The Retro Cocktail & Post-Prohibition Drinks

Bartenders, especially those involved in the “cocktail” world, understand the significant impact that Prohibition has had on the industries surrounding alcoholic beverages. Many consumers, however, are unaware of that impact. National Prohibition was rooted in political and religious belief systems, that sought to temper a vice, and legislate morality to a nation. Any time a product, that is in high consumer demand, is made illegal, a black market is created. Crime increases, violence increases, and eventually, the public demands action. It didn’t take long for the ridiculous idea to be repealed, and when Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933, the nation joined together in a collective sigh of relief, and a toast to better times ahead.

Treatises have been written, documentaries have been filmed, and many a scholar has spoken about the nearly decade and a half that The United States of America suffered under the tyranny of Prohibition. What is sorely missing, however, is a definitive study of the decades following its repeal. And, maybe, that is because not much is ever said, outside of our small circle of bartenders, about what life in this industry was like before Prohibition was passed.

In 2007, cocktail historian (yes, that’s a thing) David Wondrich published the book, “Imbibe,” about the history of the bartending profession, and the development of mixed drinks, up to around the time of the early twentieth century. Since then, hundreds of books have been written about the early times of the bar business, and many others containing massive amounts of recipes from that time. The history of the bartender, as a professional, career-minded individual, is no longer disputed. And there’s an equal amount of reference one can obtain about the so-called “Cocktail Revolution” of the latter half of the same century. Many people credit Dale Degroff and his time at New York City’s “The Rainbow Room,” as the start of the resurgence. It may seem pedestrian today, when one can order a margarita, with fresh squeezed lime juice, in LaGuardia Airport. But during Dale’s time, fresh juice was not only taboo, it was essentially unavailable. It took his pioneering vision, and a plethora of disciples, to reinvigorate our industry, and essentially take it back to its roots.

The result of this, thirty years later, is the emergence of folks like me, who can, again, make a career out of mixing, and talking about, alcoholic beverages. All over the country, cocktails are again not just being taken seriously, but are becoming a necessity in competition with other on-premise establishments. A restaurant is now doing a disservice to its clientele, if the beverage program is not on par with the one across the street. Owners, chefs, and managers, are realizing the need for talent not just behind the bar, but around it as well. Talented bartenders are now expected to not just know how to build and stir a Manhattan, but how to make it profitable for the business to sell, in the first place. We have truly come full circle.

But, there’s a large portion of this story that didn’t make it into the proverbial dossier. What about the five decades between the end of Prohibition, and Dale Degroff’s legendary rediscovery of the craft? Surely we agree that bartenders still existed during this half of a century, so what were they doing, and why were they doing it? As a group, we collectively call this period the Dark Ages.

It is estimated that at the end of the nineteenth century, there were over 4000 breweries in the United States. By the early 1930’s, there were merely a handful. While there was a strong bump, following repeal, most of the market was controlled by what would become the large “macro” companies, Bud, Miller, and Coors. By 1979, there were a total of 44 breweries operating in the United States. The same can be said for distilleries. Prohibition nationalized all of the distilled alcohol produced in the country, and the only alcohol that could be sold to the public was marketed as elixirs for “health benefits.” This had the effect of consolidating all of the distilled spirits under the control of a few large companies, as well. Moving into the war and post-war eras, alcoholic beverages followed the same mega-industrial trends as food. The same family that heated up TV dinners for supper, and ate Sara Lee cheesecake for dessert, also drank Smirnoff vodka, and Seagrams Whiskey. A few major brands dominated the market, and the demand for “mixers” was minimal. A bar could be expected to carry a dry and a sweet vermouth, and maybe some “schnapps,” but the days of artisanal Crème de Violette, were over.

So what happened? TGI Fridays happened. Applebee’s happened. Chili’s happened. And the club scene in the large cities happened. While drinks like the Manhattan, and Old Fashioned, had survived Prohibition (at least in a somewhat bastardized form) drinks like the Martini were now of national relevance. One need only to catch a few episodes of Mad Men, to see how the vodka martini began to be the American drink of choice. And, like all good, trends, everyone latched onto it. The public began to move away from drinks that tasted overly like alcohol. Soon, every mixed drink served “up” in a coupe-typed glass, was being called a “martini.” The drink took on the shape of the glassware, rather than the historical recipe for the drink. The style of the 1970’s led to the coupe taking on a more angular, triangle shape, and the “martini glass” was born (I’ll leave the subject of wine coolers to a different post.)

Every generation eschews the practices of the previous one. Soon, brown liquor drinks, like the Manhattan, were being passed over for neon-colored martinis, of various flavors. Large liquor manufacturers were quick to develop product lines of artificially-colored and flavored liqueurs that were meant to approximate real mixing ingredients of the past. You can still see this today, with examples like Hiram Walker, Bols, and Dekuyper, all having various pros and cons to their formulas. The Apple Martini, The Chocolate Martini, The Pineapple Upside Down Cake Martini…. All of these drinks were born in the fern bars and clubs of the 1970’s and 1980’s. The youth was wild, the hook-up game intense. And things would remain this way until Dale Degroff solved all of the world’s problems at The Rainbow Room. Right? 

Let’s start from the premise that nothing’s changed. Ever. There have always been two people in the world. One, those who want to drink alcohol, and love the taste of alcohol. And two, those who want to get drunk, and don’t love the taste of alcohol. If you don’t want to drink alcohol at all, I don’t trust you, you’re strange and probably dangerous. But for everyone else, you either sip a nice bourbon, or you mix it with ten ounces of Coca-Cola, and drink it through a straw. There’s really no other option.

So, what are cocktails, exactly, other than a way to make an alcoholic ingredient more palatable? Whether its lightly “seasoning” your whiskey with a cube of sugar, and a few dashes of bitters, or drowning raspberry vodka in a pint glass of Sprite, we’re kind of chasing after the same thing, are we not? At the end of the day, if you want a pint of neon green liquid, served in a triangle suitcase, that tastes like an apple Jolly Rancher on steroids, shouldn’t I be just as willing to accept your twelve dollars in return for it, as I would be in any other instance? Let’s face it, making an Apple Martini, and making a Negroni, are only differed by the skill set needed to master either one. If you can make one, and not the other, then I condemn you for not rounding out your talents. If you can spend three minutes crafting a Mahattan, using local, organic, artisanal, overproof Rye, but you can’t get a customer a vodka soda within ten seconds, while a DJ pumps remixed house beats in your ear, then my thoughts are that you’d better work on that. 

At the end of the day, there are no differences in the title ascribed to any of these people. All of them are bartenders, they’re just using different skill sets, depending on the location in which they happen to be working, at the given time. To hear a bartender at a local dive criticize the bartender at an upscale restaurant, or the other way around, is childish, petty, and unnecessary. That being said, there are those who succeed and fail at any of these skill sets. I’ve met incredible bartenders at clubs, and terrible bartenders at world famous cocktail bars, and vice versa. However, the days of the arrogant, dismissive, bartender, who looks down her nose at someone else doing exactly the same job, but in a different way, should be over. We should be holding ourselves more accountable. And I’m looking at you, clubtender who thinks “craft” cocktails are elitist and corny, all while sipping your fresh kale smoothie, that you paid eight dollars for, at the gym. 

The fact is, there were people drinking a multitude of different alcoholic beverages in 1820, and there are people drinking a multitude of different alcoholic beverages now. Our job is to make whatever drink they would like, quickly, efficiently, and consistently, every time, while we continue to push ourselves to be pioneers in our field, develop new recipes and new techniques, and learn how to increase sales, and save money. We owe this responsibility to our business, our industry, and ourselves.

Cheers!

The Cosmopolidrop (Chris Faber, Lot No. 3, Bellevue, Washington)

  •  1.5oz Vodka
  •  .5oz Cointreau
  •  .75oz Spiced Cranberry Syrup
    • Cover fresh cranberries with water in a saucepan.
    • Add cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg
    • Simmer until cranberries pop, and flavors are integrated
    • Strain solids and mix with an equal part of white sugar
  • .75oz Lemon
  • .25oz Unsweetened Cranberry Juice 
  • Shake with ice and double strain up, into a coupe
  • Garnish with a lemon wheel

The Espresso Martini (Adam Patrick, Match 2014 recipe)

  • 1.5oz Vanilla Vodka
  • 1oz fresh, chilled, espresso
  • .5oz Borghetti espresso Liqueur
  • .25oz 2:1 simple syrup
  • ½ an egg white
  • Shake with ice, strain out, dry shake, double strain up, into a coupe
  • Garnish with a lemon peel

Healthy Cocktails (ctbites.com)

Alcohol is a poison. Well, that escalated quickly. But, let’s face it, it’s delicious, we like drinking it, and as long as we are responsible, in its consumption, there’s nothing wrong with a little fun. But, in this new era of gluten-free, non-GMO, organic, fair trade, free-range, everything, trends are making their way into the alcoholic beverage world, as well. And, as the makers of all things cocktail, we need to embrace the fresh and healthy, as well as the indulgent. 

I take the same approach to cocktail design that I take to cooking a meal.Always source, and use, the best ingredients you can. Remember, “garbage in, garbage out.” While pasteurized, from-concentrate, juices are easy to obtain, squeezing, or juicing fresh, is always preferable. But the effort doesn’t stop there. Freshly picked strawberries, grown locally, should be chosen over store-bought. Citrus can be easily found in the supermarket, but a local market, or small distributor, will always have fresher, more vibrant products. A good rule of thumb is to think small, and work your way larger. Using fruits and foods in season, will always lend a better product, than not. Seasonal cocktail menus (as well as food menus,) at restaurants and bars, change seasonally for this reason. A strawberry margarita looks out of place on January’s drink list, but lands right at home in July.

Being health-conscious doesn’t end with mixers, however. The alcohol, itself, must be of the highest quality, and this doesn’t inherently mean spending more money. Plenty of companies have hopped on the bandwagon of using sustainable grains or fruit in their distillate, and many others refrain from adding artificial colors or flavorings to their products. Natural or raw sugar, in liqueurs, is always preferable to corn syrup or refined sugars, Buying your booze local, from small, independent, distilleries, not only benefits the local economy, but these producers tend to use local ingredients, of high quality, themselves. I would caution against purchasing any product solely because it is made locally, if the quality of the product is not up to snuff. The highest bar should always be of quality first, and locale second. Keep in mind, many “locally-made” products are simply sourced from large corporate manufacturers, and bottled locally. Don’t be fooled, but remember that all things being equal, err on the side of local.

All of that being said, drink responsibly. Setting aside the fact that ethanol is, literally, empty calories, over-indulgence places unnecessary strain, and duress, on your body. It can also lead to emotional stress, as the ramifications complicate your life. Remember, that we live to enjoy, not to destroy, and that starts with your own personal choices, and ends with a better, more emotionally mature, society.

Here are two fresh fruit cocktails, designed to invigorate your mind, body, and soul. 

The Rathbone

  •  2oz Cucumber-Basil Juice
  •  2oz Uncle Val’s Gin
  •  .75oz Sencha Green Tea Syrup
  • .75oz Lime Juice
  • Shake with ice, and double strain into a coupe.

(To make the cucumber-basil juice, use an electric juicer, and juice one handful of fresh basil for every one, unpeeled, English cucumber. Mix the resulting juice with an equal part of filtered water)

(To make the syrup, simply brew an extra strong batch of Sencha green tea – steep for about 15 minutes – and add an equal part of white superfine sugar)

Watermelon Margarita

  • 1.5oz Blanco 100% Agave Tequila (Milagro works well)
  • 1.5oz Fresh Watermelon juice
  • .75oz Lime Juice
  • .5oz Luxardo Triplum Triple Sec
  • A dash of light agave syrup
  • Shake with ice, and dump all contents into a chilled, salted, glass.
  • Garnish with a slice of lime.

Happy Valentine’s Day

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It is widely acknowledged that the man known as Saint Valentine lived, was martyred, and was buried, in the North of Rome, sometime during the third century. Different Christian churches remember his life in different ways, and, sometimes, on different dates. But, like most holidays observed in the United States of America, history plays little, if any, role in how we celebrate the occasion. The account proves unimportant, the reality unnecessary. Our western culture has a way of rewriting history, taking what reality has given us, and exchanging it for commercial fodder. Rather than celebrate the life of a man, who clearly had an impact on the world, we’re convinced we need to prove our commitments to loved ones. How did that happen?

The hospitality business gives us a different perspective on holidays. It’s the duty of every restaurant employee, manager, and owner, to set their own lives aside, and work towards the enjoyment of others. Valentine’s Day is a holiday that floods restaurants with customers, not just on that day, but sometimes all weekend. It allows us the privilege of seeing many sides of many people, and those experiences have made me think differently about what the meaning of “love” is. Is love really boxes of chocolate, teddy bears, and roses? In a way, those things are nice reminders of our feelings for others, but the sentiment can’t stop there. I dislike, inherently, the idea that there is a day dedicated to proving to others that we care about them. Is it not a condemnation of our culture that we’ve monetized love? We’ve allowed the term to be warped into a feeling of nervous placation. Inevitably, within a relationship, one person’s expectations will fail to be met, and the other’s feelings will be invalidated. I see it dozens of times, every year, just during the meal that said couple is enjoying, in the restaurant. The interactions are telling. So how do some people figure this out? How have some couples avoided the pressure to spend money to prove their affections? The good relationships in our lives require constant communication, but if that communication stems from a fundamentally flawed foundation, then you’ll only be shouting at a wall.

Ask yourself this: how can I be a better everything? How can I be a better version of myself? Don’t I owe those, that love me, the gift of self-reflection, honesty, and personal growth? Isn’t it my responsibility to be fully invested in my emotional, physical, and spiritual, development? Have I taken the time to develop a strong moral character? Do I have the unflinching courage to stand for what I believe is right, as well as an open mind to allow for evolution of those beliefs? Don’t I owe it to myself, as well as my loved ones, to invest in my own human capital, to continue to adapt to a changing culture and economy? Have I accepted personal responsibility for all of my actions, good, as well as bad? Don’t I have an innate obligation to consider all of this, for the good of myself, and for the good of all of those I have, or will have a relationship with? Imagine if everyone started the day, every morning, by considering these questions. Imagine moving forward, through life, with these goals in mind. Imagine if everyone else posited the same things. We might find that there are 364 other days in the year to show love and affection to others.

This Valentine’s Day, as you inevitably end up at your favorite restaurant, surrounded by a sea of “tables for two,” remember that every one of the people, working to ensure your night is perfect, also has friends, family, and loved ones, who are waiting much longer, to appreciate their company. Remember that everyone around us deserves respect, and love, and always appreciate those who give of themselves, so that the rest of us can enjoy our lives.

Here is a cocktail to appreciate, and enjoy not only the company of others, but the romanticism, as well.

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Farewell, My Lovely

  • 1.5oz New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1.5oz Tanqueray
  • .75oz Pampelmousse
  • .5oz Lime Juice
  • 4 dashes Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters

Shake and double strain up, into a coupe

Garnish with a Grapefruit peel

January CTBITES.COM Article

Egg Nog (Jeffrey Morgenthaler version)

Behind The Bar is a new column from bartender Adam Patrick who has graced the bars of venues such as Walrus & Carpenter, Luxe, Match and Can Tiin. He will explore trends, recipes and the cocktail culture from both the front as well as behind the bar. 

One of my favorite movie quotes of all time is, “I won’t tell the story the way it happened, I’ll tell it the way I remember it.” It’s from the late-nineties film adaptation of Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. Ethan Hawke delivers the line in the opening monologue.

There’s something about nostalgia that adds a touch of humanity to our lives. The real world, the world we exist in day to day, can be overwhelming and unforgiving. Take your job, your family obligations, traffic jams, mortgage, credit card bills, your dog destroying your new carpet, and view it all in aggregate, and things can steam roll out of control quickly. And yet, when we look at the past, we find it difficult to remember the mundane, the run-of-the-mill, even though those experiences dominate our lives. Sure, we can generally recall tragedy, or loss, but more than not it’s memories of our childhood, or a long lost love, or a favorite pet, that we gaze back at longingly. This type of nostalgia permeates our culture, and burrows into our soul. I find New England nostalgia to be the most memorable of all.

Hot Buttered, Apple Cider Spiced AbsintheThe richness of history, in New England, is as poignant as its traditions. Memories of driving through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, in mid-autumn, call to mind a rainbow of painted leaves, set to the backdrop of cerulean blue skies, and fleecy clouds. Summers at Block Island recall dreams of flip flops and lemonade, cold beer, and scantily-clad men and women throwing caution to the wind. Winter is especially significant, as the crisp chill of the Thanksgiving breeze is quelled by the warmth of a family gathering around the table for a hearty meal. The bustle of holiday shopping is eased by the opening of presents under the tree. The year’s first snowfall may intrude angrily on your morning commute, but children lay in bed, the night before, begging the morning to bring adventures of sled rides and snowmen. The hanging of ornaments, and lights on the tree, is eclipsed only by the richness of the eggnog shared afterward, in celebration. Perhaps, it is this time of year that is the most distinctly New England (and the most human) of all.

As sure as I am that this part of the country is as rooted in nostalgia as any place on the planet, I’m equally as confident that there is no other physical location more inherently “New England” than the town pub. What could be more romantic than fighting to open the heavy wooden door, grasping at its wrought-iron handle, through slippery mittens encrusted with snow, only to worm inside through the pitiless wind, and land shattered onto the handsome respite of the four-legged stool? The objective is as clear as the day is long: give me something to warm me up. While the answer to that plea is sometimes as simple as a welcoming smile, a drink shared amongst friends becomes the memory that will lay the seed for future comfort, the standard by which all other experiences will be measured.

The “cocktail culture” has its roots in colonial America. This country literally coined the term “Cocktail”…there was a proclivity for alcoholic beverages. Colonists brought the recipes for such modern-day esoteric concoctions as syllabubs, rattle-skulls, possets, and sangarees from the Old World. But, in the winter, there were only a few potions that did the trick. The most famous of these is theHot Toddy, and an equally popular recipe is Eggnog. Modern day bartenders have extended rifts on classic drinks that, while tuned to contemporary palates, pay homage to those that have come before.

The following recipes show reverence to these drinks, while slightly twisting them in a direction that does justice to the original intent, and are both inherently New England, and equally progressive. The eggnog recipe is Morgenthaler’s original, and is the standard that all others will be judged. The other two are standard-bearers of the first order. The hot toddy originated in Scotland, it’s essentially a hot old-fashioned, and is considered a folksy cure for flu-type symptoms. My interpretation adds tea, in place of water, for a flavorful kick. The final drink is a twist on hot-buttered rum, with absinthe in place of the rum, and fresh New England apple cider in place of the hot water. I absolve myself of responsibility for the elicit pleasure you receive from the imbibing of these beverages. But, above all, rejoice, reimagine, and remember. 

Egg Nog (Jeffrey Morgenthaler version)

In a home blender (commercial versions will cook the egg) combine the following, allowing 30 seconds of blending between the addition of each subsequent ingredient.

  •  2 large eggs
  •  3 oz (by volume) superfine or baker’s sugar (NOT powdered!)
  •  ½ tsp freshly-grated nutmeg
  •  2 oz brandy
  •  2 oz spiced rum (I use Sailor Jerry’s)
  •  6 oz whole milk
  •  4 oz heavy cream

Pour into a glass, grate additional nutmeg on top.

Hot Toddy

In a pre-heated mug combine 

  1. 2 oz. Jameson Black Label Irish Whiskey,
  2. ¾ oz. Honey Syrup (1:1 Water & Honey)
  3. ¾ oz. Lemon Juice 
  4. 4 dashes of Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters
  5. Add 4 oz. of Earl Grey Tea

Stir and enjoy!

Hot Buttered, Apple Cider Spiced Absinthe

  1. Make a batter of equal parts by volume Butter, Brown Sugar, and White Sugar
  2. Add a spoonful of the batter to a pre-heated mug.
  3. Add 1.5 oz. Absinthe
  4. Top with Spiced Cider

(Spiced Cider: Heated in a crock pot with cinnamon sticks, allspice, nutmeg, and star anise)

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 part Ginger Juice
  • 1 part Lemon Juice
  • 1 part 2:1 Simple Syrup
  • 5 parts Distilled Water (or bottled)
  • Taste and adjust if necessary

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, and a little simple syrup if u like it sweeter
  • Float 1.5oz 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!

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