My month of rum: The Lytton Fizz (and a bonus cocktail)

My month of rum continues today, with a couple of drinks featuring Cruzan Black Strap Rum. One of my goals for this project is to explore the depth and breadth of rum; there are very many different styles of rum out there, and yeah, that’s one reason I find the category a little intimidating, but frankly it’s also why it excites me. The idea of tasting my way across the category is pretty cool.

One thing I didn’t really explain last time was that I used Mount Gay Eclipse rum for the Royal Bermuda cocktail. That recipe calls specifically for a Barbados rum, as I mentioned, and I went with the Eclipse because, well, in part because it’s inexpensive, a good bargain at the 22 bucks my local pharmacy charges. (I think they’re overcharging a tad, but they’re so convenient that it’s worth an extra buck or three.) Also, in a rum-101 post, Matt “Rumdood” Robold recommends it as a good starter rum, in the amber/gold category. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now in various things and I find it to be a great mixing rum. It even sips fine, neat or on the rocks, although it’s a little simple for sipping; you’d probably want to go upmarket in the Mount Gay brand for that, and try the Mount Gay Extra Old, which is just delicious.

CruzanBlackStrapRumLTRBack to the black, now. The Black Strap is an interesting beast. You may have seen black-strap molasses around at the grocery and you may have even used it in, say, baked beans, but let’s step back and look at molasses for a moment. To make molasses, sugar producers take sugar cane, extract the juice from it, and then boil the juice so the sugar crystallizes. The molasses this first boiling produces is very sweet because sugar still remains in it. So to economize and wring out as much sugar as they can, producers then boil the sugar out again, and then finally a third time. It’s this third boiling that produces blackstrap. Interestingly, blackstrap molasses is one sweetener that’s actually good for you. The boiling process concentrates all the nutrients in the molasses, so blackstrap is rich in vitamins and minerals, especially iron.

Blackstrap has an important benefit for distillers. Because it ferments quickly, it doesn’t form as many fusel alcohols as other ferments do. Without delving too deeply into distillation-101, let me just say that a certain amount of fusel alcohols are necessary for certain spirits, but if you have too many, the flavor is rough. So they must largely be removed from a distillate before it can be bottled. (It’s the presence of these that in part explains the “rotgut” reputation of plastic-bottle spirits and mason-jar moonshine.) Blackstrap, because it lacks some of these fusels from the start, creates a smooth and easily drinkable rum.

Which also means it mixes well into cocktails, and isn’t that why you’re here? So let’s get on with it.

Lytton FizzThe first drink I have today is something called the Lytton Fizz. I’m not just drinking my way through the rum world right now, I’m also reading it. One of the books on my current reading list is Wayne Curtis‘s excellent And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails. I’m probably the last cocktail geek on the Internet to read this book, shamefully, but that’s okay. The Lytton Fizz is not one of the ten titular drinks, but it does appear in an appendix at the back. It’s the creation of bartender John Myers of Portland, Maine. It’s the last cocktail in the book, and it appealed to me for its seasonal ingredients, mint and Thai basil, both of which we had on hand. There’s a problem with it, though. Here’s the recipe as it appears in Curtis’s book, skipping the herbs:

1/2 oz. falernum
1/4 oz. lime juice
2 dashes of bitters
1/2 oz. dark rum

Hm. Equal parts rum and falernum? That falernum stuff is sweet. Very sweet. And what makes this a fizz is that it’s topped off with fizzy ginger ale. Not to second-guess Messrs. Curtis and Myers, I knew this had to be a simple typo, or the drink would be unbalanced and overly sweet. I told Jen I thought the 1 had gotten lopped off somehow and it should be 1-1/2 oz. rum. So I hit Google and sure enough, the results of the 2005 Rum Fest were posted, and I was right. There, Myers’s recipe calls for an ounce and a half.

So, enough of that. Here’s the recipe from the Rum Fest page:

Lytton Fizz

In a Collins glass, muddle

  • 4 fresh mint leaves
  • 3 Thai basil leaves
  • ½ oz. Falernum
  • ¼ oz. lime juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Fill with ice. Add 1 ½ oz. Cruzan Black Strap Rum and top with ginger ale. Stir.

Be sure to muddle gently, though. Press too hard on the mint, and you’ll open veins in the leaves that will express bitter oils into your drink.

Bonus: Corn ‘n’ Oil

Corn 'n' Oil

  • 2 oz. Cruzan Black Strap Rum
  • 1/4 oz. Falernum
  • 1/4 oz. lime juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Build over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Stir.

Cocktail photographs by Jennifer Hess.

A Month of Rum: Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

I have said this before: rum sits squarely in my blind spot when it comes to mixing cocktails. I find the category a little overwhelming, I must say. Rums span the globe; you can get good rums from just about every continent except Antarctica. Rums made from sugarcane juice or molasses. Rums aged for many years or very few. Rums from Barbados, Cuba, Panama, Guatemala, Martinique, Mauritius, Mexico. Light rums, amber/gold rums, dark rums, spiced rums, flavored rums, overproof rums. It’s … intimidating.

But dayam is it good! I quite enjoy a great martini, a balanced Sidecar, a lovely rye old-fashioned, a good peaty single-malt alone in a glass. But a good sipping rum? I could come around to the notion that there’s the pinnacle of drinking. And rum, used wisely in a cocktail, marries well with a range of flavors.

So it’s finally time to man up, look rum straight in the face, and stop flinching.

From now until mid or late September, I’ll be exploring a month’s worth of rum cocktails–a drink a week that I think really exemplifies what rum brings to a cocktail. And to force myself into unfamiliar territory, there won’t be a daiquiri, Cuba Libre, or Dark and Stormy in the lot. And I am finally going to begin my exploration of the El Presidente, which Matt “Rumdood” Robold recommended months ago, when I was hoping to start exploring rum cocktails.

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

photograph by Jennifer Hess

First up, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail. I brought this one up as an idea for rum-running, before I decided on the El Presidente. I think I first encountered this drink when Doug Winship covered it during his Tiki Month, earlier this year. Even though I gave a lot of thought to running through it for the blog, I still managed to forget about it entirely, until I came across it again in Vintage Spirits. Doc Cocktail doesn’t have much information about it, but it’s apparently an early creation of Trader Vic Bergeron, a pre-Tiki tropical classic. The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club still exists, by the way, but I don’t see any cocktails listed on any of its menus, so I don’t know whether they still serve this drink.

The recipe, curiously, calls for Barbados rum rather than a Bermudan variety. I’m not sure I understand that. The other interesting ingredient is Falernum. I didn’t have the resources to purchase the ingredients to make my own, so I relied on the dusty bottle of John Taylor’s Velvet variety.

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

  • 2 oz. Barbados rum
  • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 2 dashes Cointreau (I’d use 1/8 to 1/4 oz. for ease of measuring)
  • 2 tsp. Falernum

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Haigh’s pioneering champions, part 2

Following up on part 1 of this series, here’s the second batch of online “pioneers” featured in Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails:

  • Darcy O’Neill, Art of Drink. Darcy brings a unique perspective to the world of bartending and drinking: he’s a chemist, who understands the complex reactions that occur when you mix a drink. If you ever want to know what it means to be a super-taster, Darcy’s the man to ask.
  • Marleigh Riggins Miller, Sloshed! Graphic designer, nerdling, and all-around all-right gal, Marleigh’s been at this just a little longer than I have. Her new husband, Dan, has joined her in her blogging efforts. I met them both in New Orleans last year, and they’re good people. Check ’em out.
  • Michael Dietsch, A Dash of Bitters. I’m including myself just to show where I fall in the line-up.
  • Rick Stutz, Kaiser Penguin. A gifted photographer with an yen for creative garnish, Rick blogs from the Keystone State. One excellent feature of Rick’s blog is the recipe comparison, where he tries several variants on a single recipe and discusses what works for him and what doesn’t. Rick’s also a helluva cook, from what I hear, and a fan of throwing cocktail parties, so if you’re planning a trip to PA, invite yourself to Rick’s. Everybody comes to Rick’s, as an old movie once said.
  • Natalie Bovis-Nelsen, The Liquid Muse. As a mixologist, cocktail-book author, and educator, Natalie’s usually got a pretty full glass in front of her. Her first book is Preggatinis, which features virgin cocktails for expecting mothers, and frankly for anyone else who’d prefer an alcohol-free sipper.
  • Lauren Clark, Drinkboston.com. New York, San Francisco, and Seattle usually top the list of cocktalian cities, but I believe that Lauren’s beloved Boston deserves a place in that list, with such excellent bars as Eastern Standard, Green Street, and Drink. A founding member of the Boston chapter of Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails, Lauren set out to document Boston’s bar scene, putting her on the front line for the cocktail resurgence in the Boston area. Lauren’s been branching out lately into video presentations of classic and new cocktails, and the videos are excellent, so check them out!
  • Karen Foley and Imbibe Magazine. Huge fan of Imbibe magazine. Huge. If you’re not familiar with Imbibe, the first thing you need to know is that it’s not just about alcohol. Imbibe covers all liquid culture, whether that’s coffee, tea, soda, or yes, beer, wine, or spirits. Imbibe Unfiltered is the blog portion of this endeavor, and it’s excellent. In fact, if you go there now, you’ll see the scope of Imbibe’s coverage–riesling, beer, the French 75 cocktail, mango green tea, a wine shop, and a daiquiri video are all on the front page right now.
  • Camper English, Alcademics. Camper, like Paul Clarke, is living the dream–he’s a full-time, paid spirits writer. His blog has a different focus from many here. He doesn’t write up cocktail recipes, for example; he tracks news about spirits, bartending, drink trends, and the like. His is one of the most informative blogs in my RSS reader.
  • Craig Mrusek, Dr. Bamboo. The only cat I know who illustrates every post with a new line drawing. As I said in this space a year ago, I think Craig’s a damn good cartoonist. Anything else I could say about the guy I’ve already said, but I’ll add this. His monicker always reminds me of perhaps my favorite character from Bewitched.
  • Jeff Berry, Beachbum Berry’s Grog Blog. Here, I think, is where we start to move into some new territory. For the most part (Karen’s an exception, and there may be one or two others), everyone I’ve talked about so far became “known,” to the extent that we’re known, because of our online writing. Jeff, though, was a published author first and a blogger second. One of the finest minds in tiki, the Beachbum peered past the kitsch to see the craft behind tiki classics. He interviewed retired tiki bartenders to learn the recipes they used and the techniques they employed. The Beachbum shows that there’s more to tiki than palm fronds, coconut-shell glassware, pink umbrellas, and cheap rum.
  • Gabriel Szaszko, Cocktailnerd. Writing from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Gabriel’s a generalist like me; he’ll try just about anything, and if he screws up with a drink, or if something just doesn’t work for him, he’ll talk about why instead of just dumping it in the sink and making an old-fashioned.
  • Blair Reynolds, Trader Tiki. Having just come off a week as a cocktail apprentice at Tales of the Cocktail, Blair’s one wiped-out tiki nerd, but he hasn’t let that slow him down. Check out his site for rum reviews, tiki drinks, and explorations of tropical culture.
  • Gary Regan, World Wide Bartender Database. Listen. Gary Regan merits an entire book, let alone a few lines in an appendix at the back of one. Gary’s The Joy of Mixology was the first cocktail book I owned, and I’d suggest it to anyone who wants to start mixing drinks at home. But Gary’s in this book for another reason, and that’s the bartender database he started. Open only to people who work in the hospitality industry (and the marketers who cater to them), the database provides resources for bartenders–job listings, news about mixology competitions, events, and the like. What people don’t seem to know is that for many bartenders (Jeff Morgenthaler and Jamie Boudreau among them), tending is a career. These folks are pros. They’re not pulling pints and shaking drinks while looking for a “real” job or going to school. What Gary’s given them is a virtual watering hole where they gather to exchange information and support each other. It’s huge.
  • Sonja Kassebaum, Thinking of Drinking. As Ted points out in the book, Sonja stands alone in this list. She’s not just a drinker and a cocktail nerd, and she’s not just a blogger. Oh no, Sonja’s actually a distiller to boot. She and her husband own North Shore Distillery in the Chicago area, making gins, vodkas, and other boutique spirits.

And that wraps up this look at Haigh’s pioneering champions. You’ll have to read the actual book to see what we all have to say about drinks and spirits and whatnot, but I wanted to provide a run down of the list for those of you unfamiliar with my fellow Internet wonders.

Haigh’s pioneering champions, part 1

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago. Ted Haigh’s seminal cocktail guide, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, entered into a new edition this week, and I’m honored and humbled to have a small part to play in the book. I’m part of an appendix to the book, called “Pioneering Champions of the Forgotten Cocktail,” in which Ted profiles 25 people he terms the “most influential online cocktail pioneers.”

In his introduction to the appendix, Ted explains that the forgotten cocktail is about more than just the drink itself, it’s also about those who mixed, drank, and popularized them in the media. Ted’s first edition profiled many of the bartenders, bon vivants, and scribblers who contributed to the birth and growth of cocktaliana.

Cocktail writing online has blossomed in the years since that first edition; I’ve seen it expand manifold in the three years I’ve been doing it, and Ted says that we have “influenced recipes, bartending, and even the spirits industry.” I’m honestly surprised to think of my blog playing such a role, but if Ted says it, I won’t dispute it. Ted wanted to ensure that we too have our place in the historic record.

The company is humbling, I must say. I have long respected everyone on this list; it’s a bit like finding yourself up for a James Beard award. Ted has them in chronological order by the date the Internet forum, discussion board, or weblog was established, and that’s the order I present them. Where the site in question still exists or is actively maintained by its founder, I’ve provided a link. If my site merits your attention, the others do all the more so.

Here’s the first batch; the remainder will follow later this week or early next:

  • Craig Goldwyn: America Online Food & Drink Network. Goldwyn appears to be no longer associated with the network he founded.
  • Paul Loberg: Webtender.com. The web design may appear dated, but the message boards are very active and peopled by influential bartenders and other cocktail experts.
  • Paul Harrington, Laura Moorhead, and Graham Clarke: Cocktailtime.com. Owned and formerly operated by Wired magazine, this site is unfortunately defunct. Harrington tells Ted that he and his partners tried to buy the rights from Wired and revive the site, but were shot down. Harrington also wrote a book, Cocktail, that is out of print and now somewhat expensive to purchase.
  • Chuck Taggart, Gumbopages.com/looka. A New Orleans native now living in California, Chuck’s the first of many in this appendix whom I’m honored to call a personal friend. Like me, he’s not a spirits professional, just an aficionado. His blog is excellent, and he has personally helped revive one of the finest cocktails around, the Vieux Carré–rye, cognac, vermouth, Benedictine, and bitters. I’ll be pouring one tonight and toasting Chuck. UPDATE: Looka just turned 10; amazing work, Chuck!
  • Robert Hess, groups.msn.com/DrinkBoy. Defunct. Never fear, though, Robert’s still active at Drinkboy.com, the Chanticleer Society (where you’ll also find me), and the Cocktail Spirit series of video podcasts. Robert, incidentally, shares a name with my father in law, but I don’t hold that against either of them.
  • Hanford Lemoore, Tikiroom.com. I’m not much of a tiki drinker, so I’ve never spent much time here, but the forums are poppin’!
  • Jamie Boudreau, Spiritsandcocktails.com. Another friend, Jamie tends bar in Seattle, and he has an Amer Picon replica I’ve been threatening to make for over a year now.
  • Jeffrey Morgenthaler, jeffreymorgenthaler.com. Two things you need to know about Morgenthaler: 1) He loves Aquaman, 2) He’s an avid vodka collector, 3) He’s one hell of a juggler. Wait, that’s three things. Damn, that Vieux Carre is smoove. Jeff tends bar in Portland, Oregon, and we learned recently that we have a mutual friend, someone I met in NYC who later returned home to Oregon. Small world.
  • Jimmy Patrick, Mixographer.com. I’ve never met Jimmy, but his was among the first cocktail sites in my blogroll. A direct inspiration for ADOB.
  • Paul Clarke, Cocktailchronicles.com. Like Jimmy, Paul’s was another direct inspiration for this blog. When I chose to start a blog, I hit Google and started searching for other blogs. Paul’s, Jimmy’s, and Jamie’s were among the first I found. Paul’s a helluva guy and one of the most prolific cocktail writers on the scene. You can find his work in Imbibe magazine; the San Francisco Chronicle; the New York Times‘s Proof blog (currently on hiatus); the website Serious Eats; and the Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener and Country Gentlemen. If Paul’s writing career in any way sucks, it’s because he has too much to do.
  • Erik Ellestad, Egullet’s cocktail forum, Underhill-lounge.flannestad.com. Erik’s a busy guy. Between posting at the Egullet forum (his nick’s EJE; mine’s Dietsch), and writing up his epic Stomping Through the Savoy posts for his own blog, Erik holds down a day job and also guest-bartends every week. I don’t know how he does it. It can’t hurt that he has a charming and patient wife.

More to come.

Vintage Spirits is re-go-go!

Exciting news! The seminal cocktail guide, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, enters into a new edition on July 1. Or, just because it’s fun, let me provide the full title:

Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie and Beyond. 100 Rediscovered Recipes and the Stories Behind Them

That alone gives you some idea what to expect. Drinks you’ve never heard of. Drinks you have, without knowing what’s in them, or what the classic recipe is.

Preorder your copy today!

Author is Ted Haigh. By day, he’s a graphic designer for the talking picture show.  He’s worked for Superman and John Adams; for samarais and snickets; for gangsters, vampires, and spies. By night, he’s Dr. Cocktail, historian, raconteur, and bon vivant.

new-cover

Vintage Spirits is a legendary book among cocktail geeks. It has been out of print for a couple of years now, and I’m among the fools who don’t own the first edition, so it’s legendary in part for being so elusive. More than that, though, it’s legendary for introducing readers to defunct spirits. Or, should I say, no longer defunct spirits. To name only one example, the book discusses a liqueur called crème de violette, a delicate liqueur made from violet petals and a staple ingredient in such drinks as the Aviation and the Blue Moon. Crème de violette, however, has reentered the market since Doc’s book premiered, in no small part because of Doc’s attention and the laments of serious bartenders everywhere.

But, if I may, there’s another reason I’m excited about the book.

I’m a small part of it.

Ted contacted a few folks who’ve helped spread cocktail love across the Internet and asked whether we’d consent to an interview. I, no fool, said yes. I’m flummoxed and flattered that Ted asked for my participation, and was very happy to help. I can’t wait to see my copy of the book, and I’m sad that I won’t get to see Ted next month to thank him personally and get his autograph.

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.