Cocktail Chef

As I prepared for a course session this past weekend, I was listening to KCRW.  As the Good Eats program came on, I thought, “I’m going to change the station because something in this show always irritates me.”  But, I decided to give it a chance.

Then I heard a certain someone being introduced as a “cocktail chef.”  Puke.

He used the lime shortage as a threadbare pretext to launch into an oversimplified, somewhat mistaken, mostly-folkloric exposition of his alleged knowledge of history the Sazerac Cocktail.  Groan.

He also suggested using grapefruit as the sour element in drinks in absence of limes.  Shock.

I know that it is common for small children to confuse sour and bitter flavors.  But, traditionally, grapefruits were sweet and bitter.  Modern grapefruits tend to be just sweet.  Either way, there is  less acid (and sour flavor) in a grapefruit than in an orange.

Sigh.  What can be expected from anyone that would have himself introduced as a ‘cocktail chef.’  I think that ‘bar creature’ would have been more appropriate.

A Jigger of Good Sense

Jiggers and Good Sense 01

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.

Libbey 3770

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.

Jiggers and Good Sense 02

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.

Measures

Let’s Have a Drink and Talk About It

Traditional Cocktail

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.

Fussell Drink 001

Fussell Drink 002

Fussell Drink 003

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.”

Fussell Drink 004

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.