Adam Levy, The Alcohol Professor, is dedicated to educating industry pros and enlightened consumers about the international culture of quality adult beverages. Alcohol Professor is an industry insider's guide to all things beer, wine and spirits.
The Spritz isn’t just a drink. It’s a way of life, characterized by hours spent soaking up the sun on a patio lounger or at the table with friends, laughs and a leisurely three-hour afternoon snooze-inducing lunch. Above all, it’s part of that easy, breezy, carefree summer attitude we all crave–and best of all, it requires absolutely no need for a cocktail shaker. Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, considered the official kickoff of summer in the states, these libations can be built in the glass over ice (we’ll even give you a pass on the jigger and give you permission to eyeball the amounts… shhhh!). A Spritz always delivers a fizzy fix that’s low on ABV but high on flavor that much quicker, leaving you more time to inflate your pool float or work on your tan. Is there any question that the Italians do it better? Affatto.
Dirty Martini Spritz
Recipe courtesy of Nick Farrell, Spirits Manager, Hazel, Washington, D.C.
The latest addition to the inviting patio at this restaurant in Shaw is Farrell’s Spritz Cart, which comes stocked with the fixings to mix up four effervescent elixirs. “When it’s hot out, you want something thirst quenching that’s not too boozy,” he says. “A spritz hits these notes, so it seemed right to offer a classic plus some fun variations.” His savory version is made for Dirty Martini fans who don’t want to fall over in the hot summer sun after two drinks.
“The inspiration for this cocktail came from the Amalfi Coast, which is beautiful and where the lemons are grown for the limoncello made by the Pallini family,” explains beverage director Erin Ward. “The cocktail’s light and refreshing flavors will make you enjoy the spring and summer sunshine, and hopefully transport you to the blue waters on the Amalfi Coast.”
Recipe courtesy of Cory Lattuca, executive food and beverage director, Grimaldi’s, multiple locations
Lattuca wanted to create a unique cocktail that wasn’t just thirst-quenching, but tied into the restaurant’s cuisine. “The Botanist Gin (silver medal, 2018 NY International Spirits Competition) has the perfect blend of botanicals to really make the blueberry pop, and is complemented by the subtle hint of basil.”
Build the drink in a wine glass over ice, topping with soda water. Stir gently and garnish with smacked basil leaves.
Mint Spritz, courtesy Bella Gioia
U Spritzino al Mentastro (Mint Spritz)
Recipe courtesy of Claudia de Pace-Botardo, bar manager, Bella Gioia, New York, NY
“I just think the mint spritz is the perfect spring [and] summer aperitivo,” says chef and owner Nicol Daniele. “It bursts with fresh flavors and reminds me of sitting on a terrace along the coastline of Sicily.” Here, the refreshing flavor of mint is joined by the bracing taste of Sambuca; bubbles ramp up the aromatics.
½ oz/15 mL Sambuca
2 oz/60 mL mint syrup (see below)
Chilled Prosecco, to top
Mint leaf, for garnish
Build the glass in a rocks glass over ice, topping with Prosecco. Stir gently and garnish with the mint leaf.
Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until sugar is dissolved. Remove it from the heat and add a bunch of mint. Steep for 15 minutes or until desired flavor is achieved. Strain out solids and store the syrup in the refrigerator for up to a week.
The Walking Florist, courtesy The Henley
The Walking Florist
Recipe courtesy of Jon Howard, head bartender, The Henley, Nashville, TN
Howard was inspired to make a warm weather drink as an homage to the walking florists of the 1900s, he says. “[It] is a simple Spritz-style drink with sweet honey notes [from mead], bright beautiful citrus thanks for the Don Ciccio & Figli Mandarinetto Liqueur and lavender soda.”
1 oz/30 mL Don Ciccio & Figli Mandarinetto, or Cointreau
2 oz/60 mL lavender soda (Dry Soda, or house made)
Orange wheel, for garnish
Build the glass in a large wine glass over ice, topping with the soda. Stir gently, and garnish with the orange wheel.
Summer Ale Spritz, courtesy Sam Adams
Summer Ale Spritz
The spritz is traditionally considered a sparkling water or wine concoction, but a light-flavored beer can sub for those ingredients. Sam Adams Summer Ale creates a refreshing canvas for building the citrusy notes of Aperol and an herbal syrup in bartender Rael Petit’s frosty, blended recipe.
1 bottle of Sam Adams Summer Ale
1 oz/30 mL Rosemary Syrup*
1 oz/30 mL lemon juice
0.75 oz/22 mL Aperol
Add Sam Adams Summer Ale, rosemary syrup, lemon juice and in a blender and fill with ice. Blend ingredients. Pour in a tall beer glass and top with an Aperol float. Garnish with a rosemary sprig.
In a saucepan, combine 250 mL of sugar and 250 mL of water. Add a handful of rosemary and cook on high for 7 minutes, while stirring the sugar to dissolve. After 7 minutes, let it cool for another 7 minutes and then strain.
Havana Riviera getting a mist of Manzanilla Sherry at Pouring Ribbons, photo by Amanda Schuster
It’s been a busy few months for this Alcohol Professor – new bars have opened, old standbys have had a spring cleaning, and a fresh crop of whiskey and gin has entered the landscape to mix with seasonal ingredients. Presenting the first installment of a series featuring a roundup of some of my favorite things that have splashed into my glass lately.
A standout bar visit this season was to Patent Pending, a speakeasy style affair located behind Patent Coffee in the cellar of the Radiowave Building which had once housed Nikola Tesla’s lab – finally a cocktail bar for science nerds! The decor features clever light bulb and radiowave themes, which also coil throughout the cocktail menu, a triumph of graphic design divided into themes of Energy, Frequency, Vibration and Descent. Dead Rabbit and BlackTail alums Harrison Ginsberg and Nick Rolan successfully experimented with bold flavor combinations such as Mr. Muir, which deftly balances gin and calvados with other ingredients. Cosmic Rays features pisco, American gin, dry vermouth, green apple, elderflower and kaffir lime. Hit
menu page at Patent Pending, photo by Amanda Schuster
By a Taxi (ordered by my companion who actually had been years ago) consists of Japanese whisky, Armagnac, sweet vermouth, Pu’erh Tea, curaçao and star anise. One can find Patent’s coffee in some cocktails too, along with offerings of beer, wine and bar bites.
Older Bar, New Menu
It’s taken Joaquín Simó a few years, but he has finally designed a spring menu for Pouring Ribbons to honor his half-Cuban heritage. Illustrated renderings of photos of iconic places (and a few recognizable people peeping out from within if you know where to look) highlight the drinks inspired by late 1950s Cuban pop culture. These transportive experiences include the pillowy blue Havana Riviera sprayed with Manzanilla sherry, the rummy Bye Bye Batista, the tiki textured Sons of Santiago, the cheeky Fox Movietone News (inspired by a drink found in Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean that from all appearances looks and sounds deplorable, but this “fake news” version is more fair and balanced), and the complex bourbon-based Bel Air served in a black sesame rimmed glass. Bartender Brooke Toscano is passionate about sustainability initiatives and drinks such as the Azucar Negra and Daisy de Machito incorporate syrups made from discarded lemon and pineapple waste.
7,000,00th barrel at Buffalo Trace (my signature lower middle right), photo by Amanda Schuster
E.H. Taylor, Jr. Four Grain Bourbon 2018 – I can cross “sign historic barrel” off my bucket list! On a recent trip to Buffalo Trace Distillery (which bears more mention than this paragraph – more to come), I had the honor of participating in the filling of their 7,000,000th barrel and attending the ceremony as it was rolled into its one-barrel bonded warehouse by beloved distillery manager Freddie Johnson and his grandson. Johnson’s late father rolled in the 4 through 6 millionth barrels, and there was hardly a dry eye. We also dedicated a new warehouse on the distillery’s newest campus and got a personal tour of Warehouse X, where temperature and light controlled whiskey maturation experiments are taking place (more about that here). Along the way, there was opportunity to engage in fascinating discussions about the whiskey industry with CEO Mark Brown and master distiller Harlan Wheatley over some pours, and the newest Taylor release – with its roasty, toasty, hardy structure of corn, wheat, rye and malted barley – was a standout favorite. Bottled-in-bond at 50% ABV, $70
What is “lady whiskey”? With all the controversy surrounding expressions such as Jane Walker, it was a pleasure to taste The Gael, the first release of J.J. Corry Irish Whiskey from the Chapel Gate Whiskey Co., owned by women – it’s just good whiskey! Louise McGuane purchases stock from distilleries all over Ireland, blends them, and ages them in a bonded warehouse (incidentally, Irish whisky need not be 100 proof, so some releases might not be labeled as “bonded” in the states). The Gael consists of some 26 year old sherry cask finish with teenaged bourbon cask malt, other younger malts and grain whiskey. 46% ABV, $75 in limited release
J.J. Corry The Gael, photo by Amanda Schuster
Others that excited my taste buds this season have been:
Paul John Kanya – unpeated single malt produced in Goa, India matured in American oak for 7 years. The name is a tribute to the Indian equivalent of the Virgo sign, and its creamy, nutty, sesame flavor profile is a terrific treat for a nightcap. 50% ABV, price varies
Nomad Outland Whisky – produced in Speyside, Scotland this 5 to 8 year-old is brought to González Byass in Jerez, Spain to finish aging in Oloroso casks, but I like sipping it in Brooklyn during a spring storm. 41.3 % ABV, $50
Old Fitzgerald Bottled-In-Bond – the inaugural release of what is to become a limited edition series celebrating a heritage bourbon label is an 11 year-old bottled bourbon bottled in a blingy, old school decanter. 50% ABV, $110 in limited release
Two new ryes with tons of character for stirred and boozy cocktails – Knob Creek Cask Strength (aged 9 years, 119.6 proof, $70) and Kentucky Peerless Rye Straight Rye (a mighty tasty whipper snapper at 24 months, 107.6 proof, though perhaps a tad spendy at around $100)
Gin, Cherries and Rhubarb
Spring is when I tend to seriously gin up my cocktail routine, and I’ve been experimenting with some fun recipes. Believe it or not, I still have some of last year’s preserved cherries left, and I decided I’d use them as garnishes for a Cherry Negroni, made with Don Ciccio & Figli’s sumptuous Cerasum cherry bitter aperitivo as the centerpiece. I experimented with various measurements and base gins. While I have settled on the specs, I’ve decided that there’s no “best” gin for this recipe, it just depends on how much fruit, herbaceousness or richness I’m in the mood for. Here is the recipe, followed by some gin suggestions according to flavor profile:
Cherry Negroni, photo by Amanda Schuster
Practice making this in time for Negroni week, starting June 4! This event, partnered between Campari and Imbibe Magazine, is now in its 6th year, and has raised over $1.5 million for various charitable causes. To find out about events in your home own and/or if you’re a bartender/bar owner and want to get involved on the hospitality side of the fundraisers, please go here.
Add all ingredients to double Old Fashioned glass and stir until combined. Add ice (preferably one large cube) and stir until well chilled. Garnish with preserved cherries.
*Gins to Try
For a fruitier sipping experience, choose Monkey 47 (the Cerasum spotlights its lingonberry and other fruity botanical notes nicely) or D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin (for a hint of lemon, silver medal, 2018 NYISC)
Speaking of SLD, I was intrigued by a recipe I found online combining it with an infusion of my favorite spring perennial, rhubarb, which Sipsmith has graciously allowed me to reproduce. Here’s a delicious way to stretch out that teasingly brief window of time to use fresh rhubarb and preserve its flavors, well, so long as you don’t gulp this all up in a few days (the original recipe by Master Distiller Jared Brown can be found here):
No time to make rhubarb gin liqueur? Add it to a Gin and Tonic, such as this one at Grand Republic, Brooklyn – photo by Amanda Schuster
Rhubarb Gin Liqueur
500 grams/2 brimming cups chopped rhubarb
500 mL water
200 grams/ .75 brimming cup sugar
5 – 6 strawberries
Sipsmith London Dry Gin
Combine first four ingredients in a pot. Simmer, covered, on low heat for 30 minutes, or until the rhubarb is soft. Set the pot aside and let it cool. Strain through a cheesecloth. Measure the resulting liquid. Add an equal measure of Sipsmith London Dry Gin. Best enjoyed in simple servings such as on the rocks with a splash of tonic.
Next installment will feature new rum, new tequila, brandy and other luscious libations – stay tuned!
Vodka is a drink many of us have tried in a traditional cocktails such as Moscow Mules, Screwdrivers or Dirty Martinis, but many people in the neoclassic cocktail world eschew vodka for other spirits. However, there’s still a market for it, but why reach for the same old bottles? While diversifying cocktails, try a more interesting vodka brand. It is amazing how varied, pure and decadent vodka can be.
By adding a special vodka to a unique cocktail, taste buds will be performing a Cossack Dance around the mouth, while spirits will be educated into the endless possibilities of vodkas on the market. So chuck out the alco-pops, kick out the Mule, screw the driver and do the dirty on the Martini: it’s time for a vodka makeover!
Fill a tall class a quarter full with crushed ice. Place the raspberries, water, vodka and umeshu in a blender and pulse until smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, pour into glass and consume.
2 oz/60 mL vodka (Purity Organic Vodka from Sweden is recommended for its – as the name suggests – pure, unfiltered characteristics with fruity undertones – gold medal, 2017 NYISC)
1 oz/30 mL pear juice
2 tsp key lime juice
Garnish with sliced cucumber
Shake vodka, key lime juice and pear juice with ice. Strain into a tall, ice filled glass. Garnish with sliced cucumber.
For all those craving something sweet but with more refined flavors, here is a decadent way to sip a cocktail and indulge in two of the best inventions ever made; chocolate and vodka.
Melt the chocolate over a pan of boiling water until smooth, then pour into a glass container (an old jam jar is perfect). Stir in half of the vodka and one spoon of the cream. Place the contents in a shaker with ice and add macadamia nut liqueur with rest of the vodka and cream. Shake well, strain and pour into a large glass. Garnish with dark chocolate shavings.
(L-R) Sharon Bronstein, Shelby Allison and Caitlin Liman
“We created the cocktail conference we wanted to go to,” Shelby Allison, co-founder of the upcoming Chicago Style and co-owner of Lost Lake cocktail bar, is fond of saying. Along with business partners Caitlin Laman, who is the beverage director of the Ace Hotel Chicago and Sharon Bronstein, director of marketing for the 86. Co., its intent, as the website states, is to mix “equal parts think and drink.” While the convention, which runs from May 7 – 10, is open to everyone, these three women specifically set out to create an event geared toward the betterment of the hospitality industry. Seminar topics, at least for the first year, are geared toward themes of racial and gender equality, bar service improvements, solving management challenges and wellness. Of course there will also be drink education. And the brand-sponsored parties.
Inclusion is the main focus. Not only is it the theme of many of the seminars, but it is also interpreted in the literal sense. One of the most frustrating elements of drinks conferences is that too many events overlap or run into each other, with pressure to choose wisely and rush off in between, often without necessary eating breaks to fuel up. At Chicago Style, all programming – seminars, events, activities – are scheduled without overlap so no one has to choose one activity over the other, and there is ample time between them to discuss, network and make way to the next one. A day of programming costs an affordable $60 all inclusive – no expensive wrist bands for tasting rooms. No limited access. The manageable price points are all thanks to sponsorships from brands who also recognize the value asset of the programming.
Another way CS distinguishes itself – each morning begins with fitness or wellness activities. Allison explains why this is a necessary component to a conference that focuses on people who serve alcohol into the wee hours of the night: “We’ve teamed up with Alex Negranza (Imbibe bartender of the year) to provide fitness programming. This is to show that as bar managers or owners we can really take care of our teams and build healthy work environments but also take care of our most important bar tools, which are our bodies, our minds and spirits. Ultimately that makes us better hospitality providers.” Although these activities in the context of the conference might not be timed ideally for a real life bartender’s schedule, participants can apply them to fit a normal schedule at whatever hour works for them. “It’s a way to learn to wind down that’s healthier and provide longevity in this field,” says Allison.
The timing of the convention couldn’t be better – given the controversies surrounding Tales of the Cocktail as well as the #metoo movement – however, planning for such an event takes more than just a few months. Chicago Style was in its incubation stage long before these industry and cultural shifts took place. “We always wanted to create a real opportunity for meaningful conversation to push the industry forward.” says Allison. The other motivation was to finally give the city of Chicago its own destination conference. She adds, “Chicago is well recognized for its culinary scene and other aspects, but the bar community there is important too.”
The schedule is a bit spare in its infancy stage, but Liman assures, “We have a long list of ideas for the next year already. We are already inspired about what comes next.”
Ultimately, the discussions and activities are designed to push the “hospitable” part of hospitality. Allison explains: “Cocktail bars are part of the hospitality industry too, and there’s no way we can call ourselves ‘hospitable’ without being really inclusive in our work environments and creating spaces that offer lots of opportunities and nurturing work environments for everyone in addition to welcoming guests.” Liman chimes in: “It really does all stem from the word ‘welcome’. In a lot of spaces, some people feel more welcome than others and ideally we would like to feel welcome everywhere.”
The industry is still nursing many of its injuries, but Chicago Style is determined to put a positive focus on the future. “The only way the bartending community is going to change as a whole is from a sense of accountability amongst each other and to hold each other accountable – look at hiring practices, look at the way in which they welcome guests, how programs are presented, how agencies promote them,” attests Allison. The conversations will undoubtedly become heated, but airing out those grievances ultimately provides a necessary educational balance. “We need to have the willingness to call each other out in a respectful way when there are opportunities to do better.”
(L-R) Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero
Now that it’s safe to say Manhattan Cocktail Classic is dead and buried, the finals of Speed Rack have relocated to the Windy City to partner with Chicago Style. The female bartending competition was founded in 2011 by Ivy Mix (now co-owner of Leyenda in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn) and Lynnette Marrero (now beverage director of the Llama Inn in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) to raise money for breast cancer awareness charities, as of press time, over $700,000 globally. The speed bartending competition began in New York and now takes place in other US regions, as well as European cities, with Miss Speed Rack crowned after each region meets separately and then against each other. The competition consists of several rounds of bartending heats between two female bartenders that are evaluated not only for time but for accuracy and drink presentation (the contestants in each round are required to make the same cocktail). The drinks are judged by a rotating panel of star industry veterans as well as chefs and drink writers. It’s as much a spectator sport as it is a bartending contest, and spirits brands sponsor the events with the ingredients used on stage as well as booths set up for ticketed attendees, who also have the option to purchase merchandise and raffle tickets, with all proceeds going to the chosen charities. It gets wild in there! If you’ll be in Chicago on May 8 for this year’s grand finale to crown Miss Speed Rack 2018, you can purchase tickets here for the event at Revel Fulton Market.
I love curling up with a good book in springtime. Chillier days call for snuggling on the couch with my spirit animal Jasper to read, and I love taking a book to the park when I can feel the sun on my face once again. What’s even better than reading in a comfortable place is doing so with a good drink to sip between pages, and this season’s crop of boozy books has quite a number of inspirations, all from unique angles of storytelling.
The One Bottle Cocktail: More Than 80 Recipes With Fresh Ingredients From a Single Spirit
Not everyone with a home bar has access to esoteric bottled ingredients, or if they do, it isn’t cost effective to purchase an entire bottle for one drink. For instance, what to do with all that Crème de Violette to mix up a single batch of Aviations? (At least with a good vermouth one can still enjoy it on the rocks or in other recipes before it goes off.) Here, writer Maggie Hoffman explores flavor possibilities from the natural world in single-booze recipes divided by spirit – vodka, gin, agave, rum, brandy and whiskey – as well as occasions. All recipes are sans modifiers such as vermouth, amaro or liqueur. Admittedly, these recipes, contributed by bartenders around the country, require extra steps like making syrups and squeezing fresh juices, and then there’s the same problem as the Violette – what to do with them once the coupes are empty if not serving a crowd (for instance, I can never see myself making El Gallito on p. 28 from loads of cilantro, green onion, cherry tomatoes, lime juice, agave nectar, adobo sauce from a can of peppers, salt and vodka for a casual “Oh, I just threw this on” kind of affair).
However, I would absolutely make the blueberry syrup for The Gincident by Kristina Magro of Chicago’s Pub Royale and Estereo on p. 45. The ingredients for Castor’s Gold on p. 97 by Adam James Sarkis of Phoenix Cocktail Club in Milwaukee – light rum, honey syrup, lime juice and horseradish – are revolving staples in my house as well. I loved the idea of Welcome Home, Dorothy by Caitlin Liman of Trick Dog and co-founder of the Chicago Style cocktail conference on p. 142. Based on Armagnac or Cognac, it features lemon juice, simple syrup, strawberries (which I often eat for breakfast anyway) and rooibos tea (which I drink in the afternoon).
I like that Hoffman includes a Bonus Drinks section at the end of each chapter to suggest subbing other spirits into the same recipes like pisco or rye or mezcal. I do think a few of the recipes sound a bit ongepotchket (Yiddish for “overly complicated”), but enough of the 4 or 5 ingredient recipes intrigued me to want to give it a go. What spirits to use for your drinks? Pick out a few winners from the NY International Spirits Competition! (Out now, 10 Speed Press, $22)
Bars, Taverns and Dives New Yorkers Love (Where to Go, What to Drink)
To say this book by artist/writer/bartender/pro-level bon vivant John Tebeau was a labor of love is the understatement of the year. This work is a pure passion project, born from a few of Tebeau’s impressively detailed illustrations of bars he has true affection for. It became a mission to illustrate favorite neighborhood haunts spanning all five boroughs and discuss what makes them so unique and beloved, why some regulars aren’t even local to those locals. Great bars can be found all over the city, but they are easy to miss from afar. Tebeau even ventures out to Staten Island and the Bronx to complete the story, because, after all, it isn’t a true civilization in these outer boroughs if there isn’t a friendly bar to come home to (Adobe Blues,Joyce’s Tavern or Bronx Alehouse) after a long commute. Even for the consummate New Yorker, there might be a few surprises. For instance, how have I lived in New York for the better part of three plus decades and missed places like The Keep (p. 108) in Ridgewood, Queens? Tebeau describes it as “…a fantastic antique shop with a full bar run by an Edward Gorey character. Or maybe a long-forgotten alternate set for the old Addams Family TV show…” Okay, granted this bar only opened in 2014, but there are many in this book that are much older I’ve somehow yet to explore. I’m so righting that wrong.
It’s been a devastating era for the Big Apple’s beloved watering holes, as so many neighborhood standbys are closing at an alarming rate. But it’s heartening to know there are still so many wonderful bars all around town (and Tebeau seems to not have missed very many) still open to belly up to. All the important details about them are mentioned in each warmly-worded and inviting description, with sections about best times to visit, how to get there, what to order, and best seats as well as other fun facts and house recipes. With the detailed illustrations, the book also happens to make nice-nice on the eyes. (releases April 10, Rizzoli, $30)
Booze and Vinyl
Drinking would be a very solemn ritual if music didn’t exist to accompany it. How many times have you ordered another round at a bar because a favorite song just came on? For this book, sibling co-authors Andre and Tenaya Darlington present some of their favorite records across many genres of music – pop, classic rock, metal, punk, alternative, hip hop, jazz, folk, etc. – and suggest drink pairings for them, with suggestions for Side A and Side B. In some instances, the choices are obvious, like an Old Cuban for Buena Vista Social Club, Planter’s Punch for Legend by Bob Marley and the Wailers, a Zombie to go with Michael Jackson’s Thriller. However, some of these are truly inspired, like a Milk Punch (with cookies) for The Velvet Underground and Nico, because Max’s Kansas City, the NYC bar where the band famously hung out, served that drink by the pitcher or a Between the Sheets to go with Madonna’s Like a Virgin (as well as Beauty Spot, one of the drinks created for the book by various bartenders, this one by Jen Marshall). I also give major points for thinking of a Suffering Bastard to pair with Johnny Cash Live at Folsom Prison.
Each album is presented with the authors’ own “liner notes” to introduce the record and pairings, provides instructions for setting the scene with Before You Drop the Needle and suggests best occasions for the listening parties. In some instances there are even snack recipes (Munchies!) provided to complete the mood and provide nourishment for an intense listening session. There’s some helpful advice at the end to close out the tracks and make the most of mixing drinks at home. (releases April 17, Running Press, $25)
Drinking Like Ladies: 75 Modern Cocktails From the World’s Leading Bartenders
The authors of this book, bartenders Misty Kalkofen and Kirsten Amann, met through a Boston chapter of LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails) and after founding their own drinks column and blog, were able to hold events and raise funds for women’s charities such as Jane Doe, Inc. Boston LUPEC became Toast Club, a reboot of a real, historic 19th century women’s networking club. The book examines what it is to be a “girly drink” via profiles of extraordinary women throughout the ages and drinks to match them, created by female bartenders from around the globe.
As historians, Amann and Kalkofen have gone really out of the way to celebrate a broad (pardon the pun) spectrum of women from world leaders, scientists, activists, educators, sports heroes and every other type of so-called “badass” historical figure, most of whom are impressively obscure selections deserving of more time in the spotlight. For instance, Dubai bartender (by way of the U.K.) Rebecca Sturt created Catch Me If You Can to celebrate runner Wilma Rudolph, who willfully beat a string of debilitating childhood illnesses that affected her lower body to eventually become a star athlete in her teens and go on to win track and field gold in the 1960 Rome Olympics. Ezra Star of Drink Boston contributed Elements of the Stars to honor astronomer Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, whose groundbreaking thesis in the 1940s identified stars as predominantly composed of hydrogen and helium. The drinks (arranged through chapters according to base spirit, with a separate chapter on punches and low ABV concoctions) show true creativity, if sometimes running a bit on the complicated side. But it’s worth it to pick up this book for the historical profiles alone, and raise a glass to these extraordinary women and their accomplishments no matter what. (releases June 19 but available for pre-order, Quarry Books, $20)
Some of us are done with winter and are dying to pack away the heavy coat and reach for the swimsuit. Just hold that thought, and before reaching for the sun lotion, consider the beauty of spring. Flowers begin to bloom and frowns on cold weary faces are replaced with a glimmer of a smile. Bar terraces open, minus the heat lamps, and people start ordering lighter drinks, willing the sun to shine and life to be peachy once more. Okay, that’s a little extreme but there is something about spring, that gets the streets buzzing and the cocktail bars humming.
The following cocktails are often associated with the cold winter months, but they’re getting a spring makeover. Armed with the right ingredients, you will be skipping down the street to the tune of “Let’s Do It” (the Ella Fitzgerald version), throwing off that coat and indulging in these refreshing cocktails before you even have the time to say “farewell, winter”.
Ice, a common ingredient in many cocktails, was at one point a rare treat for only the wealthy. For the bulk of human history, its creation was through purely natural means. Indian and Egyptian cultures used rapid evaporation to cool water quickly, sometimes quickly enough to make ice. Iran developed a yakh-chal (Persian for “ice pit”), which were onion-shaped buildings up to two stories tall, with an equal amount of space underground. The underground area kept ice, as well as any other food, cool through the use of air flow. Centuries later, wealthy Romans and Greeks filled ice houses with snow and ice that came from the Alps. These well-crafted buildings used tightly-packed straw and wood to keep their frozen treasures insulated. These ice houses, which permeated Europe at the height of the Roman Empire, fell into disuse when the mighty empire crumbled.
In the 16h century, it was the Italians who brought back the use of ice. France, borrowing the tradition from Italy, was the first country to bring ice back, but as an extravagance. Henry III displayed heaps of ice and snow on tables when he had guests, sometimes borrowing a page from Roman emperors and chilling his wine with a heap of snow. The rest of Europe scoffed at this use of ice to cool drinks, seeing it as “a mark of excessive and effeminate luxury.” (Ice and Refrigeration Illustrated, July 1901, p.6) They went from scoffing to partaking, adding ice to every drink they could.
rural ice delivery trucks in the 1930s, photo via Mississippi Department of Archives and History
This trend continued even into the early days of the new United States. Thomas Jefferson was exposed to ice houses in his European travels and built one in Monticello. He encouraged George Washington to do the same. Washington perfected his version on the second attempt in his Virginia home. Note that ice was still limited to those with means; most people who were able to enjoy a cold drink, or ice cream made with ice and not snow, were impressed by the lavishness of the experience.
The First Ice Age
Ice did not become more affordable until the mid-19th century, when some significant breakthroughs in refrigeration occurred. Frederic Tudor built an ice shipping business from the ground up after enjoying some fantastic ice cream (the good stuff, not that snowy junk) at a picnic. He had to. No one else in the country was doing it. His idea was given a… frosty reception… from anyone else hearing the proposition. When he started his business in the early 1800s, he could barely sell eighty pounds of ice in a tropical port. By the middle of the century he was shipping over 50,000 tons of ice all over the country. His company developed a method to harvest the ice with horse-drawn saws, lowering the price of ice even further. As the cost of ice fell, ice houses started to pop up all over the country, especially in the South. Insulated carriages and refrigerated box cars for trains emerged, allowing the ice to be transported further with less loss. Ice had come down to the masses, eventually winding its way behind the bar.
Nearing the halfway point of the 19th century, frozen lakes were no longer the only means to produce blocks of ice. In Mississippi, Dr. John Gorrie invented the first ice-making machine in 1845. Much like Frederick Tudor a few decades before, no one took the idea seriously. John even made a successful prototype to show off what his invention could achieve, but to no avail. He was not able to fund the idea, and so the ice maker concept sat on the shelf for several decades. Andrew Mulh, to help the beef industry in Texas, picked up the idea and developed the first commercial ice machine in 1867. As the end of the century approached, keeping things cold became all the rage in the food and beverage industry.
ice cutting in Sand Lake, photo via National Archives
The way that Americans used ice in cocktails drastically changed them – not only the way we consumed them, but the way we made them. Ice became a garnish. Part of the flair of the cocktail was how cold you could serve it. There was a mountain of shaved ice on top of juleps, cobblers, and other delights of the day. Metal cups would frost over, showing the drinker just how cold their beverage was. The top of this frosty mountain would have any seasonal fruit they could lay upon it. Foreign travelers in the United States marveled at the wasteful way we flaunted our supply of clean ice.
Compared to what Europeans expected, American water was downright clean. To cut the harshness of the liquor, and integrate any sugar, water was added to cocktails. Ice put a significant damper on that. Room temperature water was a much friendlier environment for sugar than an ice cold beverage. To integrate the sweet element back into the drink, bartenders started to create more simple syrups for cocktails, as well as reaching for their favorite fruit syrups. Melting ice became the water component to cocktails. Through modern experimentation, we have discovered that ice contributes about 25% of the volume of the cocktail in water. When shaken, then strained, it took the edge off rough liquor and chilled it. The syrups did all the sweetening, and customers had a great cocktail to enjoy.
Bringing Ice to the People
The First Ice Age in Cocktails came to a hard close in the early 20th century. When Congress passed the 18th Amendment and shut down liquor sales on January 17th, 1920, the ice you had in your cocktail was far less important than just having a cocktail. But while the country dried out, citizens were finding it easier to get ice. Ice boxes and refrigerators were getting better at making ice, smaller, and less expensive. The bulk of the country was still having huge chunks of it delivered to their homes in its crystal clear beauty, but a small, growing percentage was able to get it in their home. Especially with the switch to freon as a coolant in the 1920s. Freon was much safer and easier to manage than other gases, making in-home refrigerators an option.
Servel Refrigerator, 1940
When Prohibition ended, just over 1% of the country had a refrigerator in their home. By the mid-1950s, that number spiked to 80%. The end of WW II, and the beginning of the 1950s, marked the return of cocktails to the American scene. We could go back to taking our time with them, savoring them, and preparing them with care and plenty of ice. But ice had changed. Servel had brought the icemaker right into your refrigerator in 1953! No need for deliveries of huge blocks you still had to carve; you could press a glass to a lever, and you had all the ice you wanted. Consider this era the Frosted Age, since consumers were not as interested in the ice itself, but the cooling effect the ice had on the drink. Like the Gilded Age, but for cooling.
Faster, but not Better, Ice at Home
It was not the beautiful ice of the 1860s. It was not clear and crisp. It was cloudy and unstable. It melted quickly. They were smaller shapes, not big and beautiful cubes. Crystal clear ice joined fresh-squeezed juices and house-made syrups as casualties to the industrialization of American food. Why work so hard to cut blocks of ice or crush it into little chunks when you can have pounds of it made as fast as you use it? No one had time for that. Thus, ice from the machine became the go-to solution at home and in the hospitality industry. For over five decades, “shitty hotel ice,” as ice expert Camper English once concisely put it, became the norm when it came to the ice that went into a drink.
And no one was wiser for it. David Embury has a brief mention of it in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, one of the top cocktail books to come out of that era. He promotes the use of transparent cubes of ice in cocktails, not for looks but for flavor. Most of his critique about ice that comes out of the refrigerator is the unintentional flavors it can add to your cocktail. There are the chemicals that the city adds to the water to make it clean and the possibility of improperly stored food adding unwanted notes of “Camembert cheese or leftover broccoli” to your cocktail. Ice was an afterthought, not a component of a cocktail. It would be over five decades before ice started to reclaim its place as a critical component in a bar.
clear ice with burnishing stamp, via Camper English
The Second Ice Age
According to Camper English, the first bar to bring an ice program back to craft cocktails is Weather Up in 2010. This has set up the beginning of the Second Ice Age, where ice returned to its original place as an essential element when presenting a cocktail, not just a way to chill it and add water. Bartenders and drinks enthusiasts, led by English, became obsessed with finding ways to create clear ice that was not a 300-pound block and did not take a week to form. Ice making companies, which all but disappeared in the middle of the 20th century, returned to serve this growing demand. Ice chisels, chainsaws, picks, and tappers have all returned to the bar. Round balls of ice and frozen spears for have become part and parcel of the ice repertoire in many bar programs around the country.
The importance of ice grew as the cocktail became an experience. The presentation of an artisanal spirit, mixed with house-made bitters and syrups, accented by a clever garnish, was not going to be ruined any longer by plopping industrial ice into the glass. That does not fit into the craft story or aesthetic! A clear, carved piece of ice is the only thing that will do.
Ice in the modern era has one more added function: delivering surprises. Cocktails on ice have been around for over two hundred years, but cocktails IN ice are a much newer invention. Spherical ice molds allowed daring mixologists to figure out a way to partially freeze the ice, drill a hole to release the extra water, then inject any cocktail they choose into the mold. All you have to do is break it open in the appropriate glass and enjoy. Other bartenders use ice cubes to deliver flavor by freezing fruit, coffee, or other liquids into cubed form and adding them to cocktails. Still others use the ice as a frozen frame, delivering an aesthetic pop to their creation. Their visions range from turning the ice different colors to adding edible flowers to the mix.
Large cubes of ice have even made their way into the shaker, offering bartenders a better way to control the amount of water that ends up in the cocktail. They also agitate better, providing a measurably different amount of foam for cocktails (based on many experiments by David Arnold of Liquid Intelligence fame). The more we explore and experiment with ice, the better we understand its impact on the drinks that leave the bar, from the amount of dilution to the temperature of the cocktail. The Second Ice Age is still in its infancy, and it is only going to get bigger.
photo via Camper English
When the bartender places your cocktail in front of you, take a moment to appreciate the effort that has been invested in the ice used to create it. Even though restaurants no longer have to wait for horses to bring blocks of ice down from the lake, obtaining good looking ice is still not an easy task. There is tremendous energy put into adding the right ice to enhance the customer’s engagement with their cocktail. Admire all of that hard work. Then enjoy the luxury of an ice cold cocktail.
Editor’s note: Clearly Frozen is a new company that has created a way to make clearer ice cubes at home with a tray that works via directional freezing. While results aren’t absolutely perfect, it works rather well with a little experimentation! Find out more here.