Glassware: The Bane of Cocktail Hobbyists

I can’t find a whiskey sour glass.

Not that I had ever really paid attention to this sort of thing before, but apparently there is an actual glass (it somewhat resembles a wine glass) for sours. Anyone who has stared at an assortment of, say, wine glasses before knows that different beverages tend to have different shapes, supposedly meant to

a) show off the beverage

b) contain the “proper amount” for that beverage and

c) effect the smell or temperature.

For example, some glasses are designed so that your hand warms the drink (or doesn’t). Something like a brandy snifter is designed so that you stick your nose right into the smell of the beverage to enhance the flavor experience. Which may or may not sound silly but truly does make a difference. If you’re having a drink with Angostura bitters, it can be a radically different experience to have the smell of those spicy bitters stuck in your nose before you’ve even finished sipping. When you sip the Pegu Club Cocktail in the proper glass, the first thing you’ll notice before even the gin is that blast of bitters scent.

As much as I love the Haigh book, it frustratingly doesn’t discuss glassware or barware. Too often I’ve found that if a book does bother with describing glassware at all, it’s fairly minimal (highball, Irish coffee glass, double old-fashioned glass, etc.) with maybe some not-to-scale illustrations and no description of volume. The volume can be the most frustrating of all because if your drink has a non-measured ingredient, the volume of glass you use can make or break it.

Which brings me back to the sour glass. After much research and fussing, I’ve determined that the glass (a tall-stemmed glass with a sort of oval top) should be about 4.5 oz. There’s a certain shape which both the Libbey company and the Internet Cocktail Database confirm but it’s that volume that I’m finding most elusive. That volume is what helps determine how much seltzer you’re using to top your Whiskey Sour off. Really, I could always use another glass and “eyeball it” to determine the proper amount but I suppose at this point it has become the principal of the thing. I’ve come across stemmed cocktail glasses and un-stemmed ones, single malt whiskey glasses and glasses for dutch cordial, about a frillion old champagne glasses and even a Tom & Jerry set but for the life of me I cannot locate a sour glass.

It seems like such an obvious thing, to discuss the glassware that holds the beverages being discussed. Yet, even in discussions of “barware basics” there seems to be something lacking (I’m looking at you, MarthaStewart.com). It’s almost enough to make me long for the days of red plastic cups.


The Savoy Book

While out of town over the weekend I came across a reprint of Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book at a store called Anthropologie. Craddock was the bartender at the Savoy Hotel in the 20s & 30s and the book itself was originally printed in 1930 with continuous reprints since. This particular edition contains the 750 original recipes - a fairly daunting number compared to the Haigh book - and a few new ones. It also contains the original “decorations” of artist Gilbert Rumbold which are in a very cute cartoonish illustration style, making the book feel a little like an illuminated manuscript. Though the majority of the text is just a listing of recipes, there are little notes inserted here and there to comment on a drink’s origins (for example, what celebration is was invented for) or make a joke about a drink’s name.

Since the book is written by a high-class hotel bartender from the 20s & 30s, there are several recipes which are meant to be made as pitchers for 6 or else bottled to be on hand for later. There’s also a lengthy section near the back discussing wines of France which I admit to having no interest in as I’ve never really committed that much attention to wines beyond “this one tastes fruity” or “this one tastes like a carburetor.”

While Craddock does separate drinks out by categories - cocktails, flips, fizzes, noggs, etc. - one problem I’ve had with the book is that it lacks an index or table of contents. This isn’t the first time I’ve had this sort of problem with a cocktail book, either. One thing the old Mr. Boston actually had in its favor was an index organized by alcohol. Sometimes you’re uncertain what you want to make but you know you have, say, dark rum in the house. It’s much easier to flip through 750 recipes if you can skim through all of the listings for dark rum in one go. Likely, I’ll end up treating it like a cookbook and make margin notes in pencil or something so I know what I like. I have a journal I’ve been keeping on the side about cocktails and I might just have to make a coded list so for easy reference so I’m not constantly flipping through pages.

Those gripes aside, I look forward to using what I’ll call the Savoy Book in the future and consider it a welcome addition to the Haigh book. I have no intention of getting through all of the recipes but I certainly won’t be at a loss for new recipes now.


Margarita

What passes for a Margarita these days is seemingly anything in a margarita glass - or else some giant, garish, often colorful vessel provided by a restaurant - containing tequila and at least one strange color with a salted rim. I, myself, am guilty of imbibing the ol’ shake ‘n’ pour stuff (Margaritaville brand - the Bisquick of margaritas, if you will). I’ve never seen anything truly wrong with this mainly because the situations in which a margarita comes into play hardly ever demand the “classic cocktail” ambiance. Case in point: air travel.

Now, I am not the best flier. As a kid, I was deathly afraid of aircraft and although I have improved with age, there is still that voice in the back of my head gasping in terror at the slightest turbulence (there’s a….GREMLIN…onthewing). One way that I’ve learned to combat this is by purposefully taking a window seat and staring outside during takeoff and landing. Another way I manage this is by means of alcohol. When lacking other options and faced with a long flight, an airplane rum & coke, no matter how dreadful or overpriced, will suffice. On luckier occasions, however, the terminal will contain that miracle to the weary traveler, the airport Chili’s.

Why does Chili’s still exist, you may ask? Why, their glass lakes of margarita, of course! Guzzle down one of their giant, multi-faceted monstrosities, munch on some salty chips, then you’re good to go. The Blue Pacific Margarita is a personal favorite - although it should be noted that I don’t actually recall what it tastes like besides “blue” and haven’t a clue what’s in it other than “blue.”

No, the margarita has never needed class or dignity for me because it always served well as a good stand-by. Nevertheless, I felt compelled upon acquiring the Haigh book to try a classic Margarita just for the sake of completeness.

1 1/2 oz. blanco tequila I sort of cheated here because I already had a light gold tequila in the house and I wasn’t about to run out for blanco when I hardly use it. Not this time, anyway.

1 1/2 oz. Cointreau An orange liquor. Called upon in many recipes and I always find it handy to keep around. 

1 1/2 oz. lime juice Again, I am guilty of using the squeeze bottle lime juice.

margarita salt My local grocery chain carries these little plastic tubs of the stuff with a sombrero-shaped lid. I like it because the inside is designed so that you can rotate the glass through the salt in one pass. However, the downside is that the salt will get clumpy after awhile.

Wet your margarita (or cocktail) glass rim with a bit of the lime juice or some water. Then turn upside-down and rotate in the salt to cover the rim. Don’t go crazy with the salt and beware of any drips because you could end up with salt going down the side of your glass. The first classic Margarita I made I actually forgot the salt and, believe me, it makes a big difference.

Put a few ice cubes in your margarita (or cocktail) glass. For many cocktails, it tends to be a good idea to let the glass chill while you’re mixing/shaking because it helps keep temp & lock-in flavor. Don’t forget to dump these cubes out before you pour your drink!

Shake the tequila, Cointreau, & lime together a shaker with ice. I’d just like to add here that you should NEVER reuse ice cubes when you’re mixing drinks so for each new drink dump out the old ice and add some fresh. Also, it’s usually a good idea to add the liquor to the shaker first in any shaken drink so it coats the ice.

Pour. Now, in this version you can just pour it straight into the chilled glass and serve with no ice. However, to get more of a familiar “margarita-y” experience I think it’s alright to chill your glass with crushed ice and then serve with the crushed ice still in the glass. It’s a matter of personal preference.

I mixed a couple of these (served both with & without crushed ice) and while they were certainly good I don’t think it was enough of a difference to make me give up the shake ‘n’ pour. For me, anyway, the margarita will continue to be a lazy-time drink.


Whiskey Sour

The Whiskey Sour, to me, has always sounded like an old man drink. Likely, this is because my parents once told me that this was my grandfather’s preferred drink and I am hard-pressed to think of someone who was more of an old man than my grandfather.

Grandpa was a product of the Mad Men working world - though not advertising specifically - but with less charm and more grump. Though he was alive well into my college years, we hardly ever spoke. He hated talking on the phone for any reason and would yell for my grandmother to answer it even if it was right next to him. He traveled the world for work but somehow resisted becoming any more worldly in the process. I’ve even heard stories about him mowing the lawn in a suit when he was younger. As you can imagine, this isn’t the sort of image that you want to associate with a good cocktail.

My parents, of course, see things differently. Grandpa’s Whiskey Sour was the drink of choice when they visited my grandparents in the early years and they’ve recently been set on recreating the drink themselves.

There was one attempt with a mix ordered online that was fairly disastrous and it’s been back to the drawing board ever since. The problem, of course, being that Grandpa made his with a mix which is both dated and unnecessary. Let’s not fool ourselves, people. If you’re using a mix, you’re doing it wrong.

A couple of nights ago my parents put in a request for me to try my hand at it. Rather than dealing with recreating Grandpa’s version of the drink, I turned to the Haigh book for a more straightforward recipe:

oz. of bourbon I used Wild Turkey which my parents have had languishing in the pantry for awhile. I really like bourbon specifically for this drink because it has the right balance to the sour flavors.

1 oz. lemon juice Yes, I use the squeeze bottle stuff. Good, fresh lemons aren’t always readily available for me and I never know how much I’ll need when.

3/4 oz. simple syrup I make my own. Pour a cup of sugar into a cup of water in a saucepan. Heat it up and keep stirring until it dissolves. Hey, you’ve got your own supply of simple syrup!

Shake it all together in a shaker full of ice. I am a firm believer in the Rachel Maddow method - shake until your hand hurts from the cold, then shake a bit more.

Pour into an Old Fashioned glass with a couple of the ice cubes. Someone out there is probably grimacing at my use of an Old Fashioned glass instead of a cocktail glass but too bad. I understand there actually is a sour glass out there but neither I nor my parents own any. 

Top off with some seltzer water. This is one of my favorite parts because it gives it this thin layer of fizz or froth or whatever on top. Texture - just as important to your cocktails as flavor!

(optional) add a maraschino cherry My mother insists that this makes a difference but I don’t really care either way. To each their own.

If mixed correctly, the drink will be a yellowish color and the flavor will cling to your lips after the fact. Absolutely wonderful after dinner cocktail. They were a big hit with the parents. I know this because we had to make a lemon juice run so I could mix more. I would definitely mix them for myself again.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. As good as they were they just weren’t Grandpa’s. For argument’s sake, we consulted my grandmother the next day about my grandfather’s whiskey of choice. She replied that he always used Seagram’s 7 (a blended rye known for use in the 7 & 7 cocktail, a sort of college student version of a whiskey sour). We tried them that way and it just…wasn’t the same. The verdict was in and the bourbon just worked better. Sorry, Grandpa.


The Little Red Book

When I was a kid I was completely convinced that I would never be an alcohol drinker. After all, alcohol smelled weird and Lisa Simpson said that it kills brain cells - why would I want any part of that?

Something I did like, however, was flipping through my parents’ copy of the Mr. Boston bartender guide. The pictures were all so colorful and everything had a funny name. The idea of someone willingly walking up to a bar and asking for a “Sex on the Beach” was the source of many giggles.

The different bar implements, too, were both funny-looking and entrancing. On the occassion that my dad actually pulled out the shaker or the strainer, I loved to just sit and watch the process (and giggle as Dad inevitably spilled something). The emergence of the shaker was fairly rare in my household, however, as my parents were always more inclined towards red wine and gin & tonics.

As I got older, and those two big milestones of university and legal drinking age came to pass, I eventually got over that “no alcohol” thing and moved into the college party “blue drink in a red cup” phase of life. Anyone who has experienced this can tell you it feels lacking.

Somewhere along the line a decision was made. While I still am not much of a drinker, I do enjoy a good cocktail once in awhile. If I use cookbooks and recipes to try and achieve decent meals, then why not make an effort with my drinks?

So, armed with an old Mr. Boston guide, Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, and the vast expanse of the internet I have set forth in an attempt to imbibe for quality, not quantity.