Tipperary Mercy

Apparently there isn’t much cross over between fans of English post-punk and the readers of this blog…

Wire performing the song “Mercy” from their album “Chairs Missing”. I believe this was from a German TV show called “RockPalast” and originally broadcast in 1979.

“Snow storms forecast imminently in areas Dogger, Viking, Moray, Forth, and Orkney.”

Also, Colin Newman’s attire does give a bit of a clue as to where I got my (lack of) fashion sense.

Some Reservations

Was recently watching an episode of No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain traveled to Kerala, India.

In the episode he visited two establishments which gave me pause, a Toddy Shop and a Tea Shop.

While I know the idea of “Punch” was likely adapted by the British from Indian Roots and the Indians have a pretty good claim on being among the first to distill spirits for consumption, I hadn’t given much thought to what else they may have contributed to drink culture.

Toddies and Slings, (more about Toddies and Slings in another post shortly,) are booze plus water, sugar, and maybe a garnish.  Along with Punch, they were among the most popular drinks in America during the early years of the country.

In India, Toddy Shops are bar-like places that serve Palm Wine and food.  Palm Wine is a fermented beverage made by harvesting the sap of Toddy Palm Trees.  It spontaneously ferments, making a low alcohol beverage similar to Mexican beverage Pulque.  These shops are gathering places for men, and often serve food as a sop to their Toddy, or maybe Toddy as a salve to the spicy Indian Food.  One way, or another, they are gathering places, where men, food, and alcoholic beverages converge.

It puzzles me how the word “Toddy” may have migrated to or from India, to refer to a ubiquitous American beverage of the 18th and 19th Century.

Another interesting visit was to a Tea Shop.  Much like the Toddy Shop, the Tea Shop was a social gathering place, where you would go to get your tea, have a snack, and converse with your neighbors and the proprietor to get the most recent local news and gossip.  Aside from this similarity to Taverns, I was struck by another interesting technique used by the women making the tea.  When they are pouring and mixing it they aerate it by pouring it between two metal mixing cups.  Called Yard Long Tea it was strange to see the mixing technique from the Blue Blazer and other famous 19th Century Bartenders being used to mix tea in India.

While Wayne Curtis’ recent article in the Atlantic, “Who Invented the Cocktail?“, traced some of the roots of bar culture and cocktails back to England, this episode of No Reservations got me wondering how much of what he credits to England in the article was borrowed from Indian culture.

What’s Up Double E, Spring 2010

Life continues apace, with plenty of craziness to go around.

First off, Imbibe Magazine printed my Nocino recipe in their last issue, which was pretty fun, especially since they included an original drink recipe with it. Funny story, I actually sent them two recipes. When I was working on some cocktail recipes for the Nocino, I came up with two, one that I liked better, and one that Mrs. Flannestad liked better. There was a deadline for the article, so I just sent both cocktail recipes in to the magazine unnamed. When the issue came out, I discovered that they had named the cocktail the “Matrimony Cocktail”! For the record, the recipe they printed in the magazine was Mrs. Flannestad’s favorite of the two.

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Bartenders in San Francisco have a crazy amount of events. It’s kind of silly, really, how many contests, gatherings, and industry shin digs happen in this town. Since I live a double life as a bartender and desk jockey, I don’t get out to a lot of these events. You know, usually they are during the day, or on a “school night”. The other month, though, I got word of an event sponsored by Absolut. Two things, piqued my interest. First, one of my cocktail writer heroes, David Wondrich, was going to speak, and second, Grant Achatz, the chef at Alinea in Chicago, was designing the menu. Well, geez, how could I not go to something like that? Alinea is often bandied about as one of the top restaurants in the US, this would probably be as close as I would ever get to dining there! Near the beginning of the event they told us there would be a little contest. They asked us to identify, by smell alone, the contents of 8 opaque glasses. I did my best, nothing seemed that hard, but I so rarely win contests of any sort, I figured, eh, whatever. After the amazing, outstanding, and mind-blowing dinner, they announced the winners. I was one of the two people who got the most right! The Prize? Dinner at Alinea with Simon Ford and the other winners from New York and Washington, DC. Holy crap! I think I have just been playing the wrong contests all these years…

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In terms of work, well, it goes on.

I started working at Heaven’s Dog in January of 2009. From January through September, I worked full time at my day job and picked up shifts as I could at Heaven’s Dog. Starting in September, I dropped a day at my day job and started working regularly on Sunday nights at Heaven’s Dog. It was an interesting experiment, but it didn’t work out. I am not super great at money management. So, for the time being, I am keeping Sundays, but re-joining the legions of food service employees who work 6 days a week, hoping to get the finances back on an even keel. Mentioning that I was already kind of missing my two weekend days off with Mrs. Flannestad, Daniel Hyatt at Alembic said, “You just gotta make that one day count.”

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Speaking of Daniel Hyatt and Alembic, we’ve now been doing Sunday Savoy Nights for over a year. Crazy. I missed one Sunday when I was out of town, but they have developed into a nice little Sunday night event for Alembic. Alembic has also started a couple fun new programs, one around cask finished bottled beer and another around having a special punch every Sunday. The food is as good as ever. I know I am a bit suspect as a semi-employee, but the guys in the kitchen really are executing food as good as any well known restaurant you can name in San Francisco, and they are doing it in a tiny kitchen at the back of a cocktail bar. It’s really awesome. Since its opening, Alembic has been one of my favorite bars in San Francisco and I continue to be grateful and humbled that they let me come in and play one Sunday a month.

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Mrs. Flannestad and I celebrated our 10th Wedding Anniversary with a trip to Spain and Portugal. Talk about crazy! Too much good food and drink to even list, but my two favorite meals were at Casa Marcelo in Santiago de Compostella and Pasadis del Pep in Barcelona.  Both were amazing.

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That’s about it, hope you continue to enjoy the site! There will be some surprises coming this year, and, if I’m lucky maybe I’ll even finish this pesky Savoy Cocktail Project. Or at least get to the “End of Cocktails”.  See you around!

HFCS (NOT!) Fun

You’d think I’d have learned by now, especially after that Agave Controversy post, not to post about Science stuff.

A sweet problem: Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain

A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.

In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.

Working at a University, I’ve met a lot of scientists who say things like, “Calories are Calories, if you’re fat, you’re just eating too many calories and not getting enough exercise.”

Personally, I’ve always thought that a pretty simplistic way of looking at things as complicated as diet, culture, and metabolism.

Interestingly, it appears that some Scientists are seeing further evidence from animal based experiments that High Fructose Corn Syrup, even in water solutions with similar calorie contents to those with sucrose sugar solution, may be far more likely to cause obesity and other fat related illnesses.

And again, I’ll point out that while Agave Nectar is nowhere near as ubiquitous as HFCS in the American diet, it shares many chemical characteristics with that substance.  Some brands of Agave Nectar may actually contain more fructose than High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Continuing Nomenclature Debate

More comments on the Nomenclature/Aviation/Sensation Debate.

From Gaz Regan:

Hi Guys:  re the ratios in my Aviation.  I always hold that recipes are mere guidelines, they aren’t meant to be taken literally.  and everyone should make drinks either they way they like or best, or the way their customers like it best.  Do you think that Lobster Newburgh is cooked using exactly the same recipe by all chefs worth their salt, for instance?  And do you think that that recipe is the same one used at Delmonico’s when the dish was created in the (1800s?).

Thanks to whoever wrote I try very hard never to take things personally, and whenever I’m proved wrong about something, I try to see that as a learning experience.

From Michael Lazar:

Perhaps it’s not just drink size that’s at play. Reading old recipes you see, time and time again, that ingredients like liqueurs and juices are used in quantities so small that they can be no more than accents against which to experience the character of a primary spirit. (The various “improved” cocktails come to mind here.) In more modern cocktails these same ingredients are regularly used in quantities that bring them squarely into the foreground. Perhaps this represents a difference in peoples’ palates one hundred (or more) years ago and/or a simply a practical consideration in a time when such things may have been rarer and more expensive.

As I mention in the comments of one of the posts, I have to admit one of my pet peeves is Martinis and Manhattans whose vermouth is neglected or reduced to the point of irrelevance.

Why even call it a Martini or a Manhattan if it doesn’t have vermouth?

It’s just cold booze.

Not the same as the Aviation issue, as the reverse is true. More booze, more liqueur, less citrus.  But I maintain that ratios are sometimes as important in a cocktail as actual ingredients.

In some cases, we have gotten to the point where some drinks have gotten so far from their origins, that we nearly need to make up new drink names to be able to serve them as they were originally formulated. Happened to me recently, when someone asked me for a Casino Cocktail. Originally an actual cocktail (sugar, bitters, spirit, liqueur) with a dash of lemon, sort of a Crusta without the Sugar Crust, in modern practice, it has morphed into a bittered Gin Sour.  A bartender asked me for it, so I figured it would at least be academically interesting for him to have it made in the early 20th Century manner.  In fact, it just freaked him out, and sadly, I had to throw out the delicious drink and make him a boring old bittered gin sour.

I’ll admit to tweaking recipes myself. Some recipes are, in fact, so horrible as to be undrinkable in any world I live in. Check the Savoy version of the Mule’s Hind Leg or Applejack Rabbit, for example. There might be the idea of a good drink there, but the literal recipes are literally awful.

Living in the 21st Century, we are in a very lucky spot, indeed, not only to be able to stand on the shoulders of the research and life experience of true giants like Gaz Regan, Dale DeGroff, David Wondrich, Ted Haigh, Robert Hess, and others, but also to have relatively easy access to much of the source material for what has come to be the “canon” of modern drinks. We have Greg Boehm and Cocktail Kingdom to thank for that.

Along those lines, I work in a bar whose recipes are based on those of Charles Baker, Jr.  The fact of the matter is, I work in a bar where we make drinks designed by Erik Adkins, with some of the same ingredients as those that were included in Charles Baker, Jr’s drinks of the same name.  This is really for the best, as Erik Adkins designs much tastier drinks than Charles Baker, Jr ever did.  Well, almost ever.

To a certain extent I look at my responsibilities at the Underhill-Lounge, as similar to my responsibilities to Mr. Adkins.  When I am working in his bar, I make his drinks with his recipes.  If someone asks me for a Clover Club at Heaven’s Dog, I don’t make them a Savoy Cocktail Book Clover Club, I make them an Erik Adkins Clover Club.  Similarly, if I am going to make an Aviation Cocktail on the Underhill-Lounge, I’m not going to make the recipe from Heaven’s Dog, I’m going to research and make what I think the drink’s creator might have intended.  I’m going to make Hugo Ensslin’s Aviation.

I think it is important, with the resources we have available today, to examine the drinks we are making, and question why we are making them the way we are.

If I didn’t do that, I’d still be making Old-Fashioneds with muddled fruit and 7-Up, instead of understanding the history behind the drink and what it means for an Old-Fashioned to be an actual “Cocktail”.

When I am looking at a new recipe in the Savoy Cocktail Book I have several steps I go through before making it.

First I check to see if the recipe is wrong.  In many cases, ingredients, especially garnishes, got left out of the Savoy Cocktail Book.  There also appear to be plenty of typos.  To assess this, I check the book I suspect was Craddock’s source for the recipe.  In the case of the Aviation, I check Hugo Ensslin and discover that there is an ingredient missing.

Second I ask myself if the ingredients included in the recipe have changed in some significant manner, since 1930.  The answer to this is almost always, “yes”, but some, like Lillet, more than others, say Dry Gin.

Third, I ask, has popular taste changed, to the extent this recipe is no longer a commonly made class of drinks.  In the Savoy Cocktail Book, there are plenty of examples of whole classes of drinks that have gone more or less extinct between 1930 and 2010.  Unsweetened sours, for example.  Or cocktails made up of 2/3 Gin, 1/3 Dry Vermouth, and a dash of this or that.  Or Dry Aromatic drinks made with Brown Spirits, like the Brooklyn.

Fourth, I ask if the recipe is just bad.  Pretty much any drink whose source is Judge Jr’s tome “Here’s How” falls into this category.  Earthquake, Hurricane, Mule’s Hind Leg, Corn Popper, etc.  “Here’s How” is just a bad, bad cocktail book full of bad, bad cocktails, underscoring just where cocktail making was at during Prohibition in America.

Last, I ask myself, even though I initially don’t like it, is there some way to appreciate the drink for what it is.  Again, the Aviation is a fine example.  The lightly, or slightly, sweetened sour is a category of drink which has, more or less, gone extinct since the beginning of the 20th Century.  Why?  Is there still something there to appreciate?  With the Aviation, I think the answer is yes.  It is an aperitif cocktail, designed to stimulate the appetite, if you add too much sweetener, you lose that.  You may draw a different conclusion.  That’s fine, but if I don’t appreciate your heavily Maraschino-ed version of the Aviation when I stop by your bar or house, now you know why.

And to get back to some of Gaz’ initial points, bartenders are not exactly chefs.  We are first, and foremost, hosts.  We talk to our guests, asking and assessing what they want to drink, hoping to gain their trust.  A chef does not have this luxury, nor does he have as much freedom to improvise or change his menu.  If the guest wants a Lemon Drop, the guest is going to get the best damn Lemon Drop I can make, made with fresh squeezed lemon and organic simple syrup.  If the guest enjoys that Lemon Drop, maybe next time they will trust me enough to try something more exotic.  Or maybe not.  Maybe they just like Lemon Drops.  It’s their choice, they’re paying, and, as a host and bartender, I am serving them, not my own ego.

Nomenclature Debate

Comment on the “Sensation Cocktail” from The Conceirge regarding the never ending “Aviation Debate“.

I see from your link that you credit Gary Regan with the 2oz gin, 1/2 each of Maraschino and lemon juice recipe for Aviation. To my taste, even with Luxardo, Gary Regan does a fine job with this recipe (leaving aside any nomenclature debates). When you make aviations with 1/2oz of Luxardo Maraschino, are you using 2oz of Gin? If so, perhaps your fancy lemons are not as sour as the ones from the Concrete Jungle. :)

I don’t know who initially re-jiggered the Aviation, but Gary seems like a tough guy who can take a little lively discussion without taking it too personally.

Let’s take a look at the original Aviation Recipe, from Hugo Ensslin’s “Recipes for Mixed Drinks”:

Aviation Cocktail

1/3 Lemon Juice
2/3 El Bart Gin
2 dashes Maraschino
2 dashes Creme de Violette

Shake well in a mixing glass with cracked ice, strain and serve.

I’m sorry but I don’t think completely changing the ratio of a drink and leaving out an ingredient is a “nomenclature” issue.

The Ensslin Aviation recipe is 2 parts Gin, 1 part Lemon, and (generously) 1/8 part Maraschino Liqueur and 1/8 part Creme de Violette (Not Yvette!).

Changing the Aviation to 4 parts gin, 1 part lemon, and 1 part Maraschino isn’t “nomenclature”, it’s disrespecting the person who created the recipe.

I will say I think part of the problem is size.

An Ensslin Aviation made with a 2 oz (total) pour, chilled to perfection, is a bracing tonic, something to get your appetite and saliva going when you feel a bit down.

An Ensslin Aviation made with a 3 oz pour gets warm, catches in your throat, and is basically undrinkable half way before you are done.

As pour sizes have increased, many of these “tonic” drinks have had to be re-jiggered with more liqueur and simple syrup to allow them to be drinkable for people who like to linger over their (sadly warm and disgusting) cocktails.

Random Chatter: Old Square

On Sunday, a wait at Alembic asked what the name of the cocktail “Vieux Carre” meant.

I started to explain that it meant something like, “old quarter,” or, “old square” in French, and referred to the oldest section of the city of New Orleans.

Brandon pushed his glasses down his nose, hunched his back a bit and said, “Man, no, this is an ‘old square.'”

I laughed and said, “I am totally THE Old Square”.

He didn’t disagree.

Signs of the Coming Apocalypse

Swine Flu, eh.  Twitter, maybe.

But Carne Asada Fries?

Carne Asada Fries

Frankly, if you’re going this route, why not go all the way?  To me, Chorizo, rather than Carne Asada would be doing it up in style.

Edit: My friends over at Married…With Dinner dropped me a note to tell me Carne Asada Fries are something of a Southern California phenomenon.  A friend of theirs recently wrote up a blog post about the subject.  Check it out: Carne Asada Fries. Bong Not Included.

In case you’re wondering where this mad mash up of Canadian Poutine and Mexican food can be had in San Francisco, I spotted it last Friday as a lunch special at Carmelina’s Taqueria in the Millberry Union on the UCSF Parnassus campus.  Perhaps next week, I will risk life and limb for an in the flesh photo.

Why The Savoy Cocktail Book?

Savoy Cocktail Book

One of the most common questions I get when friends and acquaintances find out about the Savoy Cocktail Book Project is, “Why?”

After these few years of making cocktail after cocktail, I have to admit I sometimes wonder the same thing.

To start from the beginning…

While planning a trip to New Orleans, I’d run across Chuck Taggart’s article about the Sazerac on his site Gumbo Pages. The level of detail and elaborate ritual involved for such a seemingly simple cocktail appealed significantly to my obsessive nature.

1) Chill the cocktail glass with ice.

2) Stir the whiskey, bitters, and syrup with ice.

3) Discard the ice from the cocktail glass.

4) Dash absinthe into the glass and swirl to coat.

5) Discard most of the Absinthe.

6) Strain the chilled whiskey into the glass.

7) Squeeze a lemon peel over the glass and serve.

When executed well, it is an amazing drink that completely eclipses every one of its component ingredients.

So when we went to New Orleans, we went on a bit of a Sazerac quest, asking for them at most of the bars we got to. While we got a few really good Sazeracs, most were just not quite as tasty as the ones I had been making at home.

That made me curious. What if the same was true for other cocktails?

Earl of Savoy Book Illustration

What usually happens when I get curious about things is I get a bit obsessed. I read every thing I can find on the subject. I participate actively in online forums on the subject. I post questions to the same forums. In general, I stuff as much of the subject as I can find into my brain until it can hold no more.

As I’ve mentioned before, this has happened many times in the past. With Comic Books, Jazz Music, Computer Games, Computer Hardware, Cooking, Gardening, Botany, and now Cocktails.

But even after all that, I was still really only making the same few cocktails. Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, Sazeracs, and Margaritas. There was a whole world of cocktails out there that I didn’t know and hadn’t tasted. How would I familiarize myself with more of them? Where should I start?

Fortunately, Ted Haigh’s book, “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails,” was published about this time, pointing a way towards both culinary and historical research into cocktails. Not to mention a gold mine of information regarding the historically appropriate ingredients to make those classic cocktails with.

About this time another participant on the eGullet.org Spirits and Cocktails forums started posting occasionally about obscure recipes he found in an edition of Patrick Gavin Duffy’s “Official Mixer’s Manual”. At the same time, another friend decided to familiarize himself with cooking by attempting to make all the recipes, in order, from a copy of “Joy of Cooking”.

The idea of making cocktails from one or another book, not haphazardly, but systematically and sequentially kind of appealed. It certainly wasn’t as quixotic as attempting to make all the recipes from the “Joy of Cooking”.

Savoy Statue

I scanned through my bookshelf, looking at the spines. From the start, I knew I wanted to do a vintage book, not a modern edition. I wanted to get back to the origins of modern cocktails. Delightful gentleman, though they are, Wondrich, Haigh, Regan, and DeGroff were thus out of the running.

Looking at what remained, four stood out: Jerry Thomas’ “The Bartender’s Guide”, “The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book”, Charles Baker’s “Gentleman’s Companion”, and “The Savoy Cocktail Book”.

Jerry Thomas, at the time, just seemed too far in the past. Similarly, there seemed to be just too many defunct ingredients in the Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book. Charles Baker was very, very tempting, but his recipes seemed like they would be too much of a pain to transcribe and interpret. Besides, what few cocktails of his I had made, had never turned out all that well, without some serious massaging.

That left “The Savoy Cocktail Book”. In its favor, it didn’t seem to have all that many defunct ingredients, a modest variety of ingredients, most recipes were easy to read, and the cocktails were listed purely alphabetically, rather than by ingredient or some other categorical system.

In the deficit category, according to the back of the book, it contained 750 cocktail recipes. Even making one or two cocktails a day, this was going to take a while.

I mentioned the idea to some of the powers that were at eGullet.org and got a warm reception and some interest.

Well, then…

Not being one to shirk a challenge, on June 8th, 2006, with a cocktail called “The Abbey,” I took the plunge and posted the first cocktail and picture to a topic I called, “Stomping Through the Savoy: A to Zed.”

Entrance to the American Bar at the Savoy

The Rules:

  • Make the recipes in order.
  • Make the recipes as written.
  • Try to get as close to the original ingredients as possible.
  • Take a picture of every cocktail.
  • Do some research into the cocktail’s name, history or ingredients.
  • Don’t drink yourself to death.

Make the Recipes in Order

Being, by nature, a rather disorganized and undisciplined person, it’s often tough for me to submit to systems.  In fact, more often than not, I find myself, even when I think I am behaving, subconsciously subverting rules through selective memory.  If I just picked out random recipes and made those, I’d never get done with this book.  I’ll plod through, one after another, as best I can.  I am hard headed enough to follow through to the bitter end, once I get started.

Make the Recipes as Written

I have a small problem following recipes to the letter. No matter what, I always think there is some small thing that I can tweak to make them “Better”.

Probably this is partly a line cook’s attitude. For a line cook, there usually aren’t recipes. There are ingredients, your execution, and taste. There are no “This pasta has 1 tsp of garlic, ½ tsp of pepper flakes, ½ tsp of salt, and ½ cup tomatoes.” When you’re trained, it’s all visual. “The pasta has this much of this, a pinch of that, a scoop of that. It should taste like this. OK, you make it.”

When I first started making cocktails, I guess I thought there would be some sort of transference of ability. I could just start screwing around with cocktail recipes and be able to tweak them for the better without really knowing what I was making. At about the time I started The Savoy Project, I was beginning to realize how little I knew and how much I needed to learn. My portion sizes were ridiculous, I didn’t understand the qualities different spirits brought to drinks, or even how much difference a simple change of brands of spirits could make in a simple cocktail. I did understand it was important to use fresh juices and quality spirits, but that only gets you so far. What better way to learn than to submit to a higher authority and just make the recipes?

Try to Get As Close to the Original Recipes as Possible

Initially I interpreted recipes pretty literally. Only using traditional spirits, rather than modern styles. Trying to locate Cuban Rum for where Bacardi was called for. Using Canadian Whiskey where Canadian Club was called for. Only using old school gins from England.

But the more you learn, the more that seems to become a waste of time.

For instance, when you start researching recipes, you discover how much substitution was already going on. That almost every Savoy recipe calling for Canadian Club, originally called for Rye or Bourbon. It was only because of Prohibition and the limited availability of American Whiskies, that the Savoy bartenders substituted Canadian Club.

When I talk about “lost” ingredients now, I like to divide them into three categories.

1) Those no longer made, like Crème Yvette, Hercules, Caperitif, and a few others. For some of these we really don’t even have a clue what they might have tasted like.

2) Those which are still made, but are difficult to get. When I started in 2006, this was a much larger category than it is today in 2009. Absinthe, Pimento Dram, Crème de Violette, Swedish Punsch, and Old Tom Gin were all in this category. All could pretty much only be gotten by expensive mail order or by traveling to where they were made. Today, I am told, there are 53 Absinthes alone either on the market or waiting for TTB approval.

3) Those which are still made, but whose current formulation differs so radically from their vintage character that they may no longer be suitable for the recipes or cocktails originally created for them. This is always a grey area, but really the most vexing of the three categories. For example, many cocktail in the Savoy Cocktail Book call for something called, “Kina Lillet”. Is the character of modern Lillet Blanc really even close to Kina Lillet? Signs point to, “no”. The same with many ingredients, even those as simple as French and Italian Vermouths.

Bar at the American Bar at the Savoy

Take a Picture of Every Cocktail

I never try to get the most beautiful picture, or even the most beautiful garnish or glassware when taking pictures of my drinks. If I have any goal, it is either to capture some transient quality of a freshly made drink, or just to try to take a picture that presents a drink in a way that I’ve never seen before. Light glinting off the orange oils which I have just sprayed across the surface or the slight foam caused by a vigorous shake. But most of the time it is just to take an unvarnished and real picture. This is what the drink looks like. Not a glossy shot for a magazine.

Do Some Research into the Cocktails, Name, Recipe, or Ingredients

The Savoy Cocktail Book is a terse recipe book. Basically just lists of ingredients and the instructions, “Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.” If this journey is going to be interesting to me or the readers, part of it is going to have to be filling in those blank spaces between the names, ingredients, and recipes.

Researching ingredients has been among the most fun things. Particularly my little obsession with the nature of Hercules, proved to be of some value to the cocktail community. When I started making Savoy recipes, everyone agreed with Stan Jones, that Hercules was an “Absinthe Substitute” of some sort. At my prodding, and stubbornness, we uncovered that the commonly held assumption was completely wrong. We still don’t know exactly what it might have tasted like, but at least we now know it wasn’t an Absinthe Substitute, but an aperitif wine fortified with Yerba Mate.

For me, though, some of the most fun has been researching cocktail names. To find out who a Barney Barnato, Gene Tunney, or Odd McIntyre might have been. To turn up some clue as to why their name might have been honored or ridiculed with a cocktail. To gain some small insight into the culture and time that the book was written. Not to be over dramatic, but sometimes it does feel a bit like time travel, to discover these facts and try to taste the character of the time in the drink.

Savoy Shaker

Don’t Drink Yourself to Death

750, or as it turns out 888, cocktails is a lot of drinking, and I’m far to cheap to throw out just about any crazy mixture I have concocted. As the folks at Burrito Eater say, “The site’s called ‘Burrito Eater’, not ‘Burrito Taster’”.

On the other hand, there are days when I don’t even feel like drinking alcohol, let alone fix up some liqueur laden, complex, early Twentieth Century cocktail. In addition, my obsession with beverages stretches across just about every species of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage. From Straight Whiskey to First Flush Darjeeling Tea.

If I want to come out of this enterprise with some small sliver of a liver and a brain, some moderation is necessary.

As the project developed and I did some experiments on my own tolerance and ability to photograph and blog, about 5 Savoy cocktails a week turned out to be a good balance between sanity and the abyss. That compromise has pushed the duration of the project out a bit further than I initially intended. So it goes.

So, really, “Why?”

Initially just curiosity. As the project continued and other’s interest developed, it soon reached a point where there really was no choice not to continue. Even taking a small break, as I have been for the last couple months, has gotten me some quizzical emails. “What is up with the Savoy Stomp?”

To answer their questions in the affirmative, “The Stomp Goes On!

All That Is Known About Cocktails

A FEW HINTS FOR THE YOUNG MIXER

1. Ice is nearly always an absolute essential for any Cocktail.

2. Never use the same ice twice.

3. Remember that the ingredients mix better in a shaker rather larger than is necessary to contain them.

4. Shake the shaker hard as you can : don’t just rock it : you are trying to wake it up, not send it to sleep!

5. If possible, ice your glasses before using them.

6. Drink your Cocktail as soon as possible. Harry Craddock was once asked what was the best way to drink a Cocktail : “Quickly,” replied that great man, “while it is laughing at you!”

Thanks to some of my compatriots in the CSOWG for help on this post. Gabe from cocktainerd for invaluable editorial input and Blair from TraderTiki’s Booze Blog for cleaning up what seemed to me to be a hopeless morass of MS Word HTML.

Fowl Mouthed Humanity

Riding home on the N yesterday, with a sore throat and probably a fever, a group of fellow riders conspired to make my evening even more miserable.

First a gentleman got on the train, with an interesting strategy for getting contributions: Repeatedly and loudly saying, “Can anyone give me money for food? Can anyone give me money for a burrito?” over and over.

This sort of thing, you come to expect on the N. Typical, not that bad. Annoying, but harmless.

But when he passed another gentleman on the bus, that gentleman said, “Why don’t you just sit down and shut up!”

Well, fair enough. I looked at that gentleman and saw he was reading Neal Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon”. Well groomed, with dockers and white sneakers.

The panhandling gentleman moved to the end of the train and sat down. But continued to loudly and repeatedly ask for money for food.

White sneaker dude also kept his end of the deal up. Glaring at the panhandler and occasionally yelling something at him. When someone accidentally bumped the panhandler he exclaimed, “Don’t touch me, I’ll call the cops!”

To which white sneaker guy countered, “Yeah, pan handling on MUNI, that’s against the law, isn’t it?”

At which point I’m beginning to wonder about the motivations here. Then I notice white sneaker dude has his hand in his pocket and is fingering something. I look a bit closer and see that it is a can of mace or pepper spray.

Looking at him, I see the look in his eye. It’s the hopeful look that a nerd gets when he thinks he’s got an ace up his sleeve that will enable him to finally beat the bully who has been torturing him. He wants the homeless guy to come at him. He’s baiting him so he can pepper spray him and maybe get in a punch or two.

They go at it some more. Yelling back and forth swearing at each other. White sneaker guy, with white knuckles around his pepper spray bottle sez, “Goddamn drug user, why don’t you go do some crack or heroin and kill yourself!” Thankfully, the panhandler seems to have enough sense not to approach the white sneaker guy.

At Duboce and Church, the MUNI train driver finally comes back to our train and asks the panhandler to get off the train.

Relieved that nothing worse would happen than shouting, I start to calm down.

Then someone else sez to white sneaker dude, “Man, the only thing that allows those people to survive in San Francisco is that we’re too afraid to touch them.” To which a middle aged woman in a jeans jacket and carrying a forever21.com bag replies, “Next time we’ll all wear hazmat suits and lay into him.”

White sneaker guy mutters something like, “Goddamn disgusting San Francisco,” and I have to admit I’m thinking the same.