Ginger Beer & The Dark ‘n Stormy

Brewed Ginger Beer originated in Yorkshire, in England, in the Eighteenth Century. Mildly alcoholic, it was usually drank by itself, but could be mixed with other potable spirits to strengthen the drink up. It was made using the same techniques as other beers, yeast added to sugar to spark fermentation, but over the decades became the non-alcoholic version we enjoy today. The British Navy would transport large quantities as it expanded the empire around the world, and the practice of mixing with dark Demerara or Guyana rum began to become popular, as the rum ration for the Navy enlistees included 2 ounces a day. Sometime after the 1860’s, Goslings in Bermuda began distributing its blended dark rum and the rest is history. Soon, Goslings would make its own ginger beer to market with its rum, but for those of us who prefer fresher products, we’d rather make our own.

The process of brewing ginger beer today can be accomplished three ways. First, the easiest way, is to combine freshly juiced ginger with lemon juice, sugar and carbonated water. The second involves adding yeast to this product and letting it ferment. The third involves a strange organism called the “Ginger Beer Plant.” The “GBP” is a complex symbiotic organism consisting of a yeast and a bacteria. It is a gloppy, gelatinous substance that ferments any sugary product in much the same way as Kombucha. Today, we will be going the easy route.

 

Ginger Beer

  • Julienne unpeeled ginger and run through an industrial juicer:

  • Strain the juice so it is free of any leftover peel or debris
  • Mix:
  • 1 oz Ginger Juice
  • 1oz Lemon Juice
  • .75 oz 2:1 Simple Syrup
  • 10 oz Distilled Water (or bottled)

Now, there are two ways to go about the carbonating…. First, you can add carbonated water instead of distilled and either drink right away or bottle the ginger beer. Second, you can add water as above and carbonate yourself. This time, we’re taking the more complicated path.

I could go into great detail about how to build a carbonation rig, however someone has already gone through the trouble, so check out Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s post here. Then, you will need bottles, caps, and a capper. If you are living in southern Connecticut, you can pick some up at Maltose Express in Monroe on rt 25. If not, or if you’re lazy, you can buy on Amazon, as well.

So, now that you know how to carbonate, simply add your carbonated ginger beer to your 187mL wine bottles:

and cap off using your capper:

Product PhotoLike any fresh product, there will be some settling in the bottle, so gently agitate before opening to ensure a consistent product.

Now you can use your ginger beer to make a Dark ‘n Stormy (picture at the top of the page.)

Dark ‘n Stormy

  • Fill tall glass with ice
  • Add approximately 3oz of Ginger Beer
  • Float .25oz of Fresh Lime on top of Ginger Beer
  • Float oz of Goslings 151 Rum on top of Lime. (The 151 is a MUUSSSTTT HAAAVVVEE. Really makes the drink worth drinking)
  • Add a Lime Garnish and enjoy!!

HAPPY SPRING!

 

 

 

Falernum?

Falernum is a sweet syrup, originating in the Caribbean, most likely in Barbados. It can be alcoholic, or non-alcoholic, and its ingredients are sometimes argued over for hours. Everyone has a different recipe, some only slight variations from others, most to suite the individual tippler’s personal taste. But no one can argue that a properly made falernum isn’t a staple of tiki and rum drinks everywhere.

I have combined what I think are the best parts of two recipes: 1. Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Bar Manager, Clyde Common, Portland, OR, and 2. Rick Stutz over at KaiserPenguin,, and tweaked a few things from there. Those sites offer a wealth of information that I can only begin to scratch the surface of at this point, but I’ll list out my preferred recipe, and you can take it from there.

 Adam’s Falernum

8oz Wray & Nephew Rum

6oz Smith & Cross Rum

Smash up and macerate in above rum mixture for 24 hours:

2 tablespoons whole cloves
1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
1 whole nutmeg
2 star anise

add:

zest with a microplane 6 limes

2oz julienned fresh ginger
Macerate for another 24 hours

Strain through moistened cheesecloth

Add 10oz water to leftover solids and steep for a few minutes.
Strain solids and mix water with an equal part of simple syrup (1:1) made with turbinado sugar.

 

Use your Falernum Syrup to make the infamously delicious Chartreuse Swizzle:

Chartreuse Swizzle

1.5oz Green Chartreuse

1oz Fresh Pineapple Juice

.75oz Fresh Lime Juice

.75oz Falernum

 

Shake with ice and strain over crushed ice in a tall glass or tiki glass.

Garnish with a bright, vibrant sprig or two of mint!

 

Stop Screwing Up The Hurricane!!

Last year, I wrote an article on the Hurricane cocktail, and in honor of Fat Tuesday (aka Mardi Gras) I’ve decided to repost. I have a cache of articles that I come back to, now and then, to touch up and improve upon, and this week I stumbled across our current one and thought it might be a good fit. I’m always disappointed when I see a bad house version of a venerated cocktail, and there might possibly be no bigger culprit than the Hurricane. Order one somewhere, and you’ll see what I mean. At the very least, I shouldn’t be forced to drink shitty cocktails when I’m trying to escape the reality of life. So, without further ado, I present to you, the Hurricane Cocktail post:

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It’s said that 95% of all tourists in New Orleans’ famed French Quarter visit Pat O’Brien’s Bar. A staple of the local imbibing tradition, Pat O’Brien’s is a destination for boisterous tourists and obnoxious frat boys everywhere. During the 1920’s, it was a speakeasy at the intersection of Royal Street and St Peter, and required a password to enter. Called Mr. O’Brien’s Club Tipperary, it changed its name to Pat O’Brien’s Bar, and began selling legal liquor, on December 3, 1933, two days before the end of prohibition. Then, in 1942, owners “Pat” O’Brien and Charlie Cantrell moved O’Brien’s to its present location, an old, historic building at 718 St. Peter Street.

The subsequent years in the aftermath of prohibition found US drinking establishments in a sorry state. Thirteen years of illegality had caused a dearth of scotch and whiskey, once plentiful, and still long sought commodities. On the contrary, due largely to the ease of access off of US shores, rum was plentiful. In fact, by the 1940’s, liquor distributors had amassed such large stockpiles of rum, that they were, in turn, forcing case after case onto bar owners, with the stipulation that if you wanted to order anything, especially whiskey, you would have to buy cases of rum as well, sometimes as many as 50!

As a result of these unscrupulous sales tactics, Pat O’Brien found himself with a glut of rum he didn’t necessarily want, and wasn’t sure what to do with. New Orleans had always been a whiskey town, and he would have to engineer clever ways to sell this abundance of new liquor. His solution was a cocktail that mixed a staggering four ounces of dark rum, with two ounces of lemon juice, and two ounces of passion fruit syrup. Essentially, a recipe for a classic rum sour, or daiquiri, with dark rum in place of light, lemon in place of lime, and passion fruit syrup replacing simple sugar syrup, with all of the proportions doubled for good measure. Poured into a glass that resembled the shape of a hurricane lantern, and filled with crushed ice, it seemed O’Brien had hit a homerun. And so he had. But things change.

Nowadays, it might be difficult to find a Hurricane Cocktail made in this manner, and the current Pat O’Brien’s Bar, still situated at 718 St. Peter Street, may be the biggest culprit of all. A trip to New Orleans will find you at O’Brien’s drinking four ounces of well rum, added to a fully iced glass of “Hurricane Mix,” a curious mix of chemicals, artificial colors, and artificial flavors that you can even bring home with you in pre-packaged powder form, should a slow, painful death be the way you wish to go out. I don’t do pre-packaged sour mix (click here), so I sure as hell ain’t going to drink hurricane mix. Sorry, Pat.

Wait until the next major tropical cyclone threatens your hometown, and take a ride over to your nearest casual dining chain restaurant to find another manifestation of this horror. Almost definitely, I can guarantee that the recipe for their Hurricane Special will include an ounce each of light and dark rum (Bacardi and Myers if you’re lucky, well brands if you’re not), mixed with pineapple juice, orange juice, Rose’s grenadine, Rose’s lime juice, and maybe cranberry for good measure. Interestingly, this also seems to be the same recipe employed for Planter’s Punches, Mai Tais, Rum Punches, and any other random tiki cocktail that TGI Fridays wants to focus on that week. Sorry, again.

A quick look at respectable bartenders Gary “gaz” Regan and Dale DeGroff, and you’ll find some more respectable, though no more authentic, recipes; and Chuck Taggert, of blogging fame even suggests substituting lime juice for lemon. But we can all change the classics to suit our tastes, and I’m more concerned with mixing the best possible version of the original. And so, it merely comes down to ingredients.

For dark rum, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry recommends Goslings, while Matt “Rumdood” Robold prefers Coruba (apparently quite a bit.) Appleton V/X is a possibility, as well as Smith & Cross depending on how much funk your palate can adjust to. I’ve heard New Orleans Amber mentioned as a nod to the local climate. I’ve never quite understood the practice of mixing half light rum with half dark rum, other than to avoid the prominence of character in taste, so I skip that nonsense altogether.

Various tiki authorities who know more than I, including Tiare, here, recommend various passionfruit syrups that they have had success with. The overall winner seems to be Aunty Lilikoi from Hawaii, and though it’s a bit too expensive for my tastes, don’t let that stop you from experimenting. Trader Vic’s passionfruit syrup is a mess of preservatives and additives, and Monin and Torani syrups aren’t much better. When in doubt, pick yourself up four or five passionfruits when in season, and mash them up in some 1:1 simple syrup. Nothing can be better, or more natural, than making something yourself. Most flavored syrups can be made at home by using your all-purpose simple syrup and simmering some flavorings for a few minutes. (For those of you that need a hand making simple syrup in general, check out my page HERE.)

Lemon juice is the easiest of ingredients here, but again, many bars will fuck this up as well. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can replace a freshly juiced lemon. Not the plastic squirt bottle in the baking isle shaped like a lemon, not bottled REALemon, not the case of fresh lemon juice that Sysco sells, nothing. And for best results, squeeze your lemon directly into the drink, not the day before.

Lastly, for authenticity’s sake, pick yourself up some hurricane glasses at your local Walmart, or even better at Goodwill. Wrap a cloth towel around some ice cubes and bang the hell out of them with a wooden mallet to get crushed ice (I always lay the towel on a cutting board to avoid damaging my countertop), and load the glass up. Shake your rum, passionfruit syrup, and lemon juice up in a tin with new ice and strain over the crushed ice into the hurricane glass. Garnish with a fresh orange slice, and maybe a nice brandied cherry. Stay away from that neon red cherry that adorns the top of your ice cream sundae like a well preserved king. No easier way to ruin a great drink than to top it with a shitty garnish. And when you’re done, sit back, sip, and relax. Yeah the sky might be getting grey and the wind seems to be blowing a bit harder, but a couple of these and it ain’t gonna matter too much at all!

Hurricane Recipe:
4oz Dark Rum
2oz Passionfruit Syrup*
2oz Lemon Juice
Shake with ice and strain over crushed ice into a hurricane glass.
Garnish with orange and brandied cherry.

Passionfruit Syrup:
Add 5 mashed passionfruits to 16oz 1:1 simple syrup. Keep over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, being careful not to let syrup come to a boil. Cool, and strain into squeeze bottle.

The Martinez Mystery

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In A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes proclaims, “There is nothing like first hand evidence.” Half of the world would agree with that statement. The other half is content to relish the world around them, never considering the need to understand it. This is the dividing line of humanity. Should we seek out the answers, turn over every rock, move every wall in the search for conclusion? Or, are we best served by smelling the rose? Isn’t it by picking it and studying it, dissecting it and destroying it, that we lose the sense of pleasure that caused us to stop in the first place? Life is a mystery, and maybe we have an innate need to solve it, to ponder why. But maybe there is no why, no ultimate purpose, and in that regard would we not be served best by simply letting go and allowing our minds to meld into the milieu?

I think on this a lot, more so as I grow older. I think that’s why I enjoy my job so much. Being around good food and drink on a daily basis allows me access to incredible pleasures with a minimal amount of input. I don’t really have to understand Chicken Carbonara. I mean, I do understand it. It’s not complicated in any way. But I don’t really have to. If I choose to learn the history of the dish, the regional variations, what ingredients can be substituted and which cannot, then I master the meal. If not, I can still enjoy it. It’s a small victory. I can still ponder the very existence of life, the universe, and everything, while choosing to solve little mysteries along the way. I like to have my cake and eat it too.

Cocktails and mixed drinks are little mysteries that don’t really need solving, anyway. Unlike chefs, who tend to codify everything, bartenders are, historically, a bit less focused. This may not be so true today, as every contemporary mixologist fights to get their drink onto the pages of Imbibe, but traditionally bartenders were generally bad at writing things down. That’s why, by the time Jerry Thomas had published the first bartender’s guide in 1862, most of the drinks in it had already been invented. The problem was, no one knew by whom. Flipping through the couple dozen or so rival books to Thomas’ that appeared in the ensuing decades, we see massive differences between cocktails of the same name, sometimes to the point of being different drinks, entirely. Subsequent drinks, popularized by other tomes, didn’t credit Jerry Thomas’ recipes. In fact, few bartenders mentioned contemporaries at all. In this regard, Thomas should not be regarded so much as the father of our trade, but merely as the guide that shown the light on the industry.  There was never a bartending equivalent of Marie Antoine Carême to bring order to this chaos, and, thus, we find ourselves a century and a half later, trying to make sense of what doesn’t make a lot of sense.

As mentioned in my post on the Manhattan, cocktails and mixed drinks follow themes. You can swap out ingredients in a Negroni, or an Old Fashioned, and come up with a wide variety of tasty concoctions. Change the citrus or the sweet component of a Sour or Daisy, and you have an entirely different drink. More times than not, the theme holds. That’s what makes the drink a classic, and why it’s so difficult to develop a new theme, or as we call them—templates.

It’s generally agreed upon, in circles that agree upon such things, that to officially be called a “cocktail” a mixed drink needs bitters. There’s debate as to whether or not a sweetener is needed (i.e. can a Pink Gin, gin and bitters, called a cocktail?), to which I say no, but usually one will be. This may lead you to wonder why the term is used so haphazardly nowadays, and the answer is, per usual, Prohibition, and its ruining of everything good and holy in our business. The same can be said of the Martini, and its descent into its bitter-less, “vodka up” incarnation. But a thorough study of the theme, picking up where the Manhattan leaves off, brings us to the Martinez, a drink with a life so short and fleeting, if you blinked, you would miss it.

As stated previously, the Manhattan began its life as a Vermouth Cocktail with some rye to spice it up. The original proportions, proposed by Jerry Thomas, were 2 parts Italian (sweet) vermouth, 1 part rye, 3 dashes of Boker’s Bitters, and a dash or two of maraschino liqueur or curacao. Cocktails frequently employed the use of liqueurs like maraschino and curacao, as well as syrups like pineapple and grenadine, in place of sugar or simple syrup. Absinthe was frequently added as well. Over time, likely as drier drinks became in vogue, the proportions were changed and the modifier dropped. As a tippling culture, very few of us realize that the original recipe was what it was. But Substitute Old Tom gin for rye, and we have a perfectly made Martinez. How about that? It may even shake you to your core to learn that the Martini followed along this same template as well, early recipes making the use of sweet vermouth, as well as bitters and modifiers. The only difference with the Martini, was that London Dry gin was used instead of Old Tom. As time went on, French (dry) vermouth was substituted for sweet, and a Dry Martini was born. It was called dry because of the type of vermouth, not the lack of it. Now, we’re getting somewhere.

There are competing theories (shocking, I know) as to the origin of the word Martinez. Some say the drink was invented by Thomas, himself, while bartending in San Francisco. According to this legend, Thomas invented the drink for a traveler to nearby Martinez, California. The problem is, the drink wasn’t included in Thomas’ work until after his death, in the 1887 posthumous reprint of his guide. The Modern Bartender’s Guide by O.H. Byron, published in 1884 (three years before the reprint of Thomas’ book,) lists the Martinez as a Manhattan made with gin instead of whiskey. Another story claims the drink was invented in the town of Martinez, itself; while a third gives credit to a man with the last name Martinez. It’s virtually impossible to prove any of these assertions, because there is no evidence. What fables lack in evidence, however, cocktail books make up for.

In the late 1890’s to early 1900’s, the Martinez begins to utilize dry vermouth. Gary Regan, noted bartender and drinks historian, makes a point that in 1906 the drink mysteriously changes its name to the Dry Martini in a book by Louis Muckensturm titled “Louis’ Mixed Drinks with Hints for the Care and Service of Wines.” He postulates that Martini & Rossi, the famous brand of Italian vermouth, marketed a name change for the cocktail in hopes of cornering the market. Seeing as Martini & Rossi was one of the only vermouth brands to not only survive Prohibition, but thrive after its repeal, this assertion is not entirely farfetched, although Regan himself would admit there is no way to prove it. The problem is, the word Martini appears almost twenty years earlier, in Harry Johnson’s 1882 book. Johnson, himself, didn’t mention the Martinez until the 1888 reprint. Not to mention Martini & Rossi didn’t debut in the States until 1900. It is absolutely certain, however that the company would hijack the name in later years.

In Modern American Drinks: How to Mix and Serve All Kinds of Cups and Drinks (1895), George J. Kappeler writes that a Martini Cocktail should be made with “half a mixing-glass full of fine ice, three dashes orange bitters, one-half jigger Tom gin, one-half jigger Italian vermouth, a piece lemon peel. Mix, strain into cocktail-glass. Add a maraschino cherry, if desired by customer.” Sounds like a Martinez to me. 1896 saw a reference to the Martini: The Marguerite Cocktail from Stuart’s Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them by Thomas Stuart: 1 dash of orange bitters, 2/3 Plymouth gin, 1/3 French vermouth. Close, save for the omission of maraschino. And there’s the Turf Club Cocktail, found in George Winter’s How to Mix Drinks: The Bar Keeper’s Handbook (1884) which contains equal parts Old Tom gin and sweet vermouth, with Peruvian bitters, whatever those are.

All of this can leave a man shaking his head. But as screwy as things were at the turn of the century, they began to be straightened out on the dawn of Prohibition. The Martini Cocktail, bolstered and marketed by the Martini & Rossi Company, capitalized on the public trend towards dry cocktails, and the Dry Martini Cocktail soon reigned supreme. Prohibition saw the end of the trained, qualified bartender, and with him the proper storing of vermouth. Because vermouth oxidizes at room temperature rather quickly, Martini & Rossi that sat on the back bar for months at a time was frowned upon by drinkers for obvious reasons. Soon it became fashionable to order a Martini with the bottle of vermouth “passed over the glass” or “waved in the direction of France.” Of course, the quality of gin surviving Prohibition wasn’t exactly top-notch, either. It didn’t take long for Smirnoff and other vodka producers to capitalize on consumers’ preference for a quick, clean hit of booze. By the 1950’s, vodka was marketed as leaving you “breathless,” meaning your boss would never know you were out to a “Three Martini Lunch.” The era of flavor had ended, and the Dark Ages of the Cocktail were beginning.

So why revive the Martinez? Well, strictly speaking, it’s delicious when made properly. While the Manhattan certainly achieves balance, and the true Martini is a glorious mix of crisp, floral flavors, the Martinez walks a line between strong and weak, bitter and sweet, that possibly only the Negroni can do better. When modernizing recipes, I always look to the past to get an idea of the template I’m using, and the flavor profile I’m looking to achieve. Modern mixology allows us the use of many liquors and liqueurs that simply weren’t available in the Golden Age. My, how far we’ve come. From having virtually no tools only a decade ago, to an abundance of them today, the possibilities are endless.

The Martinez lends itself well to interpretation. My addition of kirschwasser, a distillation of sour cherries (Morello, traditionally,) keeps this drink dry and flavorful. A combination of Ransom Gin and Hayman’s Old Tom tones down the woody notes of the Ransom that can overpower this drink. The addition of Boker’s Bitters (a product recreated by the amazing Adam Elmegirab) adds spicy complexity to the traditional orange bitters. All in all, the drink is as close to perfect as any Martinez I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve included it here, verbatim.

Is it true that some questions are better off unanswered? Some mysteries left unsolved? I’ll ponder that, staring reflectively off into the night, as I sip on my cocktail….

 

The Martinez (Classic)

  • 1.5oz Old Tom Gin (Hayman’s)
  • 1.5oz Italian Vermouth (Carpano Antica, Coccho Vermouth di Torino)
  • .25oz Maraschino Liqueur
  • 2 dashes Orange Bitters
  • Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon or orange peel.

 

The Martinez (Adam Patrick)

  • .75oz Ransom Gin
  • .75oz Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
  • 1.5oz Carpano Antica vermouth
  • .25oz Maraska Maraschino Liqueur
  • .25oz Clear Creek Kirschwasser Cherry Brandy
  • 2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
  • 2 dashes Boker’s Bitters
  • Stir all ingredients over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Slainte

Gin & Tonic – A Journey Through Time

The origins of the Gin & Tonic differ from that of most mixed drinks. It wasn’t invented by a famous mixologist from the pre-prohibition era. It didn’t bring fame and renown to any luxurious turn of the century hotel bar. No famous bartending guides list it among their most cherished libations. And yet, the history of this drink is one steeped in international and domestic politics, global expansionism, agriculture, and even medicine. It is not just a confluence of ingredients, however, but also of nations and cultures. Every time we mix a Gin & Tonic, we retell the story of several countries, on three continents, over a period of two hundred years. There’s scant ambiguity to its history, and very little debate as to its timeless endurance.

While most of us view gin as the quintessential British spirit, this was not always the case. Believed to be invented by Dr. Fransiscus Sylvuis, a Dutch scientist and Professor of Medicine at Leyden, Holland, the first gin was a distillate of neutral grain spirits flavored with the essential oils of the juniper berry, and was intended to aid people with kidney diseases. Juniper berries had been a favorite remedy for a host of maladies for hundreds of years, going back in Europe as far as the plague, and they were used to combat everything from circulation issues, to fever, to poor digestion, and an excess of other issues. Sylvuis termed his concoction “Jenever,” after the French “Genie vre” meaning Juniper, and, by 1655, it was being produced commercially. The best versions that became part of Dutch culture used malt-wine as the base of fermentation. English soldiers fighting in the Netherlands during the Dutch War of Independence developed an affinity for Jenever (pronounced Gen-ee’-vurr.) They watched, captivated, as Dutch soldiers threw back gulps of the booze and charged headfirst into battle, earning Jenever the nickname “Dutch Courage.” Soon, English soldiers returning home to Britain were bringing bottles of “the courage” with them, and it didn’t take long before the whole country was smitten with Jenever, eventually shortened to “Jen” and finally “Gin.” This Gin was very different from the Gin we know today. Take a swig from a bottle of Bols Genever and you’ll see what I mean. True Genever is malty, and has an air of age to it. Imagine mixing gin with irish whiskey, and a little bit of sugar, an idea that even cocktail historian David Wondrich admits “works tolerably well in Punches and the like, but less so in Cocktails.”

The Revolution of 1688 brought about the next major step in the evolution of Gin. William of Orange disposed of England’s Catholic monarch, King James II, and became William III, the new king of England. A year later, William banned the import of French Brandy, and levied serious duties on German alcohol, virtually guaranteeing a market for Dutch spirits. He also ended a royal monopoly on distilled spirits that allowed English farmers to distill from local grain. In 1695, the British raised taxes on beer, making gin the cheapest beverage in England. This created a gin boom that lasted for decades, and gin consumption became so rampant that new laws would have to be enacted to curb what was being called the “Gin Craze.” During this time, as happens any time the market becomes saturated with a cheap product with near limitless demand, product quality waned. Harsh distillate was sweetened with sugar to seem more palatable, and the precursor to Old Tom Gin was born. Old Tom Gin was called so because many of the Gin Shops around London would place a small wooden plaque shaped like a black cat (an old tom cat) on the outside of the pub. A customer need only drop a coin into a small slot on the side of the plaque and gin would be dispensed from the cat’s mouth. Eventually, laws like The Tippling Act of 1751 were passed that eliminated smaller gin shops and left the distribution to larger distilleries and retailers. In the late 1800’s, the invention of the column still also helped to solidify the gin we know today as London Dry, a style made so clean and so well that it didn’t need sugar or other flavorings to mask deficiencies. London Dry, a style dominated by the flavor of the juniper berry, remained the benchmark for over a hundred years, until products like Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray Malacca opened the door to a host of new, less juniper-dominated gins dubbed “New Western Gins.”

The second and more variable ingredient in the Gin and Tonic, is the tonic itself. Tonic is essentially a delivery system for quinine, an anti-malarial alkaloid found in the bark of the cinchona tree. The Quechua people, indigenous to Peru, were the first to discover the fever-reducing, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties of the cinchona tree. The Incas used quinine, derived from steeping the bark in water (or even better in alcohol), as a muscle relaxant used to halt shivering due to low temperatures. As it turns out, the same pharmacological properties that make quinine effective at treating shivering also make it effective against the deadly malaria virus, and its fever-inducing chills.

Soon, Spanish Jesuit missionaries discovered the beneficial effects of quinine first-hand.  The tree itself is named after the Countess of Chinchona, the wife of a Spanish viceroy to Peru. In 1638, after falling ill and finding no remedy for her malady, the Spanish doctors enlisted the help of the Quechua in saving the life of the Countess. The cinchona tea spared her from death, and the history of quinine on the European continent began. Due to the demand of quinine in Europe to battle malaria and other diseases, the Jesuit priests began smuggling seeds and saplings out of South America. Concerned with facing lost revenue, Peru immediately outlawed the export of any form of cinchona other than bark or extract, a form they could control. In the mid 1800’s, South America maintained a near monopoly on cinchona bark, exporting nearly two millions pounds annually. During this monopoly, however, demand began to exceed supply. British and Dutch soldiers in East Asia needed quinine to battle the incessant malaria that was so prevalent at the time. In turn, prices for Peruvian cinchona bark skyrocketed, and in 1862, an entrepreneur named Charles Ledger aimed to do something about it. Ledger smuggled cinchona seeds out of Peru and sold them to the Dutch government. The Dutch, in turn, began transferring the new strains to island plantations in Ceylon and Java. Without this new, abundant source of quinine, the colonization of East Asia may have been halted at the doorstep of malaria.

For almost a century, Indonesia supplied close to 95% of the world’s quinine. But in 1942, Japan attacked and took control of Indonesia to secure oil for the war effort. The Allied powers would summon a meeting, as important as the Manhattan Project, to discover a way to produce synthetic quinine. Thus, we have commercial quinine extract, added to tonic water, and the beginning of the end for natural quinine production.

The British Navy had always been drinkers. Rum rations went back as far as the mid seventeenth century. British officers long knew of the horrors of scurvy, a disease resulting from a deficiency of vitamin C. For decades the navy battled this by adding to a daily rum ration a dose of lime juice, forming the basis of grog (or rum, sugar, and lime). As a side note, alcoholic proof was also invented at this time, meaning the minimum amount of alcohol in rum that could be lit on fire with gunpowder. Hence were the ways sailors ensured they were not being cheated out of booze by their superiors. Those same superiors, however, drank the Queen’s gin, not bottom-feeders’ rum, and soon the sailors rations were reduced to limit alcohol consumption. When Britain began the colonization of East Asia, they found themselves at the vortex of history, necessity, and convenience. Quinine, in the form of tonic water, was crucial in the prevention of malaria. Lime juice not only prevented scurvy but gave life to a mixed drink, a little acidity to wake up other flavors. Sugar was as important as any other ingredient to balance flavor; and it wasn’t too long before someone decided that the most ubiquitous of all British liquor should be added for good measure. After all, if you had to take your medicine, you’d want it to not only taste good, but knock you around a little as well. And thus, we have the gin and tonic cocktail, the final step in a two-hundred year road to cocktail perfection, the likes of which was as unprecedented as it was unmatched.

We are lucky to live in the current revival of mixology that dominates the present day. New gins from America as well as the rest of the world have begun to be taken as seriously as those recipes from the past that are now being recreated. Bartenders and mixologists have more than just new gins to play with, however. Tonics such as Tomr’s, Fentiman’s, Q-Tonic, and Fever Tree provide fresh quinine without added high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and flavors, and other adulterants. Like all artisan spirits and mixers, some work well in certain applications and some work well in others. When it doubt, experimentation is the gateway to deliciousness, and what might be good for some may be disastrous to others. While gin itself is legally complicated to produce, tonic water is not, and a quick romp through a health food store or two might yield you enough ingredients to make your own. As is the motto of this web site, when you can make your own mixers, from fresh ingredients, you’re obligated to try.

Below is listed my starting point for homemade tonic water. It’s a combination of a couple of solid recipes from other bartenders, presented here to familiarize the everyday drinker to the world of craft mixers, using products you can get at your local Whole Foods. In no way is this a be-all-end-all recipe designed to fill every niche. Some gins like Bluecoat and Tanqueray 10 play well off of citrusy components. Aviation might play better off of spice. And even juniper heavy London Dry Gins can have flavors accentuated by other ingredients. The key is to keep playing with things until they work out the way you like to taste them, and even then, there’s always more experimenting to do. The following recipe contains some easy to gather ingredients that play particularly well with a wide variety of gins. As always, when looking to match with specific spirits, some items will need to be dropped or added. Consider this a starting point and go from there.

Tonic Syrup:

Bring to a boil -

  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 cup chopped lemongrass (chop like celery, using all but the last inch of the stalk.)
  • .25 cup ground cinchona bark (a heavy-duty spice/coffee grinder works well, or just purchase ground cinchona bark. Nature’s Wonderland is a good start.)
  • 3 fine zest of lime (a Microplane works well. Avoid long strips as with a vegetable peeler.) & juice
  • 2 fine zest of lemon & juice
  • 1 fine zest of orange & juice
  • 1 fine zest of grapefruit
  • 3 Tbsp. Citric Acid (many recipes call for twice this amount, but I think it’s overkill. Experiment freely.)

Additional ingredients to play around with, depending on the Gin you use:

  • 1 Tbsp. allspice berries
  • 1 Tbsp. coriander
  • 1 Tbsp. bitter orange peel
  • 1 tsp. lavender
  • 1 tsp. cardamom pods
  • 1 Tbsp. chamomile
  • 1 tsp. grains of paradise

After boiling, reduce to a covered simmer for 25 minutes. When the time is up, strain out the solid ingredients and filter the resulting tea through a couple rounds of coffee filters and/or cheesecloth. Let the liquid sit for an hour or two in a French Press, and decant into a quart container to remove the remaining solids.

Add the resulting tea back to a clean pot. Heat to a simmer and add .75 cup of sugar for every cup of liquid. Dissolve and remove from stove to let cool. The syrup will be brown, no two ways about it. Give it your all when it comes to filtering out sediment before you add the sugar and you’ll be in better shape. The color will not, however, turn clear, no matter how much you work at it. Such is the way life goes.

In a highball glass filled with ice, mix:

  • 2oz of Gin
  • .75oz – 1oz of tonic syrup
  • Top with soda and splash of lime.

It is also possible (and maybe even advisable) to mix the tonic syrup with distilled water in a carbonator (such as an iSi), and carbonate to order. The bubbles will last longer than mineral water and the texture of the drink will not suffer.

Slainte!

A Treatise on Tending Bar – Part Two: Sweet

Premise #1:

It’s a cold, snowy, Monday evening in New York City’s flatiron district. Your favorite restaurant is closed for a private party, and you’ve decided to branch out. There’s a hot new dining location just down the road that your friends have been raving about. You step inside and shake off the cold, pleased you are able to get a small table right away.

The host pulls out your chair and smiles as you settle into your seat. She places the dinner menu in front of you, and the wine list to your right. You smile back, but gently push them away, thanking her. As she leaves, you’re brimming with anticipation. You know exactly what you want, you’ve been thinking about it all day. You relax, momentarily, and take a sip of the water just provided to you by the young man in the black tie. You notice a slightly older, more confident gentleman making his way to your table, and your excitement is reignited. He greets you and asks how you’re doing. “Hungry,” you say, grinning. Before he can reply, you blurt out, unrestrained, “I’ll have the fish! With potatoes, and broccoli.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the confused waiter replies. “Which type of fish would you like?”

“Any fish,” you answer. “Your cheapest fish. With potatoes and broccoli, please.” You’re grinning again, confident in your decision.

Again, the waiter appears perplexed, but handles it with tact. “Ma’am, tonight the chef has prepared a pan-seared Halibut with—“

“Doesn’t matter what fish,” you interrupt. “I’ll take Cod, if you have that.” You retain your smile.

“Yes ma’am,” the unflappable server continues, “with a lemon, wine, caper, and dill sauce, accompanied by hericot verts and cauliflower gratin. I apologize, but tonight we are not offering a Cod dish. Perhaps I can walk you through our menu? There are other seafood options as well as—“

“I just want fish and potatoes,” you blurt out, your smile fading away. “Don’t you have fish and potatoes here? What kind of restaurant doesn’t have potatoes?” What kind of restaurant, indeed.

——————-

Premise #2:

You settle into your seat at the bar. Through the stench of burnt fryer oil and stale beer you can smell something almost relatable to food. Bacon maybe? The floor is covered in muddy footprints, the back bar in more than one layer of dust. You take off your overcoat, and look around for a hostess. Spotting a young lady in a green polo shirt you motion to her with a smile. “Would you take my coat, please?” you ask. “Why?” she replies, “you don’t want it anymore?” You recoil, stunned, pulling your coat to your chest. “I beg your pardon?” you retort. She chuckles and walks away.

Following a moment of awkward silence, the bartender approaches. A young man, possibly out of high school, his hair is disheveled and his shirt is untucked. A pencil perches precariously behind his left ear, and the tattoos run down his right arm from shirtsleeve to wrist. You believe you see more than one naked woman in the colorful milieu.

With a quick nod, the kid asks, “Whatcha havin’, bud?”

“A menu please,” you respond, to which one is tossed, randomly, in front of you. “Any specials?”

“It’s all special, my man,” the young bartender says. He stands in front of you, staring impatiently as you scrutinize the selections. You notice a plethora of burgers, and not much else in the way of choice.

“Is the beef grass fed?” you ask.

“The bartender raises his eyebrows. “I dunno what they eat, man. They’re frozen when they come in, and hot when they go out.”

“What about organic vegetables? Are the sides and toppings local and sustainable produce?”

“Bud, I got the lettuce from the grocery down the street about three hours ago ‘cuz we ran out of it after lunch. So, I’m guessin’ that’s pretty local. You want a burger or what?”

As you contemplate your response, another young man in a stained white t-shirt appears from the kitchen. He gestures to the bartender, asking, “Dude, got a smoke? I’m fuckin’ shot.”

You decide maybe you’re not so hungry after all.

——————–

Let’s face it, we rarely pick restaurants haphazardly. If we need a quick bite, we hit up fast food or the local coffee shop. If we plan to entertain friends or enjoy the creations of a famous chef, we dress up and visit a nicer location. We scour the internet for Yelp reviews, Google reviews, and Tripadvisor reviews. We stare for hours at Zagat ratings, Michelin ratings, and New York Times ratings. On our phones we flip endlessly through Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and Instagram pictures. And we do all of this so that when we decide to spend our money at the restaurant we choose, that we have the best possible idea of what we are spending that money on, how the food is going to taste, and what type of experience we are going to have. We do this, seemingly, without training or coaching of any kind. The fear of being even remotely surprised by any facet of a restaurant’s production leaves us trembling and unsure. Is the caviar really Beluga? How is the foie gras prepared? Are the meatballs really the best in the city? Because you’ve had meatballs all over the city and you know how meatballs are supposed to taste. You’re a meatball aficionado. You’re not even going to give the damn meatballs the light of day unless they get at least a four star Yelp review from three of your closest followers. Fuck it, skip the meatballs. Not worth the chance for sixteen dollars. Unless they are….

So why don’t we apply this same thinking to the bar? As stated in the overwhelmingly awesome column (here) in Esquire Magazine by Aaron Goldfarb, people rarely choose a bar based on what drinks they serve. But you would never choose a restaurant without having at least some sort of an idea as to whether or not their particular choice of cuisine appealed to you at that particular moment. Why the disparity? Why is there such a chasm between the cocktail bar and the dive bar, such a disconnect between one end of the spectrum and the other? The reality is, there isn’t a spectrum at all. There’s no line of continuity, no scale from one to ten. The fact is, you either have a beverage program or you don’t. The strength of your beverage program can be judged, but first you have to develop and implement one. Therein, lies the rub. If the above stories seem silly, it’s because they are. If we witnessed anyone behaving in that manner in either of those situations, you can be sure we would act with either laughter or disdain. Surely we would tweet about it. But these situations happen in bars all the time. Customers are confused as to what to order and when, and as industry professionals, we are not doing a good enough job of helping them learn.

It’s not altogether complicated to paw through your state’s liquor ordering guide and (assuming you have the capital to spend) purchase a bunch of booze. You don’t need to know a whole lot about Scotch whisky to know that drinkers will order Macallan, Glenlivit, Glenfiddich, and Chivas Regal, based solely on name recognition. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand you will sell Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek if you display them on the back bar. Flavored vodkas are plentiful and cheap, so why not just order as many as possible? This doesn’t, however, constitute a beverage program. Neither does the mass collecting of all of the possible iterations of a given liquor. For example, while I’d be impressed if a bar offered every possible bottle of Scotch available in a given market (I’m looking at you, Owl Shop), that type of gross investment isn’t all that inspired unless every bartender that works at the establishment can educate me on how each selection tastes, and how it compares to the others in its range. Merely having a lot of choices without any education can actually detract from consumer demand, as the liquor list can appear pretentious and daunting. In most cases, a finely tuned liquor list, with bottles chosen for taste, price, region, food pairing, accessibility, and purpose, will net the business owner positive customer feedback. So why doesn’t it happen more often, and whose fault is it?

The answer is three-fold. Number one, it’s a lot of work to develop and institute a quality beverage program. Number two, there’s little demand for it. Number three, and the kicker, is that most restaurant and bar operators don’t have the slightest idea of what they’re doing, and they don’t care. So when I consult with an operator on the possibility of developing a bar program for their establishment, I begin in much the same way that I began this series, with the little things. Why spend thousands of dollars on quality booze if your bar uses boxed sour mix, bottled bloody mary mix, brown limes, Rose’s lime juice, Apple Pucker, and the like? It makes little sense to invest time, energy, and money into the research and purchase of expensive and artisanal spirits if your bar still clings to the bottled and boxed mixers of old.

In the previous article, we mentioned how simple, sharp citrus fruit, like lemons and limes, can be utilized to bring bright, vibrant tastes and smells to craft cocktails. The days of the prepackaged sour mix are long gone, and restaurants looking to up their game have already hopped on the fresh juice bandwagon. But there’s another side to sour, and that’s its opposing force: sweet. To complement the acidic component of a drink (or bitter, for that matter), there needs to be sugar, in one form or another. Table sugar, demerara, muscovado, turbinado, honey, agave, Truvia, are all examples of sweeteners, but the most important of ingredients, and the starting point from which all others should branch, is simple syrup.

So what is simple syrup? Strictly speaking, simple syrup is nothing more than a 1:1 ratio of white table sugar to plain water. It takes the place of granulated sugar in cocktails, achieving two main purposes. First, it is incredibly time consuming to dissolve granulated sugar (even “bar sugar” which is essentially superfine table sugar.) You may have noticed that slightly grainy last sip of your Old Fashioned. That’s due to the fact that it takes several minutes to properly saturate sugar in cold water, even using a muddler. The second, is the difficulty in gaining a consistent dilution ratio. Unless you’re measuring the amount of water you are diluting your sugar in, how can you be sure that the drink stays consistent from one to the next? Face it, you’re splashing water on the sugar from a soda gun. It’s going to vary from glass to glass. Simple syrup allows a consistent dilution rate, and speed of service without sacrificing quality. But one size does not fit all. Changes in concentration and temperature can alter not only taste, but sweetness and mouthfeel. Top level bartenders realize nuance, and slight variations can cause the difference between cocktail success and failure. Knowing how to tailor your syrup to suit your needs will separate the professional bartender from the amateur.

A quick chemistry lesson. The chemical name for table sugar is sucrose. Sucrose is a disaccharide (or complex sugar) made up of two monosaccharide (or simple sugar) molecules: fructose and glucose. The fructose and glucose bond can be chemically separated by either a catalyst (such as lemon juice or cream of tartar), or by heat. In industrial applications, a catalyst is less time-consuming and more precise. In restaurants, chances are you’ve made your simple syrup by heating your water up on a stove or hot plate, and adding sugar until it fully dissolves. What you didn’t know, is that you’re effectively changing the chemical makeup of the syrup by doing this, and the resulting syrup is called invert syrup (called so because of how polarized light changes direction when shone through the different syrups.)

Why do we heat simple syrup? Like most bartending routines, mainly because it’s how we were taught. But is it the ideal method to make our syrup? Maybe, maybe not. Heating sugar and water in the temperature range of 130-140 degrees F. will effectively dissolve your sugar, but the heat causes the sucrose molecules to separate. The resulting fructose-glucose, or invert syrup, will not only be sweeter (fructose is sweeter than sucrose), but it will be less velvety and smooth, due to the greater viscosity of the sucrose molecule. Subtle differences, but important ones. Heating your syrup at a temperature closer to boiling will cause your syrup to develop a burnt, caramel-like quality that can contaminate nuanced cocktails. Heat it at a cooler temperature, and crystals may develop, as the sugar has not fully integrated with the water. Adding cream of tartar or lemon juice may prevent crystallization and break apart the sucrose bonds further, but it may require 20 minutes or more of boiling just to rid your syrup of a lemon flavor.

One plus to heating your syrup is that the resulting invert syrup actually extends shelf life. You see, water activity is the amount of water in a substance that isn’t immobilized or chemically bound. High water activity = high chance of spoilage (red meats, fruits.) Low water activity = low chance of spoilage (dried pasta, grains.) Because monosaccharides aren’t smaller than disaccharides, they take up more room in the solution, thus reducing water activity and increasing shelf life. But what if I told you that you could have your cake and eat it too?

Increasing the concentration of sugar by adding an extra part to the syrup yields a 2:1 sugar to water solution. This is my go-to for simple syrup in all applications that I can control. First and foremost, the 2:1 syrup (called rich simple syrup) does two immediate things. One, it gives me a concentration of sugar that better approximates granulated sugar (so that I no longer need to adjust recipes that predate syrup), and it doesn’t water down my cocktail as much as 1:1 syrup does, while maintaining the same level of sweetness. I simply use less, and get the same result.

Now, I can heat 2:1 simple syrup and end up right back where I started, or I can add two parts sugar to one part slightly above room-temperature water and shake the shit out of it. Eventually, it will mix completely, and I have a perfectly sweet sugar solution that doesn’t taste burnt, sweetens my cocktail without watering it down, and has an amazingly silky mouthfeel due to its increased viscosity. And, if that all wasn’t enough, the greater concentration of sugar increases shelf life more than 1:1 ever could. I even throw an ounce of vodka in the mix, per liter, just for shit’s sake. I have a bottle of said syrup in the fridge right now that’s going on six months, no mold, and tastes great. But don’t take it from me:

Camper English, did an experiment in which he tested the shelf lives of different sugar syrups. On this site he states: “I found that 1:1 simple syrup spoiled in about one month, 1:1 syrup with vodka lasted three months, 2:1 simple syrup went six months without spoiling, and 2:1 simple syrup plus vodka was still unspoiled when I stopped the experiment at six months.”

But what of other sweeteners?

Agave Nectar: Despite what you may think, agave nectar isn’t a nectar at all. While it is marketed as a product gained in a similar fashion as maple syrup, agave nectar is actually a highly processed, fructose-rich syrup produced from the starch of the agave’s pina, or the same portion of the plant used to make mescal and tequila. The process is not unlike that of high fructose corn syrup, as that syrup is made from a processing of corn starch. Agave nectar is essentially no healthier for you than table sugar. While its low glycemic index results from less glucose, the abundance of body-harming fructose counteracts many health claims. Fructose, unlike glucose, is processed in the liver. It also contains more calories than white sugar. Like most bartenders, however, I’m concerned not so much with health as I am with taste. Agave nectar has a rich flavor that is hard to duplicate and compliments any aged spirit as well as mescal variations.

Honey: In this case, raw, organic honey harvested directly from beehives is the way to go. Packed with enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, honey may be the healthiest natural sweetener available. Dilute with an equal part of water to allow for greater mixability. Raw honey is notoriously difficult to integrate into a cocktail without first being diluted.

Maple Syrup: Go for Grade A here, the better, thinner stuff. Grade B is thicker and used more in cooking. Since we’re all familiar with the flavor of maple syrup, I’ll simply add that the flavor is intense, and doesn’t compliment everything. Use sparingly. If you see Grade C, it is the same as Grade B.

Sucanat/Muscovado/Panela/Jaggery: Unrefined cane sugar. Essentially dehydrated sugar cane juice, or cane sugar with the juice evaporated. All of the molasses content remains.

Turbinado/Demerara: Partially refined cane sugar, some of the molasses remains. Syrups made from these sugars will have a depth and richness of flavor that simple syrup lacks, and can bring an amazing funk to mixed drinks.

Stevia: All-natural and calorie free, the stevia plant tastes like sugar without being sugar. In its raw form, its dozens of times sweeter than sugar, so in commercial applications (like Truvia, Stevia in the Raw) it is combined with other additives. 86% of Truvia by weight is erythritol, a carbohydrate that our bodies lack the enzyme necessary to process, hence zero calories. The most successful use of Stevia that I’ve seen applied to the bar business is to steep the leaves, themselves, in alcohol when making homemade liqueurs or tinctures.

Coconut Sugar: a healthy, natural, sustainable sugar that is made from the sap of the coconut tree. Although difficult to source, it can add real depth of character in cocktails. Its taste is similar to maple and its glycemic index number is low.

Gomme/Gum Syrup: essentially simple syrup with gum arabic (Acacia gum) added. Gomme syrup will add to your cocktail a rich, silky mouthfeel and bolder body than traditional simple syrup. It also acts as a stabilizer, preventing crystallization in rich syrups. You can buy gum arabic at specialty baking stores, but I buy mine on Amazon. Add 1/4 cup boiling water to 4tsp powdered gum arabic. Stir and let sit for a couple of hours. Stir again. You will notice it thickens up like a gel. Make your 2:1 simple syrup in a pot on the stove. When it’s ready, stir in your gum mixture and simmer on low heat for a couple minutes. Do not raise the temperature, it will foam all over the place. After 4-5 minutes, skim off the foam and bottle. Piece of cake.

**One note here on muddling sugar. While I avoid muddling sugar pretty much all of the time, there are two situations in which I believe it can suit the cocktail, one being an Old Fashioned when you have the time to do it properly. In this situation, I would use a sugar cube, and soak it with bitters. Then I would muddle for a good solid couple of minutes in a mixing glass until every granule is dissolved. It requires patience, I assure you. The second situation involves THE SMASH, and its Latin American variant, THE CAIPIRINHA. In both of these drinks, you are sprinkling sugar on wedges of lemons or limes and essentially using the graininess of the sugar to help pulverize the fruit. Very rarely do the granules survive this massacre. Should you like to avoid buying premade sugar cubes, I’ll list a short recipe, below:

Homemade Sugar Cubes: Mix one cup sugar (any kind) with 3 tablespoons water. When completely and evenly saturated, spread mixture on the bottom of a baking pan (like you might use for mac n cheese or meatloaf) and press down firmly. Using a knife, slice into small cubes. Bake at 250 degrees for about one hour. Let cool for ten minutes and then break it up. Simple as pie.

Utilizing our new sugars and syrups, here are some fun cocktails to experiment with:

Mojito

  • Slap in your hands 8-10 bright green and fresh mint leaves, and place them into a mixing tin
  • 3/4oz freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3/4oz 2:1 simple syrup
  • 2oz white rum (I use Vizcaya 12yr or El Dorado 3yr. Flor de Cana works well, also)
  • Shake all ingredients with enough ice to fill up a highball glass.
  • When through mixing, add enough soda water to tin to fill up the highball glass.
  • Pour, unstrained, from tin into highball glass.
  • Garnish with a fresh mint sprig and a straw.

 

Bee’s Knees

  • 2oz high quality London Dry Gin (Tanqueray, Beefeater)
  • 3/4oz – 1oz 1:1 honey syrup
  • 3/4oz – 1oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Shake all ingredients with ice and double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  • Garnish with a lemon peel

Fonda la Paloma

  • 1 1/2oz Imbue Petal & Thorn Vermouth
  • 1oz El Buho Mescal
  • 1oz 1:1 honey syrup
  • 1oz freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1/2oz freshly sqeezed lime juice
  • 1/4oz 2:1 simple syrup
  • Shake all ingredients with ice and double strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  • Garnish with a lime wheel.

The Rum Old-Fashioned

  • 2oz El Dorado 12yr Rum
  • 1/2oz 1:1 Demerara Syrup
  • 3 dashes Falernum Bitters
  • Add ingredients to a rocks glass and stir with ice.
  • Garnish with a lime peel

The Caipirinha

  • 2oz Cachaca
  • 1-2 sugar cubes
  • 3-4 lime wedges
  • Muddle lime wedges with sugar cubes in a rocks glass until dissolved.
  • Pour Cachaca over muddled fruit and shake with ice.
  • Serve in the glass you built it in

Slainte!

A Treatise on Tending Bar – Part One: Sour

It’s six thirty at night. It’s taken you an hour and a half to drive twenty miles on the highway. As you finally pull off the exit, you sigh in relief. You’re meeting your wife, her co-worker, and her co-worker’s husband for dinner. You don’t really know the other couple, but after the day you just had, you can’t even think that far ahead. As the light turns green you make the turn and pull swiftly into the parking lot of the hottest new restaurant in town. Your wife’s been talking about it for months and even though you really should be home working on that assignment your boss gave you three weeks ago, a little R&R might do you some good. You park the car, hop out, and adjust your scarf to cover your ears. It’s mid-January and there’s a storm on the way. You hurry inside, nod to the hostess and spot your group at the bar. After introductions are made you grab mightily at the drink list. Hmm… strange beer selection. What kind of wine is this? A cocktail menu? You just want a drink, dammit. How hard can this be?

This shit is overwhelming, I get it. I see it every night. There’s the scratching of heads when a familiar product is sight unseen on the wine list, confusion when there’s no domestic light beer on tap, and a propensity to stare at my cocktail menu as if, perhaps, it were written in cuneiform. I get it, I do. And I sympathize. I’m here to guide you through this, you’re here to relax and enjoy. My job is about changing mindsets, and that starts with what is, and moves to what can be. Despite much of the hard work these past ten or so years (over 25 if you go back to the Rainbow Room and Dale Degroff), to elevate the craft of bartending to a level commensurate with any other respectable profession, there is still something about the beverage side of the service industry that fails to change on a grand level . Despite my initial frustration in the moment, a step back lays the protracted issue at the feet of the service industry itself, and more specifically its management. If we were all doing this the same way, to the best of our abilities and held to the highest standard, the one who would benefit the most is the guest. But we’re not, and the guest suffers. In this series, we will explore why our business needed a revolution, and how all of us, on both sides of the bar, can better contribute to its positive growth.

Prohibition dealt a death blow to my profession. To be fair, not every barman that existed before January 17, 1920 was flinging bottles over their shoulders and slapping sprigs of basil to lay over their cocktails. Just like any vocation, there was a hierarchy of talent and skill, but it existed as a profession, nonetheless. Tending bar was considered a trade. There was no cocktail bar bartender versus dive bar bartender. They were all the same, performing their part in slightly different ways depending on their demographic. Most likely, the head bartender at an establishment was either the owner, or had been hand-selected by ownership to deliver not only quality product and service, but train the younger, less experienced staff in the art of the craft. There was still apprenticeship, and close study allowed the trainee the possibility of a larger role, and eventually a bar all his own. Once the service and sale of “intoxicating” beverages became illegal, those that wanted to continue in the business either sought work in Europe or Cuba, or switched over to the less reputable, speak-easy side of the law. It became every man for himself.

The dark years of Prohibition saw the end of an era. While all industries must adapt to industrialization and the push to economies of scale (just ask the local American farmer,) in reality no other specific profession has ever suffered the swift and precise death blow like that of the American Bartender. To make an analogy, imagine you are a carpenter, and carpentry is made illegal (the government has done stranger things, I assure you.) The world would likely learn to build with another material. Metal? Stone? With a family to feed you might choose to learn masonry, or help build skyscrapers, or maybe even switch to another trade like plumbing. Then, one day, carpentry becomes legal again. But the world has moved on, adapted to life without it. Some aspiring entrepreneur sees the massive overgrowth of trees in American forests and decides to reintroduce the profession. The problem? No one remembers how to build with wood anymore. But capitalism pushes its way forward, and a new breed of carpenter begins to construct their own way, using novel techniques and innovative tools. Maybe, the trade is made more profitable. Maybe the fresh methods improve the industry as a whole. But you harken back to memories of how it once was, before things changed, when it was a labor of love, and not just a business.

This isn’t the study of the long-term social and political effects of Prohibition on the United States. That battle is best kept to future posts. What is worth mentioning, however, is the deliberate and purposeful obliteration of an entire industry by the federal government, the likes of which had never been seen before, and haven’t been seen since. As noted by Jack S. Blocker Jr., a renounced scholar on Prohibition and the American Temperance Movement, there existed in 1916 1300 breweries producing full-strength beer in the U.S. Ten years later, there were zero. Over the same time frame 85% of distilleries went out of business, the rest surviving on the production of industrial alcohol. “Legal production of near beer used less than one tenth the amount of malt, one twelfth the rice and hops, and one thirtieth the corn used to make full-strength beer before National Prohibition. The 318 wineries of 1914 became the 27 of 1925. The number of liquor wholesalers was cut by 96% and the number of legal retailers by 90%. From 1919 to 1929, federal tax revenues from distilled spirits dropped from $365 million to less than $13 million, and revenue from fermented liquors from $117 million to virtually nothing.” This is worth mentioning because we are still seeing the effects of it today. As Blocker summarizes, “To wipe out a long-established and well-entrenched industry, to change drinking habits on a large scale, and to sweep away such a central urban and rural social institution as the saloon are no small achievements.”

The decades following prohibition saw a rise in quick, pre-portioned, RTE foods and drinks. Even though Prohibition ended in 1933, distilled alcohol was essentially commandeered a second time to aid in the war effort. The beer and liquor surviving World War Two was a shell of itself, and the mixed drink scene was one often fashioned and perpetuated by the industry itself. See my post on the Moscow Mule for an example. While some great cocktails were invented in the decades leading up to and following the Second World War (see Manhattan Musings,) most were refashioned slop from the Prohibition years, or copious amounts of booze in a glass, hidden beneath bottled juices and cheap flavored liqueurs. Because whiskey stocks need time to age, Americans turned to Canada, Scotland, and Ireland for their brown liquor. American blended whiskey, because of its quick production time, found a home in American glasses. Vodka and Gin, themselves needing no time in the cask, ran rampant. Beer drinkers, having grown accustomed to adjunct-laden near beer, were quick to embrace macro-brewed lagers that would eventually grow into the tasteless domestics of today.

Americans were devoting time and resources to war, and in the years after, to raising families and earning a living. The average drinker was no longer concerned with the sporting lifestyle of the pre-Prohibition era. Prohibition had trained the drinker to drink as much as possible, as quickly as possible, and preferably in a way that masked the awful taste of the inferior quality spirit used. When Prohibition ended, bad habits continued on both sides of the bar. With no trained barmen to offer the customer a quality drink, and customers who either didn’t care or want one anyway, the craft of the bar was seemingly lost for good. This new trend ran concurrent with two others, technology and large-scale marketing, to produce a viral-like trifecta perpetuating the continued demise of the trade. The downward spiral would last half a century, and although some good came of it (as some good always has a propensity to do,) most of it was debilitating. In an age with TV dinners and Kool Aid, who could be bothered with fresh recipe and flavors? Before Prohibition, mixed drinks like sours, fizzes, fixes, and daisies used fresh juices and imported cane sugar. By the 1950’s and 60’s, pre-packaged, powdered sour mixes were the norm rather than fresh lemons and limes. The mixes contained high-fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners, just re-hydrate with water and you’re in business. We were too busy, in too much of a rush to worry about ingredients. Just make it taste good.

It is only because of some pioneering and daring bartenders like Dale DeGroff, that a renewed focus on fresh ingredients in the bar trade was revitalized. Tapped, in the mid 1980’s, by famed restaurateur Joe Baum to helm the stick at New York City’s newly renovated Rainbow Room, DeGroff was given the monumental task of creating the first bar menu in the city with entirely fresh ingredients. After months of exhausting research, Degroff succeeded, and modern bartending was born. For a great read, check out Craft of the Cocktail, here, or Degroff’s website, here.

So what’s so bad about sour mix anyway? Why go through all the trouble to squeeze lemons and limes? Why not just squirt some pre-mixed yellow-tinged lemon water from a soda gun at the bar? It’s got sweetness mixed in, so that saves another step, and we’re three deep on a Saturday night, so who cares? Surprisingly, almost everyone who tastes one next to the other. A fresh sour is remarkable for its crisp acidity, clean sweetness, and ability to refresh as well as whet the appetite, not suppress it. And just like the slow food movement and farm to fork dining proved, over the last decade, how fresh is best, a quick glance at the label on a box of commercial sour mix may help me do the same. Sorry, Al, whomever you are….

sourmix

Confused about what these ingredients are? Leave it to me:

Sodium Benzoate: a food preservative, a salt derived from benzoic acid. When you combine an acid and a base, you get a salt. Mix sodium hydroxide with benzoic acid, you get sodium benzoate. (Sodium Hydroxide plus hydrochloric acid equals sodium chloride (table salt), and so on.) Sodium Benzoate works very well at killing bacteria, yeast, and fungi. It will only work in a high acid environment, where the pH of a food is less than 3.6. It does not occur naturally in foods. Government regulations allow no more than .1% by weight to be added to products. If you combine ascorbic acid (vitamin C) with sodium benzoate, you get benzene, a known carcinogen. The leading cause of benzene in soft drinks is due to the decarboxylation (removing a carboxyl group, releasing CO2 gas) of benzoic acid in the presence of vitamin C. You may be surprised to hear Coca-Cola is phasing out sodium benzoate from many of its drinks, but not Fanta and Sprite. As of now, Coke Zero still contains potassium salt (a form of benzoate.) So… what if the bartender mixes orange juice into your cocktail containing sour mix? Cancer anybody?

Potassium Sorbate: produced by neutralizing potassium hydroxide with sorbic acid, this colorless salt is very soluble in water, and used to inhibit molds and yeasts, and increase shelf life in foods and soft drinks.

Sodium Hexametaphosphate: scientific theory suggests that the antimicrobial effects of sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, can be greatly enhanced with the addition of polyphosphates, such as sodium hexametaphosphate. It behaves synergistically with preservatives to allow manufacturers to reduce the amount of the other ingredients in the system, while maintaining the same shelf life. Think of it as a steroid for preservatives.

Sodium Citrate: The sodium salt of citric acid, it has a salty, sour taste. It gives club soda, and most lemon-lime soft drinks, their sour and salty flavors. It increases the tartness of foods, and aids in preservation. It is nearly identical to citric acid, in that citrate is simply the form in which citric acid exists at neutral acidity, and is combined with sodium, which separates from citrate in water. This is why you get a salt and sour flavor.

Citric Acid: a small molecule made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. All acids taste sour, but not all acids are edible. Citric acid is both acidic and edible. It can be added to foods to preserve, impart a sour flavor, emulsify fats, prevent crystallization of sucrose, or in place of fresh lemon juice. While citric acid tastes sour, it doesn’t taste like lemons. It may be easier to demonstrate the difference using vitamin C, as an example, compared with orange juice. Help yourself to a supplement bottle’s worth of vitamin c, in a form that dissolves in your mouth. Taste the orange? Now drink some 100% fresh squeezed OJ. Taste the same?

Pectin: a naturally occurring polysaccharide, found in berries, and other fruits. When heated with sugar, it causes thickening, characteristic of jellies and jams.

Quillia (or Quillaia, if you want to spell it correctly): the milled, inner bark, or small stems and branches of the soapbark. Also called China bark extract, Murillo bark extract, Panama bark extract, and Quillai extract. It can be taken for cough, bronchitis, or applied to skin to treat sores, athlete’s foot, and itchy scalp. It can be found in dandruff-fighting shampoos, as well as hair tonic, and even in douches for vaginal discharges. Yum! So how is it used in sour mix? As a foaming agent. The same application used in fire extinguishers. In South America, quillaia bark is used to wash clothes. It works because of a high concentration of tannins, very astringent chemicals. They thin mucus, making it easier to cough up. As a plus, one website claims quillaia contains a chemical that may help stimulate the immune system.

You’re on your own with the sweetener blend, the sour flavor, and the cloud #whatever. I don’t think there’s much more to say about this. Still want this crap in your drink? Only together, bartenders and customers, can we demand better from ourselves and others. Revolutions are slow, but then they gain critical mass and eventually become the status quo. In the next post, we will explore how the revolution began, how it’s made some mistakes along the way, and how we can work together to make it perfect.

In closing, allow me to offer two recipes that can aid in your development of proper technique, and will lead to a tasty cocktail every time. Substitute different liquor for different flavor profiles, and once you master this, start to swap out the sugar and the triple sec for other sweeteners, both non-alcoholic and liqueurs.

The Sour

  • 2oz – 2¼ oz Spirit (Whiskey, Gin, Vodka, etc)
  • 3/4oz – 1oz freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
  • .5oz 2:1 (2 parts sugar to 1 part water) non-alcoholic simple syrup
  • Shake with ice and double strain up into a chilled cocktail glass, or over freshly cracked ice in a rocks glass (Some say pouring over ice makes this a Fix)
  • I like to garnish whiskey sours with a lemon twist, gin and vodka sours with a lemon wheel, and rum sours (daiquiris) with a lime wheel. Lime twists can have overpowering flavor profiles. You might reserve one for a more assertive, funky rum like Ron Zacapa 23yr.

The Daisy (Brandy for a Sidecar, Tequila for a Margarita, etc)

  • 2oz Spirit
  • 3/4oz – 1oz freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
  • 3/4oz – 1oz triple sec or curacao (Cointreau, Triplum, or other brand)
  • Shake with ice and double strain up into a chilled cocktail glass, or over freshly cracked ice in a rocks glass.
  • Take note of garnish for specific drink. Salt rim for a margarita, sugar for a sidecar. Lime for a margarita, orange for a sidecar.

Slainte!

The Negroni – Perfection in an Imperfect World

Photo: Adam Patrick

Photo: Adam Patrick

The year is 1919. Italy is on the brink of Fascist revolution. The war has left over half a million Italians dead, the country in massive debt, and inflation soaring. The promises made by the Triple Entente of Britain, France, and Russia are largely ignored by the Treaty of Versailles, leaving the Italians humiliated, politically. The country is in turmoil; factions of nationalists, communists, and those loyal to Benito Mussolini struggle to gain a foothold in power. The future for the Italian people is unquestionably uncertain.

The city is Florence, the spot is Caffe Casoni, and the bartender manning the stick is Fosco “Gloomy” Scarselli. As Count Camillo Negroni enters the café, the political, social, and economic chaos of the day is the furthest thing from his mind. He sits down at a corner table, scans the room, and motions for Scarselli to come, with a slight wave of his hand. As the barman approaches, he never anticipates the importance of what is about to transpire. Italy, in the midst of bedlam, is about to contribute something unintentionally remarkable to the annals of history.

Camillo Negroni, in addition to being a count, was a noted playboy, gambler, socialite, and notorious drinker. He was born in Florence in 1868 to an Italian father and English mother, both of prominent aristocracy. Having fathered an illegitimate child, he fled Italy and settled in the United States, eventually becoming a cattle rancher somewhere south of Saskatchewan, Canada. He spent time in London, among other places, acquiring a taste for good, dry gin. He returned to Italy in 1912, and eventually was allowed back into Florence, where he became a regular face in bars around the city. He would break daily for a drink at the Grand Hotel, and on the way would stop to see his friend, one Fosco Scarselli, proprietor at the Caffe Casoni.

The Americano was a popular cocktail in Italy at the time, perhaps the quintessential Italian aperitivo. It’s a fine drink, indeed, but lacks a bit of “kick” as one might say. Its roots lay in two popular liquors of the day, Campari and Vermouth. Gaspare Campari, already a master drink-maker by the ripe age of 14, developed his eponymous liqueur, and began selling it at his own café in the 1860’s. Containing more than 60 ingredients, including herbs and botanicals like orange peels, rhubarb, wormwood, pomegranate, quinine, clove, and ginseng, Campari is big, bold, and bitter, the perfect drink to stimulate the appetite. Combined with Italian vermouth, herbaceous and sweet, and lightened up with a bit of sparkling water, the drink was graceful and refreshing, perfect for relaxed café life. The Americano was essentially a “long” version of a Milano-Torino cocktail, which was Campari (from Milan) mixed with Martini & Rossi vermouth (made in Turin). The Milano-Torino, in turn, was a sweetened up, Milanese version of cocktail that mixed Campari with Amaro Cora (a light, sweet, Italian bitters with orange and cinnamon notes.) The origin of the name likely came from American expats who wanted to lighten up the drink a bit with familiar soda water.

It’s doubtful that Camillo knew any of this as he saddled up to his favorite table and waved to his friend Fosco that fateful day in 1919. What’s certain is that the Count wasn’t looking for something light and familiar. He demanded an Americano, but no soda water was to be included. Instead, an equal portion of gin should be substituted, and it should be done immediately. As word of this new, vibrant concoction swept across the city, everyday tipplers began asking for their Americanos in the “Negroni way,” and a phenomenon was born. The Negroni family would go on to found the Negroni Distillerie in Treviso, Italy, and produce a canned ready-to-drink version of the cocktail called Antico Negroni 1919. Orson Welles, while working in Rome on Cagliostro in 1947 described the drink as such, “The bitters are excellent for your liver; the gin is bad for you. They balance each other out.”

The Negroni had its fans in the states, but for the most part lived in Europe, as the black cloud of Prohibition cast its shadow over America. Those bartenders that either didn’t switch over to the non-alcoholic side of the beverage industry, or take part in bootlegging or speakeasy activities during Prohibition likely found work overseas in bars such as Harry’s in Paris. Here, great variations on the Negroni took place, such as the Old Pal and the Boulevardier. While you can find traces of the Negroni and its variants in cocktail books from the mid-20th century, it was the modern craft cocktail revolution that really revived the drink, and for good reason. It’s the perfect cocktail.

The Negroni is perfection, as good a quaff as can be quaffed. For the most part, the best of the classic cocktails all revolve around three ingredients. The Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, The Martinez, the Martini (before bitters escaped the equation), the Sour, the Daisy, and eventually, much later, the Negroni. And when you think about it, they’re all essentially based on the idea of Strong, Bitter/Sour, and Sweet. They’re balanced. No one component runs rampant over the other. But other cocktails are flawed in their approach only by being sometimes unapproachable. The Martini at breakfast? Alas, I admit to it, but try cramming some pancakes and eggs into your stomach after a couple martinis, and you’re in for a world of hurt. A Margarita with dinner? Sure, I suppose if it’s summer, you’re preparing tacos, you know when in Rome and all that. A Manhattan before bed? We’ve all been there, but in no rush to go back. Every one of these drinks has its time and place, just not every time and place. The Negroni is the exception.

You can drink a Negroni at any time of the day, any day of the year, for any reason you like. It works to settle your stomach and increase your appetite. You can drink it with breakfast, you can drink it with lunch, you can drink it at dinner, and you can drink it at two in the morning after your shift at the restaurant. If it’s snowing, a Negroni warms you. If it’s a hot day in August and you’re sitting by the pool, pour yourself a refreshing Negroni. It’s beautiful mix of strong, bitter, and sweet that has no equal and no competition. You can drink it on the rocks or you can drink it up. You can even shake it (gasp!) and it doesn’t lose any of its punch. Almost every bar on the planet has the ingredients to make it, and even if the bartender doesn’t know what they’re doing, the drink is still drinkable. It lends itself to massive interpretations, its variants winning awards for simply substituting one ingredient for another. Like it more bitter? Try Cynar instead of Vermouth. Like it sweeter? How about Aperol for Campari. Like it stronger? Double the Gin. Like it a different color? Use Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano instead of vermouth. Dump the Gin in favor of Whiskey and you have a Boulevardier. Take that and swap the sweet vermouth for dry and you have an Old Pal. It’s a template for simple perfection. Don’t feel like measuring? You can get away with it in this one, I don’t care what anybody says. Of course, not all of these variants are equally perfect, but that’s what makes the Negroni what it is. Perfection leaves you the ability to be imperfect and still be delicious.

The modern cocktail resurgence has proved to have the massive staying power necessary to propel it past a trend. However, as with any culturally relevant anything, there are those who bastardize it. Future posts may dive into the hipster douchiness that has invaded our business on both sides of the bar, but for now it’s important to make note of the fact that the Negroni doesn’t fall victim to irony. Unlike past bastions of imbibing that may have been championed solely for their history, (I’m looking at you The Aviation and The Algonquin; why do people think you taste good?) the Negroni should not be seen as proof that you “get it.” That is to lose the point. The Negroni is the anti-cocktail, the anti-trend. It’s the least intimidating, most accessible drink you can order. If you want the bartender to know you’re a bartender too, order some Fernet. Leave the Negroni to the masses. Let the people come to us and relax, revel, bask in the wonder that is our bar, our home, our temple. Let them be welcomed in and not alienated. This thing is our thing to share and to grow. Let them appreciate what we have worked so hard to change. Let them see what they didn’t know existed. This is the gateway drug, the first rung of the ladder, the point of no return. This is perfection in an imperfect world.

THE NEGRONI

1oz London Dry Gin, 80 proof (Tanqueray, Beefeater)  [Step it up to 1.5oz  Perry's Tot or Martin Miller's Navy Strength]

1oz Campari

1oz Sweet Vermouth (Dolin, Noilly Prat) [Step it to Carpano Antica Formula]

Stir with ice and pour over new ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an orange slice.

THE BITTER END (Adam Patrick)

1.5oz Perry’s Tot Gin

1oz Breckinridge Bitters

1oz Carpano Antica Formula

1/8oz house-made Orange Cardamom Bitters

stir with ice and strain up in a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

 

Slainte!

Manhattan Musings

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Last year, I surprised my father by bringing over the liquor, and necessary equipment, to make Manhattan cocktails when I visited for Christmas dinner. I don’t recall the impetus behind the decision to do this, but when one is talking cocktails, any reason usually suffices. I learned something that night however, which was that my grandparents had apparently been huge Manhattan drinkers. My father recalled, as a child, making my grandparents Manhattans On The Rocks on more than several occasions, pouring liquor from two different bottles over ice in a small glass, never stirring it, and never using bitters. Likely, no garnish as well, a recipe so basic and lacking in technique I can hear your inner mixologist wailing in disapproval. We discussed among those at the table the possible whiskeys and vermouths that could have been used. Although he couldn’t remember the brands, my knowledge of the available liquor in the 50’s and 60’s leads me to believe I was most likely serving my father the best Manhattan he had ever laid eyes on. But, it’s all really quite subjective, isn’t it?

First, some history. The Manhattan predates virtually all of the cocktails we have become familiar with. It’s the granddaddy of the Martini, and the cousin of the Old Fashioned. It stands alone as simultaneously unchanged by time, yet ever-changing, tweaked by bartenders to suit individual tastes, yet never veering too far off the path of original conceptualization. Likely invented in the mid-1800’s, the most popular story of its creation involves an 1874 party thrown at the Manhattan Club in New York City to celebrate the election of newly elected Governor of New York, Samuel Tilden, and the club’s official history claims this. What causes skepticism, however is that Jennie Jerome (Lady Randolph Churchill), Winston Churchill’s mother, was said to be at this party and that the drink was her idea. It has been proven, however, that the fine Lady was actually in England at the time, at the very Christening of young Winston. More likely, is the story told by one William F. Mulhall, a bartender at the Hoffman House in New York in the latter decades of the 19th century, in which he claims, “The Manhattan cocktail was invented by a man named Black, who kept a place ten doors below Houston Street on Broadway in the [eighteen-] sixties – probably the most famous drink in the world in its time.” Personally, I like to credit bartenders with the invention of drinks, not socialites.

Whatever its origin, the drink took hold of the tippling public, and over the years the recipes changed subtly into the drink we are familiar with today. Two parts rye whiskey, one part sweet vermouth, a few dashes of bitters. As bartenders, we often get hung up on recipes, but really our job is all about themes. While it’s important to know why you’re using the ingredients you’ve chosen, the proportions, and the palate of the modern day drinker, more than not a cocktail can be best understood thematically. The Old Fashioned is as much about the idea of slinging back booze as the White Russian is. Every cocktail is designed with the intent to season or change the taste of alcohol from one of unpleasant flavor to one that has been deemed delicious by the recipient. If you want to taste alcohol, you drink alcohol, booze in a glass. Cocktails are another animal altogether. So what then, differs one from the next? If I add absinthe or maraschino liqueur to a Manhattan does it remain a Manhattan? If I served this drink to a customer who ordered a Manhattan, would they look at me as if I had never set foot behind a bar in my life? What if I explained to them that the man we credit as being literally the father of our craft is credited in print in 1887 with this very same recipe? Likely, our weary customer would tell me to stick it and walk out of my bar. But if I named it something else… let’s say the Black Rock Cocktail, would I be on to something? I think we’ve all gotten a bit too uptight. We’re drinking, after all, not splitting the atom.

Author and renowned cocktail historian David Wondrich has it pretty well summed up. As he explains, the Vermouth Cocktail, popular in the mid-1800’s, was something of a lackluster experience, not all that boozy, but profitable to the bar owner in that the customer would likely need several to get tipsy. The Whiskey Cocktail (read: Old Fashioned) was just the opposite. Packed a punch, but knocked you off your stool. The Manhattan was something of a compromise. Boozy and flavorful, yet diluted enough to allow one to maintain his gentlemanly demeanor. If you’re wondering how the Manhattan, with its generally accepted two ounces of whiskey could possibly be weaker than an Whiskey Cocktail with the same amount of liquor, I must explain that Manhattans didn’t always contain higher amounts of whiskey than vermouth. In fact, the earliest recorded recipes had as much as twice as much vermouth to whiskey.

Now, it all starts to come together thematically. The Manhattan isn’t as much about measuring exactly two ounces of whiskey, one ounce of vermouth and a few dashes of bitters, so much as it is about adding vermouth to a Whiskey Cocktail and seasoning it up a bit, or whiskey to a Vermouth cocktail and strengthening that up a bit. If one wanted to add a dash of curacao, or a pinch of maraschino, why not do so? Depending on the vermouth and bitters you choose, will there not be a hint of orange or cherry anyway? And what about absinthe? Last time I checked, both absinthe and vermouth use wormwood and other similar flavoring agents. Theme? Check.

What doesn’t work? If you’re going to flip the proportions and pour two parts vermouth, one part whiskey, you’re going to need a helluva whiskey. Don’t try this with Maker’s Mark or you’re going to end up with a sloppy mess. I recommend Elijah Craig Cask Strength Bourbon, clocking in at 140 proof, or George T Stagg, at a staggering 144 proof. The TSA won’t even allow these whiskeys in a carry-on bag! Sounds good enough to me. But if you’re going the traditional route, and the recipe that has now become the norm is your thing, you’re going to want a nice boozy, spicy rye, and vermouth with some backbone. Skip the bourbon in this version of the drink if you can, and pick up some rye in the 100 proof arena, something like Willet or WhistlePig. Smooth Ambler Rye from West Virginia is another fine option and a little eclectic. Always go with Carpano Antica vermouth when adhering to this formula. If your, or your guest’s preference demands bourbon or something less boozy, let’s say Buffalo Trace or Old Overholt, go with Dolin or Noilly Prat vermouth, so it doesn’t overpower the whiskey. Adjust your bitters to taste. I use Angostura (and lots of it), as do most bartenders, but I’ve had the drink with orange bitters and it’s quite tasty. Older recipes have included Boker’s Bitters, Peruvian Bitters, maraschino liqueur, Chartreuse, absinthe, and a host of other crazy ingredients. Experiment, but don’t forget the theme. When beginning in the bartending trade, it’s always advisable to learn the most basic form of a drink first, master that, and then progress to variants.

On the subject of garnishes, it is generally agreed upon that a cherry should adorn this cocktail in some respect. Please keep that neon-red nonsense for your ice cream sundae, and pick up a jar or two of Luxardo Maraschino cherries, or Filthy Amarena Cherries, the latter being my personal favorite. Early recipes, pre-dating prohibition rarely listed garnishes for the Manhattan, and it wasn’t until later that the cherry was added. Some bartenders prefer a lemon or orange peel in this drink, and I don’t disagree. Carpano Vermouth goes well with an orange peel, and if I’m using a boozy rye, the drink doesn’t suffer for it. I never drop the peel in the glass, however. The cherry’s already in the glass, and we don’t need a fruit salad messing up an otherwise perfect cocktail.

THE MANHATTAN COCKTAIL

2oz WhistlePig 110 Rye

1oz Carpano Antica Vermouth

3-4 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Stir over ice in a mixing glass until very cold, and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with an Amarena cherry.

Slainte!

image: Adam Patrick

The Moscow Mule


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Few spirits can draw dividing lines between bartenders as quickly as vodka. Reviled by some for its boredom and lack of taste, touted by others as a perfectly blank canvas in which to mix other ingredients, no one can argue Vodka’s mass appeal and seemingly endless barrage of advertising. As popular as the spirit has always been in Eastern Europe and Russia, there was a time when Vodka was merely a fledgling industry in the United States, fighting a seemingly impossible uphill battle for market share against more familiar spirits, like whiskey, gin, and rum.

In 1934, Russian ex-pat Rudolph Kunnett began distilling vodka in the United States after purchasing the Smirnoff brand from Vladimir Smirnov. Smirnov had been distilling his eponymous vodka in France, after fleeing Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. Five years later, Kunnett sold the company to John G Martin of G.F. Hueblein, a company famous for its A1 steak sauce, as well as (among other things) a line of bottled cocktail mixers. Martin, however, found difficulty in marketing Smirnoff vodka to American drinkers, almost leading to his termination from the company.

Meanwhile, on the west coast, Jack Morgan, proprietor of the Cock’n’Bull, an olde-English style pub on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, was having trouble selling a surplus of his house ginger beer. Ginger ale was popular at the time in America, and the flavor of ginger beer decidedly too strong for the American palate. As luck would have it, Kunnett and Martin would arrive at the Cock’n’Bull for drinks and dinner, and strike up a conversation with Morgan. Morgan’s girlfriend at the time, Ozaline Schmidt, had inherited a large copper factory from her father upon his death, and had been having some trouble finding buyers for her massive inventory, one product of which was copper drinking mugs. Someone in the group thought to combine a trifecta of bad fortune into one of the most iconic drinks of the 20th century. They added 2oz of Smirnoff vodka, a squeeze of lime, and Morgan’s ginger beer over ice in one of Schmidt’s mugs, and a legend was born. Though Martin later claimed credit for the invention, I put my money on Wes Price, head bartender at the Cock’n’Bull for actually inventing the drink. He later laid claim to the Moscow Mule, as well, stating, “I just wanted to clean out the basement!”

The onset of the United States’ involvement in World War Two put the Moscow Mule on hiatus for five years, as all alcohol production went towards the war effort. By 1946, however, Martin was back at it, peddling his vodka and his cocktail to bars across the country. In 1947, Martin acquired a Polaroid camera, which had only just been invented. At each bar he would stop at to sell his vodka, he would take two pictures of the barman holding the bottle of Smirnoff in one hand, and the Moscow Mule in the other. One picture he would leave at the bar, while the second he would show to a competitor down the street, ensuring the competitive juices of the new barkeep would convince him to buy a product that another bar was selling.

It was marketing genius. Between 1947 and 1950, sales of Smirnoff vodka tripled, as well as doubled again by 1951. It didn’t hurt that the Hollywood Elite were flocking to drink the product and its featured cocktail. All wouldn’t stay rosy for vodka, however, as growing resentment towards Communism and all things Russian led bartenders and customers alike to boycott vodka en masse. Smirnoff responded with an aggressive new ad campaign designed to narrow attention on it being an all-American product. Later ads would highlight how it left you “breathless” so that your boss at work would never know you were out to a “Three Martini Lunch.” With focus diverted from the cocktail, the Moscow Mule faded away into cocktail lore, and the Vodka Martini took center stage. Add some sloppy marketing in the 50’s and 60’s as well as the arrival of the game-changing Absolut, from Sweden, and Smirnoff itself also faded away. It wasn’t until the craft cocktail revolution of the early 2000’s that the Moscow Mule made its way back into the bartender’s lexicon, and for good reason… its delicious.

A proper Moscow Mule uses 2oz of Vodka, a 1/4oz-1/2oz freshly squeezed lime juice, poured over ice and topped with ginger beer. Some recipes include simple syrup, as Rose’s Lime Juice was used for a dark period in the mid-century. Adjust sweetness to your personal tastes, but please don’t use Rose’s. I’ll cry. Cock’n’Bull sells a set complete with copper mugs and eponymous ginger beer, a product that even Oprah Winfrey said was one of her favorite things. As a final note, there’s a good reason why I believe the drink to have been created by a bartender. In none of my research could I find anyone involved in the drink to be able to explain where the name came from. But, it’s really quite obvious. The “Mule” is, itself, a class of mixed drink. Similar to a “Buck” it is simply any liquor mixed with lime and ginger beer. The Dark ‘n Stormy is another example. Only a bartender would know enough to not only name the drink properly, but disguise his intentions from non-bartenders.

So let’s raise a glass to Wes Price, and his famous cocktail, The Moscow Mule!
Slainte!

photo courtesy of http://www.jamesandeverett.com/

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