Yellow Bird drinking in the dead of night…

If you’re new to Shake Stir Muddle, welcome to the party pal.

To bring you up to speed, back in 2015 I started working my way through the International Bartenders’ Association’s Official Cocktail list, shaking them up and sharing some thoughts.

Sometimes we come to praise these cocktails, and sometimes we come to bury them.

Most of the ones we bury have come from the mostly-execrable offerings that make up their New Era Drinks list and I take no pleasure in dipping into them.

CarollSpinneyBut last week I heard the news that Caroll Spinney is hanging up his big orange feet. If you don’t know Caroll, you’ll certainly know the 8’2” costume he’s occupied as Big Bird since November 10 in the same year that I made my international debut, 1969.

Nearly 50 years on Sesame Street.

Sesame Street is an amazing show, so ahead of its time in its positive representation of diversity, its ambitions of educating children in the pre-school years rather than treating them like morons who couldn’t learn until they pulled on a school uniform, and even in helping kids understand death. Like this moving scene where Big Bird’s friends help him understand that Mr Hooper has died (grab a tissue).

 

So there will be no better time ever than to shake up an IBA New Era Cocktail, the Yellow Bird.

Like many famous cocktails, there are variations.

And typically, the official IBA recipe isn’t the best one.

It calls for

White Rum
Galliano (that golden, anise-flavoured Italian liqueur in the tall bottle)
Triple Sec
Lime Juice

Yellow Bird.jpg

Look, it’s ok.

Because I don’t – and to be honest, probably won’t – own a bottle of Galliano, I took this Cocktail Shakedown to the professionals and ordered one high above Hong Kong Harbour at The Peninsula.

The better Yellow Bird – unphotographed, because sometimes life is like that when you inject yourself into a flock of birds, yellow or otherwise (just ask Tippi Hedren) – contains equal parts of white and dark rum and lime juice (30 mLs each), fresh orange juice (60 mLs) and a small dash of the Jamaican coffee liqueur Tia Maria.

The Yellow Bird is a very tropical drink. It’s a bit too sweet for my liking but does feel like holidays and that’s always good. Possibly even a holiday in Jamaica but I wouldn’t know (although a friendly reminder that Fiji was shit).

Most of what I know about Jamaica comes from Cool Runnings, the Olympics and music. Apparently Bob Marley is pipped as most famous Jamaican by Usain Bolt (let’s ask that question again in 10 years though), but coming in at number 5 on this list is a guy who reworked the lyrics to a song called Yellow Bird in 1957, Mr Harry Belafonte.

Belafonte album

You’d know Harry, but in a perfect world he’d be better known as a social activist than as the Banana Boat guy. He’s done about a million amazing things for the Civil Rights movement, but the two things he’s done that are likely to be of most interest to the Shake, Stir, Muddle audience, he was responsible for 1985’s We Are the World and was the Honorary Co-Chair of the Women’s March in 2017.

BTW, 1985 was also the year that the adults in Sesame Street finally acknowledged Mr Snuffleupagus existed and stopped gaslighting poor Big Bird.

Part of Shake, Stir, Muddle’s brief is to prove each edition how superior the 1980s were to pretty much this entire Millennium so far. We have cited George Michael, Elton John, Sheena Easton and many other famous philosophers as proof of this concept, but We Are the World offers a chance to land the killer blow and silence dissenters.

So you don’t have to, I have watched the March 7, 1985 version and then the 2010 version. Repeatedly.

 

There is zero doubt that the earlier version is superior. Consider Cyndi Lauper KILLING it at 2:50 into the 1985 version and then see the same bars in the 2010 version sung by someone who, yes, can definitely sing, but…Celine Dion? Really? Guys?

There are many things in the 2010 version that are truly cringe-worthy, mostly by the white people in the room and let’s take a moment to remember Chris Martin from Coldplay trying to match it with Bruno Mars and Beyoncé at the Super Bowl in 2015. I like Coldplay, I really do and Chris Martin was a great sport about it afterwards, but man, that was awkward, right? (In his defence, no man on the planet is going to be able to stand next to Queen Bey and look like an equal).

 

But back to us all being the World; the 2010 version may indeed have been better (something you will definitely be skeptical about as you who’s singing the first few bars, and that Michael Jackson thing is super-cheesy, and a real Ray Charles is definitely better than an actor-one, and we’ve already addressed the Celine elephant in the room, and…yep, just bear with me).

Counting the solos in the 1985 version, there were 26. Five of those were by women and one, Kim Carnes, was precisely two words long. Even if you only count up to the point they allowed non-singers – Bob Dylan – to have a solo, it was just 25% women.

That’s even less than the Australian Parliament (although more than the Liberal Party).

Fast forward 25 years and the solos total 43 (their version was much longer and more self-indulgent in my view), 21 one of which were by women. In fact, up until Barbra Streisand brings her excellent Broadway diction to her solo at 2:34, it was sitting at 60% female solos before bouncing back to the nearly-half that it finishes at.

 

 

So maybe some things are better this century (up until November 2016 of course when everything went to shit even worse than a Celine Dion television interview).

What neither version gave me was a Belafonte solo. In 1985, he’s up the back (next to Dan Ackroyd – ?) and looking like the most joyful guy on the planet.

We need more of that.

But what about Caroll Spinney (he’s kind of become the Chris Martin headliner of this Cocktail Shakedown, but Belafonte is doing a total Beyoncé)?

Well Yellow Bird singer Belafonte sang at Jim Henson’s 1990 Memorial after the 53 year old creator of the Muppets and Sesame Street died of a Strep throat. A bloody strep throat.

Harry sang “Turn the World Around”, the song he debuted on The Muppets in 1977, the clip to which Henson reportedly considered some of his best work.

 

 

 

Another songbird at the Memorial was Caroll Spinney as Big Bird, singing “It’s Not Easy Being Green”, in a tribute to Henson and Kermit the Frog who Henson had voiced.

Well Caroll Spinney, I raise my Yellow Bird (and a Martini, which is a higher compliment) to you in gratitude for some damned fine work that’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember.

Cheers!

 

Tuxedos optional

Some things are just hard to swallow.

And occasionally, very occasionally, a cocktail may be one of those things.

But we don’t shy away from talking about tough things here at Shake, Stir, Muddle, so yes, this week’s Cocktail Shakedown is one we made, tasted, tinkered with and eventually poured down the sink as a lost cocktail cause.*

Tuxedo .jpg
I know. It looks delicious.

 

The Tuxedo.

I was excited about The Tuxedo. Any cousin of the Martini is a cousin of mine. But somehow, this gin, dry vermouth, absinthe, orange bitters and maraschino liqueur cocktail just doesn’t work. It’s a bit off.

No you weirdo, it’s not like kissing your sister, it’s more like, um, cough mixture.

So I’d suggest not bothering with this IBA Unforgettable. Or if you do fancy yourself a bit of a Tuxedo, maybe make like George Clooney and loosen it up a bit, probably by dropping the Absinthe. And the maraschino. And probably the bitters too.

Image result for george clooney tuxedo

 

Yes, that’s a Martini, but what the hell did you expect from me?

If you’re still not convinced that you should WALK AWAY from this cocktail, let me tell you a little about its history.

It’s named after the placed it was invented – The Tuxedo Club, which since 1886 has operated as a private, members-only club in New York State.

Here’s little snippet from their website:

Members embrace a shared tradition of congeniality, high standards of personal conduct and continuity of family association. The celebrated traditions of sport, civility and a commitment to excellent facilities and services will always be the hallmarks of The Tuxedo Club.

 

Hmmm, there’s something about that language that tells me The Tuxedo Club may be even more difficult to swallow than a goon-bag full of Tuxedos (and if you’re not familiar with a goon-bag, read on and prepare to be delighted).

No, I’m not getting the sense that The Tuxedo Club is a particularly welcoming place. Maybe if you’re Brett Kavanaugh, but not if you’re, you know, not white.

But to hell with them, we don’t want to go there anyway (although I would quite like to meet a real middle-aged woman happy to go by the moniker Muffy and I suspect I could readily fulfil this ambition at The Tux).

So The Tuxedo Club is difficult to stomach, but here’s the good news. There are thousands of bars around the world that will welcome us with open arms.

Much easier to swallow.

So here’s a list of other things you might find hard to swallow, as well as an alternative you might like to occupy your mind with instead.

 

Marketing 101

  1. We’ve learned in the past week that there actually is NO idea too trashy for some marketer to try to push. Yes, wankers put a horse race on the Sydney Opera House. That’s hard to swallow.
  2. Easier to swallow is that the Cleveland Indians sponsorship team proposed a 10 cent beer night for a game against the Texas Rangers on a Tuesday night in June 1974. Who could possibly have seen this coming, but everyone got so shit-faced that the game had to be called off. Brilliant.

Image result for cleveland indians ten cent beer night

Australian ideas

  1. Back in the day (October 1859), a genius named Thomas Austin wrote to his brother in England asking him to send 24 rabbits for his guests to do some game hunting on his estate near Melbourne, an idea that’s still causing millions of dollars of crop damage every year.
  2. A MUCH better Australian idea is the plastic wine cask – aka the goon-bag – that we all know and love from our teens and twenties.
Image result for goon bag
Not to scale (ABC: Emma Wynne)

Nominations for worst song ever

  1. Journalist Luke Williams once nominated Spandau Ballet’s True as the worst song ever. How very dare he?
  2. Michael Musto in The Village Voice said that Phil Collins’ annoying and pointless and mystifying Sussudio “could have been the theme song for the Third Reich, it was that insidious and evil”. Much easier to swallow.

 

Sarah Jessica Parker movies

  1. Sex and the City (1 and 2). Both very difficult to swallow.
  2. Instead watch 1985’s super-cheesy romantic comedy dance film Girls Just Want to Have Fun which matched SJP with Helen Hunt AND Shannen Doherty. It’s not very good. But it’s GREAT.

 

 

Nicolas Cage rumours – everyone knows a crazy theory (most true) about the creative genius who made Face Off, Con-Air, Raising Arizona, bought a pet octopus to help him act better (costing him $0.5% million in aquarium costs with no apparent improvement in his acting skills), did mushrooms with his cat…

  1. Reportedly very nearly made a Magnum PI movie. But didn’t. That’s hard to swallow.
  2. May actually be a vampire (something he denies)

Nicolas Cage vampire

Some blokes will get away with it

  1. Brett Kavanaugh, now a Supreme Court Justice, would be welcome at The Tuxedo Club
  2. But Bill Cosby – well he appears to have been hit in the face with a piece of chicken by a fellow inmate recently. So that’s good.

 

Swap your lens (or your cocktail), there’s usually a better way to serve up most things.

Cheers!

 

*After this we opened a bottle of wine, so the story does have a happy ending

A Ramble, 2 Brambles, 7 cycles and a Wibble

Spring is springing in Sydney so thoughts invariably turn to cocktails.

This week, another Dick Bradsell classic, the Bramble.

Bartender extraordinaire Dick grew up in England and had fond memories of his childhood on the Isle of Wight where apparently one can hardly turn around without being snagged by a blackberry bush in the “warmer” months.

Despite a largely blackberry-free childhood, I now know – thanks primarily to Peppa Pig – that blackberry bushes are thorny and reaching the berries requires care.

Peppa Pig
From an actual book in my house. Sigh.

Fast forward to sometime in the late 1980s and Dick was running the bar at wanky a swanky Soho private members’ club frequented by the likes of Boy George (fun fact: Culture Club’s Jon Moss was my choice of husband before I discovered George Michael – it was also never going to work out), Neneh Cherry, Naomi Campbell (of course) and Siouxsie and many of her Banshees.

Jon moss boy george

Anyhoo, Dick wanted to create a truly British cocktail and invented the Bramble (one of more than 30 cocktails he invented before his untimely death in 2016).

Shake 60mLs of gin, 30mLs of fresh lemon juice and 15mLs of sugar syrup and pour over a glass full of crushed ice (definitely crushed, which we know is not my favourite, but must be crushed – you can use a rolling pin to bash some ice cubes in a clean tea-towel to make it at home), then trickle 15mLs of crème de mure over the top.

It’ll wend its way slowly down through the ice in a manner that will allegedly remind you of dodging through brambles – that’s why it’s gotta be crushed.

Garnish with fresh blackberries and enjoy.

Bramble
©Yauhani Labanau dreamstime.com

 

If you prefer, you can mix up a Wibble (so named by Bradsell after the 1970s toy, the Weebles, because he said “a Wibble might make you wobble, but you won’t fall down.”)

For that you’ll need London Dry Gin, Sloe Gin, fresh pink grapefruit juice, fresh lemon juice, crème de mure and sugar syrup.

Quick info break 1: Sloe gin is a red liqueur made with gin and sloe (blackthorn) drupes, which are a small fruit relative of the plum. A drupe is a stonefruit. You soak the fruit in the gin. It’s nice and gives you an excuse to sing The Pointer Sisters Slow Hand as you serve it. Who doesn’t want a lover with some Sloe Gin?

Slow Hand

Quick info break 2: Crème de mure is a crème liqueur. Crème liqueurs contain no cream. Liqueurs with cream (Bailey’s Irish Cream, Amarula and the like) are called Cream Liqueurs. Crème liqueurs contain LOTS of additional sugar which makes them syrupy. Serving one gives you an excuse to sing the UK’s longest running One Hit Wonder, which tomorrow turns 49, The Archies’ Sugar Sugar (no, that’s not me on keyboards, that’s Veronica).

There are lots of crème liqueurs, and if blackberry ain’t your thing, you can substitute Chambord – a French raspberry liqueur – and hey presto, you’ve made yourself a Ramble instead of a Bramble.

Then, of course, you can sing Ramblin’ Guy and sort out your guests by seeing who knows what you’re talking about when you try to get them whistling.

 

Or, just to prove that Dick wasn’t as much of a wanker as the patrons of some of the places he worked in, he said you can quite effectively substitute Ribena for the crème de mure and still call it a Bramble. I’m a little conflicted by this since I don’t like wankers or Ribena, but you make up your own minds.

In fact I’ve recently been saved from having to think too much about that decision by the Chief Distiller at Sydney’s Buffalo Vale (makers of this very good gin which I paid for and can therefore say whatever I please about), when he served me a Korean Bramble which although not Australian, seems more appropriate since it’s from our neck of the woods.

It’s a Bramble, with the crème de mure substituted for Bokbunjaju, or black raspberry wine.