Monthly Archives: February 2016

Just an Old Fashioned gal

1144798855-cashHappy birthday to The Man in Black.

Yes, today would have been Johnny Cash’s 84th birthday and as I’m writing this, I’m listening to Johnny’s Drink to Me and it makes me happy and sad at the same time.

I’m advised that in Johnny’s country of birth there are quite a few disgruntled white men belly-aching about being discriminated against (cry me a river guys) and that’s why Donald Trump is current front-runner for the Republican nomination to possibly become the President of the USA.

These are words I hoped never to write and on their own present a reason to drink.

But it’s always cocktail hour here at SSM, so that means focusing on positives. Like one gem from the world of cocktails for which we need to thank a disgruntled white man.

The Old Fashioned.

The world’s first classic cocktail. Its full name (because we like to be formal here at SSM) is the Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail (whiskey here definitely spelled with the e because it’s a rye or a bourbon whiskey) and we can thank our old friend Prohibition again for rebirthing it.

See although it dates back to the early 1800s, during the Big P, people who didn’t have bathtub-gin-672x372the readies to get down to Havana, would make their own booze.

And it would have been bloody awful.

To mask the taste, bartenders added pretty much anything they could think of to cocktails – fruit, honey, mint, sugar syrup, whatever.

Dark days my friends.

Fast forward to 1936, three years after the repeal of Prohibition, and the habit had stuck. A crotchety gent writing under the nom de plume “Old Timer” wrote to the NY Times to complain about the lost art of cocktail making. OT said in no uncertain terms that he wanted a return to the Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail.

Whiskey (probably rye since that was more readily available pre-Pro), ice, a sugar cube and 3 dashes of bitters.

That’s it. That’s the recipe.

If you doubt me (but seriously, why would you?), take a look at Robert Simonson’s definitive tome on the matter;415o2ehhxal-_sx346_bo1204203200_


Muddle the sugar, bitters, and a barspoon of warm water at the bottom of an Old-Fashioned glass until the sugar is dissolved. Add the rye or bourbon. Stir. Add one large chunk of ice and stir until chilled. Twist a large piece of orange zest over the drink and drop into the glass.

You do need to muddle the sugar cube because it won’t dissolve effectively in alcohol, but other than that, it isn’t a very fussy cocktail.

Not fussy but highly contested.

According to the IBA, you garnish it with a slice of orange and a maraschino cherry.

And look, I hate to say this, because it is a bit of a game-changer for SSM where we use the IBA as the authority for cocktail recipes, but the IBA is WRONG.

There’s no call for an orange slice – it’s a twist.

There’s an art to getting the twist right. Cut a slice of citrus peel, with minimal pith (flip it over and check if you can see the pores of the zest through the pith – if not, throw it away and try again. For a great how to guide on the twist, take a look at THIS) then you twist it over the drink until some of the citrus oil is released into the drink.

Then run it around the rim of the glass or drop it straight in.

So no orange slice, no maraschino cherry, no soda water and certainly no bloody LEMONADE.

Simple but seems it’s hard to get right.

The Old Fashioned is the drink of choice of Mad Men’s Don Draper and there’s a great scene where he makes one for Conrad Hilton.

Great scene, crap Old Fashioned.

Did you see what Draper gets wrong? He adds soda water.

Ryan Gosling gets it mostly right in this scene from Crazy, Stupid Love, but he sprinkles sugar just before serving. Unnecessary (so unnecessary that it makes me suspect it’s actually Rohypnol but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt).

Remember, we’re using good quality whiskey nowadays so we’re not trying to mask its flavour, we’re enhancing it.

It’s quite a blokey cocktail. As well as its origins, it isn’t presented much in popular culture as being popular among the laydeez.

One notable exception is Bette Davis’ 1942 film Now, Voyager which takes its title from a Walt Whitman poem The Untold Want.

“The untold want, by life and land ne’er granted.

Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.”

Although an admirable premise and with some interesting themes, this is kind of a shitty movie.

Its primary message is that if you have bad eye-brows as a woman, you are 1418892338166destined to be a self-conscious, unattractive spinster (but apparently if you’re a bloke with bad eye-brows, you can apply for all sorts of interesting jobs).

Fortunately, Davis’ Charlotte Vale puts us all out of our misery and casts off her glasses, has an eye-brow wax and becomes deserving of love. Phew.

Then she drinks a bourbon now-voyagerOld Fashioned with her love interest. Just to keep things balanced though, she doesn’t order it herself, in her journey of self-discovery a man orders it for her.

But screw all that. If you like a good cocktail, order an Old Fashioned, whatever your gender or eye-brow shape.

Feel free to leave it to the professionals though.2016-01-16 19.55.09

SSM did some field testing on a rainy night in January (not February, February is Prohibition and February is sucking).

First in Sydney’s subterranean Palmer & Co. The ice was the only problem – the Old Fashioned calls for one big ice cube, so it doesn’t melt too fast.

2016-01-16 20.55.16.jpgRevolving 47 floors above George Street at O Bar and Dining, absurdly handsome Swedish waiters will bring you drinks as you spin slowly, pausing in conversation to glory in the majesty and beauty of the Sydney Opera House every forty minutes or so.

When the aforementioned handsome one asked me how I would like my Old Fashioned, I stammered that I’d like bourbon, but wanted the bartender’s choice of bourbon. At altitude, seems bartenders favour Booker’s.

Booker’s is a Jim Beam Distillery product and was invented by Jim Beam’s grandson who had the spectacular name of Booker jb_bookers_433x650Noe.

Booker was the sixth generation of his family to make Bourbon and died, aged 84, in this week of 2004.

Booker’s was introduced in 1988, long after today’s birthday boy had given up the drink. In his drinking days though, Johnny Cash favoured a bourbon with a water, so you may like to raise an Old Fashioned to him this week. Or watch THIS CLIP for Hurt and try not to cry. There’s a great article HERE about the story behind the clip that makes it even sadder.

Cash and Elizabeth Taylor used to speak each year around this time since her birthda300866_v31y was the day after his.

No mention of whether Johnny would ring his other birthday pal, unlucky-in-love balladeer and walking advertisement for regular hot oil treatments, Michael Bolton.

Feel free to raise a glass to MB if that’s your bag (remember though, he said he love you…but he lied – please, please take 5 minutes to watch that clip – Eagles! Fire! Horses! Chest hair! Spectacular scenery and something very special at 1:34).

And just to finish back on a note that is my single biggest worry at the moment, there are two other white guys in the USA with more in common than you’d expect.

They don’t share a birthdate, but they do share a birthplace (Queens) and quite clearly a desire to do the same thing to the country.

Donald Trump and porn star Ron Jeremy.

I won’t drink to that, but next week I’ll drink to you.




Prohibition; Good-bye, Farewell and Amen

For eleven moons dear Reader, alcohol has not passed my lips.

I’m not ill, just still carrying a little Christmas cheer so have imposed Prohibition at home for a month. Well, nearly a month. Not Leap Day. Leap Day is for fun.

By the looks of the New Hampshire Primary, there’s a chance that the USA could be aboutjan-16-1919-prohibition-begins-usa-506x270 to slide into its dumbest policy-making era of all time (seriously guys, Trump?), but to date, the post-WW1 years seem to hold that mantle.

See in January 1920, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the USA made it illegal to sell or manufacture alcohol in the USA, a law that lasted until its repeal in December 1933 with the passing of the 21st Amendment. Phew!
It’s pretty hard to pass an amendment to the Constitution. Of the nearly 12,000 proposed since 1789, there have been 27 ratified. Still guys, how about we aim for 28 and see if we can stop kids getting shot at school hey?

prohibition-posterThe 18th Amendment was intended to reduce crime.

As a policy, it was about as successful as the cracker 1935 plan of introducing cane toads to Queensland to control the cane beetle. Zero impact on the cane beetles, major environmental damage. Genius.

Prohibition simply pushed the industry underground and allowed the mafia to control the black market. Genius.2016-01-12 19.44.21

It also pushed all the good bartenders of the era off-shore. Many, like Eddie Woelke, went to Cuba and used their time wisely to create fabulous new cocktails.

Like another IBA Official Cocktail, the Mary Pickford – if you want to know more about the wonderful Mary, her celebrity gang that makes Kimye look like amateurs, and her pretty pink rum, grenadine and pineapple juice cocktail, (pictured here from Sydney’s Pilu at Freshwater), here’s where Liz Ellis and I discussed it on ABC Radio in January. 

5704707423_4fd4751ba4Cuba in the 1920s was known as the Paris of the Caribbean (and I’m assuming it wasn’t because as soon as you walk out of your hotel you tread in dog shit like I did on my first visit to Paris). In his 1928 book “When it’s cocktail time in Cuba”, Basil Woon described Cuba as being “a land where personal liberty and climate are blended in just the right setting of beauty and romance.” So like Schoolies Week then but less bogan.

Things were looking great for Cuba and anyone who could afford to jet down there from the USA for cocktail hour, but back in the Land of the Free, thirsty folk turned to making moonshine and bathtub gin. It was called “gin” because it was light in colour (gin and vodka are not aged in wood and therefore do not colour like other spirits), but would not have resembled gin as we know it today in any other way. Bathtub gin refers to any type of homemade spirit made in amateur conditions.

Like they did in M*A*S*H, with The Still.mash-season-3-episode-7-19-95bd

Ours was a big M*A*S*H household and I was really sad to hear on New Year’s Day that Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John McIntyre on the first three series, had died.

These first few weeks of 2016 have been tough in farewelling people we might not have known but who have played important parts in our lives. Rogers was one of those for me.

Wayne Rogers was born in Birmingham, Alabama, 30 years before it became the centre of the civil rights struggle and Martin Luther King Junior wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. In the letter, King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

73108b5ece1d52e363b3ae950afd530aIn many ways, similar themes were explored in M*A*S*H, and although a comedy, it has been influential in my understanding of social justice and in seeing how comedy can so skilfully challenge our thinking on serious issues.

M*A*S*H also had a recurring theme of railing against absurd rules, and The Still was a great example of that.

I have battled through a lot of reading with words like “ethanol” and “methanol” and still don’t still_smithsonianunderstanding the home distillation process. General consensus though is that this still (which was one of three used in the show’s 11 years and is apparently in a box at the Smithsonian Institute somewhere) would not have worked and certainly couldn’t have made gin.

Closest thing it could have made – according to the chemistry-types who haunt the M*A*S*H forums – is Baijui, a Chinese alcohol made from grain. Or possibly vodka. And if you go HERE, some bright entrepreneur will sell you a 2015-12-09 17.13.29kit to make your very own.

With the amount of good local gin available now though – and I highly recommend Poor Tom’s from Marrickville – please don’t ask me to try your home-brew.

But the alcohol wasn’t the point of The Still.

The point was in the excision of a small amount of control and pleasure in an absurdly regulated environment.

Enduring themes, but not all TV sitcoms age well.

Case in point, look at this 8 minutes of gold below with the intro to 1981’s “Julie’s Wedding” when The Love Boat came Down Under. To Australia mate. Where everything is SO FAIR DINKUM.

Things of some note: “whacko” means good in Australian, if you’re confused, you feel “all up a gum tree” and Harry Morgan, who played M*A*S*H’s Colonel Potter was a guest star in the episode, alongside Tiny the Kangaroo and Elizabeth the Koala.

M*A*S*H though, still stands up as good viewing.  THIS CLIP combines Benny Hill music with some great M*A*S*H moments.

Sure, there is lot that hasn’t aged so well, like the treatment of Major Margaret Houlihan (particularly in the movie and earlier series) and the source of Trapper’s nickname. Robert Hooker’s book that inspired the movie and the TV series details John McIntyre being caught in a train toilet with a young woman who says “he trapped me”. This hilarious anecdote would – and should – now be referred to as “sexual assault”.102_abduction_margaret_houlihan

But the likes of Trapper and Hawkeye and Klinger and of course Colonel Flagg are important parts of my childhood. Every time a former cast member dies, I’m saddened. Here, watch this and you can be sad too.

Someone who isn’t in that video is Patrick Swayze, who appeared in one episode of M*A*S*H where he was diagnosed with leukaemia. Swayze, you’ll remember played Johnny in 1988’s Dirty Dancing. Like Cocktail, I have seen this movie several hundred times as part of my commitment to excellence in usheretting (it was the 80s, we were usherettes) and can recite it AND the words to THIS SONG.

What I didn’t know was that Swayze actually wrote it as well as singing and brooding so successfully in the clip that makes me seasick.

Something you may have missed is that in 2004, some bright spark decided to make a prequel “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights”. Set in 1958 Havana, when being American and wealthy may have been losing its cache in Cuba, it has EXACTLY the same plot as Dirty Dancing, just with Cuban music. Swayze plays a small role as a dance instructor, but more interesting is to see Mad Men cast members January Jones (Betty Draper) and John Slattery (Roger Sterling) in roles I suspect they don’t talk about too often.

Perhaps they can blame the booze. After all, it’s what Homer Simpson in Homer vs the 18th Amendment toasts, “To Alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

As for me, I haven’t repealed my personal 18th Amendment so I’m off to get a sparkling water.

Vale Wayne Rogers.