Booze

The Fruit Wars

The battle over fruit in Old-Fashioneds started right after Prohibition — and it still isn't over.

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TM_BZ_OLDFASH_AP_001As the spirits columnist for the New York Times, Robert Simonson is one of the leading chroniclers of the cocktail renaissance. In his new book, The Old-Fashioned, he explores the history of the drink as the “ur-cocktail,” from creation to ascension to corruption to its revival as the star of the contemporary cocktail movement. The Old-Fashioned will be available on May 13th from Ten Speed Press, but we’ve got a sneak peek with 3 recipes below – just in time to change up your Derby Day whiskey routine. Pre-order it today from Amazon or Ten Speed Press.

The post-WWII surge in the Old-Fashioned’s popularity among a new demographic of drinkers rubbed certain people — particularly ancient tipplers who could remember the before-times — the wrong way. By their account, there had been a falling off in quality. As cultural critic Gilbert Seldes put it, “Prohibition has created a nation of men and women who do not know what to do with the liquor they so hardly come by.”

“Consider, for instance, the old-fashioned cocktail,” began an ominous 1936 letter to the editor at the New York Times. “Nowadays the modern or ex-speakeasy bartender drops a spoonful of powdered sugar into a glass, adds a squirt of carbonic to aid dissolution, adds to that a dash or two of some kind of alleged bitters and a lump of ice, regardless of size. Then he proceeds to build up a fruit compote of orange, lemon, pineapple, and cherry, and himself pours in a carefully measured ounce and a half of bar whiskey, usually a blend, and gives one a glass rod to stir it with. Price, 35 to 50 cents. Profanation and extortion.”
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The first time I visited a sake brewery (or kura, as its called in Japanese) I worried I wouldn’t be able to drive home afterwards. The owner wouldn’t let my glass drain. Every time I thought I could get away with sneaking into the next part of the tour without a refill, he would appear, smiling, generously pouring more liquid into my sample cup.

Later, I discovered he wasn’t just trying to get me drunk, but was following the Japanese tradition called oshaku, where it’s impolite to fill your own glass, and equally as rude for your host to let your glass sit empty. Sake is a social drink, so oshaku is seen as a way of making new friends.

In America, this social custom hasn’t caught fire when it comes to sake consumption (and for future reference, the polite way to refuse additional servings during traditional Japanese social engagements is to leave a tiny bit of sake in your glass, to not encourage refills). In fact, sake has long been considered a cheap, boozy beverage only suitable for sake bombs and cheap sushi dinners — an image many sake enthusiasts and certified specialists are working to change.
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One day I hope to sit down with Heywood Gould — the novelist and screenwriter who wrote Cocktail, the movie — and have a drink with him. Maybe even a Cognac or Polish Martini. That’s what Heywood used to drink as a bartender in Manhattan during the 1970s. Definitely a few shots of Old Overholt Rye Whiskey. That’s what he drinks now.

The reason is simple. Despite having become a successful writer, Gould still speaks like a bartender, the type of bartender I’ve always enjoyed sitting across from: a raconteur, keen observer of humanity, and someone who understands that the reasons people enter a bar are varied, but rarely do they really have to do with flaming orange peels or flipping bottles. MORE

Booze

Cocktails for a Crowd

Don't get stuck behind the bar at your next party – here's how to craft perfect, hands-off, scaled-up drinks

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Every mixologist worth his or her shaker is trained to craft a delightful cocktail for one. But is it possible to duplicate that delight on a larger scale?

If you’ve ever been to one of the growing ranks of cocktail conferences, such as Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans or the Manhattan Cocktail Classic in New York, you’ll know the answer is a resounding yes! Every year, scores of talented bartenders flock to these conferences, where they go through the choreography of churning out great drinks for hundreds of cocktail enthusiasts at a go.

Behind the scenes, it’s like watching a buzzing beehive: all those frenetic bartenders pouring out bottles from both hands into enormous buckets, stirring with giant spoons that resemble canoe oars, and dipping straws into the buckets to (hygienically) get a taste, and a taste, and yet another taste as they go. When the drink is deemed ready, it’s decanted into dainty one-person servings that are garnished in a flash and delivered to the thirsty masses on serving trays. Despite the scale, each drink is held to the same standard as if it had been made individually.
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Oh, poor vermouth. It’s been the brunt of an ongoing joke in the United States for some time. It was once an essential cocktail component but, following the lead of writers and statesmen from the mid-20th century, it was either swirled and dumped or left out all together, until finally, vermouth was relegated to a sad, crusty old bottle, abandoned on the shelf. Then, with the second coming of cocktail culture in the mid-2000s, it returned in spades. Bottles of Carpano Antica Formula, Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry and reformulated European varieties began populating the shelves. But, until recently, American vermouth had yet to stake its claim.
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More than creatures of habit, we are creatures of fatuous trends. Nowhere is this more plainly obvious than in drinking. Periodically, we see seismic shifts in the drinking fashions when a new movie or television show features a classic cocktail and the throngs of followers now have their golden fleece to pursue – whether it’s James Bond’s “shaken not stirred” martini or Don Draper’s old-fashioned. Of course, the trend is replete with era-specific costumes, and thus even more sad, because I’d like to think social mores march to progress over time, rather than falling back on era-specific rationales about when “men were men” and other such obsolete banalities.

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Film director Jean-Luc Godard once quipped that all he needs to make a movie is a girl and gun. Of course, my question is: What about the bar? The often unheralded character of the silver screen is the old mahogany. Some of the most iconic movies include pivotal scenes in a bar where the protagonist faces some manner of catharsis, whether through ruin or rumination.

Imagine “Fast Eddie” (Paul Newman) in The Hustler shooting pool in a recreation center or Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansen) in Lost in Translation meeting by chance in a Tokyo library. It’s just not possible. There’s a certain quality that a barroom exudes, where danger, intrigue, ritual and remorse all coalesce into a section of human experience only found when people drink together in a public place. These scenes could only have happened in a bar. MORE

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Among the worst instincts known to man is that of creation. Though creativity as utility or inspiration may well be a virtue, it is the incessant need of man to create infinite variations that steers away from the better practice of purposeful or thoughtful endeavor and heads straight over a jagged little cliff scattered with the wreckage of shallow, knee-jerk reactions coupled with unfulfilling, poor simulacra. And very, very bad cocktails.

But this should come as a surprise to no one, that the world is filled with bad art. Most of it we can tolerate or ignore but the problem is really not one of kind but one of volume, how steady a stream and how persistent an urge it becomes once something reaches the level of genuine fashion or trend. With cocktails in 2012, it became a waterfall. MORE