Tag Archives: history

Cocktail of the Hour — the Sherry Flip

photo (5)After ten months of bartending, I’ve tasted through quite a few different sherries. Before that, I considered sherry to be a product only for cooks and older women. Needless to say, the range of styles and flavors quickly turned my apprehension into appreciation. In cocktails, this ingredient can add aspects such as dryness or a sweet, round nuttiness. High quality sherry also adds a lovely rich, velvety body.

Flips are the oldest defined class of cocktail. Modern variations usually involve an egg, sweetening agent and base liquor or liqueur, but the earliest flips were most likely variations of a spiced, sweetened and beer-based punch. This cold weather drink was probably also heated with a poker, causing sugars to caramelize and the whole brew to hiss and boil. The result was a complex mix of sweet and bitter from quickly heating the mix with the poker.

About 150 years ago, the first references to cold flips appear. As rum and other spirits became more available within Europe and elsewhere, they replaced beer as the base for the flip. Some bartenders (or home bartenders) added egg and sometimes cream to the mixture, and the cold flip was born. Though the inclusion of cream is now categorized separately, this class of drinks has a long and well-established history.

Since most bars no longer stock fire-heated pokers (can haz industrial heating rod?), cold flips have become the more prevalent cocktail option. These creamy, sweet, rich confections are the perfect nightcap or post-dinner dessert.

Recipe:
2 dashes Chocolate molé bitters
1 whole unpasteurized farm egg*
1 tsp Grade B maple syrup
2 oz sherry (NOT CREAM OR COOKING SHERRY)
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 20 seconds without ice. Add ice and shake for an additional 20 seconds or until combined and chilled through. Strain into a chilled rocks glass.

*If you’re apprehensive about using an uncooked egg in a cocktail, read my primer on the subject here.

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Cocktail of the Hour — the Manhattan

manhattan drink 2After researching a lot of cocktails with contentious origins, it comes as no surprise that the ever-popular Manhattan has many origin legends. The drink was definitely a bar staple by the 1860s, but the details of where and when it was created are largely lost to history. One of the most interesting stories was that it was invented for a party thrown by Winston Churchill’s mother at the Manhattan Club. Unfortunately, the historical record indicates that she was across the pond giving birth during the time of this party.

Other sources give credit to a bartender named Black who worked in another bar in Manhattan. If this was the case, it’s likely that this libation was created to be one of the five cocktails named for New York City’s five main boroughs. Despite its lack of historical figures, this tale is likely the most true.

Interestingly, putting together an original Manhattan is almost as  impossible as piecing together its backstory. The oldest recorded recipe calls for a few dashes of Boker’s bitters in equal parts rye whiskey and sweet vermouth. A few decades ago, the original Boker’s bitters went out of production, so unless you’re willing to shell out some serious cash for a vintage bottle, you’re unlikely to ever taste the most historic Manhattan.

As well, modern palates (and bartenders) favor spirit-heavy drinks over vermouth-heavy drinks. As a result, the most popular recipe for a Manhattan calls for a 2:1 ratio of whiskey to vermouth. Thanks to a few marketing campaigns featuring the Manhattan, bourbon has largely eclipsed rye in common recipes. Though this substitution doesn’t affect the presentation, it gives the drink a much smoother, sweeter taste overall than a rye Manhattan.

manhattan spread 4The rye Manhattan is a dark, slightly sweet cocktail with a hint of spice from the whiskey. An orange peel garnish adds a citrusy nose that compliments the wine and dark fruit of the first sip. Garnishing with a maraschino cherry, by contrast, adds a very sweet finish to a sweet, but balanced drink. Though the origins of this practice are unclear, written records would seem to indicate that the orange peel garnish came first.

Choosing complimentary vermouths and whiskeys is one of the biggest parts of making a delicious Manhattan. For example, a more bitter vermouth like Punt e Mes won’t necessarily compliment either the boldness of Rittenhouse rye or a smooth bourbon. However, a more rounded, earthier vermouth like Cocchi Vermouth di Turino or Carpano Antica Formula can bring out the best qualities in either liquor.

Since no two people have the exact same taste preferences, experimentation is the best way to find our your favorite drink recipes. Try out different combinations and see what works for you.

Recipe:
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash Heering cherry liqueur
1 oz sweet vermouth

2 oz rye whiskey

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well incorporated. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel or maraschino cherry depending on your preference.

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I’m Not a Mixologist

During bar shifts, one of the most frequent questions from customers is if I’m a mixologist or a bartender. I usually reply that I’m just a really nerdy bartender. Recently, people have accused me of selling myself short through my answer. The truth is that I just don’t like the term “mixologist.”

As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, a mixologist is “a person who is skilled at mixing cocktails and other drinks.” At its root, a mixologist is a craft bartender who’s good at what they do. However, the definition is vague and fails to take into account the word’s connotations.

The first problem with the term is that no standard is set. It’s unclear which cocktails are required knowledge and what skills must be used in their creation. Since craft bartending is a vibrant and evolving field, this requirement is fluid. New cocktails are created daily, and the amount of knowledge available about product and classic recipes and cocktail history is constantly expanding.

My biggest problem with the term is with the word’s connotations. A mixologist is someone who is interesting but largely unapproachable. Their quirky drinks or personal eccentricities can alienate parts of the population by making them feel out of place. In the Portlandia episode “Mixologist,” bartender Andy Samberg makes a ridiculous and somewhat off-putting cocktail that makes his customers swoon. Three cheers for a ginger-based bourbon drink with rotten bananas, egg whites, egg yellows, lime zest and much more…

Though he’s playing up the role, he’s riffing on everything that can make craft cocktails intimidating. In a city like Birmingham where the cocktail scene is still growing and developing, it’s easy to spook people who are new to the concept. That said, it’s just as easy to make customers feel welcome and answer their questions about drinks and product. To do so, you just have to be a really nerdy bartender.

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Cocktail of the hour — the Tom Collins

photo (3)Over the past two weeks, the weather in Alabama has ranged from snowy and cold to severe thunderstorms and highs in the 70s. Since we’re quite confused about whether to turn on the heat or air conditioning, I thought it would be a great time to feature a cocktail named for a troublemaker — the Tom Collins.

Cocktail historians will tell you that this drink was named for a 19th century bartender, a prank that shares his name or both. The prank was pretty simple: a mischievous chap would pick a target and convince him that a fellow named Tom Collins was either looking for him or had been taking full advantage of him. It was such a popular gag that the height of its popularity has been dubbed the Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874.

Some commerce-minded bartender proceeded to name a drink after the hoax. After that point, unsuspecting victims who barged into pubs clamoring for Tom Collins would find themselves served a rather delicious beverage. Credit for the drink’s creation is where the story gets murky. Many sources give this honor to John Collins, a waiter from London’s Limmer’s Old House. If the drink originally bore his name, it’s likely that the change came from substituting Old Tom gin for another style.

Though its exact origin may be unclear, the Tom Collins first appeared in Jerry Thomas’s 1876 The Bartender’s Guide. Since then, it’s become one of the most iconic and refreshing summer cocktails. Like the French 75, its light, fizzy, citrusy deliciousness is built around a potent base spirit that packs a wallop. As the Girl Scouts say, be prepared.

Recipe

1 oz simple syrup
1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 oz gin (preferably Old Tom gin)

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake for 12-15 seconds or until cold. Strain into a chilled Collins glass over ice. Top with club soda or sparkling water to taste.

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Cocktail of the Hour — Blood and Sand

20131102-123144.jpgAs much as I love all things whisk(e)y, I’m still dipping my toes in the peaty waters of scotch and scotch cocktails. One of my recent favorites is the classic Blood & Sand. Composed of equal parts blended scotch, Heering cherry, orange juice and sweet vermouth, the drink is surprisingly smooth and sensuous.

This tipple first appears on the radar in Henry Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book. Its name is most likely derived from the 1922 movie that starred Rudolph Valentino, but its history is otherwise unknown. More recently, its revival was almost halted by its ingredient list. In fact, master bartender Dale DeGroff rediscovered the recipe in the mid-1990s and was so intrigued by the combination that he both doubted its value and had to try one.

Though the ingredients might seem incompatible at first glance, the result is a rich, almost-tropical-punch drink. Rich cherry liqueur adds weight, sweetness and velvety texture that’s balanced by the orange juice’s acidity. The scotch gives the drink the smoky, peaty notes that are grounded by the rich wine-y-ness of the sweet vermouth. On paper, it appears of be a cacophony of tastes, but in reality, it all comes together for a right, delicious experience.

Recipe:

.75 oz orange juice
.75 oz Heering cherry
.75 oz sweet vermouth
.75 oz blended scotch 

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake until well-mixed, about 13-17 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and serve.

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Cocktail of the Hour — the Martinez

Photo c/o Angel Negrin

Photo c/o Angel Negrin

As you might have gathered, cocktail history is equal parts interesting, contentious and vague. For every cocktail with a crystal clear genealogy, five more exist in a much more nebulous place. Such is the case with the Martinez.

Sometimes called the father of the Martini, this drink is supposedly named for the town in California where it originated. Other cocktail lore suggests it is one of Jerry Thomas’s creations or is named after the bartender who invented it. Unfortunately, there is little information to back up any of these stories.

Even if the Martinez didn’t have a direct impact on the creation of the Martini, each drink represents a different route for mixing gin-based drinks. The Martinez is basically a gin Manhattan complete with sweet vermouth, while the Martini gets the dry vermouth treatment.Interestingly, recipes for each cocktail have varied widely over the last century. Thomas’s How to Mix Drinks (etc) presents a cocktail that has a 2:1 vermouth to gin ratio, while The Savoy Cocktail Book inverts these proportions.

Personally, the more modern recipe is more pleasing for my palate. Though you can occasionally catch me drinking straight vermouth, I prefer cocktails that accentuate the base spirit rather than covering it. In this case, the vermouth tends to overpower the Old Tom gin. This style is heavier on botanicals than the now-popular London Dry gin, and is not as widely available. In fact, only one store in the entire state of Alabama carries a brand of Old Tom.*

The result is a light, nutty drink with a sweetness balanced by the addition of bitters. Even though it finishes dry, the addition of the sweet vermouth provides a depth of flavor beyond the Martini’s searing dryness.

Recipe

2 dashes orange bitters

1 tsp maraschino cherry liqueur

1 oz sweet vermouth

2 oz Old Tom gin

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice, stir for 12-15 seconds or until the drink is to your taste. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

*Hayman’s Old Tom gin is available at Lou’s Pub in Birmingham. Disclaimer: I have not been paid or compensated to mention them in this post.

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