Monthly Archives: September 2008

MxMo: 19th Century Drinks, or, An Ode to Those Libations and Tipples that Once Graced America’s Finest Drinking Emporia

Greetings, friend. From the fresh wax on your mustache, I gather you’ve just left the barber’s. Well, have a seat and let The Only Dietsch mix you up a cup or two. I have a couple of sips you might like.

Now, I think you might have had this first one before. Yes, I think you just might. The bar was a bit busy that night, and so I’m not sure you got to watch the master in action. This is a drink, my friend, that calls for a touch of finesse. What? That’s an unkind thing to say, sir, mighty unkind. I don’t have to remind you where the door is, now, do I sir?

No, no, I am merely jesting with you, sir, merely jesting. I would never turn away your custom, sir. Now, as I was saying. This drink requires a light touch to achieve the layering effect that marks this drink as one of refinement. No, no, I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t a sweet drink like a Pousse Cafe! Not at all. Leave those to that dilettante Ellestad! You’ll have none of those in my bar!

All right, all right. To the drink, then, to the drink.

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Modern American Drinks How to Mix and Serve All Kinds of Cups and Drinks By George J. Kappeler

(Stepping out of character, I followed the instructions David Wondrich gives in the book Imbibe, and used 2 oz. Plymouth gin with a teaspoon of rich simple syrup–hence the darker coloring in the gin portion. The bitters are Bitter Truth orange, and I used 3/4 oz. port.)

Yes, sir, I agree that it’s a fine drink. When you sip it slowly, the port gently seeps up through the gin and gently enriches the genever. Why, sir, if this drink is not still served in the bars and taverns of the twenty-first century, I should be mightily sad.

But now, remember, young lad. When you’re adding the port, be careful. Take it slow. If you don’t, the port will co-mingle with the gin, and although the drink will still taste just fine, it will not be as elegant. We are gentlemen, sir, always remember. We do not simply guzzle the way the hoopleheads do.

If you’ve done it right, it should look just like this:

Now, as to the next, this upstart William Schmidt, I do swear he stole this drink from me. I was mixing this back when he was still tramping around Paducah, Kentucky, waiting to stow away on an Ohio River steamer to Memphis. The man is a scalawag, and not at all a gentleman like you and me, sir. But let us not consider his sort.

I believe you will like this one, sir. I think you will find that the sherry and vermouth balance quite toothsomely. The other ingredients round out the flavor without bringing themselves to the fore.

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The Flowing Bowl When and what to Drink : Full Instructions how to Prepare, Mix, and Serve Beverages By William Schmidt

Now, sir, would you kindly tel … <cough cough>

I’m throwing off this pretense entirely right now, so I can talk about this drink.

I used, for two drinks, a generous squirt of simple syrup for the gum. Yah, a squirt. Don’t tell me you always precisely measure your simple syrup, dangit.

Angostura might be the closest thing to a nineteenth-century bitters that I have, although I don’t know how to categorize Fee’s Old Fashioned or Bitter Truth’s Old Time Aromatic Bitters. Regardless, I used Angostura, about two to three dashes worth for two drinks.

Also, two or three dashes worth of Lucid absinthe. I’ve transferred my remaining Lucid to a old Fee’s bottle for dashing purposes.

For two drinks, I used 4 oz. Italian vermouth and 2 oz. oloroso sherry–to retain the 2:1 ratio. I don’t really know what vino vermouth is, but Paul Clarke suggests that it’s Italian vermouth, and that’s good enough for me. He uses Carpano Antica for this type of drink, but I’ve yet to find a source for that in Rhode Island. I’ll probably have to special-order it from our friends at Eno.

Finally, this is a damn good drink. Light in alcohol but rich in flavor. I think the Antica would bring a bit more complexity than the Cinzano I’m currently using, but even so, we loved the balance of flavors.

Oh, and back to the Princeton? I’d love to see that on a drinks menu somewhere. It’s a beautifully balanced drink, and it looks just lovely in the glass. Yeah, it takes a bit of work to get it just so, but no more than a properly prepared Sazerac or Pisco Sour.

Many thanks to Dinah for hosting.

Photography by Jennifer Hess; all rights reserved.

Plus ça Change, Plus C’est la Même Chose

Sound familiar?

I do not object to waiters receiving tips, and the man, who gives one, is mostly benefited, because the waiter will give him more attention and pleasant service. The fact is, that writers of almost all the nations in the world have argued and written many articles on the subject, denouncing the custom of giving and receiving tips, but there will never be any change, for the reason, principally, that there is not enough clear money–profit–in the restaurant business to allow paying the waiters and other employees good living wages. The expenses are so enormous that the proprietor is obliged to hire men for the lowest possible wages, at which he can get them. If he were to pay his men fair wages…he would be obliged to charge much more, and have, altogether, a higher-priced bill of fare. Numbers of people would not then be able to patronize restaurants, who are in the habit of doing so now. This is the reason why the waiter receives tips, as his wages are generally not sufficient to pay his living expenses.

This reminds me of something I might have once read on Waiter Rant–the eponymous waiter, perhaps, reprinting a manifesto that an owner posted to an employee bulletin board, or some such.

But no matter how modern that attitude still is, about compensating waiters, this excerpt isn’t a recent piece of writing. It’s from a facsimile reprint of Harry Johnson’s New and Improved (Illustrated) Bartenders’ Manual and a Guide for Hotels and Restaurants. This facsimile (from New York’s Mud Puddle Books) is a reprint of the 1900 edition. Yes, it’s one-freaking-hundred-and-eight years old.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Oh, another interesting point. If you look back at the excerpt I quoted, you’ll see an ellipses: “If he were to pay his men fair wages…he would be obliged to charge much more…”. I did that because I didn’t want to give up the game right away. But what’s also interesting here is what the ellipses obscure. Here’s the original text:

If he were to pay his men fair wages–from $12 to $15 a week–he would be obliged to charge much more…

It’s still common for waiters and bartenders to start at $2.15 an hour, even in New York City. A 40-hour week would mean $86 a week. I’m no economist, and I don’t know how exactly to calculate the rate of inflation, but I suspect that even $12 in 1900 wages would equal far more than $86 in 2008 wages.