, aren’t going to be as amenable to a simple grouping based on ingredients.

    The first hint is the “orange juice kingdom”. Orange juice is not something you’re going to see with huge and wide availability until fairly modern times, so its establishment as a “kingdom” is really quite coincidental.

    In addition, the most important grouping is purely by the liquor, which is going to benefit from a nucleus of native recipes and consumption patterns first.

    The other thing is that many cocktails are modern and come from a specific locus of invention. For example, nearly all “tropical drinks” were invented in the same handful of American tiki bars, but their individual recipes would not place them together on a tree.

    In reality, a more historically correct tree would lump the rum punches together, the “martinis” together, the “tropical drinks” together, etc. There are also things like the Collins that were much more of the social milieu of the martini than anything else. Then there are all the various modern cocktails which are part of an ongoing Cambrian explosion and, as such, have virtually no evolutionary history at all.

    The chart, while fascinating, is one of many possible taxonomies. None of the taxonomies really carry the history of cocktails.

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