From secret bars to secret projects: taking the Manhattans feel to a gorgeous townhouse in Soho to mix up London’s best chocolatiers with a load of booze-forward, tailored classic cocktails. We won’t bandy around words like experiential because it all goes a bit mixologist, but here’s a flavour of what to expect at Choctales, Chocolate week. Jerry Thomas would have a whale of a time…
Master chocolatier Paul A. Young partners up with Aqua Riva Tequila blanco, presenting a deliciously interesting combination that plays on texture as well as taste.
In a good ol’ saint versus sinner battle, Damien Allsop showcases the more virtuous elements of chocolate while our very own Felix Cohen does what he does by mixing something strong and boozy to push you off the straight and narrow.
William Curley has bagged the greatest blended whisky in the world, Johnnie Walker Blue Label: ‘nuff said – nothing but superlatives here.
And our final two combinations should help you deal with the confusing weather; a brightening and bewitching Amaro elixir swirled up with something delightful from Artisan du Chocolat (blast away those autumn leaves!) and a warming rum potion with the finest from the Grenada Chocolate Company, to help you as you stagger, replete, out of the door and into the night.
So that’s a lot of fine chocolate and a bunch of superb cocktails, in a swanky Soho venue for an eminently reasonable £45. Tickets are selling fast, so we’d gently suggest getting booked in sooner rather than later…
(New Yorker Magazine; Nov. 6, 1948)
Bartenders, as a class, are probably the most adept practical psychologists on earth, but they have never given much attention to purely humanistic studies, as, for example, semantics. One result is that their professional argot is pretty meager; indeed, it might reasonably be described as infirm. At least ninety-five per cent of them, in speaking of the tools and materia of their craft, use the threadbare words of every day. A glass, to them, is simply a glass , a bung starter is a bung starter , a bouncer is a bouncer , rye whiskey is rye , a cocktail is a cocktail , gin is gin , and so on ad finem . There are, to be sure, occasional Winchells among them, but no such Winchell has ever concocted anything to raise the hackles of a linguistic pathologist. When they call a garrulous client an auctioneer , or a souse a trance , he barely flutters an eyelid, nor does he find much to lift him in squirt gun for a Seltzer siphon, sham for a glass with a false bottom, stick for the handle of a beer spigot, or comb for the instrument that slices off the supererogatory suds from a stoup of beer. Even cop’s bottle for the worst whiskey in the house seems to him to be close to the obvious; what else, indeed, could it be called? College boys, in their opprobrious names for their books, their professors, and the females who prey upon them, have developed a great many niftier and hotter words, and railroad men, to cite only one group of workingmen, have invented so rich and bizarre a vocabulary that it transcends the poor jargon of the booze slingers as the spiral nebula in Andromeda transcends the flash of a match.
A good way to discover the paucity of bartenders’ neologistic powers is to ask yourself what they call themselves. Have they ever invented a fancy name comparable to the mortician of the undertakers, the realtor of the real-estate jobbers, the ecdysiast of the strip teasers, or the cosmetologist of the beauté-shoppé gals? Alas, they have not, and it seems very unlikely that they ever will. Even so silly a term as mixologist was devised not by a practicing bartender but by some forgotten journalist writing in the Knickerbocker Magazine in 1856. He intended it sportively and it has remained on that level ever since, along with colonel for a whiskey drummer and professor for a kneader of pugilists. In 1901, the Police Gazette , then at the apex of its educational influence, attempted to revive and glorify mixologist , but the effort failed miserably, and bar clerk was soon substituted, and likewise failed. Barman , borrowed from the English, has been put forward from time to time, and there used to be an International Barmen Association in New York, but I can no longer find it in the Manhattan telephone book, and its former spot is now held by the International Bartenders School, on Forty-sixth Street, which has a Yale for its Harvard in the Bartenders School, Inc., on Forty-ninth Street. Both have excellent reputations in scholastic circles. All the existing unions in the profession, so far as I have been able to track them down, use plain bartender in their titles, and so do the various social clubs, choral societies, and leagues against prohibition and Communism. Some time ago, Oscar Haimo , of the Hotel Pierre, described himself as mâitre de bar in the advertising of his latest book, “Cocktail and Wine Digest,” but I have yet to hear a second for it. Nor is there any visible support for server , which made its début in New Jersey late in 1910 and seems to have died the death by January 1, 1911 . Forgetting the vulgar barkeeper and barkeep , only bartender survives, a lowly word but a sound one. It arose from unknown sources during the Gothic Age of American boozing, c , 1855, and is of purely American genesis, though the English now toy with it. So is barroom , which was used by John Adams in 1807. And so is bar (the room, not the service counter), which was first heard of in 1788. The English barmaid has never caught on in this country; perhaps it suggests too strongly the poetic but smelly milkmaid . There are many females behind our more democratic bars, and I know one in Baltimore who is a first-rate artist, but if you called her a barmaid , she would crown you with the cop’s bottle.
The failure of the bartenders to enrich the vocabulary of their art and mystery is matched by the reluctance of professional philologians to investigate the terms already existing. This reluctance, of course, may be due to the fact that booze studies are frowned upon on most college campuses, and hence bring no promotion to the ambitious pedagogue; also, there may be something in the fact that men learned in the tongues commonly carry their liquor badly, and sometimes have to be sent home from their annual pow -wows in charge of trained nurses. Whatever the truth about this, it remains a matter of record that they have done next to nothing to clear up the etymologies of boozology and that the origins of many of our salient drinking terms—for example, cocktail , Mickey Finn , and
highball — are quite as dark as the origins of the things themselves. In this emergency, as might be expected, a great many amateurs have thrown themselves into the breach, and the result is a mass of surmise and speculation that gives the scientific student a lot of pain. I have in my archives perhaps forty or fifty such etymologies for cocktail , but can only report sadly that nearly all of them are no more than baloney. The most plausible that I have encountered was launched by Stanley Clisby Arthur, author of “Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix Them ,” a classical work. It is to the effect that the cocktail was invented, along about 1800, by Antoine Amédée Peychaud , a refugee from Santo Domingo who operated a New Orleans pharmacy in the Rue Royale.This Peychaud was a Freemason, and his bretheren in the craft took to dropping in at his drugstore after their lodge meetings. A hospitable fellow, he regaled them with a toddy made of French brandy, sugar, water, and a bitters of a secret formula, brought from Santo Domingo . Apparently running short of toddy glasses, he served this mixture in double-ended eggcups, called, in French, “ coquetiers .” The true pronunciation of the word was something on the order of “ ko - kayt - yay ,” but his American friends soon mangled it to “ cock - tay ” and then to “ cocktail .” The composition of the bitters he used remained secret, and they are known as Peychaud’s to this day. His brandy came from the Sazerac du Forge et Fils distillery at Limoges , and its name survives in the Sazerac cocktail, though this powerful drug is now usually made of rye whiskey, with the addition of Peychaud’s bitters, absinthe, lemon peel, and sugar.
As I have said, this etymology has more plausibility than most, and I’d like to believe it, if only to ease my mind, but some obvious question marks follow it. First, why didn’t Arthur give his authorities? It is hard to believe that he remembered back to 1800 himself and if there were intervening chroniclers, then why didn’t he name them? And if he got his facts from original documents—say, in the old Cabildo —then why didn’t he supply titles, dates, and pages? A greater difficulty lies in the fact that the searchers for the “Dictionary of American English” unearthed a plain mention of the cocktail in the Hudson (N. Y.) Balance for May 13, 1806 , in which it was defined as “ a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.” How did Peychaud’s
invention , if it was his invention, make its way from New Orleans to so remote a place as Hudson , New York , in so short a time, and how did it become generalized on the way? At the start of its journey it was a concoction of very precise composition—as much so as the Martini or Manhattan of today—but in a very few years it was popping up more than a thousand miles away, with an algebraic formula:
x + C 12 H 22 O 11 + H 2 O + y
That can be developed, by substitution, into almost countless other formulas, all of them making authentic cocktails. Given any hard liquor, any diluent , and any addition of aromatic flavoring, and you have one instantly. What puzzles me is how this massive fact, so revolutionary in human history and so conducive to human happiness, jumped so quickly from New Orleans to the Hudson Valley . It seems much more likely that the cocktail was actually known and esteemed in the Albany region some time before Peychaud shook up his first Sazerac on the lower Mississippi . But, lacking precise proof to this effect, I am glad to give that Mousterian soda jerker full faith and credit, and to greet him with huzzas for his service to humanity.
Cocktails are now so numerous that no bartender, however talented, can remember how to make all of them, or even the half of them. In the “Savoy Cocktail Book,” published in 1930, the number listed is nearly seven hundred, and in the “Bartender’s Guide,” by Trader Vic, published in 1947, it goes beyond sixteen hundred. No man short of a giant could try them all, and nine-tenths of them, I believe, would hardly be worth trying. The same sound instinct that prompts the more enlightened minority of mankind to come in out of a thunderstorm has also taught it to confine its day-in-and-day-out boozing to about a dozen standard varieties—the Martini , the Manhattan , the Daiquiri , the Side Car , the Orange Blossom , the Alexander , the Bronx , and a few others. The lexicographer John Russell Bartlett, in the fourth edition of his “Dictionary of Americanisms,” 1877, also listed the Jerseyand the Japanese , but neither survives except in the bartenders’ guides, which no bartender ever reads. The “Dictionary of American English” traces the Manhattan only to 1894, but that is absurd, for I saw a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States drink one in a Washington barroom in 1886. The others that I have mentioned, save the Martini and the Bronx, are not listed in any dictionary at hand, though millions of them go down the esophagi of one-hundred-per-cent Americans every week, and maybe every day. A correspondent tells me that the Daiquiri was invented by American engineers marooned at Daiquiri, near Santiago de Cuba , in 1898; they ran out of whiskey and gin but found a large supply of pale Cuban rum, and got it down by mixing it with lime juice. The origin of the Martini is quite unknown to science, though I have heard the suggestion that its name comes from that of Martin Luther. The origins of Bronxditto; all that is known is that it preceded the Bronx Cheer . The origins of the Alexander ditto, despite some fancy theories. The Old-Fashioned is supposed to be the grandfather of them all, and it really may be, for its formula greatly resembles that of the Hudson Balance cocktail of 1806, but the fact remains that Bartlett did not mention it in 1877 and that it is not to be found in any earlier reference works, not even the Congressional Globe , predecessor of the Congressional Record .
Some time ago, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch , a high-toned paper, dug up a local historian who testified that the highball was named by Lilburn McNair, a grandson of the first governor of Missouri and a shining light of St. Louis bar society in the nineties. It seems to be true that the name was first heard about that time, for highball was never applied before to a mixture of rye or bourbon and soda or tap water, and Scotch whiskey did not come upon the American market until the early nineties. (My father, trying his first shot of it in 1894, carried on in a violent manner, and died, four years later, believing that it was made by quack saloonkeepers in their cellars, of creosote and sweet spirits of nitre .) But there are old-timers in Boston who say that the first highball was shoved across the bar at the Parker House there, and the late Patrick Gavin Duffy, an eminent bartender of New York, claimed in his “The Official Mixer’s Manual” that he borned it at the old Ashland House in 1895. Why the name? Most of the authorities say that it arose from the fact that the bartenders of the nineties called a glass a ball and that highball flowed naturally from the fact that what was formerly a whiskey-and-soda needed a taller glass than a straight whiskey. But all the bartenders above eighty that I am acquainted with say that ball was never used for a glass. Other authorities report that highball was lifted from the railroad men, who use the term for go ahead. But this sounds pretty thin, for if the railroad men of that era had ever detected a bartender putting water (and especially soda water) into whiskey, they would have butchered him on the spot. Thus the matter stands. I pant for light, but there is no light.
The history of Mickey Finn is equally murky. Herbert Asbury says, in his “Gem of the Prairie,” a history of the rise of culture in Chicago , that the name was borrowed from that of a Chicago saloonkeeper who had been a lush-roller in his early days and operated a college for pickpockets in connection with his saloon. The patrons of the place were a somewhat mischievous lot, and not infrequently Finn had to go to the aid of his bouncer. They used the side arms in vogue at the time—to wit, bung starters, shillelaghs, joints of gas pipe, and lengths of garden hose filled with BB shot—but the work was laborious, and Finn longed for something sneakier and slicker. One day, a colored swami named Hall offered to mix him a dose that would knock out the friskiest patient in a few minutes. The formula turned out to be half an ounce of chloral hydrate in a double slug of pseudo-whiskey. It worked so well that many of those to whom it was given landed in the morgue, and Finn was so pleased with it that he gave it his name. I have a very high opinion of Asbury’s lexicographical and sociological parts, but I am still waiting to hear him explain how Mickey Finn became transferred from a dose comparable to an atomic bomb to a drink of bathtub gin with a drop or two of croton oil in it—a mixture that certainly got rid of the customer but did him no more permanent harm than a draught of Glauber’s salts. Also, I am waiting to hear from him why a Chicago saloonkeeper had to wait for a colored necromancer to tell him about knockout drops , which had been familiar in American criminal circles since the first Grant administration. My own great-uncle, Julius by name, got a massive shot of them in Wheeling , West Virginia , in 1870, and was never the same man afterward.
These few examples reveal the pitfalls, booby traps, and other difficulties that strew the path of anyone seriously interested in the origin and history of booze terms. The dictionaries, always prissy, avoid most of them as they avoid the immemorial four-letter words. You will not find Mickey Finn in the great Webster of 1934, or in the “Dictionary of American English,” or in the “Supplement to the New English Dictionary.” It appears,
to be sure, in some of the newer and smaller dictionaries, but almost always with the equivocal definition of “a drugged drink.” So far as I have been able to discover, only “Words: The New Dictionary,” brought out in 1947, says that its essential medicament is a cathartic, not a narcotic. Even Berrey and Van den Bark, in their invaluable “American Thesaurus of Slang,” 1942, are content to list it under the rubric of strong liquor , along with forty - rod , pop - skull , and third rail , though I should add that they note that tramps and criminals now use it to designate any laxative victual. Highball is listed in nearly all the dictionaries published since 1930, but not one of them attempts its etymology. Nor does any of them try to unravel the mystery of cocktail .
The slightly curved glass is a coupe glass; often used as a champagne saucer too, but very much reasonable for cocktails. We’ll be using them for most of our up drinks as they are a bit more stable (as you say) and also look better for the lower volume drinks where booze is mixed with booze (our favourites!). We think the best aesthetic for these are the old babycham glasses: http://www.retrochick.co.uk/2010/09/17/babycham-deer-glass/ which you can pick up cheap on eBay.
There is something about an old-fashioned
That kindles a cardiac glow;
It is soothing and soft and impassioned
As a lyric by Swinburne or Poe.
There is something about an old-fashioned
When dusk has enveloped the sky,
And it may the ice,
Or the pineapple slice,
But I strong suspect it’s the rye.
—Ogden Nash, “A Drink with Something in it”.
Time to talk about gin. And why the G&T is not just a cocktail, but a masterful cocktail.
Cocktails are a simple thing, really; pretty much every time (there are exceptions, of course), you’re trying to balance 4 flavour directions; sweet & sour flavours, and strong & weak flavours. The gin and tonic is one of the simple mixed drinks that works so well with those 4 directions that we have to consider it a cocktail. That and it’s got a confusing and misleading origin myth.
So. The Gin & Tonic. We’re using Blackwoods 60 here, because it’s really great, and because 60% gins are definitely the future. A decent double measure over a tall glass filled with ice, squeeze a sizeable wedge of lime (never, ever, lemon) over the gin, and rim (fnarr) the glass with the squeezed lime. Pour your tonic over (you’re aiming for 1 part gin to 3 parts tonic), give it a quick stir (careful, tonic is effervescent as fuck) and find yourself some sun to sit in. Or a comfy chair to ponder in. The gin & tonic. Simple, to the point and moreish. And if you use decent tonic, it’ll stop you getting malaria *and* scurvy.
Next up; the more sophisticated old school gin cocktail; the dry martini, often abused and never perfected. Careful instructions to be followed precisely, please.
- Take a pint glass/boston tin/vintage martini vessel and fill it with ice. Let it rest so the ice is wet.
- While that rests, polish your martini glass, pop a pinch of salt in the bottom, and fill with crushed ice and soda (or just water). The salt is there to help it get even colder, and to give a tiny lift to the gin flavours later.
- Strain off any water that’s collected in your mixing glass and add a decent splash of dry vermouth. I use Noilly Pratt, but Martini or Lillet are perfectly acceptable substitutes. Stir this and make sure all the ice cubes get a good coating of vermouth.
- Strain off all the liquid if you’re making a Montgomery martini, or throw the ice away if you want a Churchill (and replace with fresh ice). If it’s a ‘normally’ dry martini you’re after, leave a couple of teaspoons of liquid at the bottom. We’ll talk more about dryness shortly.
- If you like it dirty, add a couple of teaspoons of your olive brine at this point.
- Add 2-3 measures of your favourite gin; again, I’ve used the Blackwoods 60 here, but really anything above 42% is good. Gin at 37.5% is just juniper vodka, so avoid that unless you’re cooking salmon in it. With the 60% gin, you’re going to stir it for about twice as long.
- Stir with your hand on the glass or tin until it is uncomfortably cold to hold on. This is probably about 30 stirs.
- Throw out the ice and water from your glass, and strain the martini into the glass. Garnish with an olive or a lemon twist, to taste.
Relax, enjoy, and drink it *fast*. Martinis should be ice cold the whole way through or they quickly become hard work. Cold is your friend here; it gives the drink a lovely silky mouthfeel and most importantly means the distribution of gin and water isn’t even. The reason we avoid gin below 42% is because all the different botanicals (flavours) express themselves at different strengths between rough 42 and 38%; below that point, it really is just overpowering with juniper. So you’re actually trying to create something quite unlikely and difficult with a martini; stirred enough to be integrated, cold enough to maintain some viscosity, and at the perfect range of strengths that you taste every flavour in the gin in each mouthful. Done right, it’s transcendent, and done wrong it’s worse than paraffin.
What’s that? You don’t know what I meant by dryness above? Confusingly, this refers to how little dry vermouth you add; a more dry martini has *less* vermouth in it. Churchill used to be happy for the sun to have shone through his vermouth bottle onto the gin bottle, which is why his martini has effectively no vermouth. The Montgomery martini is the next step up, with about a 1/15 ratio of vermouth to gin (the amount of soldiers Field Marshall Montgomery lost compared to his enemies!), and for most people, about 10/1 is about right. You can even make it wet, leaving in enough vermouth for a 6/1 ratio.
Experiment with your martini; try different gins and different dryness…it’s an impossible drink to perfect, but well worth striving for.