Thursday, July 29, 2010

Spirits: Raw, New, Young, Old, Extra-old

Here is another student-requested post...

An important factor is spirits is aging, or the lack thereof.

RAW SPIRITS - A spirit that has not been aged, diluted or otherwise processed after distillation can be said to be 'raw'.  Raw spirits are not usually sold. One virtually-raw spirit that is available in most states of the U.S.A. is 190 proof grain spirit (Everclear). In a few states this product is illegal, and a 151 proof version is found on liquor store shelves.

NEW SPIRITS - A spirit that has not been barrel-aged, but has been diluted to salable proof, can be said to be 'new'.
Some spirits commonly sold new are:
Pisco brandy (but not other grape wine brandies)
Wasser (kirschwasser, birnewasser, marillenwasser, etc.)
Eau de vie (de poire, de mirabelle, etc.)
Mezcal (including that from Tequila) - blanco/plata ['white'/'silver']
Geist (himbeergeist, wacholderbeerengeist, etc.)
Oude genever - friesche ['fresh']

A spirit that has been stored in wood for any amount of time can be said to have been aged. Spirits that have been aged for minimal periods of time can be called 'young'. Spirits aged to full maturity can be called 'old'. The appropriate amount of time to reach full maturity varies by type of spirit. Spirits aged beyond full maturity can be called 'extra-old'.

YOUNG SPIRITS - A spirit that has been minimally barrel-aged (for that type of spirit) can be said to be 'young'.
Some spirits commonly sold young are:
Rum (traditional, light, or semi-light) - 'white' [colorless] - 1 year or older
Mezcal (including that from Tequila) - reposado ['reposed'] - 2 months or older
[Note that young rums are aged in new barrels and are without color. Virtually all rum-producing countries legally require at least one year of aging before sale. Such laws probably reflect more interest in combating moonshine rum than in ensuring quality.

OLD SPIRITS - A spirit that has been barrel-aged to full maturity (for that type of spirit) can be said to be 'old'.
Some spirits commonly sold old are:
Brandy (including that from Armagnac or Cognac) - v.s. & v.s.o.p. - 2 years or older
Whisk(e)y (any type) - often without specific age indication - 2 years or older
Rum (traditional or light) - often without specific age indication - 3 years or older
Agricole rhum - often without specific age indication - 3 years or older
Mezcal (including that from Tequila) - añejo ['yearling'] - 1 year or older
[Note that 'gold' or 'special' rum is usually young rum blended with a small amount of old rum and then artificially colored so that the entire product will look old.]
[Note that 'gold' Tequila mezcal is usually new Tequila mezcal that has been artificially colored to look old.]

EXTRA-OLD SPIRITS - A spirit that has been barrel-aged beyond the normal point of full maturity (for that type of spirit) can be said to be extra-old.
Some spirits commonly sold extra-old are:
Brandy (including that from Armagnac or Cognac) - x.o. - 5-6 years or older
Whisk(e)y (any type) - age given in years - no specific threshold, but noticeably beyond old
Rum (traditional or light) - age given in years - no specific threshold, but noticeably beyond old
Agricole rhum - age given in years, or x.o. - no specific threshold, but noticeably beyond old

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Liquor Taxonomy

Here is another student-requested post defining the various types of liquor.

Liquors - alcoholic beverage products containing distilled alcohol.

Spirits - liquor that is sold at 70 proof (35% alcohol-by-volume) or higher, that also contains no, or less than 2.5 % (by weight in the finished product), sugar syrup.

Primary Spirits - flavorful spirits distilled from a characteristic fermentate.

Primary Spirits of Wine - flavorful spirits distilled from fermented fruit.
[brandy, Cognac brandy, Pisco brandy, apple brandy, kirschwasser, apricot eau de vie, etc.]

Primary Spirits of Beer - flavorful spirits distilled from fermented grain.

Primary Spirits of Toddy - flavorful spirits distilled from fermented nectar.
[Ceylon arrack, traditional rum, light rum, agricole rhum, cachaça, mezcal, Tequila mezcal, etc.]

Secondary Spirits - flavorful spirits distilled from material macerated in neutral spirits.
[ouzo, Lebanese arak, German geist of any kind, genever, gin, aquavit, absinthe, etc.]

Neutral Spirits - spirits distilled from any fermented material so that they will be virtually flavorless.

Cut Spirits - flavorful spirits that have been cut with neutral spirits, and often flavored.
[rum-verschnitt, inlander rum (Stroh 80)]

Flavored Spirits - spirits that have been flavored after distillation, but not sweetened.
[spiced rum, flavored rum, flavored vodka, etc.]

Liqueurs - liquors that are sweetened with at least 2.5% (by weight in the finished product) sugar syrup.

Primary Liqueurs - liqueur that are produced by sweetening primary spirits, without adding other flavors. Some primary liqueurs of fruit spirits have juice of the same fruit added. High quality primary liqueurs should be 60 proof, or more.
[maraschino liqueur]

Secondary Liqueurs - liqueurs that are produced by sweetening secondary spirits, without adding other flavors. High-quality secondary liqueurs should be 60 proof, or more.
[traditional Curaçao liqueur, triple-sec Curaçao liqueur, Chartreuse liqueur, pastis liqueur, Galiano liqueur, gin liqueur (Hayman's 1820), etc.]

Flavored Primary Spirit Liqueurs - liqueurs that are produced by flavoring and sweetening primary spirits. Some flavor from the primary spirit should be noticeable. High-quality flavored primary spirit liqueurs should be 60 proof, or more.
[orange-flavored brandy liqueur (Grand Marnier), apricot-flavored brandy liqueur, proprietary flavored brandy liqueur (Bénédictine), proprietary flavored whisk(e)y liqueur (Drambuie), flavored agricole liqueur (Clément Créole Shrubb), etc.]

Flavored Secondary Spirit Liqueurs - liqueurs that are produced by flavoring and sweetening secondary spirits. Some flavor from the secondary spirit should be noticeable. High-quality flavored secondary spirit liqueurs should be 50 proof, or more.
[sloe-flavored gin liqueur (please use only the Plymouth brand), proprietary flavored gin liqueur (Pimm's #1)]

Ratafia Liqueurs - liqueurs produced by sweetening a maceratioin of fruit and/or fruit-stones and/or nuts and/or other botanicals in spirits of any type so that the noticeable flavor will be of the macerated material rather than the spirit.  High-quality ratafia liqueurs are usually less than 50 proof.
[amaretto liqueur, hazelnut ratafia liqueur (Frangelico), raspberry ratafia liqueur (Chambord), Irish cream liqueur, falernum liqueur, allspice liqueur, cherry ratafia liqueur (Heering), elderflower ratafia liqueur (Saint Germain), ginger ratafia liqueur (Domaine de Canton),etc]

Crème Liqueurs - liqueurs produced by sweetening flavored neutral spirits, usually to a point of more than 30% (by weight in the finished product) sugar syrup. High-quality crème liqueurs are usually less than 50-proof.

Huile Liqueurs - liqueurs produced by sweetening flavored neutral spirits to a point of sugar content less than that for crème liqueurs. Huile liqueurs are often mis-labelled in the U.S.A. as schnapps liqueurs or crème liqueurs. High-quality huile liqueurs are less than 70-proof.
[huile de pomme liqueur (Berentzen), huile de melon liqueur (Midori), etc.]

Schnapps Liqueurs - liqueurs produced by sweetening flavored neutral spirits to a point of sugar content less than that for crème liqueurs, but sold at spirit-proof. Schnapps liqueurs were made to profit from the market demand by German immigrants for schnaps.  German schnaps are unsweetened spirits, not liqueurs, that often have the flavor of fermented-or-macerated fruit-or-botanicals.  Schnapps liqueurs were created as cheap American ersatz. Schnapps liqueurs were traditionally sold at high-proof, since they were a substitute for spirits. High-quality schnapps liqueurs should be 70 proof, or more.
[apple-flavored schnapps liqueur, peach-flavored schnapps liqueur, cinnamon-flavored schnapps liqueur, etc]

Fortified Wines - wines that are fortified with a spirit (usually brandy), often stopping fermentation and preserving more of the grape-flavor and sweetness that in normal wines. The presence of distilled alcohol means that they are technically liquor.
[Sherry, Port, Madeira, etc.]

Aromatized Wines - wines that are fortified with a spirit-maceration of aromatic botanicals, usually after fermentation of the wine is complete. Many aromatized wines are also additionally-sweetened.
[sweet vermouth (rosso/rouge), medium vermouth (bianco/blanc), dry vermouth (a waste of time), rouge quina (Dubonnet), blanc quina (Lillet), etc.]

Bitters - spirit-macerations of aromatic botanicals, traditionally combined with water-infusions of the same botanicals.  When mixed with other liquors, all bitters should remove most of the sensation of the harshness of the alcohol.

Additive Bitters - bitters that are not sweetened and are meant to be used in small amounts.
[aromatic additive bitters (Angostura, Fee Brothers, Peychaud's, Boker's, Bitter Truth), orange additive bitters (Angostura, Fee Brothers, Bitter Truth), peach additive bitters, celery additive bitters, cherry additive bitters, lemon additive bitters, grapefruit additive bitters, cacao additive bitters, etc.]

Grand Bitters (a.k.a. Beverage Bitters, Kräuterlikör, amaro, amer) - bitters that are meant to be used in larger amounts.  Grand bitters are often sweetened.  Almost all grand bitters are proprietary.
[Campari, Amer Picon (defunct), Torani Amer (substitute for original-formula Amer Picon), Picon Club, Picon Biere (grand bitters for beer), Cynar, Aperol, Berechovka, Jägermeister, Zwack Unicum, Caperitif (defunct), Fratelli Fernet Branca, Fratelli Fernet Menta, Luxardo Fernet Branca, Calisaya, Amaro Montenegro, etc.]

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Saint Croix/Santa Cruz Rum: Traditional or Light?

I have always wondered whether Saint Croiz rum was light rum (column-distilled) or traditional rum (pot-distilled) in pre-prohibition times.  That is important for deciding which rum to use when making drinks calling for Saint Croix or Santa Cruz in pre-prohibition sources.

All Saint Croix rum is now distilled in continuous stills and is therefore light rum.  Cruzan does offer a heavy, molasses-flavored rum - but it is based on light rum.

I finally decided to contact Cruzan and asked them when continuous distillation began on Saint Croix. Today, I received the following answer:

"I found out directly from the CEO of Cruzan Rum in St. Croix, that continuous-distillation began in the late 1940's."

Thus, when making the Palmetto Cocktail or the Santa Cruz Sour, a traditional pot-distilled rum like Smith & Cross would be your best bet to reproduce the drink as originally made.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Gins - Four Types in Four Brands

Oude Friesche Genever (old-fashioned, un-aged genever)
- Genever, the original gin, is produced in the Netherlands. The version of genever most interesting is known as 'oude' (meaning 'old-fashioned'). The other version of genever is known as 'jonge' (meaning 'new-fashioned'). Jonge genever is the Netherlands' answer to the success of London-style dry gin, which it is similar to. Oude genever is available both 'friesche' (meaning 'fresh' or un-aged) and barrel-aged.
- Traditional mixed drinks calling for oude genever include the John Collins and the Turf Cocktail. Both of these drinks come from the time before the 'jonge' variant even existed.

Old Tom Gin
- Old tom gin, named after the famous wooden old tom cat associated with this type of gin, is the oldest English-style gin. It is lightly sweetened.
- Traditional mixed drinks calling for tom gin include the Tom Collins and the Martini Cocktail.

Sapphire London Dry Gin
- London dry gin evolved from old tom gin, supposedly as a result the increasing availability of clean water and improving distilling techniques. London-style dry gin is produced in many countries outside of England.
- Traditional mixed drinks calling for London-style dry gin include the London Collins and the Good Times Cocktail.

Plymouth (formerly Coates & Co.)
Plymouth Dry Gin
- Plymouth dry gin is can only be legally-produced at one distillery in the city of Plymouth, and so any additional brand-name has become unnecessary. The 'dry' specifier was used a century ago, but has been dropped. This gin was produced by Coates & Co. until 2004.
- Traditional mixed drinks calling for Plymouth dry gin include the Plymouth Collins and the Marguerite Cocktail.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

After Applejack

We are living in a post-applejack world. Traditional applejack was made from apple wine in cold climates by letting barrels of it partially freeze and 'jacking' out the ice. This created something that was higher in alcohol. It also left behind all of the unhealthy stuff, and even concentrated it in the smaller volume of the finished product. Traditional applejack is a fast liver-killer. It is not commercially-produced.

Since the real stuff has gone, producers have been free to call something else 'applejack.' What is sold as 'applejack' today is simply apple brandy blended with a greater amount of neutral grain spirit. As a purist, I reject all products labelled 'applejack.' I use straight apple brandy in all mixed drinks bearing the 'jack' moniker. For thoroughbred drinking, I prefer Calvados apple brandy served neat.

But, with either so-called 'applejack' or straight apple brandy, the apple wine flavor and sweetness of traditional applejack is missing. So, what if we want something closer to the original that is not as unhealthy?

Open a bottle of good cider (sparkling apple wine). For our purposes here, you should avoid any very dry bottling - if you can. Cover the opening with cheesecloth and place it in a clean, odor-free refrigerator. Position it so that it will not be knocked over. As soon as you find it to have gone flat, blend it with one-third as much straight apple brandy. If you have been forced to use a dry cider, you should consider adding a little bit of organic, unfiltered apple juice.

That is probably as close as you can come to traditional applejack without breaking any law.

The Punch versus Cocktail Test


1 ½ fl-oz. [45 ml.] dry gin

½ fl-oz. [15 ml.] Chartreuse liqueur (green)

1 tbsp. [15 ml.] superfine sugar (or ¾ fl-oz. [22.5 ml.] simple 1:1 sugar syrup)

1 fl-oz. [30 ml.] fresh Key lime juice

method ice

shake & fine-strain into a chilled 5.5 fl-oz. glass sour goblet

garnish with a small mint sprig


1 ½ fl-oz. [45 ml.] dry gin

½ fl-oz. [15 ml.] Chartreuse liqueur (green)

2 fl-dsh. [1.25 ml.] orange additive bitters

½ barspoon [1.25 ml.] fresh Key lime juice

method ice

stir & fine-strain into a chilled 4.5 fl-oz. glass cocktail goblet

garnish with a small mint sprig

Make them both and find out whether you prefer punches/sours or cocktails. Feel free to adjust the level of sweetness by adding or reducing the sugar (or sugar syrup). Please leave the other ingredients in the amounts given so that the contrast between punches and cocktails will be apparent to the palate.

Drink Identity Theft

I have used the source below in comparison with old books to demonstrate to students the fallen nature of what passes for professional knowledge.

Up until this point I have refused to include names in written critique. But, this morning seems like a fine time to end that refusal.

This specific criminal occurrence has bothered me since 2006. On page 40 of the Mister Boston Platinum edition, the Fancy Brandy Cocktail is listed only as the "Fancy Brandy."
On page 47 of the same book, the Sidecar (a specific fancy brandy sour) is listed as the "Sidecar Cocktail." This sort of thing occurs throughout the book.

This is how debased mainstream drink 'knowledge' has been for too long. A true cocktail has had its proud nomenclature removed, while an otherwise respectable sour has been implicated in an identity-theft conspiracy. You say it's not a conspiracy? There is a long list of names of the collectively-responsible parties printed right in the book itself!

Putting joking aside, please don't think that I'm picking on Mister Boston. Other 'reputable' drink publications (especially the alphabetic wonders) commit the same sin. They contribute to the mental drink poverty that calls nearly every old drink a 'cocktail,' and rarely unveils any new so-called 'cocktail' that isn't really a punch/sour.

Now I will stop and go brew some coffee and turn on some music and I promise not to bite again today.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Traditional American Voluminous Units of Measure and Their Standardized Equivalents

Students have often asked for this to be posted on the website or e-mailed to them. I am not very good at my website, as some of you may have noticed. I'll just put it up here for now.

fl-dsh. = fluid-dash [standardized to 0.625 ml.]
= 1/48 fl-oz.

fl-scr. = fluid-scruple [standardized to 1.25 ml.]
= 2 fl-dsh. | 1/2 bsp. | 1/24 fl-oz.

bsp. = barspoon [standardized to 2.5 ml.]
= 2 fl-scr. | 1/2 tsp. | 1/12 fl-oz.

tsp. = teaspoon [standardized to 5 ml.]
= 2 bsp. | 1/6 fl-oz.

dsp. = dessert spoon [standardized to 10 ml.]
= 2 tsp. | 1/3 fl-oz.

tbsp. = tablespoon [standardized to 15 ml.]
= 3 tsp. | 1/2 fl-oz.

fl-oz. = fluid-ounce [standardized to 30 ml.]
= 2 tbsp.

pony = 1 fl-oz.
(this is the traditional portion for one serving of any type of liqueur taken as a cordial)

s-sht. = short-shot [standardized to 45 ml.]
= 1-1/2 fl-oz.

jig. = jigger [standardized to 60 ml.]
= 2 fl-oz.
(see Modern American Drinks by George Kappeler, 1895 - as a traditionalist, I believe all mixed drinks that are made of liquor [not beer or wine] should have the jigger as their total, combined amount of liquor.)

w-gl. = wine-glass
(I don't use this designation, as there is some debate as to what this meant in the old books - with the consensus being that it was the same as the jigger, but some arguing for the gill, as it was the traditional amount of wine served)

hkr. = hooker [standardized to 75 ml.]
= 2-1/2 fl-oz.
(this was originally any amount of liquor more generous than a jigger, but still less than a snit)
(there is a hooker of liquor in the common recipe for the Long Island Iced-tea)

snit [standardized to 90 ml.]
= 3 fl-oz.

gill [standardized to 120 ml.]
= 4 fl-oz.
(this is the traditional portion for one serving of any type of wine)

spl. = split [standardized to 180 ml.]
= 6 fl-oz.

cup [standardized to 240 ml.]
= 8 fl-oz.
(this is the traditional portion for one serving of any type of beer)

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Tale of Two Arracks

Arrack - the word is from the Arabic, and means 'spirit' in the sense of high-proof, unsweetened liquor. There are three main types of spirit called arak or arrack. Arak is usually a geist or secondary spirit made by maceration anise in a neutral spirit, and then distilling that. In Greece it is called ouzo. Those products are fairly-widely available here in the U.S.A.

There are also products called arrack from farther to the east. One has become available again in the U.S.A. several years ago. It is Batavia arrack, from Indonesia. Batavia arrack is distilled from a sugarcane toddy that was fermented with a little red rice. Batavia arrack is mentioned in old drink books from the U.S.A. as being a good spirit to use in punch.

Arrack - the word is from the Arabic, and means 'spirit' in the sense of high-proof, unsweetened liquor. There are three main types of spirit called arak or arrack. Arak is usually a geist or
Punch itself was exposed to the English-speaking world when the British went to India and fell in love with it there. 'Pancha' in India was also made with arrack, but a rather different kind. In India and Ceylon, arrack is distilled from tari. Tari is the fermented nectar of the coconut palm blossom. Tari was Anglicized as 'toddy.' By the way, in the Philippines, lambanog is also distilled from coconut blossom toddy, and could be called Philippine arrack.

At present, no coconut blossom spirit is available in the U.S.A. There is one medium-quality bottling of Ceylon arrack being sold by Rockland in the U.K. It is for sale on the Whisky Exchange website. I have some. It is good to be able to make punch in its earliest-attested form.
I also like a little thing I put together of both Ceylon and Batavia arrack with just a little bit of two Caribbean liqueurs and orange additive bitters - all stirred through ice and strained. I call it the Trading Company Cocktail.

The stuff I would really like to get my hands on is some 15-year Mendis Old Arrack from Sri Lanka/Ceylon.
I don't suppose anyone knows anyone coming to Los Angeles from Sri Lanka....

Waidlageist Anyone?

If I asked you which spirit was made by secondarily-distilling a maceration of juniper berries and other botanicals, you would probably answer 'gin.' If I asked you the same question but changed the ingredients to wormwood and other botanicals, you would probably answer 'absinthe.' And if I asked you the same question but changed the ingredients to caraway, there is a good chance you would answer 'aquavit.'

But what if I asked you which spirit was made by secondarily distilling a maceration of chamomile, nutmeg, carnations and other botanicals, would you know what it was? It is called waidlageist.

In Germany, the word 'geist' has a clearly-defined legal meaning as it is applied to liquor.

If you go into Bevmo in West Hollywood, you will find Schladerer Kirschwasser and Schladerer Himbeergeist. In Germany, you may only call your product 'wasser' if it is a primary spirit - meaning that the original fermentation must be from the same material that gives the spirit its flavor. Some things, like raspberries and dry botanicals are difficult to ferment. They are usually macerated in a neutral spirit and then re-distilled. I call this a secondary spirit - but in Germany, the legal word is 'geist.'

So, kirschwasser is a kirsch (cherry) spirit that is distilled from fermented cherries, while himbeergeist is a himbeer (raspberry) spirit that is secondarily-distilled from a maceration of raspberries in neutral spirit. Technically-speaking, gin, absinthe, aquavit and ouzo are all geists, too.

The German word 'schnaps' (with only one 'p') is a word that means 'spirits' in the broad, alcoholic sense of high-proof, unsweetened liquor. Both wassers and geists are schnaps - as is whiskey, technically-speaking.

This is no time to drag down the subject matter with the usually-low-quality, traditionally-high-proof American-style liqueurs called 'schnapps.' Just know that it has to do with market forces from the time of German mass-immigration to the U.S.A.

I have some enziangeist (secondary spirit of macerated gentian) and a few other things. Wacholderbeerengeist (secondary spirit of macerated juniper berries) is available in the U.S.A., where it can be legally marketed as gin, even though it is missing the other botanicals of gin. Juniper geist comes from the northwestern part of Germany, near the Netherlands where gin (its possible descendant) comes from. Doornkat is one brand that is fairly-available. Another wacholderbeerengeist is Schlichte Steinhager, named after the place it is distilled in - Steinhagen.

Sadly, American awareness of, and curiosity for, secondary spirits seems to be limited to gin - with a hesitant nod to absinthe.

In trying to get around the non-distribution of most traditional German geists to America, I have been totally unsuccessful. It frustrates me that there is an entire system of spirits that we Americans are cut off from. Besides waidlageist and enziangeist, there is: bärwurzgeist (bear-root), kümmelgeist (cumin), wildeerengeist (mixed wild berries), and others.

I have written to Penninger ( in German asking them if they would ship to me. I knew that they would not, but I gave it a try anyway. I have an Alsatian student with family still living in Alsace, so I asked Penninger if there was any shop with their products in that somewhat Germanic part of France. Apparently, these products are just not popular outside of Germany.

I am not giving up. Since I do appreciate gin, absinthe, aquavit and enziangeist, I feel I must have the others, too.

Kind reader, if you know anyone in Germany, or on their way there, with whom arrangements could be made to ship or carry a few bottles, please let me know!

Also, if you have tried any of these hard-to-find spirits, comment on what you thought of them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Drink Lore

Drink folklore is fun. The customers often appreciate it in that passing way. Once in a while it even contains a bit of truth. More often it is just a story we like well enough to repeat. Fun is an important part of drinking - probably the most important positive part. But, I would rather learn one new useful thing about elements or technique than learn all the drink lore in the world.

Old-fashioned versus Modern Bartending

The old-fashioned bartending evidenced in the old books is not the same as modern bartending.

Bartenders in the 1800's tended to have something closer to an elemental understanding of types of drinks. But they did not have an especially-wide range of ingredients.

Modern bartending has access to a dizzying array of high-quality ingredients. But it has almost no elemental understanding of the types of drinks.

For example, old-fashioned bartenders, like William Boothby in a very-early published recipe for the Bronx cocktail in 1908, knew that for a cocktail to retain its character as such, only a barpsoon or less of orange juice could be added. Modern drinks writers give recipes with a full ounce, or more, of juice in their Bronx and crusta cocktails - without explaining why they continue such prohibition-era nonsense, or understanding that so much juice overwhelms the cocktail and creates a punch or a sour.

Old-fashioned bartending was often entered through apprenticeship. That ended with prohibition. Modern bartending is still locked in the paradigm of the amateurish side-job bartender, who is often hired for image, personality and speed more than for knowledge.

Old-fashioned bartending is dead. Prohibition was only the last nail in its coffin. Already, in the last decade before prohibition, some books lumped all drinks served 'up' together as 'cocktails.'

I have yet to find a single establishment that combines the great ingredient selection we have today with the old-fashioned understanding of different types of drinks and how best to make and serve them.

I have found several establishments that sell the image of old-fashioned bartending, but they all fall short before the knowing eye. The tradition died. There was no living link through the generations. And so now, those wishing to sell what they do as old-fashioned bartending are reduced to reading old books. Unfortunately, all of us read the old books through modern bartending assumptions. We should be aware that those assumptions are from the debased, amateurish bartending that has been American bartending since 1934.

That the re-discovery of fresh juices is often touted as proof of good bartending is very sad. This is how remedial our education must be. Should we, as American bartenders, really be proud that, until recently, imitation ingredients were the norm? Should a man be proud that he stopped beating his wife last week? Wouldn't it be better to switch back to all fresh juices and not make a big deal of it?

But, now that it has re-discovered fresh juices, modern bartending tends to make everything into some sort of punch. It's as if we are doomed to go back and repeat all drink evolution since the 1600's, let alone the 1800's!

We should be able to do better than bartenders in the 1800's, simply because of the quality and diversity of what we can work with. But before we can get there, we need to re-learn almost everything.

The Cocktail and Pluto

Well-read mixologists will be aware of the early definition of the word 'cocktail' as it applies to drinks. It is a bittered sling. A sling is a drink of liquor, sweetened, diluted and spiced. (The Singapore 'sling' is a punch that was mis-named by its non-American originators). A cocktail is a sling with bitters, usually instead of the spice. The word actually has a pre-drink history referring to horses of quality that were not thoroughbreds. Their tails were docked or cocked to mark them as such. I believe this is why a bittered sling was also called a 'cocktail.' It's not a thoroughbred spirit, but it's nearly as good.

What made the cocktail so good was expressed by William Boothby in his 1908 book:

"The idea of making any liquor into a cocktail was conceived only for the purpose of removing the sharp, raw taste peculiar to all plain liquors."

That is the beauty of a cocktail. In its purest form, it is nothing but a slightly-sweetened, slightly diluted way to drink any spirit with bitters. The bitters remove the harshness of the ethanol and provide an accenting flavor. If you make your own bitters, be sure that they provide both functions. But I digress.

A true cocktail is a thing of beauty if it is made with good spirits. Cocktails were so pleasing that the word became too trendy for the good of the drink. When a word is expanded to mean everything, it begins to mean nothing.

Whenever I witness someone calling all drinks cocktails, I feel that they do not understand what makes a true cocktail special and different from a punch, for example. To hear a mixologist or bar professional use the word cocktail haphazardly makes me feel the same way the trained cook in me would feel if I heard a 'foodie' describe all Asian food as 'sushi.'

For a bar professional to use terminology that does not reflect what makes each genre of drink satisfying in its own right suggests to me that they do not really know very well how to achieve those ends. Such people are more often than not referring to a punch and make very few true cocktails. This is not to say that cocktails are always better or more appropriate to the setting and time than are punches, or any other type of drink. As professionals, we should know the differences so that we may make the most appropriate type of drink at that moment.

It is true that the word 'cocktail' has been mis-applied by the uneducated for a long time. It is true that the debased 'mixed drink' meaning of the word can be found in dictionaries. Some have said that this is a hopeless effort. But, without understanding the elementally-different types of drinks possible, they are bound to all become some sort of punch at the hands of the unenlightened.

This is a worthwhile effort, and one inspired by Pluto. For a very long time, Pluto was categorized as, and called, a planet. The scientific method then proved it wasn't a planet and announced it to the world. Sure, many laypersons still consider Pluto a planet, but all of the people who matter in the world of science and publishing know better and speak and write accordingly. 'Cocktail' is my Pluto.

If you are a student or client of mine and I add, "and other drinks" after you loosely use the word 'cocktail,' please don't take it personally. I once labored under the same sloppiness and ignorance. I admit that I am a little radical about it. This is just one of the reasons I (perhaps-foolishly) shy away from the so-called "Tales of the Cocktail" each year.

The Sour versus The Fix

Sometimes it is difficult to read old bartending books without our post-prohibition bartending assumptions. I have read various modern explanations of how the fix is different than a sour. They have always left me unconvinced. We know that there must be a difference, because the drinks writers of the 1800's always give them as separate recipes.

The common difference I find in most of the old sources is that a fix is shaken and strained into service-ware containing fresh ice, while a sour is shaken and strained into a chilled glass without ice. Just about the only old source that presents the drinks as being virtually the same is Jerry Thomas. That's not surprising given that he doesn't seem to know that the difference between a mint julep and a mint smash is whether the mint is muddled or not. Jerry Thomas is great for having been the first to publish, but his knowledge often seems flawed compared to George Kappeler, William Boothby and Harry Johnson.

But, getting back to the fix and the sour, they are both technically punches - but punches that are only diluted by water melting from ice. The sour will not become more diluted, but may get warm. The fix will not get much warmer during its existence, but will become more diluted. In fact, since the water melting from the ice is lighter than the rest of the drink, it will tend to stay near the surface. This means that every sip of a fix will be rather diluted.

The choice between a sour and a fix should be decided by the drinker. Unfortunately, most bars will serve a whiskey fix when the customer orders a whiskey sour. Fortunately for those bars, the customer usually doesn't know any better than the staff.

I recently consulted for Jaragua here in Los Angeles. I wrote the menu so that the customer may order either a whiskey sour or a whiskey fix. Likewise, customers there may order their margarita as a fix, or 'up' as a proper sour.

I suggest you make or order both to find out which one you prefer.

Yet Another Martini Cocktail Stance

For a a drinks writer to write,

"I believe a drink should be at least based on gin or vodka to properly be termed a Martini, and ideally should also include vermouth"

would be like a food writer writing,

"I believe a dish should be at least based on pasta or bread to be properly termed Penne all'Arrabiata, and ideally should also include tomato."

It is evidence of a mind ignorant of its own ignorance and grasping at image.

I consider the Martini cocktail to be made from the following specific ingredients: tom gin, sweet vermouth, orange additive bitters and method ice - stirred, strained and garnished with twisted lemon zest.

I must note here that, at first, the Martini Cocktail was simply a (possibly errant) renaming of the Martinez Cocktail. I haven't come across any source listing both as separate drinks until 1930. Not all the old books agree on the garniture or the type of additive bitters. I have chosen a compromise between William Boothby's 1891 recipe and George Kappeler's 1895 recipe. Those are the oldest two recipes under the 'Martini' name I could find that omit both the sugar syrup and the liqueur found in even older recipes. Today, those oldest versions are called the Martinez Cocktail.

A different cocktail made of dry gin, dry vermouth, method ice and orange additive bitters is either a Marguerite cocktail (from 1904 with twisted lemon zest) or a Good Times cocktail (from about 1914 with a pickled green olive). I would call the vodka versions the Vodka Times cocktail and the Vodkuerite Cocktail.

As early as 1914, there was the Cat - dry gin and dry vermouth stirred through ice (without bitters), strained and garnished with a pickled green olive. The vodka version should be called a Vodka Cat - but the perennial parade of middle-class social insecurity and general ignorance has led to its admittance to the club of things mis-called "Martini." You can be a Martini, too! And then people will think you are sophisticated (and not just a drunk with a boring job).

Most conceivable combinations of spirits, aromatized wines, bitters and garniture were made and given their own names long ago. There is no excuse for a drinks writer not knowing them. What is worse is lumping them all together under one trendy name - and then pretending to be a purist or a traditionalist about it!

Curaçao Liqueur

Please go to my other blog to read about Curaçao liqueur: