Q+A: David Kaplan on Death & Co.’s New Cocktail Book

Plus, a recipe for one of Kaplan’s favorite drinks

A lot has happened in the cocktail world since New York cocktail bar Death & Co. debuted in 2006. In the time since, co-owners David Kaplan and Alex Day moved to L.A., opened their own disco-inspired cocktail bar in Honeycut, and launched one of the city’s most influential cocktail consulting groups, Proprietors LLC, among other projects.

In the duo’s first book, Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktailswhich hits bookshelves today, Kaplan and Day have produced something that encompasses the history and culture of the dark drinking den that transformed the NYC cocktail scene, as well over 500 iconic cocktail recipes culled from the bar’s seasonally-changing menu.

We sat down with David Kaplan to take about what to expect from Death & Co.’s new publication:

How has cocktail culture changed since you first opened in 2006?
“I think Death & Co. opened at a really incredible time in New York when craft cocktail culture was just taking off. All the things we take for granted now, like punch service or a proper Negroni, were pretty uncommon eight years ago. Now you can walk into any neighborhood cocktail bar and get a properly made Old-Fashioned that isn’t made with 7-Up and maschino cherries.”

This is your first book. How did you and Alex Day go about deciding what should be covered?
“We tried to capture the whole experience of Death & Co., which was everything from the guests’ perspective, to building the bar, to process of developing the cocktails. There are recipes, but each one has a process and a story behind that’s much more than the ingredients. I felt the same about our book that I’ve felt about all of our projects which is if unless you have something unique to offer up, you shouldn’t be doing it.  ”

So it’s both an instruction manual and an autobiography?
“This book is really a celebration of Death & Co. and the fantastic bartenders who worked there. We always had an open door policy so it allowed us to stay in contact with incredibly talented people that have worked with us over the years like Phil Ward, Joaquín Simó, and Eryn Reece. Some of them even still work shifts even though they have other projects because they loved Death & Co. so much. There was one day of shooting where we gathered up everyone that was involved with Death & Co. for a group picture and it gave all of us this really amazing nostalgic feeling.

Do you think you’ll work on another book at some point about your experiences in L.A.?
“I’ve never had any kids, but I imagine that producing a book is the closest thing I’ve experienced to that. It feels a lot more personal than opening a bar. That said, I was already joking with our publisher about the second book, so we’ll see.”

Of all of the cocktails in the book, which is your go-to?
“What I drink usually depends on a variety of factors. What I’m eating, the weather, what I drink last night. I love a good boozy cocktail, obviously. The Joy Division is fantastic in that regard because it’s very simple but incredibly complex and has a gorgeous color. Getting the proper chill point and dilution takes a bit of practice, but once you’ve gotten that it’s super easy.”

The Joy Division
Phil Ward, 2008
2 ounces Beefeater london dry gin
1 ounce Dolin dry vermouth
½ ounce Cointreau
3 dashes Vieux Pontarlier absinthe
garnish: 1 lemon twist

Stir all the ingredients over ice, then strain into a coupe. Garnish with
the lemon twist.

Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails” (Ten Speed Press, $40) is now available. You can purchase tickets to their book tour events in in Los Angeles on October 14, or check for other destinations to be added later.