If you are in Los Angeles and looking for glassware that you can purchase individually and pick up at the Elemental Mixology location, check out the glassware section of the Elemental Mixology storefront.
A couple of annual Cushion Subscriptions will be available this year, starting in Summer. A Cushion Subscription entitles the subscriber to attend all courses (except the shorter Symposium and Brief courses) for a full year.
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.
The auction just ended and I can break secrecy. Plus, I cannot resist gloating! Satisfaction is mine in the matter of an auction of fifteen of Libbey’s long-discontinued #8475 five-and-a-half-fluid-ounce Citation Sour goblets! That’s a case-and-a-quarter. My stock had dwindled to just three of them and I had withdrawn them from use by students. Today’s acquisition means that I will be returning this classic vessel to regular use during Elemental Mixology courses. Death to the coupe!
Paris by Sunlight and Gaslight, by James Gabny McCabe, 1869: “A splendid display of gilt letters along the front of the handsome balcony informs the passer by that it is an ‘American Bar-room,’ where American drinks, pure and simple, are sold… The ‘drinks’ sold here may be American in principle, but they are not so in fact.”
The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain, 1869: “We ferreted out another French imposition — a frequent sign… ‘All Manner of American Drinks Artistically Prepared Here’… ‘We will take whiskey-straight’ (A stare from the Frenchman.) ‘Well, if you don’t know what that is, give us a Champagne Cocktail.’ (A stare and a shrug.) ‘Well then, give us a Sherry Cobbler.’ The Frenchman was checkmated. This was all Greek to him. ‘Give us a Brandy Smash!’ The Frenchman began to back away… shrugging his shoulder and spreading his hands apologetically… It was plain that he was a wicked impostor.”
Nasby in Exile, by David Ross Locke, 1882: “There are a few bars in London that make a specialty of American drinks, which are very curious. The names they palm off as American are very funny to an American, because they are never heard of over there.”
Jerry Thomas, as quoted in David Wondrich’s book, Imbibe, talking to a reporter of the Dramatic Mirror, circa 1882-1884: “Then I’ll teach the Britishers what’s what. Then there’ll be no need to brew bogus Yankee drinks. No, sir, for I’ll give them the full benefit of my inventions, and they shall see what kind of a boy a New York bartender is. I’ll revolutionize the bar in England when I go over, you bet your boots!” [Since Thomas never went to England, his quote on this subject seems to take accounts he had heard of American bars in England as a launching point for his own arrogance.]
How to Travel, by Thomas Wallace Knox, 1887: “A few drinking establishments in London have sought to attract the patronage of strangers from the United States by advertising ‘American drinks,’ but those who have tried them say that the British concoctions are base counterfeits of the great originals.”
The Expatriates – A Novel, by Lilian Bell, 1901: “‘Why, from the number of ‘American Bars’ seen all over Europe, one would think nobody drank anything but American drinks,’ said Lida. ‘Oh no! Besides, these so-called ‘American Bars’ couldn’t mix a drink that an American would recognize…”
The Preposterous Yankee, by Montague Vernon Ponsonby, 1903: “Many persons who have never been to America, but who have visited the American Bar in London, and consumed what is there called ‘American drinks,’ feel a spirit of resentment against the United States. They think that there must be something abnormal or criminal about a nation that will imbibe such liquids. This is unfair to America. As a matter of fact, the “American drinks” sold in London are strange concoctions invented in Whitechapel, and which no American would drink if he could get anything else.”
How Paris Amuses Itself, by Frank Berkeley Smith, 1903: “The only thing American about this ‘American Bar’ was the sign over the door, beneath which appeared a long list of American drinks with weird names, translated to him [the owner] from a bartender’s guide published on the Bowery in the early sixties [Jerry Thomas' book], not one concoction of which he had ever been able to mix.”
Denmark, Norway and Sweden, by William Eleroy Curtis, 1903: “At the Grand Hotel in Stockholm is an ‘American bar,’ similar to those to be found in London, Paris and Berlin. It is attended by a young man, who mixes what are alleged to be American drinks.”
Everybody’s Magazine, Volume 18, January 1908: “Thus the core of Paris, the tourist Paris… The American bar flourishes. It is called an American bar because there is nothing like it in America and because somebody in it can make what he fondly calls a cocktail.”
The Saturday Evening Post, Volume 185, Issue 1, 1912: “Personally I prefer the brand of American who can go abroad and sample the peculiar institutions of England, such as the Tower of London and Shakespeare’s Birthplace, and the kind of cocktail they sell in the American bar of the Savoy Hotel — and still return home with the true Americanism of his speech unimpaired.”
Samuel Francis Batchelder, addressing the Harvard class of 1893 dinner in 1913: “I attempted to celebrate by going out and getting a real American cocktail. Now you who have tried that experiment in Paris will perhaps appreciate my difficulty.”
In The United Service, a 1902 book by Lewis Hamersly & Company, is recorded a U.S. Navy captain’s opinion of the true American cocktail (a very specific type of mixed drink) as he had encountered it in the U.S.A. and around the world. It is worth reading, but rather drawn out. Here are some passages that I found to be noteworthy:
“… mixed drinks. I don’t know any of them except cocktails.”
“For my own part I have hygienic reasons for drinking and have always done so in moderation, and the cocktail is my potation. This fact has led me to observe it carefully and to make some generalizations upon it.”
“There is only one place in Europe that I know where a decent cocktail may be had. That is Nice. It is the favorite rendezvous of our [U.S.] ships of war and has been for years.”
“The American bars in Paris and London are a disgrace to their name..”
“I have tried but one cocktail at Monte Carlo. It was enough.”
“I reckon the Washington cocktail taken full and by is the best in the world.”
“If you want a bad cocktail, it can be had at Kansas City.”
“Saint Louis cocktails are gloomy. They use a kind of stem glass there, a small saucer on a crystal stick [the coupe] that is very objectionable.”
“The Chicago cocktail requires watching and is, well, sloppy.”
“New Orleans is a very foreign city and nothing is more foreign to it than a good cocktail. You have to get as far north in the Mississippi as Cincinnati to get a good one.”
“As I have said, Washington excels in the matter of cocktails…”
“The Philadelphia product is quiet and genial and next to Washington in excellence.”
“Boston does not drink many cocktails, but they seem to be carefully compounded.”
“Without attempting any nice distinction, the New York article is likely to trip its victim up.”
The naval officer was asked how to make a cocktail to perfection. He obliged with the following instructions:
“A large glass filled three-quarters full of cracked ice half the size of a filbert; never use shaved ice or large lumps; dash on this half a teaspoonful [one barspoonful] of syrup made from the best white sugar; add in the same way as the syrup half its quantity [one scruplespoonful or a quarter-teaspoonful] of Stoughton bitters and pour in two tots [one gill or two jiggers or four fluid-ounces] of good straight rye whiskey. It needn’t be old, but it must be straight; no blends out of case bottles will serve. Stir with a long bar spoon, revolving it under the thumb if you can perform that feat, or turn the glass around while you stir until the outside of the glass is cooled enough to precipitate the moisture of the air in small drops; drain [strain] into two dry cocktail glasses [the traditional, stemmed, cocktail goblet - not the coupe!]; twist a shred of rind from a fresh lemon over each glass and let it fall in. If you can perform this apparently simple feat just right your perfect cocktail is ready. It should be evenly translucent, its color tinted slightly with red, a trifle lighter than the ray of a pigeon-blood ruby seen in daylight. If gin is used it should be a warm straw color, but with no stronger tinge of yellow… It should be drank promptly, or if the glass is only partly emptied at the first draught it should not be left to stand for more than a few minutes. The enticing cherry has no place in a cocktail. It doesn’t help cherry or cocktail. Pineapple and orange should never be permitted to enter. Let that cocktail remain untasted which is brought to you with any fruit in it further than a little lemon rind.”
If this man were not so obviously intimate with the glory of the true American cocktail, how it should be made and how simply and quickly it should be drank, I would be more skeptical of his opinion of the drink as found, or not, in the various locations he mentions. But I am inclined to believe him simply because of how well he made true cocktails. I also love that he spurns the coupe and comes from a time before New Orleans reinvented itself as some sort of cocktail Mecca.