The Bar in the Home

Living Room Bar

Is the best food in the world being served in restaurants?  I imagine that the answer would vary, depending upon whom you ask.  But to those with fond memories of the food that their grandmothers and other family members made, restaurant food might not be the clear winner – regardless of hype and price point.  Though it can play a role in food culture development in many capitalist economies, the restaurant industry has rarely established any major part of any food culture.  It tends to take existing food culture, modify it, hype it, and sell it.  This is not always to advantage.  Consider the Hamburger sandwich as evolved for fast service at drive-through restaurants – or the fine cuisine so pretentious that it is served with intricate instructions as to how it should be eaten.

Is there any reason it should be any different with drinks?

Average Americans forgot their own mixed-drinks culture  as a result of both prohibition and its repeal.  That includes bartenders.  It is true that many bar owners are cashing in on the image of doing things the traditional, pre-prohibtion way – but they and their bartenders often have only a slightly better idea of what that should mean than do their customers.

Many industry professionals come to my courses, and I am always happy and humbled to play my own little part in pushing for tradition and excellence in professionally-made drinks.  But, one of the greatest joys I get from what I do is when (as happens in virtually every class session) someone asks if there is somewhere they can reliably get the drink they have just made using traditional American mixology (the understanding thereof – not just the following of an old recipe) and have it be as good as they find the one in their hand to be.  I smile and say, “Yes, at your house.”

The Sidecar – a Tumbler instead of a Motorcycle?

SP 11

It was standard in American mixological tradition to make mixed drinks of one 2 fl-oz. jigger of total liquor (whether from one bottle or more).  This was true until prohibition, and remained mostly true even for some time afterwards.

The traditional cocktail goblet was designed to hold a cocktail – being a 2 fl-oz. jigger of total liquor with a slight amount of bitters and sugar, and the amount of water that would be added while stirring or shaking with ice.  Though the later standard capacity for the cocktail goblet would become 4½ fl-oz., pre-prohibition cocktail goblets often held only 3 fl-oz.

Sour goblets held more than cocktail goblets because sours were made with the same 2 fl-oz. jigger of total liquor, but with a greater volume of other ingredients added to it than in the case of cocktails.

Though it is elementally a sour, the Sidecar was called a cocktail.  Giving it the superficiality of a cocktail meant serving it in a cocktail goblet.  By the 1920’s it seems the image of the cocktail had become more important than its classical definition – or the standard of making mixed drinks from a jigger (2 fl-oz.) of total liquor.  Note that in the above recipe, the amount for each of the ingredients is ⅙ of a gill.  A gill is 4 fl-oz., or ½ cup.  That makes ⅙ of a gill equivalent to ⅔ fl-oz., or ⅓ jigger.

I find it probable that the author of the above recipe used substandard amounts for the liquid ingredients so that the total volume of the pre-shaken drink would be 2 fl-oz.  Even though the recipe only contains 1⅓ fl-oz. of liquor, the 2 fl-oz. total liquid volume of the recipe would fit the cocktail goblet, even after shaking with ice.

It is interesting to consider that if, before the above book were written, the original creator of the Sidecar used a full jigger of total liquor in it (as per standard practice at the time of the drink’s birth), he might well have made the drink with the same amounts as are common today: 1 fl-oz. of the brandy, 1 fl-oz. of the triple-sec Curaçao liqueur (that’s what Cointreau is), and 1 fl-oz. of the lemon juice.  That would mean that after shaking the drink with ice, it would have filled the then-standard-sized cocktail goblet and left some over to be served on the side of the main drink in a small tumbler – hence, perhaps, the ‘sidecar.’

Variety In The Sour Element

Lemon – Citrus limon

Varieties: Eureka Lemon (Citrus limon ‘eureka’), Lisbon Lemon (Citrus limon ‘lisboa’), Ponderosa Lemon (Citrus limon ‘ponderosa’)

There is only one species of true lemon, and it is the default sour ingredient in North American drink-making.  Any bar owner or manager in the U.S.A. will probably think of the lemon first when considering a list of fresh produce that will be needed.

The best lemons for use in the bar are of the Eureka variety that have ripened on the tree that and have never been sprayed with wax or stored under refrigeration.  Unfortunately, most commercially-available lemons are picked green and stored cold to prevent wastage.  Following demand, the lemons are gas-ripened yellow, waxed, and shipped.  Gas-ripening makes a pretty lemon, but without the same flavor as a tree-ripened lemon.  The wax interferes with the expression of the oils in the zest that is so important to many drinks.  Making refrigerated, gassed and waxed lemons into sherbet for punch is almost pointless.  That is because the oil of the zest never matured on the tree, was counter-acted by refrigeration, and then was sealed in by wax.  Most of what will rub off into the sugar is wax and any pollutants that it trapped.

The lemon is an ever-fruiting tree (or shrub) and if you grow your own, you should have some ripe fruit throughout most of the year.  Otherwise, find a vendor in a farmers’ market that sells lemons that are tree-ripened and have no wax.  You should be able to get a good smell of the oils in the zest of a tree-ripened, unrefrigerated, unwaxed lemon just by putting it near your nose.  Don’t be bothered if you find that tree-ripened lemons are often not as uniformly attractive as gas-ripened lemons.

The Lisbon variety of the lemon is sometimes sold in the U.S.A. as the ‘seedless lemon’ and its juice is just slightly more sour than the Eureka variety.  Ponderosa lemons are residentially grown in Southern California, but their grapefruit-sized fruit is almost never commercially sold.  Some consider it less attractive than smaller lemons, but many tasters would have trouble detecting any difference in its juice.

Key Lime – Citrus aurantiifolia

The default sour ingredient in most Latin-American drink-making, and the lime that was most-used in North American drink-making before 1926, is the Key lime.  The Key lime may still be legally marketed in the U.S.A. as the “bartender’s lime.”

In 1926 the Great Miami Hurricane decimated production of Key limes in the U.S.A.  This caused produce sellers to switch to Persian limes from California or Mexico.  But, any reference to limes made in North American, pre-prohibition drink books should be understood as Key limes.

Key limes are noticeably more tart than Eureka lemons, and so sugar amounts set for lemon juice may need to be adjusted when using Key lime juice instead.  The Key lime is so delicious that I use it even for all post-1926 drinks calling for lime – even though it would be more faithful to the origins of those ‘newer’ drinks to use Persian limes.  Since the Key lime yields less juice and has more seeds than does the Persian lime, a little more labor is required.  I believe it is very much worth the effort.

Persian Lime – Citrus latifolia

Common Seedless Variety: Bearss lime (Citrus latifolia ‘bearss’)

In English, the word ‘lime’ is used to describe citrus of any species that produces fruit that is preferred unripe.  The Persian lime is an altogether different species than the Key lime.

The Persian lime is now the most common lime in North American drink-making.  Persian limes are more tart than Eureka lemons, though not quite as tart as Key limes.  Persian limes do yield more juice than do Key limes, and the Bearss variety is seedless.  But, the Persian lime’s flavor is simply not as good as that of the Key lime.  Have you ever heard of anyone preferring Persian lime pie over Key lime pie?


The cranberry is also an ingredient in the sour element.  There are actually four species of cranberries.  Their Latin species names are Vaccinium erythrocarpum, Vaccinium macrocarpon, Vaccinium microcarpum, and Vaccinium oxycoccos.

Cranberry juice is not normally consumed pure.  Products called cranberry juice are usually one of two different things:

Cranberry-ade (a.k.a. cranberry juice ‘cocktail’) – cranberry juice diluted with a greater amount of water and sweetened with sugar.

Blended Cranberry Juice – cranberry juice blended with a greater amount of succulent juices (such as apple, grape or pear).  Labels for ‘cranberry juice’ bearing the words “100% juice” indicate a blend of some cranberry juice with a greater amount of succulent juices.

The best choice for mixed drinks is cranberry-ade, so that the main flavor is of the cranberry without other juices.

To make cranberry-ade, dissolve 3/4 cup granulated cane sugar into two cups pure, not-from-concentrate, cranberry juice before adding three-or-more cups pure water.  Stir.  Taste the cranberry-ade and add more sugar or water if desired.  The result should be as good as, or better than, anything sold as “cranberry juice cocktail.”  Keep the cranberry-ade refrigerated.

When cranberry-ade is used in drinks, it technically contains the sour, sweet and weak elements – but it may also be used as if it belonged to the succulent element.


Other sour element ingredients include: mango species that are sour, passion fruit (Passiflora edulis], cashew fruit (Anacardium occidentale), citric acid, acid phosphate, and most vinegar.


Semi-sour Fruit

Meyer Lemon – Citrus meyeri

The Meyer lemon is not a true lemon.  Some consider the Meyer lemon sweet enough to be considered part of the succulent element rather than the sour element.  That is because it is a hybrid between the true lemon (Citrus limon) and the sweet orange (Citrus sinensis).

Coming Soon… Willett’s Aromatic Bitters

Willett's Aromatic Bitters

I am finally quite pleased with the results of this effort.  As cocktail bitters, these answer to the purpose of taming the fumatic harshness of any spirit while adding an exotic accent of flavor.  As medicinal bitters, I will leave it to the drinker to discover their pleasant effects.

The botanical ingredients on the label above are listed in the alphabetical order of their Latin names.  Here are their common English names, and parts used, given in the same order: calamus root, red cinchona bark, common cassia cinnamon buds, true Ceylon cinnamon bark, bitter orange peel, sweet orange peel, cascarilla bark (cascarilla, the shrub, not the silly powdered eggshell used to fake it by modern pretenders of black magic), great yellow gentian root, nutmeg seed, nutmeg mace, heal-all leaf, apricot kernels, clove buds.

The current batch will be shared out to a select few.  After that it will be a personally-handled, special-order item available in the Los Angeles area, only.