A great gallery of pictures from Prohibition and upon repeal. From the Daily Mail, along with some fairly rubbish historical perspective.
A great gallery of pictures from Prohibition and upon repeal. From the Daily Mail, along with some fairly rubbish historical perspective.
Repeal Day is a growing cultural phenomenon in America, a day filled with a variety of meanings and lessons, both political and sociological. Most of the issues of Prohibition are well-known to educated Americans, especially those in the bar trade, or those who like Ken Burns. But even for a history geek like myself, there is always a new, and sometimes important, angle to learn about anything.
Repeal Day is December 5th, the anniversary of the date when Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah all ratified the 21st Amendment, ending Prohibition and restoring to legality America’s most hallowed pastime, recreational alcohol consumption. At the time, American’s celebrated by remaining on the barstools they had occupied throughout Prohibition anyway, and ordering another round. They might have gone outside to moon a cop or something, in a gesture of victorious contempt, but the cops were likely all inside the bar, having another round as well.
These days, the greater knowledge of history in the resurgent cocktail world has led bar professionals to treat Repeal Day as the national holiday of the trade. This always feels a little odd to me. I grew up in Georgia, raised in the metaphorical shadow of Jacksonville, Florida. It doesn’t take much experience with the Georgia-Florida Game to understand why it has been called The Annual Celebration of the Repeal of Prohibition for longer than most of today’s Repeal Day celebrants have been alive.
But as a bar lover, I embrace the trade’s desire to make this a day of reflection on the mistakes of the past, and their consequences, good and bad. It’s a proud day for America, in that it showed we can actually own up to a mistake, and correct it. We learned that just because you have someone else’s very best interests at heart, it is probably not the best idea to always use the government to force everyone to comply with your agenda. The collateral damage of Prohibition was dire, while the promised benefits were difficult to find once put into practice.
But while the end of domestic abuse and personal bankruptcy, skyrocketing productivity, and a general end to poverty all failed to manifest themselves during Prohibition, there were a number of positive social changes that did arise from the Noble Experiment, not all of which were likely viewed as victories by those responsible for foisting Prohibition upon the general populace in the first place. Chief among these is the simple fact that there are women in that photo atop this post.
Before Prohibition, women did not go to bars. Full stop.
You know… unless they were literally prostitutes, and then only at very specific kinds of bars. But the saloon was outlawed, and was replaced by the illegal (though just as busy) speakeasy. This was a new cultural space, and newly enfranchised women took this opportunity to make sure they had a place in it. Sure, it was still considered a bit naughty for women, well-bred or respectable working class alike, to be in a place that served alcohol, but since everybody, men and women alike, within were being deliciously criminal, the shared rebelliousness neatly occluded a change that otherwise would likely have induced decades of sturm and drang.
Last night, I went to the first Repeal Day bartender’s celebration that I know of in Ohio. Both the northern and southern chapters of Ohio’s USBG got together at the always excellent Mouton here in Columbus, for a midnight toast to the arrival of Repeal Day. The Cleveland gang actually chartered a
bus luxury motorcoach to get them down and back safely! It was a great time to hang out with the pros who are really beginning to make some progress on bringing the kind of craft that has been nurtured in the larger markets for a while now into bars in Ohio, as well as making some real, original contributions of their own.
There were toasts at midnight, and that’s when I learned a new angle on Prohibition and the effects I just discussed. In vino veritas….
The event was sponsored by Pama, and their national brand ambassador Lynn House was there. Just before midnight, she raised a glass and noted that she felt especially thankful for Prohibition and its repeal, “because I have boobs.” It got the laugh she expected, but she went on. “Everyone talks about how Prohibition let women into bars to drink, but for those of us women working in the industry today, it is very important that Prohibition let women into bars to work as well.” (I listened to this at midnight at a bartender party. The chances that this is an exact word for word transcription are slim…)
Remember before, when I noted that only women in saloons were working there, but not behind the bar? Without the social upheaval and general image reset that came from Prohibition, it would have been far longer before women would have been let anywhere near a respectable bar’s staff. And even today, there would probably still be some nasty social undertone associated with women bartenders.
Instead, we have a world with people like Audrey Saunders. And Lynn House. And some of the best bartenders I know in Ohio: Cris, and Pilar, and Lindsay, and Emily.
When Angus Winchester first tweeted this article, entitled 13 Bartenders & Their Least Favorite Cocktail Trends, I expected a litany of customer douchebaggery, along with a few snipes at bartender misbehavior. Instead, Eater has assembled some real wisdom from the elite mixers of one of Craft’s highest cocktail mountaintops, Seattle.
You need to read the whole list, but I’ll steal a few here to whet your appetite, and to expand on.
Elizabeth Powell, Liberty: “I would have to go with white whiskey. People want to get away with calling it moonshine, which it isn’t. I don’t find white whiskey to be an interesting flavor profile. I suspect that it’s being used as a means to get people who don’t drink whiskey into drinking whiskey. I prefer to think that people who are interested in widening their spirit horizon will find those industry professionals who they know will encourage them to taste new spirits without depending on hoopla and marketing.”
While I agree that the current trend toward “white whiskey” is the devil, I disagree on why. There is one word behind the entire white “whiskey” movement: Money and Time. OK, that’s two words. But time is money, so I stand by my first draft.
Bottled white dog first showed up for commercial sale from small distilleries that probably did not have the money (or possibly the skill) to give their liquor the time to turn into whiskey. A very few sold because of a unique and pleasant flavor, a few more due to novelty/marketing, and a few more due to a desire to support small distillers.
But this just encourages bad behavior. Now we have large, deep-pocketed businesses getting into this sham on the consumer. This raw, unfinished product is being sold for $45+ a bottle!
This is just a rip-off. Calling the unfinished run-off of a whiskey still “whiskey” is like calling a wad of uncooked dough “french bread”. Stop it, distillers. And bartenders, stop enabling this!
Andrew Friedman, Liberty: “Vermouth. Sorry, I just don’t buy it. Only cocktail geeks are excited about low-alcohol vermouth drinks. In my experience, the non-geek tries one, says, “Ooo! That’s cool!”, and then goes back to ordering their favorite style of drink.”
Several of the items are along these lines. The main thrust is that we need not get too damn baroque about our ingredients.
Vermouth is a wonderful and critical bar ingredient that is still largely reviled by the larger world and deserves rehabilitation. But come on, it’s a modifier, or maybe an occasional sipper. Like a thousand other things, trying to make it do too many things smacks to me using novelty to cover for a lack of base skill.
There are lots of good thoughts on service from several gurus on the list. If you are a bartender or server, read them. Live them. Or else.
The takeaway from the list as a whole I think is this: Ego and innovation for their own sakes endanger not only those who so indulge in them, but the industry as a whole. There is a great deal of art in bartending, and that is a lot of what makes it worthwhile, but it doesn’t justify putting artistry above the end product.
Oh, then there is this pearl of timeless wisdom. Any who dares disagree shall be banned.
I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.
Ol’ Blue Eyes is alleged to have been buried with a bottle of Jack Daniels in his pocket, a tidbit at the center of Jack Daniel’s latest marketing campaign, which includes an exhibition at the Savoy Hotel in London (England, not Ohio, if you were confused) and the release of a special bottling of Jack Daniels called Sinatra Select. It’s available only in airport duty-free stores, so at £150 you know its a good deal….
But while I’m always willing to tap my hat to the joy of a few fingers of brown liquor, this is a cocktail blog. Let’s talk instead about the man and his cocktails, as discussed in part by The Independent’s Dish of the Day blog. Sinatra always stayed at the Savoy when he was performing in London, and after his shows, he would retire to the American Bar to wind down. His drink of choice at those times was a dry Martini.
He’d go for a classic Martini – Beefeater gin with a shadow of vermouth, served on the rocks with a twist of lemon. And we had to make sure his glass was filled with ice.
—Victor Gower, Head Barman at the American Bar 1946-1985
Since he’s the Chairman of the Board, I guess he can be forgiven having his Martini on the rocks. Ditto for the vermouth aversion. But only for him. You need to drink your Gospel of Gin “up”, with a goodly pour of vermouth!
This picture is an example. Frank looks cool with a Martini on the rocks in his hand. This other dude….
And even Sinatra looks better when he has his Martini up, as seen below in a rare photo of him being out cooled by Bing Crosby in High Society
Now that I’ve had some fun, there are two points I’d like to make about what both Gower and his successor Peter Dorelli say about Sinatra’s visits to the American Bar.
The first is that he was very particular about the details of his drinks. On its own, this is a fine and admirable trait. I am quite particular about what I drink. A cocktail is, or should be, a precision creation. But Frank sounds like he was kind of a dick about it, which is neither fine nor admirable. He didn’t like to talk to the bartenders himself, even when standing at the bar, but if any detail was not to his liking, “everyone would know about it,” notes Dorelli.
No one is too good to talk to their bartender. No. One. And if you find something wrong with your drink, cordially and quietly let the bartender know how you would like it fixed. If it keeps happening, go to another bar. Or, if you are Frank Sinatra and you only drink at this bar, have the offending mixer put in a car trunk and driven to the fens. But do it quietly, as there is no need to embarrass the guy in the process!
Balancing out this minor rudeness is a major plus: He liked to play the piano. Most bars do not like it when their guests take it upon themselves to sit at the piano and start to play. (And by you, I mean me. (And probably you.)) But when said guest is Frank Sinatra, exceptions must be made.
The impromptu performances were more for his own benefit than for any fortunate guests who happened to be listening, but they have become the stuff of music legend.
In the bartending world, Buddy Holly survived his crash. Cardiac crash, that is. Murray Stenson is back behind the mahogany where he belongs. My prior story now has a happy ending. Via: @Alcademics
Teaching robots to know who needs a refill and who wants to be left alone. Jacob Grier has little to worry about yet. He can whip up a Martini faster than this bot can hand over a bottle of water.
On the Brand Ambassador Lifestyle. Portland’s Jacob Grier explains why he’s not going to travel to exotic lands, meet interesting people, and abuse his liver for pay anymore.
I’m not sure what this video is, but since it features Tanqueray and even Angus Winchester doesn’t know what it is, I don’t feel bad about that. It is posted to a brand new account and has no information listed. It may be a preview of a new ad campaign to come, so I hope it isn’t taken down while this post is still fresh.
Update to the update: The video is back up, with appropriate product credit splash screens at the beginning and end. Also, I can’t find the song they are using. Could it be an original? A gin… jingle?
Update: …and it’s been set to private now. It was beautifully produced, I hope that they’ll add the appropriate branding screens and release it again soon. In the meantime, to make up for the lost treat above, here’s another Tanqueray video that’s shorter, and less about the drinks and more about the customer.
It is well worth the minute and twelve seconds it takes to watch, regardless. It seems to be a music video of a photoshoot of several Craft-y looking bartenders making drinks with Tanqueray and showing off some of the signature techniques and “moves” you see certain of the best practitioners employ.
The video does quite a bit to illustrate a point I’ve long held, that elaborate craft bartending is a very close cousin of Flair. Both are difficult and require a great deal of practice. Both are designed to entertain patrons. Both entail a certain amount of risk to the products and tools behind the bar. Both are a lot of fun.
The difference is that Flair is almost entirely unrelated to the finished product set before the customer, whereas most craft moves are directly tied to something about the drink. Juggling a lime has little impact on its flavor. Vodka tastes the same whether it is poured behind the back, over the shoulder, or not. Pouring seven drinks from nested tins at the same time does nothing other than produce messy drinks.
But wielding an ice pick to create a perfect ice ball is as visually amazing (and more dangerous) as juggling full bottles of Malibu, and contributes to a finished cocktail that is both unusually beautiful and able to retain its perfect dilution and flavor all through its consumption. Sure, some details are mostly for show, like 20 inch barspoons for the stir, or the perfect snap of the pitcher at the end of the pour. But if you think that little details like using an eyedropper to measure certain ingredients is just self-important twee…. Well, I used to think that too. But there are some great cocktails I love, but which I ruin more often than I pull off if I don’t get very precise with a dropper.
Exit Question: Which moves (love them or hate them) do you see behind a craft bar that you know are just for show? Which showy moves are essential to making a specific drink work?
Post Exit Question: Who are these bartenders? I feel like I’ve seen some of them before, but, um, memories can get hazy.
“Making cocktails is a lot more like baking than it is like cooking.” I hear this all the time from bartenders, the point being that precise measurement is vital to making balanced drinks. A bit too much citrus, too little vermouth, and your finely crafted, expensive cocktail isn’t is as good as it should be. This is why we encourage bartenders and home mixologists to use a jigger. It’s more consistent and delivers better results than “free-pouring” as the bartending academies instruct.
That is how one of my favorite bartenders and bar bloggers starts a new post today that challenges us all to really take drinks to the ultimate level of consistency and quality. Jacob notes that volumetric measurements are problematic, especially the very small measures used in such things as dashes. The solution that people who care about results use when baking is to use a scale.
Go read the whole thing at Jacob’s site. I will note that one reason for measuring the mass of ingredients instead of volume in baking has to do with the compressibility of powdered ingredients like flour. Now, I don’t have a lot of flour-based recipes in my repertoire, but I would not put it past some of our more creative artistes. And more to the point, the real problem in cocktails comes with the smallest of ingredient amounts, such as dashes or drops. If you can’t even count on one bottle of Angostura to the next delivering the same amount in a dash, imagine from one brand to the next. A high-quality digital scale is the answer to this issue!
I will note that the OXO scale shown in Jacob’s picture is not up to the task that he himself lays out for measuring such amounts as .666g of bitters, as it is accurate only to the whole gram. The PeguWife and I have a retired Olympic scale that was first used for weighing the shoes of beach volleyball players. It is sensitive to the thousandth of the gram, so it wasn’t precise enough for the outfits….
Since a scale like ours is in limited supply, I’d suggest something like this Ohaus Scout Pro Portable Scale for professional bars, as it appears to be robust enough to handle the rough, wet environment. It is a bit expensive, but only two ought to be enough for most any bar. For the home, I’d suggest something cheaper, like this American Weigh Gemini.
I’m excited by this whole new world of precision in my cocktails, and I expect to see scales in use all over on the next calendar year! It really isn’t that much more exacting effort to use this system. Let’s hope everyone starts expecting this, so the people who do will get exactly the drink they deserve.
Somehow, the impending bartender singularity is already in its rococo phase. Because I certainly want my Manhattan brutally shaken and then dispensed through a series of cherub penises….