Monthly Archives: September 2017

Screw you Screwdriver

Look, breaking up is never easy, I know (and dear Muddlers, at least some of you will now have an ABBA song on repeat in your heads so you’re welcome), but it may be time for Shake, Stir, Muddle to move on.

The International Bartenders Association, which has provided the official list of cocktails that SSM has based several years of research from (after an admittedly half-arsed and somewhat arbitrary decision back in the early days of SSM), has been throwing up some red flags for a while.

We’ve all had those relationships where we turn a bit of a blind eye to some of the more “charming” aspects of the other party. You know, the daggy website, the insistence on maintaining a Flairtending Award several decades after that has been put to death in most good bars, that sort of thing.

But the biggest of these red-flags is that the IBA may not actually know what a cocktail is.

Oh I’m sure if I threw two ingredients at them – say gin and tonic – they would be able to differentiate between a mixed drink and a cocktail. The G&T – a truly magnificent alcoholic drink and possibly the cornerstone of civilisation – is worthy of cult status, but a cocktail it ain’t.

See, while two ingredients can indeed make a cocktail, it is only if they are both alcoholic.

Otherwise, it’s a mixed drink.

Like this week’s offering which, not only does the IBA incorrectly classify as a cocktail, but it actually categorises it as an Unforgettable, joining the Martini, the Old Fashioned, the Negroni and more than two dozen other actual important cocktails on that list.

But the Screwdriver – an adolescent combination of one part vodka to two parts orange juice – surely, surely has no place on this list?

And yet, the IBA insists.

So, until such time as we officially break up with the IBA, SSM is honour-bound to review it.

So there, it is. Vodka and orange. Whoopty-doo.

It seems to have been around since just after WWII, although how its “invention” could possibly have been held off for this long is beyond me.

harry_stamperOne cool(ish) story is that oil rig workers in the Persian Gulf found the work hot and that some wowsers deemed that super-dangerous work (watch Bruce Willis in 1998’s classic film Armageddon to gain an expert knowledge in deep sea oil stuff) should probably be done sober, so they started drinking “Orange juice” which they stirred with the only bar tool handy – a Screwdriver.

If you like Orange Juice, you’ll like a Screwdriver. That’s why so many under-age drinkers favour the Screwdriver (and I was one of them).

I’m not even going to give you a picture of one. The very best Screwdriver looks like a glass of OJ.

GallianoThe sole remaining interesting fact about the Screwdriver is that if you can master it, you are but one dash of Galliano away from nailing another IBA cocktail – the Harvey Wallbanger.

The three-ingredient Harvey Wallbanger does indeed qualify for cocktail status and the IBA has included it in Contemporary Classics.

Where does the name Harvey Wallbanger come from? Well that’s disputed, but most likely it joins last week’s actual cocktail, the Alexander, in having marketers to thank for its prominence. In this case, the importers of Galliano, the sweet bright yellow Italian liqueur found in some other questionable IBA cocktails such as the Yellow Bird and Golden Dream, both of which SSM is girding our collective loins before reviewing.

They wanted a cool, laidback surfer dude to advertise the drink and someone dubbed him Harvey Wallbanger. So it’s about as glamorous as Rhonda and Ketut.


From the Screwdriver and the Harvey Wallbanger, a world of mediocre cocktails is just a step and a 1970s sly wink at your bartender away.

Take your Screwdriver and substitute vodka for Sloe Gin and you get a Slow Screw (geddit?).

Take your Slow Screw and add some Southern Comfort (which is actually changing its century-old recipe this year to include actual whiskey instead of whiskey flavouring) and you have a Slow Comfortable Screw (seeing the pattern here yet?).

And add Galliano – our old friend from the Harvey Wallbanger – to your mix and you can ask your bartender for a Slow Comfortable Screw Against the Wall.


The variations on this theme are disappointingly numerous.

But given I’m contemplating ending a relationship, I’m going to have to think seriously over a good drink.

And sure, at 11am tomorrow if I’m still in need of a drink, I’ll turn to some navel-gazing, and pour myself a Screwdriver (unlikely, but possible), but otherwise, I’ll opt for a cup of tea, a proper cocktail or just stick to mixed drinks that have the courage to be unashamedly who they are and stop screwing with the cocktail list.



Get on board the Alexander train

Brideshead AlexandersBack in 1981, when I still thought Evelyn Waugh was a woman*, Brideshead Revisited came to television and everyone started ordering Brandy Alexanders.

Even in Brisbane.

The cocktail, which started life as part of a clean coal marketing campaign (more on that shortly) was most likely created in the early 1900s by Troy Alexander and originally contained gin, white crème de cacao and cream. The gin was swapped out for brandy and lately, the Alexander has dropped the brandy handle entirely and is now more routinely made with cognac, brown or white crème de cacao and cream.

But is actually not ordered very often and is kind of daggy.

There is nothing Shake, Stir, Muddle likes more than discovering something – especially something that was big in the 1980s – that has fallen out of fashion and assess its right for a revival.

Step forward Alexander.

I’m not a huge dessert fan and don’t generally go for cocktails with cream in them, but there is certainly merit in the concept of drinking one’s dessert and there is something old-worldy about the Alexander that does charm.

Also charming is the clean coal history of the cocktail.

Now I think “clean coal” is a genuinely hilarious expression. I have seen Billy Elliott four times so definitely know my coal mining and it is not a clean business. It may indeed be getting cleaner, but it is in no way clean.

The thing is, most of us never have to see coal in our daily lives, so the concept of clean coal is quite seductive.

Back in the early 1900s though, when trains were powered by coal, people were confronted with the unclean-ness of coal every time they wanted to go anywhere more than 2kms from their homes.

Recognising this was a problem for them, the canny marketers at Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad connecting Buffalo, New York with Hoboken, New Jersey, engaged the services of advertising whiz Earnest Elmo Calkin, who promptly came up with the fictitious Miss Phoebe Snow (actually I have no idea if it was prompt or not).

Miss Phoebe Snow, New York Socialite, didn’t go all Sheena Easton and just let her baby ride the Morning Train. Hell, no. She put on her best white dress and happily rode the DL&W Railroad herself, safe in the knowledge that her dress would remain pristine because DL&W locomotives used Anthracite.


Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, PHMC

Anthracite is a very hard coal that burns a blue, smokeless flame and does throw off less crud than normal coal, which is why it can used in places like central London.

There you go, truth in advertising.

Now before we get all excited, Australia produces between zero and bugger-all Anthracite.

But back to Miss Phoebe Snow. DL&W held a fancy dinner to promote the clean coal and bartender Troy Alexander whipped up a cocktail that was white and fluffy, evocative of the lovely Miss Snow’s dresses and generally Virginal-demeanor.

That was the gin variation.

The Cognac version is now one of the IBA’s Unforgettables. In fact, due to alphabetical good fortune, the Alexander is the very first Unforgettable cocktail listed.

It’s another shaker and easy to make.


The IBA recipe calls for 30 mL each of Cognac, Crème de Cacao and Fresh Cream shaken over ice (give it a really good shake, it’ll make the cocktail frothier and give you a tiny workout before you pour all that cream and sweet booze into your body).

Strain it into a chilled cocktail glass and sprinkle with nutmeg.


In moderation.

This thing tastes like a milkshake but is as powerful as any other more alcoholy-tasting cocktail.

As part of our One-for-the-Roadtesting, SSM tried the gin and cognac variations. Opinions were divided exactly 50:50 (between the two of us) as to the superior offering.

Regardless, we both agreed that dialing back the Crème de Cacao made for a better cocktail. You can always add more but it does tend to dominate.

Dessert in a glass, genius.

So that’s what to drink today. But why to drink?

Today, friends, 15 September, is not only a Friday – the happiest day of the week – it is also the anniversary of many things worthy of celebration.

Over the past 70 or so years, 15 September has seen the premiere of many TV greats – The Lone Ranger (1949), Lost in Space (1965), CHiPs (1977) and LA Law (1986) – which together have accounted for literally hundreds of hours of my life.

Ok, so not life-saving, but definitely life-affirming (especially CHiPs).

Something that does fall into the life-saving camp though is this: On this day in 1928, Alexander Fleming (later Sir Alexander) discovered penicillin while studying influenza.


A huge shout out to Sir A for that work and apologies that less than a century later we have compromised the value of it through over-use. It’s pretty much what we do now, with everything.

But you sir, have saved the lives of millions and millions of people and I salute you with a cocktail that shares your name.

240px-The_Party_MachineSadly, 15 September is also the anniversary of some sad things. Like 1991, when we saw the very last episode of Party Machine with Nia Peeples go to air.

Party Machine was a bit like actually going to a nightclub in the very early 1990s, all the clubs were obsessed with dance floors over several levels and bike pants were indeed worn with high heels and shoulder pads (yes, even in Brisbane).

The only thing they’ve neglected is that everyone had cigarettes on the dance floor and you’d go home smelling worse than a day on a non-Anthracite train and sporting burn holes in your cool clothes.

In its brief but bizarre and beautiful run, Party Machine had one guest host almost unrecognisable to her true fans, those of us who didn’t really like the anti-feminist message behind Morning Train (why don’t you get your own damned job Sheena? Take him to a movie, slow dancing, anything he wants) but still quite fancy hanging off the end of a locomotive and dancing to this classic ear-worm.

Sheena, that new song you sang on Party Machine is shit though.

Party Machine also had the curious combination of a bartender but a non-alcoholic bar (we call this “the tap” at our house – or “faucet” for my American friends) so he couldn’t have shaken up an Alexander for you, but there’s possibly no better way to mark the passing of this intriguing relic than with another relic.

Welcome back Alexander, you’ve got a place at the bar here at Shake, Stir, Muddle.



*I know this implies that I discovered my error soon after 1981. This may or may not be the case.

Bee’s Knees, the absolute Dog’s Bollocks



This is Wally.

He is a one-time shelter cat who has lived in the lap of luxury with my family for 11 of his 12 years. He is much nicer than our last cat Georgie who was definitely smarter but showed her hatred of him to her very last breath at 19 years old.

Old Wally here is a lovely guy, but he’s no Einstein. And frankly, he’s a bit of a disappointment to us.

Not solely because he urinates in the heating vents – although that is indeed challenging – but because he does nothing that would ever get him on Cats Make You Laugh Out Loud.

Wally can’t play the piano, use the toilet, nor will he ride around on a robotic vacuum cleaner in a shark suit. To be fair, we don’t have a robotic vacuum cleaner and have never tried to put him in a shark outfit but we just know.

Wally’s not that kind of cat.

We love him but could never put him in a onesie and say he was the cat’s pyjamas.



And look, maybe that’s ok.

Maybe I don’t need any more excuses to make poor puns and dredge up old-fashioned expressions.

In the 1920s though, when I would have been a bobbed-hair, sassy-chattin’ flapper, Wally’s ordinariness would have posed a problem. When everyone was trotting out the cat’s pyjamas, the duck’s nuts and the elephant’s adenoids by way of saying that something was the best, having a cat that was neither the pyjamas nor the whiskers could have been a struggle.

Small wonder then that during Prohibition some canny cocktail creator mixed a slug of bath-tub gin and lemon juice and then tapped into both the honeycomb and the Zeitgeist to mix up the cocktail known to this day as the Bee’s Knees (we should be thankful that it has retained its 1920s name rather than the updated version – I’m not sure I’m that keen to order a Dog’s Bollocks).

The Bee’s Knees is like the Wally of cocktails. Not famous and possibly a bit too simple.  But lovely all the same.


60 mL (2oz) Gin

22 ml (0.75oz) freshly squeezed, strained lemon juice

15mL (0.5 oz) honey syrup (mix your honey 50:50 with warm water or it will just shake into an ugly ball in your shaker)

Shake it up with ice. Strain it into glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

(I’m going to slightly up the amount of honey next time – you’ll need to play with it to get your preferred flavour).

Bees Knees.jpg

The Prohibition theory was that the honey would hide the smell of alcohol. I guess that depends on how much you have, but given we are still in flu season, consider the honey and lemon and therapeutic combination.

That aside, it’s tasty, but I’m not sure really is the Bee’s Knees.

No one really knows where the Bee’s Knees expression came from.

One theory is that it is paying homage to one Beatrice “Bee” Jackson, a dancer from the 1920s who could Charleston like nobody’s business with knees flying everywhere. Watch this video and note that she does it in heels too.

She is the Snake’s Hips.



The expression could also be a corruption of “busy-ness”. As we know, bees are a diligent lot, getting on with the job of packing pollen into their knee sacks with narry a thought for hayfever nor ever stopping for a cappuccino to bitch about how busy they are.

That bees are so busy is important.


Bee and blossom.png


I think we can all agree that Albert Einstein was a Smart Guy.

He was credited with a lot of important and clever things (ok, he never rode around in a shark suit on a vacuum cleaner but he did conclude in his theory of special relativity that the speed of light in a vacuum is always constant, and that’s also quite impressive I suppose).

But one of the things he’s been credited with is this:

“If bees were to disappear from the globe, humankind would only have four years left to live.”

For good reason, this freaks a lot of people out.

But there’s apparently no evidence that it was actually said by Einstein, although plenty have people have said it does sound like the sort of thing Al would say.

Because he was the cat’s pyjamas (like these Australian scientists who won Eureka Prizes earlier this week for doing some kick-arse work for which we should all be worshipping them like rock stars).

Regardless of who said it, bees are important (and here you can see I am making a play for a Eureka Prize of my own next year) and should definitely have a cocktail named after them.

Things have been looking grim on the bee front for a few years although there has been some reported improvement in 2017 (it is possible that this is what stock-market types refer to as a Dead Cat Bounce but I don’t want to say that out loud in case Wally panics and pisses in the heating vent).

But good news is good news and the Bee’s Knees is a great cocktail to toast the turning of the seasons and the rise in backyard bee-keeping in almost every country Shake, Stir, Muddle gets read in.

Go beekeepers!

The Bee’s Knees isn’t an IBA Official cocktail though and maybe that’s why it hasn’t been getting its time in the sun from a movie perspective.

I haven’t found a movie or television reference to the cocktail, but have found this week’s birthday boy, Jack Black, trotting it out in 2003’s guide to teaching excellence, School of Rock (watch it if you haven’t and watch it again if you have).


I love this movie, not least for my alter-ego Summer Hathaway’s demonstration that no matter how cool your rock band is, it don’t mean squat if you haven’t got someone to organise your bus to the gig, appropriate insurances and adequate hydration for your roadies.

That’s right, rock stars. Solid admin is the Bee’s Knees too (so thank your Band Manager or Cocktail Reviewer today).



Summer is efficient
Not everyone adequately appreciates efficiency


PS There’s a variation called the Oldest Living Confederate Widow which adds two drops of orange bitters and two dashes of Absinthe and I think lifts the cocktail from Wally to the cat’s actual pyjamas.