A Good Drink that is Also Laughable

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I often chuckle while witnessing bar-tenders today mimicking advances in drink-making that were revolutionary in 1855 – and thinking them to be new.

One example is as using sugar syrup (instead of dry sugar) in true cocktails and stirring them cold through plenty of ice.

Today, bar-tenders imagine that applying the above methods to the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail improves it. They are right – but the improvement was already done within a few years of 1855. It was then that method for making the Whiskey Cocktail were changed to take advantage of pure water and ice suddenly becoming cheap and plentiful, allowing for simple syrup to be cheap and plenty of ice to be available for stirring with and straining from.

Modern bar-tenders, you’re almost there. All you have to do now to catch up with 1855 is to strain your Whiskey Cocktail just as you would a Manhattan Cocktail – and, for the same reasons.

Of course, if you don’t know the traditional meaning of the word cocktail, you probably are a little lost here. Come take my classes.

Suffice it to say that once the Whiskey Cocktail was made with sugar syrup and stirred with ice and strained into a goblet for a perfectly cold drink that would never get further diluted, the older, inferior way of making the Whiskey Cocktail produced the drink that after 1855 was called the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail.

Yes, I am saying the the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail (probably just “Old Fashioned” to some benighted readers) is inferior to the Whiskey Cocktail. Between 1860 and 1900, the Whiskey Cocktail, made the modern way and strained and served without any ice, was one of the most commonly-served drink in American bars. It was served more commonly during those forty years than the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail. What a shame that the inferior of the two is the only one that is easy to obtain in our own time.

Now modern bar-tenders are making the Whiskey Cocktail almost as good as it was in 1855 (if only they would stop serving it on ice) and imagining that this is something new and the product of sensitive consideration. It is laughable.

Likewise devoid of any traditional knowledge is the imagining that there is something new – down to giving it a new typological name – to the so-called Lift.

Truth be told, this type of drink goes at least as far back as 1883. An American bar-tender from then would look at the so-called Bourbon Lift and recognize it to be an especially-fancy reworking of the Bourbon Puff. If had I been the bar-tender that created it, I would have made clear through naming it that I understood American mixological tradition and history enough to call if a Puff – instead of making up a new name that suggests ignorance of tradition. I also would have understood it to be far too fancy to just call it the Bourbon Puff. I might have called it the Special Bourbon Puff or maybe the Bohemian Cowboy Puff. But a plain name for a fancy drink, combined with an obvious ignorance of American drink types (a consequence of the grasping overuse of ‘cocktail’), shrouds the publication of a very good drink in the mists of ignorance.

Elemental Mixology Alumna Robin Jackson – L.A. Weekly’s Best Bartender!

It only just came to my attention that back in October, L.A. Weekly magazine chose Robin Jackson, an Elemental Mixology alumna (of an early 2014 Standard Mixing Course), as Los Angeles’ best bartender.

Bravo, Robin!

Everyone should go into Oldfield’s Liquor Room over in West Los Angeles and have Robin make you something good to drink!

Take the Traditional American Mixology Quiz!

I sometimes get inquiries from bar-tenders as to whether they would actually learn anything from an Elemental Mixology Course.

The answer is always, “Yes.”  It would be a resounding ‘yes’ even if the bar-tender asking were Eric Alperin, Matthew Biancaniello, Julian Cox, Aidan Demarest, Vincenzo Marianella, etc.

In fact, I would give any of the bar-tenders I mentioned a money-back guarantee to take either the Standard Mixing Course or the Master Mixing Course.  If they could look me in the eye at the end of the course and tell me that they had not leaned plenty, I would be happy to refund them.

Well, we know that won’t happen.  But, what about the less-famous bar-tender that isn’t sure whether there is really that much to learn?

I have set up a Traditional American Mixology Quiz.  Anyone who scores a perfect 100 percent on the quiz might already be familiar enough with traditional, pre-prohibition, American mixology that they would be wasting their time and money at Elemental Mixology.  Everyone else would have their understanding-and-making of mixed drinks revolutionized and impassioned by the course.

Find out if that includes you.  Take the twenty-question Elemental Mixology Traditional American Mixology Quiz!

New Page: Where to Get a Drink from Elemental Mixology Alumni or Friends

I am routinely asked where one can get drinks like those made in Elemental Mixology Courses.

This might not answer that question exactly, but I have posted a list of bars (or restaurants with bars) where Elemental Mixology alumni or friends make drinks or manage.

If you are an alumni or friend of Elemental Mixology and I have neglected to include you in the list, send me an e-mail message making your case to: andrew@elementalmixology.com

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.