Disclaimer: I hugely respect every luminary mentioned in this post. It does not moot the necessity or fun of some swift Internet justice over this.
Angus Winchester seems to feel that I’m about to unleash some sort of fatwa against the panel, and they will have to live out their days in Salmon Rushdie-esque hiding, moving from one undisclosed speakeasy to another, always in fear of being recognized and immediately served violently shaken Manhattans. Since we both have beards, I can understand his fear that you may mistake me for the Ayatollah Khomeini, but please, dear reader, keep stirring Angus’s Manhattans, and muddle no bright, chemically red cherries in Phil Duff’s Old Fashioneds. (OK, you can use bottled lemon juice in their Corpse Revivers if they aren’t looking….)
Ok, smack time.
Renaissances have distinct, necessary phases. Just as the early phase of The Renaissance was marked by a significant rediscovery of classical Greek sources, the early stage of our modern Cocktail Renaissance has been in no small part an archaeological one. For all the creativity exhibited so far, the most important events have been largely the rediscovery of legacy ingredients and forgotten recipes. Some of the work in this field, and much of the dissemination thereof, has been the work of cocktail blogs. While this work will continue, I think it is no longer the driving force in the Craft Cocktail movement. This evolution is, I suppose, a main driver behind the existential angst I see in my neighborhood of the Internet.
The problem with archaeology, as any student of Hollywood knows, is that you will from time to time unearth something powerful, something terrible, something that would best have been left… earthed?
Beachbum Berry (pictured) discovers he that has released the Best Year
from its tomb….
In the spirit of this truth, there was a session at this year’s Manhattan Cocktail Classic entitled “Do Not Resuscitate“, which discussed both a number of legacy cocktails and some classical sources that they felt were less Rembrandt and more Thomas Kinkade. The panelists were Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders, David Wondrich, St. John Frizell, Steve Olson, Robert Hess, Philip Duff and Angus Winchester. An All-Star panel, to be sure.
And they certainly had some valid points among them. Frizell’s comment, “Drinking a Brooklyn makes you think, ‘Why am I not drinking a Manhattan?’…” is particularly on point, whether or not you have some mythical stash of Amer Picon.
And Olson’s dismissal of the El Diablo is a sort of Emperor’s New Robes moment for me. I’ve always thought it is a mediocre at best drink, even when well made, and I thank him for giving me the social cover to publicly say, “yuck.”
Discussions like this are great fun. But what makes them fun is the buzz created by Rule 4: Controversy leads to conversation. Had they named only self-evident, universally acclaimed losers, the seminar would have been forgotten instantly at best, or viewed as a crashing waste of money for those attending at worst. And this group of very talented, knowledgeable folks appear to have gone the extra mile to ensure it was not boring. They employed Rule 4 to effect, with some reasonable entries setting up some less so, right on to some silly contentions, and at least one outright turd in the punch bowl idiocy that, had it been uttered by any lesser of a light, would have left me growing out my beard and hollering, “Jihad!”
I’ll save said turd for the end. Paul Schrodt at Esquire was kind about it. I intend to have more fun.
Oh no, Doug!
One of them didn’t dare to diss the Pegu, did they?
Of course not. Had he made such a pronouncement, no amount of power, accomplishment, or reputation would stop me from declaring him unfit for employment by so much as a Fat Tuesday’s.
Also, Audrey was sitting right there! The blood spatter would have been visible from space….
Anyway, I’ll start with the relatively harmless contention by my man, Angus Winchester, that the Vesper be on this list.
Yes, you cannot get the original Kina Lillet anymore. Who cares?
I contend that with Lillet Blanc you still have a quite decent drink. Further, I have always contended that a decent drink with a really kicking story beats a really kicking drink possesing no raconteuring opportunity all hollow as an experience.
No story beats the Vesper’s
Finally, from an industry standpoint, Angus’s idea is just counterproductive. The Cocktail Renaissance may be moving out of the archaeological phase, but it is by no means particularly mainstream yet. The Vesper can be a great, perhaps the great, drink for busting the vodka “Martini” drinking male out of that rut and on into the world of better drinks. (By this I mean gin drinks. You’ll get your turn, brown liquorati.)
Next, I take issue with needless over-bashing of Baker, and equally unfounded worship of the Savoy. In bashing the eminently bashable Holland Razor Blade, Phillip Duff utters an hilarious line which I will make you follow the link to Diner’s Journal to read. But it is really a disservice to talk about Baker this way. To bash the very questionable quality of most of the recipes therein has the same value as bashing Embury for the same reason.
You aren’t going to dismiss Embury are you, Phil? I didn’t think so. The overwhelming majority of recipes in both volumes are stinkers. We know. It’s not why you have to read them.
Likewise, in regard to the lamentable Snowball cocktail, Robert Hess is alleged to have uttered the simply laughable line, “This may be the only bad cocktail in the Savoy Cocktail Book.” My early edition of the Savoy is one of my most prize possessions, and my visit to said bar is among the formative nights for me as a cocktailian, but please! That said, this line will come back to haunt the panel as a whole, since he was not set upon for it by the rest….
Is there no rhetorical bag of trick you won’t hesitate to use, oh mighty pundit boy?
Well, I are an English Major….
But the mighty matinee idol Dale DeGroff is the real target of this post, alas. As a minor point, I first take issue with his dissing of the Papa Doble. No one as much the physical doppelgänger of my father are was Hemingway can be truly wrong in my book. More to the point, even hard-core alcoholics deserve their own craft cocktails.
“Shake my Manhattan, and you get to play Russian Roulette with a full pistol….”
But I shan’t go too hard on Dale over this one because the PeguWife also despises the Papa Doble, and I know what is good for me.
But, Dude! “King Cocktail” had to go and crap on the Aviation? That just makes me sad.
Hapless Victim of Royal Persecution
Actually, no. It makes me mad. Angus assured me via Twitter, whilst I was threatening him with the paragraph a bit above this, that Dale’s comments were restricted to the Savoy’s recipe, but that is not what I seem to get from the Diner’s Journal article.
Wait! Are you telling me that you are taking the New York Times as an iron clad source?
Who are you and what have you done with Doug?
Good point. And I’ve certainly already had my share of chastisement over my experience with trusting reporting by The Atlantic over a session at Tales. So I suppose some critical element might have been left out of the piece….
I’ll finish with my thoughts on the Savoy recipe, but regardless of the exact recipe DeGroff was dumping on, I think he’s wrong on many levels.
First off, the Aviation is a helluva cocktail. It is attractive, balanced, and delicious. If you don’t like maraschino liqueur, fine. I can’t abide Campari, but I don’t claim the friggin’ Negroni is some kind of over-hyped nothing.
But more importantly, I contend that Dale should look at his freaking bank balance and realize that a good chunk of the cash therein is owed to this cocktail. And yes, I’m serious. The Aviation may be a bit passé these days, to the point that the kind of people who use phrases like, “I’m so over____” and “____is so yesterday” on occasion today use those phrases in regards to the Aviation. (For the record, I’m so over both those constructions; they are so yesterday.) But both phrases support my point, since they are only used for things that once were in fact the cat’s pajamas. And the Aviation was said PJs. And said PJs at a critical moment in the craft cocktail renaissance. Back when hordes of people like me were just getting started into this movement, when quality, craft cocktails were just seeing a glimmer of commercial acceptance, the Aviation was the Secret Handshake™ of the movement.
(I also take a bit of personal exception to Dale’s dismissive comment, “It was a darling of the Internet.” Sorry Dale, but you can’t just note the fact that for a good long time this drink was a huge favorite of the largest community driver of the Cocktail Renaissance, then dismiss that same community of your best customers as connoisseurs of “hand soap” without expecting some stormy waters….)
The well-made Aviation simply embodies some of the most critical elements in our art, elements that apparently even some of our best have come to take for granted; things like fresh juice, especially citrus; legacy ingredients like Maraschino or even resurrected ones like Creme de Violette; drier and/or more delicate flavors; freaking gin. This drink is important, damn it… In addition to being delicious.
I still love you, Dale, but don’t let this happen again.
Now, since Angus has already been engaging in damage control over this with me via Twitter, I suppose I should address the word from the Spin Room.
“It’s important to get your stories straight and keep them consistent!”
Pictured: White House Spokesman Jay Carney
“Dale was only talking about the Savoy Cocktail Book version on the Aviation!”
Pictured: Angus Ferguson
I may have fudged with those attributions just a bit….
Anyway, I find it odd that Dale would really have been only singling out the Savoy version of the Aviation because I for one have never seen nor heard anyone actually advocate making an Aviation as printed in the Savoy. If you are going to single out a drink no one makes as one people should stop making….
And again, neither Esquire nor the Times seemed to pick up on this fairly major qualification.
That said, the Savoy recipe is indeed pretty lame. It simply is too sour and doesn’t include the Creme de Violette in the first place. But even though this version is mostly lemon and evergreens, it still doesn’t taste like hand soap, unless Dale uses some nasty kind of lemon in his drinks, which I’m pretty sure he does not.
And besides, the session had also been told that the Snowball was the only bad recipe in the Savoy….
You can even get Creme de Violette in places like Ohio these days, so if you don’t understand what this drink is I’m making a such a fuss over, you owe it to yourself to give it a whirl. Here’s the recipe I most often use:
- 2 oz. light, floral gin
- 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice that doesn’t taste like hand soap
- 1/4 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
- 1/4 oz. Rothman & Winter’s Creme de Violette
Combine in a shaker with ice and shake moderately. Strain into a cocktail glass or coupe and garnish with a single home-made brandied cherry.