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July 17, 2014 / Andrew ("the Alchemist")

Elemental Mixology, Master Edition

Elemental Mixology Master Edition front cover (2014-07-14)

Browse the Table of Contents.

July 2, 2014 / Andrew ("the Alchemist")

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:

July 2, 2014 / Andrew ("the Alchemist")

$395 Credit Reward!

Okay, I have been reminded of this stuff and am now desperate for more!


The first person who brings me two bottles of Savanna Lontan Rhum Traditionnel Grande Arôme will be given $395 in credit toward any Elemental Mixology Course.  I used to get this stuff through the Whisky Exchange, but they haven’t had it for a few years, at least.  This is a traditional, long-fermented, pot-still, molasses rum from the Savanna distillery on France’s Réunion Island.  It is similar to Wray & Nephew Overproof White, but lower in proof, a bit different in fragrance, and more obvious in its copper pottedness.  Who’s in France?


June 17, 2014 / Andrew ("the Alchemist")


Famouse Grouse 12-year Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

This is just a gripe.  I always tell my students that in the phrase “single-malt” the word malt is the word with the most legal consequence in Scottish law.  Those who understand Scottish whisky law will understand why I would much rather have from Scotland a blended malt whisky than a single grain whisky.  I am really tired of seeing the above product shelved or listed as if it where a ‘whisky-flavored vodka’ (my pet term) like Dewar’s or Chivas Regal.  It offends me that no one at all in any liquor store that I have ever seen stock this product, or any other blended (a.k.a. vatted) malt whisky, has seemed to understand that it does not belong with those whisky-flavored vodka products that only contain a small amount of true, malt whisky.   This is 100% malt whisky — meaning 100% barley whisky, pot-distilled.  Though it contains the products of more than one malting, it contains no neutral grain spirit.  It has more in common with single-malt whiskies than it does the ‘normal’ whisky-flavored-vodka-type Famous Grouse product.  It should not even be stocked in the same vicinity.  It deserves to be understood by the people who sell it — and the people who buy it.  This sort of confusion led to the mis-handling by all of Johnny Walker Green Label — the only true malt whisky Johnny Walker had in their line-up.  Ignorance killed that product.  Don’t be part of whisky-killing ignorance!

June 10, 2014 / Andrew ("the Alchemist")

Drink of the Day — The Hemingway Collins

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Today’s drink of the day is the Hemingway Collins.

Next month, on the 18th of July, will be the 78th anniversary of the start of that great twentieth-century inspiration and sadness known as the Spanish Civil War.  That conflict may well have been the last major war fought less for tribal, ethnic or corporate advantage than it was for ideals — and over conflicting views of how society should be organized.  As much as any war can be romantic, this one was.  It attracted volunteers from all over the world to go to Spain to defend the democratic, left-leaning, Spanish Republic against Francisco Franco’s fascist-leaning, military coup.  The 1995 Ken Loach film, “Land and Freedom,” dramatically portrays such volunteers — and is worthy of watching.  Writer Ernest Hemingway went to Spain to report on the conflict in a way friendly to the Spanish Republic.  The Spanish Republic was eventually overcome in 1939 — not least due to the arms and soldiers sent by Hitler and Mussolini to support Franco.  Franco then went on to become Europe’s longest-lasting, right-wing, fascist dictator — until his death in 1975.  One very small consolation is the fact that Hemingway wrote his great novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls, based on his experiences in the Spanish Civil War.

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Above: Ernest Hemingway poses with some of the rag-tag soldiers of the doomed fight to defend democracy in Spain against the better-equipped, Nazi-supported, Spanish Nationalists.

The source for this drink, Charles Baker, states that it was made the night in 1937 that he and his party saw writer Ernest Hemingway and bullfighter Sidney Franklin off for Spain.  Baker called it the “Farewell to Hemingway” and described it as a Collins (which it is, mixologically speaking), so I just call it the Hemingway Collins.  He indicates it was inspired by the muggy weather (in Cuba, probably), and by the fact that Hemingway favored the dry cherry brandy known as kirschwasser (not to be confused with cherry-flavored brandy liqueur or maraschino liqueur).  There is a real chance that Hemingway had kirschwasser in mind years later some night as he described a variant of the Daiquiri that he wanted, but Cuban bar-tender Constante confused it with maraschino liqueur.  Or, maybe La Florida (in Cuba) just didn’t have kirschwasser that night.  Perhaps Constante made it with kirschwasser for ‘Papa’ but then made it for everyone else with maraschino so that it wouldn’t be so overwhelmingly sour.  But, I have a hunch that the so-called ‘Hemingway Daiquiri’ should be tried with kirschwasser instead of maraschino — much more sensible for a diabetic trying to avoid sugar — if one wants to be true to what I think Hemingway himself had in mind.  But, back to the older Hemingway Collins — Charles Baker’s book containing this drink, The Gentleman’s Companion, was published in 1939.  It is available as a re-print under the tittle, “Jigger, Beaker & Glass.”

Be sure to get some Citrus aurantiifolia (‘Key’) limes and make yourself a Hemingway Collins this Summer.  As you drink it, listen to the Clash song “Spanish Bombs.”   Read the lyrics and let ghosts take hold of your imagination — those of martyred poet Federico Garcia Lorca, the Americans of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion (who violated U.S. law to fight against fascism before the second world war made it legal to do so), La Pasionaria, the International Brigades, George Orwell (who went to Spain not to write against the fascists, but to fight against them them personally — which he did), the Durutti Column (namesake of the later British musical group), Guernica and the countless Spanish peasants who fought and died in hope of winning the right to be taught to read.

There is a lot of history in many of the things we drink.  Not all of it is happy history — rum’s history is intimately connected to slavery and the decimation of indigenous Caribbeans, for example.  But, sensitive consideration of history — and where we as humanity have been, have come, and hope to be — can strengthen the palate enough to find intimations of human beauty — even in the drinks and spirits that have been touched by the darker corners of human nature.  Haven’t they all?

Here is the recipe (click on the image to enlarge it):

20140610 - Hemingway Collins

May 27, 2014 / Andrew ("the Alchemist")

Liquor Buying Guide Short List

For anyone interested, I have posted the new Elemental Mixology Liquor Buying Guide Short List (with local Los Angeles retail prices) here.

May 21, 2014 / Andrew ("the Alchemist")

Old-fashioned Cocktails (and Modern Cocktails)

Only those ignorant of traditional American mixology still believe that the so-called “Old-fashioned” is a single drink that was “invented” by anyone.  The better-informed know that “old-fashioned” is nothing more than an adjectival phrase describing technique that has been mistaken for a proper noun and name.  They know that the drink intended by such impoverished speech is the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail.

Back when the specific type of drink called the cocktail (or bittered sling) was new, it was made in a way that would later be called ‘old-fashioned.’  The only thing new about the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail circa 1890 was its name – and whiskey was only one of the base spirits made into old-fashioned cocktails.  In fact, there is a very good chance that the first sling to have bitters added, making it the first cocktail, was the Rum Sling.  If you want an idea of what that might have tasted like, make an Old-fashioned Rum Cocktail.  The use of Smith & Cross traditional pot-still Jamaica rum would probably render the best historic analog.  Don’t use sugar syrup in any form – that is relatively modern, not old-fashioned, practice.  A lump of old-fashioned sugar (such as La Perruche) will suit historic accuracy.  Also, don’t put any ice into the drink at all.  For the bitters that you will crush into cocktail water with the sugar, the closest historic analog might just be Angostura aromatic bitters (though they weren’t around yet).  If you have well water or water from a natural source that is known to be safe, use it.  Otherwise, use bottled, flat mineral water.  The drink you make this way will probably be as close to the first true cocktail as you can come.  It will definitely be even more old-fashioned (but probably not better) than the drink barbarously called “The Old-Fashioned” in bars today.

Below is a description of what was just called a Gin Cocktail in 1839, but that would surely be called an Old-fashioned Gin Cocktail in the 1890’s – if only it contained some ice.

OfC 01

Notice that the landlord (the owner) handed the customer a decanter of gin to pour for himself.  Also notice the American tradition of really drinking down the cocktail.  Before Prohibition, true cocktails were not effetely nursed and sipped.

So, when did the ice come in as a regular ingredient in a true cocktail?  Below is a true cocktail that contains ice, but is still made with dry sugar.  By containing ice, this Queue de Chanticleer Cocktail fully satisfies the modern concept of what is old-fashioned in a cocktail.

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But, ice at that time was still a relatively-expensive and mostly-seasonal ingredient.

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As it turned out, iced cocktails in bars replete with ice in August would not remain an unbelievable thing for long.  By 1856, ice was being manufactured and was available even in hot climates.

OfC x2

OfC x1

That only leaves the issue of the sugar.  As Benjamin Franklin said, “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.”  Making simple syrup or gum syrup would only feed that bacteria with plenty of sugar.  Making sugar syrup out of bottles of naturally filtered water from the Alps wasn’t financially viable, since adding sugar to the water without having a refrigerator to store it in invites quick spoilage.  It is not surprising that filtration of municipal water supply and refrigeration were being developed at the same time as the ice machine.  Once one could use cheap, pure water to make sugar syrup, and then store that syrup cold, it made sense to do so in American bars.

Technological progress progress had given the American bar gum syrup and plenty of ice., and an explosion of innovation occurred in American mixological practice.  Jerry Thomas’ career did not father that innovation — it fathered his career.  It was the right time for someone to write a book.  If he hadn’t done it, someone else would have.  By the time that Jerry Thomas’ book was published in 1862, pure water was cheap enough that making sugar syrup (including gum syrup) made financial sense.  And so with sugar syrup, and plenty of ice for chilling drinks in before straining them into a goblet, one development was that the American cocktail became fully modern.

OfC 03

Why Thomas shook (and bruised) his Whiskey Cocktail even though he stirred his Brandy Cocktail (thus preserving its velvet) is not something that I can begin to understand.  Perhaps Jerry Thomas devoted more thought to Jerry Thomas than to good drinks.  To be fair to Jerry, it should be pointed out that using plenty of ice to either stir or shake a drink with was still very new practice at the time.  Deep intimacy with the different results between stirring and shaking had probably not developed yet.

A majority (but not all) of my students say they like the modern Whiskey Cocktail better than the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail.  If stirred long enough, it will be colder (at least when served).  Being served without ice, it never grows more diluted.  If consumed in the traditional three-or-four gulps, it doesn’t have time to get warm.  The preference I routinely witness for modern cocktails over old-fashioned cocktails leads me to believe that the modern method of making a cocktail probably took over quickly without much complaint.  Even though there were undoubtedly many drinkers who still remembered the older method in 1862, Jerry Thomas didn’t then present a single drink in his section of cocktails that was not made the modern way.

But, within about twenty years of Jerry Thomas’ book, it seems that something caused the older method for mixing the cocktail to come back into vogue.  Perhaps it was nothing more than the sentiment of nostalgia.  Perhaps, as the following newspaper clipping seems to suggest, some drinkers of true cocktails were willing to have a warmer drink in exchange for one that would be stronger-tasting (if only for a few minutes).

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As can be seen from the plural “cocktails” and “them” — and the reference only to “the liquor” — in the above passage, a single drink called “The Old-fashioned” is not what is being discussed.  There certainly never was any ‘invention’ of “The Old-fashioned.”  All that happened was an older method for making cocktails became fashionable again.  The 1883 source explicitly considers that the true cocktail may be made in either modern or old-fashioned ways.  As much can be seen in George Kappeler’s 1895 book.  Also established by Kappeler is the fact that there was no single drink here.  Any spirit could, and still should, be made into either a modern cocktail or an old-fashioned cocktail.

OfC 05

Both methods are worthy of enjoyment.  Remember, if you use simple syrup, you are making a modern cocktail (even if served on-the-rocks) instead of an old-fashioned cocktail.  And whatever you do, don’t ignore English grammar and mistake “old-fashioned” for a noun.  It is an adjectival phrase.  The noun in both drinks above is ‘cocktail.’  Such silly names as “Scotch Old-fashioned” and “Tequila Old-fashioned” betray not only ignorance of traditional American mixology, but also of English grammar.

So, there they are — old-fashioned cocktails and modern cocktails.  Perhaps one day our drink ‘scholars’ will stop searching the scriptures in vain for the name of the man that supposedly ‘invented’ the so-called “Old-fashioned” at the Pendennis – or for the earliest proof of its existence far too late in the nineteenth century.


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