All posts by Shake, Stir, Muddle

Past your bedtime? Order carefully

Like most sensible people, when faced with a dilemma, I ask myself what Naomi Campbell would do.

Take last week for example, when I was finally going to be able to use those Book of Mormon tickets I bought AGES ago, but knew that if history has shown us anything, it’s that no matter how good the production, an 8pm curtain can prove challenging for my stamina.

What would Naomi do if faced with the need to stay up past her bed-time?

Naomi Gif.gif

Back in the 1980s, the savvy super-model tasked bartender extraordinaire Dick Bradsell (who sadly died at just 56 last year and we did a little salute to him HERE) with giving her a cocktail that would “wake her up and fuck her up”.

Thus began the dawn of the Espresso Martini Era.

We are now deep in the second wave of the Espresso Martini Era, as our society’s ridiculous obsession with coffee collides with the cocktail renaissance to such an extent that tickets for an Espresso Martini Festival in Melbourne sold out in less than ten minutes in 2016.

That it was created in the 1980s should give us reason to approach this IBA Cocktail with some degree of caution.

Firstly, of course, the Espresso Martini is not really a Martini.

No, it’s not. Just like the Flirtini, the Appletini and all the imposters that come in a Martini glass, calling something a Martini is not enough to make it a Martini.

A Martini has gin or vodka and vermouth. Full stop.

The Espresso Martini – a cocktail Bradsell originally dubbed “Vodka Espresso” and later tried to rename “Pharmaceutical Stimulant” when the Martini nonsense took hold (making him even more of a legend in my eyes) – contains vodka, coffee liqueur, espresso and sugar syrup. HERE’s the recipe.

As part of our Mormon mission, Shake, Stir, Muddle bundled into Federici Bistro in Melbourne and discovered a THOROUGHLY delightful service where you can pre-order drinks for Intermission. Not just crappy sparkling wine in plastic glasses, but proper cocktails, consumed at your dedicated table or seat at the bar. It’s heavenly.

Possibly actual Heaven in fact.

Book of Mormon

There was zero doubt we would avail ourselves of this magnificent service, but the question was what to order for the post-bed-time mission.

Coffee helps, of course.

That the wakey-wakeyness of coffee peaks about an hour after consumption makes it a perfect choice for both pre-theatre and Intermission.

But do we go for an Espresso Martini (which I’m told makes proper bartender roll their eyes – HERE’s a great story from The Guardian which includes a tale of a bunch of women on a Hen’s Night carrying signs saying “Espresso Martini” and just waving those around when they wanted a drink), or an Espresso and a Martini?

Espresso and Martini

Obviously that’s an issue of taste, but if calories are relevant to you, Bradsell’s creation will hit your daily budget about 284 calories a pop, but the Espresso and Martini combo comes in at about 174 calories and that includes two olives.

Regular readers could be forgiven for assuming that I’d always go for the combo. Truth is though, I have a bit of a soft spot for old Naomi’s cocktail and will periodically opt for it in lieu of dessert and Federici had a Dark Chocolate offering that clearly had added benefits of anti-oxidants (whatever those are).

We divided and conquered and road-tested both. I’m happy to report that no one had to be nudged into wakefulness during the fabulous Book of Mormon.

So I can recommend either path as a sure fire way of staying the course (unless you’re at Waiting for Godot, in which case I suggest just giving into the Sleep Gods and enjoying the nap).

Now you could listen to the soundtrack of Book of Mormon while you down your Pharmaceutical Stimulant but I think that would be wasting a golden opportunity.

Let’s take the birth decade of this cocktail and travel back to 1983.

220px-whamfantasticYes, the year that the cavalcade of pop classics that is Wham! Fantastic was bestowed upon on us.

You could sing Bad Boys, but since Patron Saint of SSM, George Michael didn’t actually like that song, let’s not. Instead you could opt for Wham! Rap, or one of THE BEST songs ever recorded, Club Tropicana (which we have covered HERE).

 

You could watch Risky Business, also released in 1983. Or Our Nicole (wh220px-bmxbanditsposter83en she still had curly red hair) in BMX Bandits. Or Terms of Endearments. Or the best yet, Flashdance.

Seriously, 1983 is possibly the most magnificent year ever for music or movies.

 

But how about this? How about watching The Commitments instead.

Confession time, I’ve never seen it so have no idea whether it’s any good, and it came out in 1991, so may not seem entirely relevant, but bear with me.

You know that song Mustang Sally, right? It was written in the mid-1960s, but if you were around in the 1990s, you’d know it from it being on rotation on dance floors at the same unwelcome regularity as Dave Dobbyn’s Slice of Heaven. That’s because of The Commitments.

So we all know the lyric “Ride, Sally ride.”

We’ve gone back to 1983 (which to be perfectly honest is a few years before the 13 year old Naomi started ordering cocktails), that most spectacular year of screen and sound, to talk about a woman named Sally Ride who in June of that year became the first US woman in space.

1200px-sally_ride_in_1984

This is cool on many levels.

Sally was super-smart and inspired many girls to study science. Sally had a fantastic perm. And Sally Ride was the first known LGBTQI astronaut.

Sadly, this last part wasn’t publicly acknowledged until her obituary in 2012 when she died aged 61, having spent 27 years with Tam O’Shaughnessy.

There are people in Australia who would still like us to have our LGBTQI brothers and sisters live their entire lives pretending not to be who they are.

But I say, let’s raise a glass of Pharmaceutical Stimulant – or whatever you fancy – to Sally Ride, and let’s treat hiding your sexual orientation as being as culturally-relevant as Sally’s perm.

Questionable in 1983, down-right comical in 2017.

So as they say in The Commitments*, Sláinte mhaith, and if you haven’t yet, please vote YES (it’s what Naomi would do).

Cheers!

*Probably

 

vote-yes.jpg

 

 

 

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.

Sigh.

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.

Cheers!

 

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.

lackawanna_railroad_phoebe_snow_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.

Alexander

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.

Enjoy.

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.

gonorrhea

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.

Cheers!

 

*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

 

Wally

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.

Take:

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).

Cheers!

 

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.

 

I’m turning you down, Tom Collins

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that Jane Austen would have been a cool chick to have a cocktail with.

But were she to show up at my door at 5pm on Friday evening, expecting a cocktail and some stimulating conversation, what would I serve?

Last night I went to the Sydney Opera House to listen to some very clever Science-types talk about Life on Mars. Seems NASA has plans to have people in orbit around the red planet in the 2030s and living on the surface a decade later.

Opera House and Bridge.jpg

This seems awfully soon – and terribly exciting – and logic tells me then that other smart Science-types may be closer to nailing the whole time travel thing than I thought. If so, the prospect of Jane Austen showing up at my door, demanding a decent cocktail, may indeed be closer than I thought.

So on this day, which is exactly 100 years and one month after she died, it’s high time we considered what to serve Ms Austen. It needs to be a drink that demonstrates an appreciation of her fine body of work, allows for witty quips to fly like tits (stop being so juvenile, it’s a bird) and above all, needs to be a damned fine cocktail.

You’re never going to get two chances to whip up a cocktail for Jane Austen.

Logic says we start with an IBA Unforgettable Cocktail, the Tom Collins.

Now the Tom Collins is a gin cocktail and that’s always a good place to start.

And it comes with a great story.

Back in 1874 (and remembering that this is some six decades after Jane’s death, have a few bits of 1874 trivia to hand, tell her it was the year Winston Churchill was born, then tell her who Winston Churchill was and that he got the Nobel Prize for Literature, tell her that 15 out of the 113 Nobel Laureates for Literature have been women, show her your jeans and tell her Levi Strauss got a patent for these in 1874, tell her the ladies wear them all the time now and that should make up for the lack of Nobel prizes), the Tom Collins cocktail was at the heart of an hilarious hoax.

At this point you could offer her a Piecost or a Henway.

It’s always a good day when you can land one of those, but your triumph should be tempered by knowing that Jane’s wit (we’re on first name basis now) may have been dulled by a century of being, you know, dead.

Anyway, back in New York in 1874, funsters would tell a friend (read: sucker) that a fellow named Tom Collins had been talking trash about them down at the tavern. When said friend would go down to the tavern and demand that Tom Collins be brought forth to account for himself, the cocktail would be placed on the bar and we’d all fall apart laughing.

This was before shows like Charles in Charge showed us what real humour was in the 1980s so don’t judge them too harshly.

So that’s the Tom Collins, but how does it link to Jane’s work?

Your segue here is to talk about one of Jane’s greatest creations, Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice 2.jpg

Mr Collins (William, not Tom but it’s a cocktail party so just relax a bit, would you?) was the pompous and ludicrous heir to the Bennet estate who proposed to that sassy Eliza Bennet and thought she was being coy when she told him she would die alone and penniless than marry him.

If you haven’t read it, you must. Or watch the 1995 six-part BBC series with Jennifer Ehle and and Colin Firth (it is much better than the Keira Knightley movie, even in spite of the glorious Dame Judi Dench appearing in the latter) and David Bamber as Mr Collins.

Anyway, in brief, Eliza knocks him back and ends up marrying broody Mr Darcy and Eliza’s best friend Charlotte, surprises us all by marrying Mr Collins, thinking it better to have a shit husband than none at all.

And sadly, while the Tom Collins offers much in the way of relevance as a cocktail to serve Jane, it is the cocktail equivalent of Charlotte Lucas’ life – a compromise, not entirely unpleasant but somewhat tedious and not something you are asking for more of

You really wanted something else. Something heaps better.

I ordered a Tom Collins at Bennelong in the Opera House last night. I knew what was in it, and I believe it to have been made exactly as the recipe directs.

Tom Collins.jpg

But even sitting in my favourite place on earth, this cocktail was a Mr Collins to my palate.

It’s gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and soda water.

I just don’t know why you would bother.

A gin and tonic – while not a cocktail – is a much tastier way to drink gin. The Tom Collins feels like an expensive can of Solo.

Don’t be sad though, I just ordered another drink – a Red Rye Hand in homage to Nick Cave whose magnificent Ship Song has been used in a video about the Opera House that makes me weep with joy every time I see it.

 

So what then to serve Jane?

Don’t panic friends, the answer is clear.

Given that 1813, the year Pride and Prejudice was released was the same year that Vickers Gin and Noilly Prat vermouth were created, were Jane Austen to show up in my house tonight, I’d offer her a gin martini. Same as I’d offer anyone.

Because you’re dead a long time and life’s way too short to drink a Mr Collins.

Cheers!

Ground up what? I’ll pass. Thanks

I feel I need to start with an apology this week as I know our cocktail under the spotlight will cause some of you to cross your legs in discomfort.

Monkey Gland.jpg

It’s a delicious and beautiful offering that almost glows. Orange juice (fresh please), gin, absinthe and grenadine. Easy to make, pleasing to the eye.

And sure, maybe calling your son Sue is an effective substitute for hands-on parenting in some quarters, but sometimes a name can break bad.

And I think that’s what’s going on with the Monkey Gland.

This unfortunate handle is inspired by the work of a fascinating Russian-born Frenchman by the name of Serge Voronoff operating in the early decades of the 1900s.

Dr Serge’s hypothesis was that hormones, such as the testosterone produced in the testes, would reverse ageing with a process he called “rejuvenation”.

I can see the Eastern half of Sydney sitting up and taking notice here but I must warn you that this is a little more extreme than injecting a bit of life-threatening Botulism into your face.

First, Serge tested upon himself, injecting ground up dog and guinea pig testicles under his own skin.

Yes, you read that correctly.

He was disappointed that there were no discernible results (other than to induce vomiting I suspect).

Voronoff.jpg

A political cartoon of Voronoff performing an appendectomy in Egypt. (Image: Wellcome Images/Wikipedia)

Instead of accepting that you can’t be good at everything and moving onto to a sensible career like accounting or writing horror stories, Serge pressed on, determined to prove that living grafts of organ tissue, rather than the injections, were the answer.

Quite the early adopter of recycling, our man Serge harvested nuts from executed criminals and stitched slices of them into the ball-bags of rich white men.

I think it says more about the perennial desire of wealthy people to use their money to overcome their mortality than it does about the early 20th century justice system that Voronoff ran out of dead men’s nuts to slice before he ran out of willing recipients of such.

The forces of Supply and Demand forced Voronoff to look elsewhere and he started monkey farming for his supplies.

Serge conducted more than five hundred of these procedures and the scientific world was curious and watchful. Supportive. He even branched out into planting a monkey ovary into a woman (and I’m sure Mrs Trump loved her baby very much – boom boom).

But the sceptics finally caught up to Serge and his work was discredited and he died in obscurity in the 1950s.

Sad thing is, by the 1990s, his work was being looked at by the scientific community with a more sympathetic eye and is being credited with shaping some of the thinking that forms the basis of more credible, modern medical practices.

So let’s pause a moment a show some respect to the countless medical researchers who spend their entire careers testing hypotheses just so they can say “Nope, the answer’s not here” in the hope the next white coat can build on that to find the cure. You guys are awesome.

Serge’s story (and fortunately not the practices) inspired Harry MacElhone to name a cocktail after old Voronoff’s life work.

To allow you to unclench your nether regions, we’ll stop focusing on Serge’s work and focus instead on Harry’s extensive body of work.

Scotsman Harry took over the New York Bar in Paris in 1923 and called it Harry’s New York Bar.

Harry claims to have invented the Bloody Mary, the French 75, Boulevardier, Side Car, White Lady and the Blue Lagoon. And he’s got a pretty credible claim on most of them (although, I did give the Bloody Mary to another bartender in THIS POST, I did also say it was based on what he was serving to guests in the Paris at Harry’s Bar).

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But his Blue Lagoon is the one MacElhone creation that likely will never get its own review on these pages.

Because it’s blue.

And blue drinks don’t work.

 

 

No they don’t.

 

I like blue, and I liked the most of the delightful offerings of the same hue in Hawaii.

Which 3 things

 

But that, bottom right, is a Blue Hawaii cocktail photographed at point-blank range. Appetising, right?

No. Blue cocktails – the Blue Hawaii or the Blue Lagoon – seem mired in the 1980s.

And not in the good way. More in the Daryl Somers way.

Where it might work nicely is with an in-home screening of the totally excellent 1980 movie of the same name. The movie for which the beautiful Brooke Shields quite deservedly won a Razzie for Worst Actress.

 

Back in the days of VCR, I once spent a solid hour with my friend trying to get the picture to pause at just the moment when you can see Christopher Atkins’ simeon-free wang as he slid down the waterslide.

That’s University for you. As well as being a place of learning, it is also a place of far too many free hours in the hands of people just learning how to come to grips with being allowed to drink legally. It is also the time when you think blue drinks are a great idea and often have a blue tongue to show for your night out.

Treat the Blue Lagoon cocktail and movie with the same respect, a potentially enjoyable diversion, but both pretty much a waste of time.

By contrast, the the Monkey Gland deserves so much better.

As a cocktail, it is a superior offering but by virtue of a crappy name, it doesn’t get the love or attention it deserves.

So perhaps we should call it a Voronoff (he’s certainly more deserving of a cocktail named after him than that dullard Gibson)

Whatever you call it, this is a tasty cocktail, worthy of your attention. So uncross your legs, get out your orange juicer and get shaking.

50mL of gin (I used Archie Rose)
30mL of orange juice
2 drops of absinthe
2 drops of grenadine
Shake well over ice cubes in a shaker, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Cheers!
PS If you’re in Australia, you can tune in to Hard Quiz on ABC television at 8pm on Wednesday September 20th to see exactly how much I know about monkeys

Martinez: Team Cocktails’ Defensive End?

The Quarterback
Possibly the best-known cocktail ever to have been shaken or stirred, the Martini is kind of the Quarterback of the Cocktail List.

It’s so glamorous that you want to hate it a bit, but it’s just so good that you reluctantly acknowledge that it is the most important cocktail on your list.

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And after a couple of these cold, clear, razor-sharp beauties, you start to think how much you’d like to shake the hand of the genius who invented it.

Well, bad luck. While there are many who would like to claim the title, we really don’t know who invented it, not do we know where.

What does seem highly likely though, is that the Martini evolved, at least in part, from the Martinez.

The Martinez deserves a place on the IBA’s list of The Unforgettables, alongside the Martini, the Negroni, the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan.

But the Martinez is neglected, treated like the soap opera roles stars of screen and sound had to take before their proper careers took off.

It happened, but we don’t talk about it. Do we, Melissa George?

So unfair.

Here’s the story.

The Martinez first appeared in print in O.H. Byron’s Modern Bartender’s Guide back in 1884 and calls for Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur and Angostura bitters. It’s sort of like a sweet Martini or a gin Manhattan.

Old Tom Gin is a recipe that was popular in England in the 18th Century. It is less botanical than many modern gins and is sweeter than London Dry and drier than Dutch Jenever (Genever if you prefer). It works with the sweet vermouth and other ingredients to make this a very different cocktail to a Dry Martini.

Jerry Thomas is credited by some as having created the cocktail when he was tending bar at San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel (built in 1861, closed in 1906 after the San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires), but the City of Martinez, California really, really, really wants us to give it to them.

The story goes that a prospector who’d just struck it rich, bellied on up to the bar in 1874 with a fistful of gold nuggets and asked bartender Julio Richelieu for a bottle of his finest champagne.

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Upon being advised that to no such bottle was available, Yosemite Sam challenged Richelieu to serve up “something special” (hopefully he said “tarnation” in there somewhere too) and Richelieu concocted the “Martinez Special” out of gin, vermouth and orange bitters.

The Martinez town claim is that this then spread, with bartenders in San Francisco being asked to replicate something that was loosely described as having gin and vermouth in it, and after a few of those, it’s just easier to drop the “Z” and say Martini.

They’ve invested in this folklore and got themselves a plaque in Martinez, declaring itself the birthplace of the Martinez cocktail, and sure, I’m happy enough to support their claim.

Martinez station

 

But when the whistle blew at doubtlessly historic Martinez on my recent research trip, somehow I opted to stay on my Amtrak train and push on to San Francisco to see how the finer bars there were interpreting the cocktail and it’s descendants.

 

Stookey’s Club Moderne offered shelter from the rain, a sophisticated but relaxed vibe and a welcome respect for this piece of cocktail history.

I tried two to be sure it wasn’t a fluke (it wasn’t, put this bar on your list) and as the outside temperature dropped and my inner glow grew, it occurred to me that we’re all guilty of denying the Martinez its place in history.

Martinez Club Moderne

Sure, it’s not the Quarterback married to a Super-model, so we wouldn’t be nearly as interested in it and you certainly wouldn’t expect to see it reflected in movies, or television or music quite as much.

But not once?

Not a single reference could I find (please, please tell me in the comments if you know of one) in popular culture or classic movies.

In fact to find an appropriate reference to uphold this blog’s promise of dodgy cultural references for each cocktail, I had to go to Santa Barbara.

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Not the city, but the soap opera, where in the 1980s and 1990s, one A Martinez played Cruz Castillo against his soap super-couple counterpart, Marcy Walker’s Eden Capwell (you know the story – rich white shoulder-padded girl and poor muscly Latino guy in tight t-shirts and jeans initially dislike one another before falling in love and battling the odds to make their love accepted – the usual 1980s soap story-line).

 

Because it was on when I was knee-deep in University studies, I watched Santa Barbara a lot.

I liked it less than Days of Our Lives or The Bold and the Beautiful but more than the Young and the Restless, and it regularly passed an hour that might otherwise have been squandered at the library.

Reviewed as the worst television show ever made when it debuted (possibly not undeservedly), there’s not a lot that you can say was culturally important about it.

Except it launched the career of the spectacular Robin Wright.

Yes, she of Buttercup in the greatest movie ever made (yes it is, no correspondence will be entered into on this), The Princess Bride, she of Jenny Curran from Greenbow, Alabama in Forrest Gump.

And now of course, she of the highest, sharpest heels and steeliest-eyed determination in House of Cards, the clear, cold, razor-sharp Claire Underwood.

Let us not deny our pasts, for we are the sum total of all our experiences and shitty soap opera appearances.

So this weekend, do your bit to honour your elders and order up a Martinez. Or a Martini.

As you wish.

Cheers!

 

 

Gibson and the bat-shit crazy Bohos

Dear Muddlers

Today seems a perfect day to celebrate people being over-compensated for their achievements. And I’ve found the perfect cocktail for it.

The Gibson.

Now the Gibson is a perfectly tasty cocktail. It’s essentially a Martini and we all know how I love a Martini.

But the thing that transforms the Martini into a Gibson is replacing the olives with cocktail onions.

Shazam! A new cocktail.

It’s undeniably delicious, and given the onion is a vegetable and the olive a fruit, it may make more sense in a serious cocktail, but really?

Determined to do things properly, I looked hard (ok, two grocery stores) for pickling onions small enough to be appropriate for a cocktail glass, but they were all golf-ball size.

So I abandoned my Martha Stewart pretensions and sourced all the different types of ready-made cocktail onions I could find (three brands) and the type of onion does indeed make a difference in flavour, but it was still essentially three Martinis.

Gibson

Yes, a great day at the home office.

But it left me no closer to understanding why replacing the olives with a lemon twist doesn’t transform the cocktail, but apparently an onion does.

In the most credible theory of its creation, in the late 1800s, a San Francisco businessman named Walter D.K. Gibson wanted his Martini a little special.

Being a fan of what he considered the common cold-preventing qualities of onions (but being a bit smarter than this oni1439370916609on-eating imbecile) Walt asked the bartender at the Bohemian Club to switch it up.

And 140 odd years later, we’re still calling the cocktail after old Gibbo?

Taj Gibson, is no doubt an excellent basketball player, but I don’t think he’s curing cancer. Yet, in another Gibson-themed example of achievements being over-rewarded, he’s just signed a two-year deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves that won’t be commemorated a century from now by cocktail drinkers, but will get him $28 million.

Isn’t that nice?

The Bohemian Club in San Francisco where the Gibson cocktail was “invented” is full of people getting overpaid for their work. Not so much the staff, class actions a few years back indicate that staff remuneration may be little more than a jar of pickled onions a week, but the members.

It doesn’t seem so different from any gentlemen’s club around the world. Wealthy men, mostly white, sipping port and smoking cigars away from the prying eyes of women or anyone not as wealthy as them.

Seems a shame that Bette Davis’s Gibson-swilling dame Margo Channing from All About Eve wouldn’t be allowed to attend.  Every party ever hosted would benefit from the presence of a woman who downs a Gibson and instructs her guests to “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Fasten your seatbelts

All About Eve is the story of a beautiful young woman who uses charm and flattery to hoodwink the Broadway power-players and build her stardom at the expense of others who have been kind to her along the way.

It is exactly the sort of reason that men like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and a bunch of Bushes and Clint Eastwood and Charlton Heston and Mark Twain and Jack London and a host of other mostly white, mostly Christian, always wealthy, blokes need to go to be able to let their comb-overs down without the spectre of being hoodwinked by someone like that conniving Eve.

I would object to the principal of not being allowed to join except I can’t think of a reason I would want to join.

Hang on, that’s not quite true.

Every July, members of the Bohemian Club go to summer camp in northern California. It’s called Bohemian Grove and is held on a beautiful private property full of magnificent old growth Redwoods that the club is cutting down to supplement its income.

The Club’s motto is “Weaving Spiders come not Here” which is from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and effectively means that members and their guests are not allowed to be networking and doing business while they’re there.

No. They’re not.

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This motto obviously means that the rumours that the Manhattan Project was devised there, couldn’t possibly be true.

Just as well, because imagine a world where if Hillary Clinton had been President, she wouldn’t have been allowed to go to a place where swinging dicks make important decisions about nuclear weapons.

Or where, if Australia had a female Prime Minister, she wouldn’t be allowed to go, but her Foreign Minister Bob Carr – let’s be clear, JUNIOR to her in every way, would be allowed to accept an invitation from Henry Kissinger AND use tax-payer money for the privilege in 2012.

Lucky nothing important is discussed there, right?

Just a bunch of knockabout guys letting it all hang out (interestingly, being able to piss on the Redwoods at will is one of the reasons the Club cited in applying to exclude women from working there).*

Anyway, they start the two week-long event with the Cremation of Care, a ceremony where the effigy of a child named “Dull Care” is mock sacrificed by men in red robes with pointed hoods and then put out in a burning boat on the lake.

Now when I finished senior Maths in high school, I did participate in a secret burning of class notes and text books with some equally numerically-challenged classmates, so I’m not entirely averse to the secret ceremony, but the robes do make it sound a little like a cheerier and wealthier Klan meeting.

Anyway, those Bohemians are a notoriously loyal bunch and I imagine that they happily turn a blind eye to the mediocrity of Walter D.K. Gibson’s stunning cocktail “achievement”, but I’m calling bullshit on the Gibson.

It may have cocktail onions, but it’s definitely a Martini.

And a weaving spider can’t change its spots.

Cheers!

 

 

*Huge and obvious downside of the ban on women ever working at camp is that the hardened hearts and arteries of the members couldn’t be softened by the melodic stylings of another Gibson – Debbie – and her Electric Youth promise of the 1980s. Certainly that’s what I recommend listening to as you sip your cold-prevention fluids.

 

 

Hanky Panky and Ridiculous Feuds

I have recently engaged in that most frustrating and futile of pastimes, arguing with someone on the internet.

And it all started with a cocktail.

Last week I had 24 hours to myself in London and was drawn, as though in a tractor beam, to The American Bar at The Savoy Hotel for a bit of Hanky Panky.

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, hey?

Not quite. The Hanky Panky was invented by one Ada Coleman.

Hanky Panky Savoy

Ada, or “Coley” as she was known (some nicknames startle with their originality and wit, some, not so much), was head bartender at The American Bar from 1903 to 1926.

Seems her Dad had been a steward at a golf course that Rupert D’Oyly Carte frequented and when he died, D’Oyly got her the job his fancy pants Savoy Hotel.

D’Oyly’s family produced Gilbert and Sullivan operas so there were lots of actors and acting types hanging about, the early-20th century equivalent of partying with Super-Models I guess.

A word here about The American Bar.

The Savoy’s isn’t the only American Bar in the world, possibly not even the only one in London. It used to be a term used widely to describe a bar that sold cocktails made in the American way, as opposed to a pub, which you would never want in anything other than an English way.

But The Savoy’s American Bar, really is The American Bar and in 2016 was named Europe’s Best Bar. Good job team.

American Bar Savoy 1

Anyway, Coley tended bar until 1926 when she was moved to the hotel’s flower shop. Not because she was off her game, but because Americans – who had given us all so much in their contribution to cocktails – fleeing their own oppressive alcohol-free regime in search of a decent cocktail, found themselves a little upset by the presence of a lady behind the bar.

Another crappy side-effect of Prohibition. Up until that point, roughly half of the bartending jobs in London were performed by women. Coley wasn’t even The Savoy’s only female bartender at the time

In our second ridiculous feud of this Hanky Panky post, Coley allegedly didn’t speak to her only female bartending colleague – Ruth Burgess – for twenty odd years and refused to share her cocktail recipes with her. Way to go on the supporting each other for success ladies.

Poor Ruth didn’t even get dispatched to the flower shop when ladies were moved out from behind the bar. She was just sacked. I guess her Dad didn’t know old Oily Cart and she’d just got there on her merits.

Sigh.

Anyway, Ruth and Ada were replaced by Harry Craddock who was the guy who really put the place on the map, writing The Savoy Cocktail Book which has influenced bartenders for generations.

Back to Coley. Setting the Ruth thing aside, by all reports she was a cracking bartender and The American Bar attracted a clientele that included Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Hawtrey, the stage actor and producer who mentored Noel Coward, and for whom the Hanky Panky was created.

And so to the Hanky-Panky. This, dear Readers, is not an IBA Official Cocktail so kind of doesn’t qualify for a Shake, Stir, Muddle One-for-the-Road-Test, but it is a damned fine cocktail and now sits in my personal Top 5.

I know. This is a BIG CALL.

But you should definitely try one.

It is Martini-ish, but Manhattan-esque. Negroni-like and The Last Word-y. As all really good cocktails though, it is like itself only and you could work your way through a dozen or more at The American Bar in search of its closest cousin and still declare that it doesn’t need to be like anything else, it is the distinctive Hanky Panky.

Please don’t order a dozen cocktails at The American Bar. Not only will you be unable to sashay down the stairs in the graceful manner of the stars who adorn the walls, but you will be out of pocket an eye-watering amount.

Bar plus stairs n stars

This is a cocktail experience to savour. It is good value, but not cheap.

And this is from whence my feud sprang.

I made a comment on a Facebook post regarding exactly how quiet good manners requires one to be in expressing one’s opinions about what the poor people should do to help themselves when one is approximately 22 years old and able to while away an afternoon sipping £20 cocktails at The Savoy, surrounded by one’s luxury-branded shopping bags.

My opinion is that one should be VERY quiet in said circumstances. That perhaps the staff at the bar – working, probably for somewhat less than your parents earn to support you in these leisurely afternoon endeavours – could be spared your views while they pleasantly and efficiently do their jobs.

Someone took exception to this (frankly, am still mystified by this) and I find myself engaged in that most 21st century of occupations, arguing on the Internet.

How does this happen? Was it the cocktail?

Fernet Branca definitely divides. It’s a bitter herbal Italian liqueur, 200px-fernetbrancathe recipe dating back to the mid-1800s.

It’s a very strong taste, not to everyone’s palate (I don’t love it straight but can see how one might grow to appreciate it more with practice).

It is also the cause of another excellent Ridiculous Feud.

Back in 1960, German-born actress Betsy Von Furstenburg (being her stage name – her real name was the absolutely marvellous Elizabeth Caroline Maria Agatha Felicitas Therese, Freiin von Fürstenberg-Herdringen) spiked co-star Tony Randall’s on-stage drink with Fernet Branca.

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Randall, clearly a bit of a Felix Unger in real life as well, assumed he was being poisoned with iodine and Betsy was apparently suspended from Actors Equity for time.

I have no idea why Randall would assume someone was trying to poison him when his drink tasted strange.

That aside, it wasn’t the Hanky-Panky’s fault, that was just Fernet Branca.

So we can’t blame the cocktail. For that, for my feud or Coley and Ruth’s.

Maybe the hotel?

You’d know The Savoy. It’s featured in many movies, including The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Entrapment and Notting Hill.

Interesting, in my cumulative 48 hours in London, I inadvertently went to three different places that people pointed out to me were used as locations for scenes from Notting Hill. I’m not sure doing a pilgrimage to the locations of a fun-but-hardly-brilliant 1999 Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant vehicle reflects well on me so let’s be clear that it was an accident, ok?*

(Although there is this clip which may PROVE MY POINT about keeping your obnoxious opinions quiet in public. Hmmm?)

Much cooler (cough) is to watch this 2011 Duran Duran clip for Girl Panic!

You’ve likely never heard Girl Panic! before but it sounds very much like they just remixed a bunch of bits of other Duran Duran songs from the 1980s so it feels comfortable and familiar (even for a rebellious soul like me who showed my non-conformity in the 1980s by wearing – wait for it – a badge that said “I Hate Duran Duran”. I was so counter-culture in my awkward mid-teens**).

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Apart from seeing the fancy rooms that we couldn’t afford at The Savoy, Girl Panic! has 1980s super-models playing the guys in the band (except Andy Taylor of course, because he left after a Ridiculous Feud), getting wasted and hanging out with super models, while the guys themselves play Savoy staff.

 

It’s so post-modern.

So, I didn’t know Andy Taylor had left the band, I had to Google who Yasmin Le Bon was playing and that’s how I found out that not only had A-Tay left, but that Roger Taylor, John Taylor and Andy Taylor weren’t brothers. They’re not even related.

Who knew?

INXS - March 1, 1988

Back before the internet, you had to buy expensive magazines to learn things like this, and growing up in Australia where we had INXS which not only featured a guy named Gary Garry Beers, but three Farris brothers, why would you question three guys in a hair band with the same surname being related?

You wouldn’t. You just wouldn’t.

spandau balletDuran Duran did have a ridiculous feud with a rival hair band from the 1980s, Spandau Ballet (featuring two guys named Kemp who were brothers).

This feud was apparently patched up the night before they recorded Do they know it’s Christmas? (watch it to see George smiling and Paul Weller looking super-bored) when the guys partied together.

And you know what they were drinking?

If you said Ada Coleman’s Hanky-Panky cocktails, you may well be right.

Probably not, I have no idea, but wouldn’t it be nice?

Cheers!

*Here. You can find them all here.

**I never hated Duran Duran. Adolescence is hard. May the ’80s Music Gods forgive me.

Sidecars and Salsa side-stepping

Cointreau advertising has led me astray before.

In the late 1980s when I donned my tight red pencil skirt and red jacket, and picked up a large phallic flashlight (which being Australian, I called a “torch”, but “phallic flashlight” has a much more pleasing alliteration) and kept the mean streets of Hoyts Regent safe during countless sessions of cinematic masterpieces such as Dirty Dancing, Licence to Drive and Kickboxer, Cointreau advertising was King.

Benson and Hedges advertising was joint King, so these were simpler, happier times, but Cointreau advertising promised me a life of elegant lounging in floor length gowns, sipping a certain brand of Triple Sec on the rocks with handsome men (one at a time) while Roxy Music’s Avalon played.

It all seemed very grown up, in a way that some 30 years later, I still don’t think I have attained.

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(Here is Hoyts Regent, now demolished. Because obviously, you’d hate to keep something like this when you could have a soulless multiplex and a brand new office building. Jerks).

I’m in London, writing this with a head cold, surrounded by a mountain of tissues and wanting my mother in the way the Cointreau advertising never alluded to.

So perhaps I should be suspicious of Cointreau advertising as the one source of truth (and potentially explore its possibilities as the one source of cold relief).

But thanks to Cointreau, never have I had an easier time in researching the history of a cocktail as the Sidecar.

In truth, it could have been invented in London or Paris and while we have agreement on the standard ingredients – Cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice – the proportions are contested.

But Dita Von Teese via Cointreau advertising tells me that the Sidecar was invented in Paris just post WW1 where a dashing lieutenant would arrive at a bar every night in a sidecar and order a tipple to ward off the cold. Cognac not quite strong enough yada yada yada, the rest is history.

That’ll do me.

It’s an easy one to make, but I’m learning that it isn’t an easy cocktail to make well. Firstly, you need to get your proportions sorted, something that calls for experimentation.

The English version calls for proportions of 2:1:1, the French versions variously 1:1:1, 3:2:2 or 8:2:1.

Around 1934, we start seeing mentions of the cocktail requiring a sugared rim, something I don’t love.

If it’s done with granulated sugar, that’s a very sweet advance party for any cocktail. If it’s done with a sugar syrup, it has the unfortunate visual effect of toothpaste.

O Bar Side Car.jpg

I’ve ordered Sidecars at four different bars in four countries (that’s dedication folks), and tried to make it at home and here’s what I’ve learned.

  1. Most bartenders will need to Google it first (that’s ok, this entire blog is powered by Google research)
  2. The better the raw ingredients, the better the Sidecar (Robert Simonson says that the Sidecar is “a drink that knows a diamond from a rhinestone” – I have found this to be true, you want good Cognac, Cointreau or another premium brand of Triple Sec and fresh, well-strained lemon juice)
  3. My favourite Sidecar is not a Sidecar at all, rather a variation on it from London’s The Blind Pig where handsome and clever bartender Gio (who did not need to Google anything in the hour I sat at the bar and watched him work) served up a variation of the Sidecar – the Lime Leaf Side Car made from Martell VS cognac, kaffir lime leaf, lime, honey and egg white. Delicious, and you can see its Sidecar roots, but it ain’t really a Sidecar.

Blind Pig Lime Leaf Side Car.jpg

And 4? Anything called a Gin Sidecar – gin, triple sec and lemon juice – is an entirely different cocktail – it’s on the IBA Official List as White Lady, a cousin of the Sidecar, but not a Sidecar. So please, let’s stop that practice immediately.

The Sidecar’s pedigree makes it easy to find in movies.

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In the wonderful Mame, the morning after a big party, Aunty Mame, tells Patrick to “run along to Ito and tell him to bring me a light breakfast, black coffee and a Sidecar”.

Not only does she have a butler named Ito, Mame has no qualms about co-opting a child into fetching her drinks. These are the sorts of behaviours that will find you frowned upon by parenting websites, but we’ve all been there and who are we to judge another’s parenting styles?

You’ll also find Sidecars featured in The Bonfire of the Vanities, where Arthur Ruskin declares that he loves a Sidecar and then drops dead after consuming several. Caveat Bibitor “Let the Drinker Beware” (and big thanks to Google for my Latin studies).

But these are both movies we have covered in Shake, Stir, Muddle already – Mame for her stellar coaching of young Patrick in the delicate art of martini making, and Bonfire for the reference to The Bronx which used to be a scary place for wealthy white people but is now a happy hunting ground for affordable real estate as well as being the name of a fine, Vitamin C-bearing cocktail.

16148So if you’re looking for a cocktail partner for the Sidecar, I’d go with 1982’s Evil Under the Sun, based on the Agatha Christie novel, where Maggie Smith, playing the fabulous Daphne Castle, offers Peter Ustinov’s Hercule Poirot his choice of a White Lady, a Sidecar, a Mainbrace (a White Lady with grapefruit juice instead of lemon juice) or a Between the Sheets (which is a Sidecar with added white rum).

Poirot rejects them all and asks for a Crème de Cassis or a sirop de banana and I have zero words for this man and his appalling taste.

Zero.

Speaking of taste, if you are ever given a chance to visit the site of my first White Lady, you MUST.

The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo may call a White Lady a Gin Sidecar (and truth be told, may be a little light-handed on the gin), but it is truly a place that dreams are made of.

Declaring that any idiot can design a single hotel room and roll out the same décor across a hotel, some 60 years ago the visionary Alex Madonna and his wife Phyllis started a hotel in southern California that has 110 rooms and suites, each one of them different.

And each an extraordinary visual assault.

We checked into the Austrian Suite – some 76 feet from one wall to the other – and immediately felt the urge to swan about my overnight Archduchy yodelling and eating strudel. I imagine if fate had put us in the Caveman room, I’d have been Yabba Dabba Doo-ing, and the Western Room would likely have seen me endlessly quoting lines from the movies of the man who used to be a beef partner with Alex Madonna, one John Wayne.

The dining room – and the neighbouring café which ran a fine line in strudel – is what my four year old daughter would like our house to look like. The ceiling is festooned with pink flowers – not painted ones, giant cascading 3D objects like decorations for the world’s most privileged high school’s Spring Dance – and cherubs on swings. No can of gold paint between Los Angeles and San Francisco could consider itself safe.

Madonna montage

I pulled on the fanciest gear my road-trip wardrobe could support and did sip a Cointreau cocktail under this inverted wedding cake with a handsome man in a grown up fashion. It wasn’t Roxy Music, but Salsa, because Tuesdays are Salsa Night and the Madonna Inn throws its doors open to the local Salsa Club. They fill the floor with jeans and sneakers (a la Jerry Seinfeld, not Victoria Beckham) and enviable hip-swinging side-stepping moves that show that sexy exists outside Cointreau advertising after all.

Just as well.

Cheers.