A Jigger of Good Sense

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Until the Volstead act, and for some time after, the standard serving of liquor per order was the jigger, or two fluid-ounces.  If the liquor were to be made into a mixed drink, it was still made of a jigger of liquor.  If there were more than one liquor in the drink, the total would still be a jigger.  That meant that the cocktail goblet below would hold both the Brandy Cocktail and the Dundorado Cocktail (or Manhattan, Martini, etc.) to virtually the same fill point — the volume of which it was designed for.

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Other types of drinks require other types of glassware, but can be found in standardized volume per type of drink.  Maintaining the jigger as total lets any individual drink within the same type fit the appropriate vessel.

The jigger is why American bar-tenders of yore never bothered with trying to remember sets of willy-nilly amounts for liquor in drinks.  They spent more mental energy on everything else going on in a drink.  This is why they were more aware of what to do with two fluid-ounces of liquor to get the desired character for any particular type of drink.

If splitting the jigger into two equal parts (of one fluid-ounce each) did not satisfy the taste of the customer, other splits of the jigger could be used.

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Anyone who can’t find a satisfying multiple-liquor proportion within two fluid-ounces [60 ml.] is just being dull-witted.

Why not teach bar-tenders the tradition that a drink shall contain two fluid-ounces of total liquor, and that they should proportion multiple liquors according to the type of drink and the presence of other types of ingredients, rather than hand them a couple of dozen recipes and ask them to memorize them?  The total amount of whiskey and vermouth wine in a Manhattan Cocktail should be two-fluid-ounces , and where within the jigger one draws that line is like done-ness in steak — a matter of preference.

Why not encourage bar-tenders to become intimate with actual mixology?  The traditional approach of a jigger of total liquor per drink makes that a lot easier to focus on different types of drinks rather than memorizing their recipes.

Why give me a large Manhattan Cocktail for $17 with so much liquor in it that it strains the work of the bitters?  Why give me a large Manhattan Cocktail for $17 that will get warm before I can finish it?  Why not give me a traditionally-sized Manhattan Cocktail for $10 that will stay cold long enough for me to finish it — and leave me willing and able to try more drinks per visit?

Is everyone so hidebound to post-prohibition practices that they cannot see the good business sense in this?

Come on — get the right glassware, make drinks the traditional way, let your bar-tenders learn the old drink intimacy, and make more money by selling more drinks per customer visit.

P.S.  Below are all the measures anyone would ever need to split the jigger all the way down to twelfths, or more.  In addition to the exact-tool splits below, many others can be achieved.  For example, to get a 7:1 split, measure 1/4 pony of a modifying liquor using the 3:1 split pony and pour it from that into the full-sized jigger, and then fill the rest of the jigger with a base liquor.  The possibilities are almost endless.

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Let’s Have a Drink and Talk About It

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In his passage above, Boothby is referring to the fact that the bitters in a cocktail will mitigate the sensation of the fumatic harshness of alcohol, and that the desired nature of a true cocktail is that it should strike the palate as little more than a tamed version of the alcoholic product(s) it is made from.  This is actual mixology in a way that memorizing a few dozen recipes for so-called ‘classic cocktails’ never will be.  The true cocktail was just one type of the many types of mixed drinks intimately understood by American bar-tenders and drinkers of yore.

Boothby probably had no inkling that people would ever mis-read cocktail for mixed drink in his passage, but, the word has gathered a lot of cultural baggage since then.

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We can see that, like the TWA menu he encountered, even Fussell was prone to forget himself.  He suggests that the impulse toward fake elegance would cause the middle class to say, “Let’s discuss it over drinks.”  He seems to have failed to think fully in the fake-elegant way of the middle-class and has forgotten to abandon drink in favor of cocktail – even though that is exactly the conversion he suggests in the first passage.  The more completely fake-elegant saying would be: “Let’s discuss it over cocktails.”

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Think of this when, after pointing out that a drink is not a cocktail according to traditional mixology, you are told by some bar creature: “Cocktails have changed.”

True cocktails still exist in the original mixological sense.  They include the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail, the Sazerac (or Zazarack) Cocktail, and, since there is sugar in vermouth wine, the Camparinete (a.k.a. Negroni) Cocktail or the Manhattan Cocktail.

It’s not that cocktails have changed so much as that fake elegance has taken up the word cocktail – and has made it almost meaningless.

If julep had been the drink-word taken up by middle-class fake elegance, we would today have julep napkins, julep dresses, julep waitresses,  julep specialists, julep books, julep parties, Tales of the Julep, craft juleps, julep bars, julep culture, the julep renaissance and the Museum of the American Julep.  Yes, that is how ridiculous all of those phrases sound to me with the word cocktail in them instead.

Several years ago, in an online forum, someone indicated to me that, while he understood the original mixological meaning of the word cocktail, he saw no problem with using it to mean mixed drink.  He then added, “But, Martini is a whole nuther thing [sic].”  To that, my good friend and bar-tender Greg Bryson exclaimed, “It’s exactly the same thing!”

The bar creature on the forum probably didn’t realize that he was only making a distinction in the lexicon of fake elegance rather than in mixology.  In some circles, it seems that the word cocktail can be used with empty, fake elegance, but not the word Martini.

It really can’t be denied that a bar-tender who knows better but still clings to the willy-nilly use of the word cocktail for drinks such as the Whiskey Sour, the Sidecar and endless others (as well as everything related to mixed drinks) is doing nothing more than maintaining fake elegance — and the vocabulary thereof.

The People Who Taught Me

I am sometimes asked by a student which bars I worked in taught me to think of drinks with typological intimacy (instead of memorizing individual recipes).

The truth is that I have never worked for anyone else at any type of bar where anyone else was thinking about that.

Others did teach me, though.  The people who taught me the most were all long dead before I encountered their books.  Here is a list of them, the titles and publication years of their books — with notes on what I found most useful and what I found to be most troubling.  I will list them in order of how valuable, instructive, and important to my own education and work they have been.

#1 – George Kappeler – Modern American Drinks (1895).  Like most pre-prohibition sources, George Kappeler never explains his mixology in his book.  I suspect that it was thought to be commonly understood.  By carefully reading the Kappeler’s drinks and their family names, one can begin to understand the mind and mixology of the author.  Interesting specifics of Kappeler’s book are the clear the difference between the julep and the smash, regular ‘soft’ slings and cocktails versus old-fashioned ones, and fancy versus plain drinks.  Like all other pre-1914 sources that give the drink, Kappeler calls it the New Orleans Fizz and shows no awareness that it was called “Ramos.”  Kappeler’s one weakness, in my opinion, was that he seems to have joined the crowd that ignored that fact that soda water in earlier daisies was only a small amount used to dissolve a little sugar.  His daisies all seem to consider the soda water to be the defining feature, and dump way too much of it in.  One of the only things that Kappeler explains outside of the recipes in his book is that the jigger is two fluid-ounces, being the total amount of liquor in liquor-based mixed drinks.  Reading the recipes of any bar-book of Kappeler’s era will lead to the same conclusion, but it is nice to have it stated explicitly.  If all drinks contain a jigger of total liquor, the cocktail goblet that holds the Whiskey Cocktail will equally-well hold the Manhattan Cocktail.  That aspect of traditional American mixology left bar-tenders’ minds free to focus on what to do with a jigger of liquor to turn it onto any type of drink, rather than just memorizing sets of measurements.

#2 – William Boothby – American Bar-tender (1891) and The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them (1908).  William Boothby is one of the trinity of pre-prohibition sources on American drinks that I find to be most instructive.  His 1891 book is of general interest.  Comparing it with his 1908 book, one can trace not only his own continuing refinement, but also which types of drinks waxed or waned between 1891 and 1908.  His 1908 book is a masterpiece of mixology and includes the oldest-known recipes for the Sazerac, Gibson and Bronx.  Each of those recipes are also startlingly strong evidence that they did not begin as the drinks that most bar-tenders assume.  By setting aside modern assumptions about the history of those drinks, one can actually learn things that are not normally learned about traditional American mixology.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, Boothby implies that soda water is the defining feature in daisies.  Never mind the 1934 book that was published by the “Boothby World Drinks Company” a few years after Boothby’s death.  I believe that he left his estate in debt and that his ‘trademark’ became the property of his debtors.  The 1934 book might have had little more than that to do with William Boothby.

#3 – Joseph Taylor.  Joseph Taylor seems to have worked at the Waldorf Hotel bar from 1894 until the Volstead Act went into effect in January of 1920.  During that time he compiled a book of drinks used there.  The great sadness of this source is that Albert Crockett was the one that transcribed and published the drinks in two different books, Old Waldorf Days (1931) and The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book (1935).  Crockett describes finding all the “cocktails” [sic]  split into different categories that did not make much sense to him, or anyone else he asked.  He jammed them all together alphabetically.  Crockett was to what might have otherwise been the most complete record of traditional American mixology what Heinrich Schliemann was to the archaeological site of Troy.  Obviously having learned about drinks in speakeasies, Crockett clearly did not understand the older tradition, the material, or even Taylor’s handwriting.  He routinely mis-transcribed “dash of gum” (meaning gum syrup) for “dash of gin.”  I am sure that he also failed to notice that the two upright strokes in the ‘n’ in Columbia Skin were connected and became the only book ever (at his time) to list a drink called “Columbia Skill.”  Likewise is probable with the “Bishop Potter” becoming the alleged “Bishop Poker.”  I also find Crockett’s attempts to connect the drink names to important and notable people to be annoying and obviously incorrect in may cases.  What’s possibly even more disturbing is the amount of editing and redaction that is obvious when comparing Taylor’s drinks in Crockett’s 1931 and 1935 books.  It proves that Crockett was very willing to re-phrase or omit any of Taylor’s words that did not make sense to him.  But, underneath Crockett’s vandalism, strong traces of pre-prohibition mixology come through, and with a fuller repertoire of individual drinks than any other pre-prohibition source.  There are interesting drinks in this material.  For example, there seems to have been a gin sour made with fresh lime juice before the name Gimlet was applied to it — the Saint Peter Sour.  Also, stirring dry gin (with no vermouth or bitters) through ice, straining it into a cocktail goblet and garnishing it with an olive creates a drink that existed long before anyone felt the need to call it some sort of super-dry ‘Martini.’  Alcoholics like Richard Nixon and Winston Churchill may have called their vermouth-less drink the ‘Martini,’ but it was called the Paul Bunyan in the Waldorf bar before prohibition.  As expected, there is no Ramos Gin Fizz in Taylor’s recipes, but there is a New Orleans Fizz that is the same drink.  The fact that Taylor never meant to publish his book is strong evidence that the New Orleans Fizz was not an alternate name meant to keep Henry Ramos from filing lawsuit.  I really do believe that at some time after 1910, Henry Ramos invented the story that he invented the drink.  Taylor’s book, even through Crockett’s distortions, is valuable.  I recommend that everyone should read and understand Kappeler and Boothby first, before reading the Taylor/Crockett material.  Once the foundation of understanding of traditional American mixology is laid, Crockett’s distortions become obvious — and what Taylor’s original handwriting and intent probably were.

#4 – Harry Johnson – The New and Improved Bartender’s Manual (1882) and The New and Improved Illustrated Bartender’s Manual (1888).  Johnson’s books each present the drinks without any apparent order at all, but valuable information can be gained by patiently reading and making the connections.  Johnson gave the oldest-known recipes for daisies, and they are all sours made fancy with liqueur (just like the old Margarita served ‘up,’ the name of which means ‘daisy’ in Spanish).  Daisies like the Margarita, Sidecar, Cosmopolitan, and many others, are so important to the current bar that this factor alone makes Johnson important.

#5 – William Schmidt – The Flowing Bowl (1892).   Schmidt’s book is strange in some ways.  He gives many recipes for drinks that seem to exist nowhere else in the literature of the day.  Many of them are over-wrought with so many ingredients that they fail, in my opinion.  However, he did explicitly state that a daisy is the same as a sour, but with the addition of liqueur.  That alone would make his book valuable.  He also gives the earliest recipe I have ever found for what I call a blossom – a succulant where the succulent (not sour) juice modifies the alcoholic base, is shaken, strained and served ‘up’ in a goblet.

#6 – Richard Cook – Oxford Night Caps (1827).  Richard Cook taught me about things about sherbet, milk punches and possets.  I was especially satisfied to read in his book that egg possets were also called flips.  I had already come to consider the flip an egg version of the posset, but it was nice to find such an explicit, historic precedent for it.  Richard Cook also documents early British, wine-based cups.

#7 – Jerry Thomas – How to Mix Drinks (1862).  I would really like to have left Jerry Thomas out of this list.  He did write the first American book on mixing drinks.  In that, Jerry Thomas illustrated that the first is not always the best.  To me, his mixology seems flawed when compared to later giants like George Kappeler, William Boothby and Joseph Taylor.  Thomas also strikes me as having been quite a ‘bar creature’ (the old bar-tender’s epithet for someone who covers their weaknesses or ignorance behind the bar with flair, arrogance and bluster).  But, Jerry Thomas did at least provide a document for the existence of certain drinks by the year 1862.  His book is much better for that than for actually understanding and making great drinks.  Jerry Thomas’ intellectual property seems to have become the property of Dick & Fitzgerald after his death.  They published the Jerry Thomas’ Bar-tender’s Guide in 1887, and it seems that they greatly improved his original book.  At one point the text reads “We…” in explanation of recipes.  They did not repeat Thomas’ ridiculous explanation of the smash as a “julep on a small plan.”  They also seem to have understood the essence of the word ‘fancy’ in American mixology much better than Thomas.  They published the first recipe for a fancy cocktail that was not garnished in a fancy way at all — instead being only fancy in composition by using liqueur to both sweeten and add extra flavor.  In some ways the Dick & Fitzgerald book with Jerry Thomas’ name in the title (but not in any author credit) is the book that Thomas might have written if his grasp of American mixology had been a little stronger.

Curaçao Liqueur and Triple-sec Curaçao Liqueur

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Anything called Curaçao liqueur should be made of the zest or peel of Citrus aurantium currassuviencis, the Curaçao orange — an especially bitter variety of Citrus aurantium, the bitter orange. The Curaçao orange grows on the island of Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles.

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Surfin Curaçao liqueur is specifically distilled from of a maceration of the peels in an overproof spirit. It is considered the standard. Surfin is French for ‘superfine.’

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Surfin Curaçao liqueur may be any of several grades for sweetness, and intensity of bitter orange aroma.

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In addition, surfin Curaçao liqueur of any of the above grades may also be either colored or left blanc (‘white’ or colorless).

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The sweetest grade of Curaçao liqueur is doux (French for ‘sweet’).  No Curaçao doux liqueur seems to be commercially produced anymore.

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Less sweet than Curaçao doux is Curaçao sec.  Sec is French for ‘dry.’ Early French Curaçao liqueurs were very sweet, and Curaçao sec may have been created as a later adaptation toward the Netherlands original.

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Even drier and more aromatic than Curaçao sec is Curaçao triple-secTriple-sec is French for ‘triple-dry.’

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The very driest and most aromatic grade of Curaçao liqueur is extra-sec (French for ‘extra-dry’). Though originally of a sweeter grade, Cointreau’s famous product has become drier over the decades (perhaps in response to the success of Cusenier’s extra-sec product), and is now an extra-sec Curaçao liqueur.

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Watch for a future post giving the grams of sugar per liter for each easily-obtained true Curaçao liqueur still on the market!

Trick Question: Where is the Pisco Sour From?

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If you look at the Wikipedia page on the Pisco Sour, you will find its creation reduced to a single personality.  Ancient Greek chroniclers of philosophy, like Diogenes Laertius, couldn’t help but reduce their subject into neat, but over-simplified, personality-cult tales of who instructed whom, and told the tale of Greek philosophy not so-much in terms of the development of thought, but rather in the characters of individual, remarkable men.  The history of mixed drinks is all too often likewise presented in terms of drinks being ‘invented’ by remarkable figures.

I remember the days when I engaged in plenty of the same, regaling customers with stories about the ‘history’ of the drink of the moment.  I enjoyed telling the stories as much as my audience enjoyed hearing them.  People like to feel connected to something historic.  It seems to be a compelling-enough human need that some really good stories get imagined and shared (and not just about drinks).

But for anyone with the impulse to dig deeper, and with a de-mythologized eye, the stories can tend to unravel.  R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” might be appropriate listening as you read this.

The Wikipedia page on the Pisco Sour credits its ‘invention’ to Victor Vaughn Morris, an American bar-tender who allegedly went to Peru in 1903 and opened his own bar there in 1916.  Other stories tell of another creator, Elliot Stubb, in Peru earlier than Morris.  Does no one else but me find it highly doubtful that the first Pisco Sour was made by Morris, Stubb, or anyone else in Peru?

I am doubtful because Pisco brandy was brought to San Francisco during the gold rush era by ships carrying would-be prospectors around South America from the eastern coast of the U.S.A.  The ships stopped for necessities at ports along the way and would also lay on any luxury goods that could be carred to San Francisco and sold there.  San Francisco had quickly become the first truly wealthy city on the western coast of North America, and luxury goods were in high demand.  The 1849 book, Four Months Among the Gold Miners of Alta California (the modern U.S. State of California) by Henry Vizetelly documents ships bound for San Francisco picking up Pisco brandy along the way.  The 1874 book, Underground by Thomas Knox describes the already-well-developed ubiquity of Pisco brandy in San Francisco saloons.  The image at the top of this post is from that 1874 book.

So, there was Pisco brandy in San Francisco before Morris or Stubb ever went to Peru — and perhaps before either men became San Francisco bar-tenders, for that matter.  At some time between the onset of the gold rush in 1848 and Knox’s book in 1874, San Francisco became the point of contact between American mixology and Pisco brandy.  It was probably much closer to 1848 than to 1874.

If you want to know some of the first drinks that any, run-of-the-mill and unremarkable American bar-tender would have made with Pisco brandy, just look at the drink books of the era — such as How to Mix Drinks by Jerry Thomas in 1862.  Here are the very basic drinks any unremarkable American bar-tender would’ve tried out with Pisco Brandy without needing even the slightest of inspiration: Pisco Cocktail, Pisco Sling, Pisco Toddy, Pisco Punch, Pisco Fix — and yes, Pisco Sour.  There were probably even Pisco Crustas, Cobblers and Juleps made in San Francisco during that time.

There is a curious side note here.  Jerry Thomas never once mentioned Pisco brandy in his book.  But, he seems to have claimed having been in San Francisco during the gold rush and tending bar there — when Pisco brandy was all over San Francisco.  It makes one wonder if his claim of having ‘invented’ the Tom & Jerry (an eggnog) was his only big lie.  Would-be bar-tenders still routinely falsify bar-tending experience for their resumes.  I imagine Thomas might have counted on the difficulty in verifying San Francisco experience from New York in those days.

After Stubb, Morris, or any other, brought the Pisco Sour there, the most interesting two things that Peru gave to the drink were its legend and Citrus aurantifolia, the bartender’s lime (a.k.a. Key lime — especially if from the Florida Keys).  The first Pisco Sours, made almost certainly in San Francisco, probably had lemon juice in them.  Peru has not so many lemons, but lots of bartender’s limes. Also, by the time Morris was hocking Pisco Sours in Lima, it would have been less uncommon to use bitters and egg white in a sour than it would have been to use either in one fifty years earlier.

Here are two recipes for the Pisco Sour — each variant probably a faithful representation of its own place in time and geography.  I like them both.  And, while I slightly favor the more-widely known Peruvian version, I would bet almost everything I own that the drink was first made decades earlier in San Francisco.

San Francisco Pisco SourPeruvian Pisco Sour

Drink of the Day — The Quebec Blossom

Today’s drink of the day is the Quebec Blossom.  It is found in the 1934 book, The Pioneers of Mixing At Elite Bars by the American Traveling Mixologists.

I love this drink, but two things have kept me from putting here before — the liqueur and the proportion.

Domestic apricot-flavored brandy liqueur just isn’t good enough for me to recommend it.  Ideally, an apricot-flavored brandy liqueur should be of the same sort of quality as Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge (orange-flavored brandy liqueur), but with natural apricot flavor instead of orange.  Nothing at that quality is produced, anywhere.  A good apricot-flavored brandy liqueur can be composed by mixing equal parts of Cognac brandy and crème d’abricot from France.  The only commercially-produced apricot-flavored brandy liqueur that I know of that is any good at all is Marie Brizard Apry.  Just be sure to get the more-rare 60-proof bottle instead of the more-common 41-proof bottle.  At anything under 60-proof, you just won’t get the flavor of the brandy coming through the way that I feel it should in a flavored brandy liqueur.

I found it really hard to recommend a proportion between the spirit and the liqueur in this drink.  For one thing, if you the most common varieties of grapefruit today, the drink will not need much sweetness at all.  But, using less liqueur, while cutting down on the sweetness, means less apricot flavor.  If you can find the heirloom Marsh or Duncan varieties of grapefruit, with their traditional bittersweet flavor, you can use a lot more liqueur in this.  If so, you will find that the richness of flavor from the heirloom grapefruit and the apricot and the whisky combine to make a delicious drink.  The only proportion that I do not like at all is the one that the American Traveling Mixologists recommended — 7:1.  So, my recommendations would be as follows; with heirloom grapefruit use 1 fluid-ounce each of the whisky and the apricot-flavored brandy liqueur, with red or pink grapefruits use 1-1/2 fluid-ounces of the whisky and 1/2 fluid-ounce of the liqueur.  Don’t bother at all with the following varieties of grapefruit, Melogold, Cocktail or Oro Blanco (not really a grapefruit) — they are all just too sweet and thin of flavor.  If you do use red or pink grapefruit and are willing to add a couple of dashes of grapefruit bitters, then the drink will work in the 1:1 proportion.

Good luck and don’t give up.  This drink is really great if you get the right combination of quality liqueur and heirloom grapefruit.  Here is the recipe:

Quebec Blossom