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Cocktails

18 Jan 2019
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“Dr.” Eli Perkins was arrested by a California sheriff and a platoon of deputized vigilantes in 1882 and summarily sentenced to “hang by the neck until dead” for a number of crimes, the least of which was “quackery.”

This is a partial transcript of his last medicine show, taken by a surreptitious stenographer wearing a false mustache. Whether the sentence was carried out or not is unknown. Needless to say, all medical advice below should be eschewed.

Ladies and gentlemen, gather ’round. I, the one and only Dr. Eli Perkins, offer you the latest in cutting-edge medicine from Paris and New York City, as well as folk remedies from the Cherokee medicine men and from the Ascended Masters of K’un-Lun.

Now … don’t be shy! Step up, and tell me what ails you.

Stenographer’s note: Obvious plant approaches the stage with exaggerated limp.

“Esteemed doctor, I suffer from fatigue, and injuries from the war. Is there any hope to restore my condition?”

Why, my good man, you just need some of this imported Vin Mariani! Chock full of the wonder medicine of the Andes, coca leaf! Here, let me mix in some gall of the Western diamondback rattler, known for its quick strike, and some monkey adrenal gland, and there you go!

The “doctor” muddles a mixture together and hands it to the “patient,” who immediately begins performing calisthenics for the bemused audience.

Now then, for the harshest cases such as my friend here, this mixture is available for purchase in the bottle. Now … is anyone here suffering from the common cold, the grippe, influenza or consumption?

A few hands reluctantly rise.

Excellent, excellent—I mean not for your unfortunate conditions, of course, but because I have simple cures from the science of Mixology ready to give you a fast cure! I have here a selection of the finest Smashers, Franklin Peculiars, Radiator Punches, Vetos and Timberdoodles ready to mix and fix!

You, sir—the one with the cacophonous cough! Step right up for my famous hot toddy! This combination of spirits, sugar and water is just the thing for your sad state. Science has proven that with the addition of sugar, the harsh spirits have a foil on which to act, sparing your constitution from its deleterious effects and bolstering your strength! Beware of doctors pitching false toddies without sugar, merely trying to save a penny at your expense.

Perkins throws a lump of sugar into a mug with some hot water. He beats it with a “toddy stick,” which resembles a small baton. Then he adds a goodly slug of Scotch whisky. The consumptive man takes a sip, and although scalding his mouth, he seems somewhat contented.

You see! The toddy is the remedy of kings! Now, you ma’am, you seem a little down in the countenance. A “Whisky Skin” for you!

Perkins takes a paring knife and removes the zest from an entire lemon. He puts it into a flagon with more of the same whisky and the water at a boil. The seemingly healthy woman also scalds her mouth, but also seems to perk up after a few sips.

No sugar needed for that one; she’s as healthy as a filly! Now, for the apple of my eye …

Perkins points to a pretty young lady in the crowd.

… an apple toddy!

He begins again with a lump of sugar and boiling water, beaten with a toddy stick, and after adding some apple brandy, places a baked apple in as well, and beats the whole thing in the mug until well smashed. The young lady sips with delight after carefully waiting a moment.

Now, gather ’round, people, for the greatest heights of mixological science, the great Professor Jerry Thomas’ Blue Blazer!

Perkins mixes Scotch and boiling water in a silver mug with a handle and lights it with a match; as the blue flame rises in the fading twilight, he pours it into a second mug. As he pours back and forth—leaving, it seems, a little in each mug at all times—he becomes more courageous in the descent of the flaming liquor.

Right before he can serve it into the dainty tea cups with lemon peel and sugar applied, he is tripped by the man doing calisthenics nearby (still apparently under the influence of coca leaf). The flaming liquid spills and lights the trailer ablaze. The crowd disperses as gunpowder and liquor ignite. Perkins, his shirt engulfed in blue flames, makes a run for another man’s horse to escape. Deputies are in pursuit.


I now return you to your regularly scheduled cocktail column.

For the previous recipes, while all in the public domain, I owe a great debt to David Wondrich for his masterful presentation of them in his opus Imbibe! All fancies aside, the toddy is not approved by any medical doctor for curing any ill.

If you would still seek comfort in any of the hot drinks mentioned, the recipes in their ancient form will certainly work as listed. I prefer to marry the toddy and Whisky Skin together. My preferred method at home is using a pot-still whisky, preferably from Scotland or Ireland if possible, with some raw sugar and a lemon peel. American whisky, cognac and even rums work well, too; actual apple brandy is a real treat if you can find it. I grew up—in my bar career, I mean—using honey as the sweetener and a squeeze of lemon dropped in with the hot water, basically like you would with tea. Maybe it’s a New England thing.

As the desert has gotten this outrageous amount of rain, welcome as it is from locals, I have been getting plenty of calls for hot drinks, and specifically toddies. This truly is a drink that you can make any way you like. Want to add star anise, or a cinnamon stick? Who would object? Honey, agave, sugar? Just no stevia, please, for chrissakes! Most craft bars these days have a house recipe, and nearly every bartender has an opinion on the matter. Feel free to choose your own adventure.

Please, however, do not make the Blue Blazer, or risk the fate of Eli Perkins … fair warning. Oh, and as much of a “restorative” as Vin Mariani might have been, it’s been illegal for some time, but you can still buy its nearest relative—in red-and-white cans and glass bottles—pretty much anywhere.

Stay dry people! Just not too dry.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

19 Dec 2018
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This month has been a whirlwind, of sorts—as I suppose it is for everyone.

Friends and family in town … work … the disappearing and reappearing illnesses—December is tough. Since it’s not going to get any easier as it winds up, I figured I would focus on the much-loved and oft-maligned corner of cocktail culture: the breakfast tipple!

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I don’t care for Bloody Marys. This wasn’t always the case, but somewhere along the line, I started finding them to be too aggressively savory for morning consumption. Most of them are so shoddily constructed that they aren’t fit for consumption at all; a glass of congealed horseradish and tomato soup just isn’t what I want when I have a hangover. And don’t get me started on most of the commercial mixes out there!

But when friendship calls, I answer, and I had a very hungover houseguest the other day who happens to love Bloody Marys. So we jumped in my car and headed out to Sloan’s in Indio, the home of the “Frankenmary.”

As the bartender put her gloves on and proceeded to assemble the veritable appetizer sampler precariously sitting on top of 32 ounces of my nemesis—the entire bar watching and glancing occasionally at the two gluttons in the corner who ordered it—I started second-guessing the whole idea. Then the two monsters arrived at the table in the hands of the smiling and proud bartender. Imagine me, local cocktail snob and curmudgeon, faced with this tower of excess.

The beverage itself was too much, a giant flagon of breakfast booze. Sticking out at all angles was a collection of various bar favorites: chicken wings, cocktail shrimp, mozzarella sticks, bacon, a slider, various cocktail-tray garnishes … and a piece of asparagus. You gotta eat your veggies!

So, I hate this, with every atom of my being, right? Actually … I thought it was fun. Sometimes you have to put your inner critic aside and embrace your inner Guy Fieri.

Why is all the food hanging off the drink? Isn’t this just the same as getting three Bloodys and an appetizer sampler on a plate, like a (somewhat) normal person? Answers: I have no idea, and basically, yes. But there was something so classically Americana about the whole thing. It doesn’t make any sense, but we create something like this because we can, dammit! If a screaming eagle had driven by in a monster truck painted red, white and blue, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It felt silly, and excessive, and just plain fun. Any time you can bring an element of fun to fixing a hangover, or just to our current milieu in general, I am all for it.

Do you prefer a little less drama with your restoratives? Well, there are plenty of other options out there, but you might have to make them at home, as I haven’t seen many on local menus. So … let’s start with the Red Snapper.

Originally from the Hotel Regis in New York in the 1930s, the Red Snapper was more or less a plain old Bloody Mary with a different name; it seemed some of the guests found the name more palatable. These days, if you order a Red Snapper, you’re going to get a Bloody Mary with gin instead of vodka … or you’ll get a strange look. This might be a time when you get to educate your bartender (gently, please), as I have found this baby to be a little obscure.

Less obscure is our Canadian neighbors’ contribution to the field, the Bloody Caesar. The drink, widely considered the national drink of Canada, it is generally considered to have been created in 1969 in Calgary, Alberta, by Walter Chell, for the opening of an Italian restaurant. Having tended bar in two places incredibly popular with Canadian tourists—Palm Springs and Boston—I have seen the general confusion caused by the similarities and differences in the drinks.

The Caesar, although there are many variations, is defined by the Clamato and vodka that make up its base. Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce are also included—but leave out the horseradish, please! Canadians enjoy drinking this one anytime and anywhere—morning, night, at the beach, whenever. We in the States consider ordering a Bloody after 3 p.m. a faux pas, leading to a lot of dirty looks from bartenders when a savory tomato-juice drink is ordered in a busy nightclub. Canadians tend to think the Caesar is a superior drink, and they just might be right—but if you are going to drink one at night, it might be best to do it at home. Your bartender (and the rest of the bar) will judge, and hard.

Another fun variation on the Bloody is the Bull Shot. If tomato juice isn’t savory enough for you, the Bull Shot replaces the tomato juice with beef broth! This one became the celebrity brunch drink of the ’60s and ’70s, only to fall off the map in the ’80s. Years ago, I came across an original menu from a restaurant in Boston where I was working, from when it was a ’70s local celebrity hangout. I was intrigued to see they had not only a Bull Shot prominently on the menu, but also a chicken-broth variation, and a mix of the two! I would love to see this one come back, with the bone-broth trend still chugging along. If any bartenders working at a daytime spot get cracking on it, I will come check it out! Basically, it has the same recipe as a traditional Bloody: Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, celery salt, black pepper and a little lemon perhaps; just substitute the broth for the tomato juice. It’s not advisable for those with hypertension.

The Bloody Bull is mostly forgotten, but is perhaps the king of this family of drinks. It traces its origins to New Orleans, as do so many cocktails, and specifically to Brennan’s. As with most cocktails, the history is murky, but not as murky as this beauty actually is. Basically, take a traditional Bloody Mary, and a substitute a little of the tomato juice for a slug of good, rich beef broth. It’s all in the proportions, but an ounce or so should do it. This is a drink that should make everyone but the vegetarians happy, featuring the nose-opening pungent-ness for the Bloody fans, and the extra-savory brothiness for the Caesar adherents.

Now, about those garnishes! While I don’t suggest using a whole appetizer plate on skewers, pickled vegetables are always nice; I prefer green beans or asparagus. The traditional celery adds a nice aromatic as you crunch; olives are OK, too, but celery, in my opinion, adds more to the drink. If you are using bacon (or a hot wing!), make sure you skewer it over the drink; nobody wants wet bacon or greasy cocktails. My companion on the Frankenmary expedition was famous for adding a freshly shucked cherrystone clam to make an ersatz Caesar that we derided as “The Yucky Jeff,” but it sold like crazy, so it seems the sky’s the limit with garnishes. I am also fond of the fizzy beer sidecar popular in Wisconsin; a little beer sip here and there does wonders to break up the spice and salt.

New Year’s Day is nearly upon us … so however you decide to recover, garnish with abandon.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

19 Nov 2018
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All those we list cannot please every reader, naturally … anisette, kümmel, tequila, Hawai’ian okolehao—all have their enemies and champions. No, the best we can hope to do is thumb over our battered field book, our odd scrawled-upon bar chits, menus and scraps of notes from bygone days, and construct therefrom a sequence of drinks which for this reason or that, stand out in memory beyond their fellows.

—Charles H. Baker

I’ve often mentioned the influence that certain books have had on me throughout my awakening as a craft bartender and drink writer. Without them, I would still be fumbling along, trying to balance drinks by seeing how many lemon wedges and sugar packets made the perfect lemon drop.

I know I stand on the shoulders of giants—some still writing, and others long passed. I have many bartending and culinary books on my shelf, and between my second or third copy of Imbibe! and my dog-eared paperback of Kitchen Confidential is a slim hardcover of Jigger, Beaker, and Glass; Drinking Around the World by Charles H. Baker.

There are bar books, and then there is The Gentleman’s Companion, as the aforementioned book by Baker was originally known. Baker (1895-1987) wasn’t a professional bartender; he was more like one of the well-traveled cocktail nerds we get at the bar from time to time. I have heard him referred to as the original cocktail blogger, which is pretty spot-on, except it ignores that he wrote for Esquire and other publications professionally from time to time.

His modus operandi was to go to a far-flung locale, have a drink—be it at an expedition base camp or a colonial hotel or wherever—and try to re-create both the cocktail and the moment. This is a 1930s version of a blogger, discussing which Calcutta hotels are better for the epicurean, and which drinks are appropriate for what prep-school alumni gathering—a blogger who sounds variously like Sax Rohmer, an elated Frasier Crane and a wistful C. Montgomery Burns. There is a good deal of humor in his grandiloquence, however, and thankfully not as many cringy racist and chauvinistic turns of phrase as you might imagine in a book of foreign travel from 90 years ago. He is engaged with his subjects, and happily gives credit to a Tagalog-speaking bartender in Manila as quickly as a British naval commander for a good drink.

Mostly, it’s his passion for travel, cocktails and comradery that make this book such a unique read. No drink goes without some background of where it came from and who, if known, created it. Also, the drinks are pretty well-constructed for a fellow who was trying to piece drunken episodes back together. Still, I usually tweak the recipes a bit to make them more suitable to the modern palate.

If this introduction wasn’t reason enough to look into a copy for your favorite cocktail nerd’s collection, let me share with you a few interesting recipes from its pages. The parentheses are my own, and recipes are abridged for space. Many are worth a mention for the name alone.


TURF COCKTAIL NO. II

(Baker relates an outing at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay from February 1931 to preface the recipe.)

We had won all of 67 rupees on this gold-cup, 23,000-rupees race, and were feeling very horsy and turfy, and tired of the “chotapegs”—just plain Scotch and not-too-cold soda, without ice of the last few days—and were open to suggestions.

  • One jigger (1 ounces) of dry gin
  • One pony (1 ounce) French (dry) vermouth
  • 1 teaspoon of absinthe
  • 1 teaspoon of maraschino
  • Dash of orange bitters

Stir like a martini and serve in a Manhattan glass, ungarnished.


THE WAXMAN SPECIAL COCKTAIL

(Baker tried this cocktail, named after an associate editor at Cosmopolitan, in New York, then encounters it at a bar in Palm Beach, Fla., much to his surprise. I am known to make this one on request.)

  • 1 pony old tom gin
  • 1 pony Italian (sweet) vermouth
  • 1 pony decent applejack (apple brandy if you can)

Shake with finely cracked ice (I would stir); strain into a Manhattan glass; float a half-ounce of yellow chartreuse on top.


MEXICAN “FIRING SQUAD” SPECIAL

(During a visit to Mexico City in 1937, Baker and friends find themselves bored with their highbrow guides and head to the Ill-famed La Cucaracha bar.)

And finally on one occasion we broke off by ourself (sic), sought out this bar—where an aristocratic native oughtn’t to be seen!—ordered things in our own way.

  • Two jiggers of tequila
  • Juice of two limes
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of grenadine, or plain gomme syrup (use a quality, preferably homemade grenadine)
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Use a tall Collins glass with shaved ice, garnished with a flag of orange slice, pineapple, and cherry. (I recommend making this into two drinks and shaking it a bit with crushed ice.)


TIGER’S MILK NO. 1

(Baker and associates in Peking, 1931.)

Yes, we coasted in through the break in the huge breath-taking battlements of the Tartar Wall, to the station of the Water Gate. We got that strange lift under the heart all men get when they step from the world we know straight back into the heart of a city dating for thousands of years.

  • 2 1/2 jiggers old brandy
  • 1-2 teaspoons of sugar or grenadine
  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 1/2 cup of milk

Shake with ice and strain into a goblet. (This was a particular favorite of Baker.)


Finally, for the morning after, Baker gives up a wide range of “Pick Me Up” cocktails, a common euphemism in those glory days when it was expected for one to have a tipple in the morning to shake the demons from the night before.

ILE de FRANCE SPECIAL

The field of the great gray Morning After is one which this same civilized mankind is trying to graduate from undiluted hair of the dog that bit him, to something less regurgitative.

Build in a champagne flute:

  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sugar
  • 1/2 pony (1/2 ounce) of cognac
  • Fill with very cold champagne
  • Top with a dash or two of yellow chartreuse

Now that’s a fine drink to get you through the holiday season if you ask me! Of course, you could also opt for the “Holland’s Razor” or the classic “Prairie Oyster,” but neither Baker nor I would recommend that.

If things go awry, Baker also offers steps to relieve a bloodshot eye, restore someone from fainting, “alleviate apparent death from toxic poisonings,” and even revive a man found hanging; this advice is adjacent to tips on pairing caviar and oysters and how to store and serve claret. It makes one wonder at the type of parties we missed out on being born in these less-cavalier times.

All of this can be found in a mere 200 pages, and re-reading it is making me want to deactivate my social media and simply write about my travels again.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

17 Oct 2018
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This town turns on a dime. Last month, I was writing about the slowest time of the year and sipping switchel. This month, I need an ice pack for my right elbow and a brace for my knee as I look for new gray hairs in the mirror.

If I were more of a traditional beverage writer, I would offer a list of spooky cocktails for your Halloween soirée. Maybe next year. Instead, we need to talk about garnishes.

I don’t know if anything confuses my guests more than garnishes: Watching what people do with the things hanging off the side of and/or stuck in their drinks is a never-ending source of curiosity to me.

Drink garnishes were a bit of an afterthought in early cocktail history. In early American cooking and drinking, the answer to most things was nutmeg. Nutmeg was such a common touch to early punches and slings that one ancient recipe book even recommended grating your muddling stick if you ran out! One had to keep up appearances, I guess. We don’t see nutmeg often as a garnish these days, but in the craft scene, we have a soft spot for it, and you can find it behind the bar in a little cup somewhere awaiting the odd Brandy Alexander or whatnot. When it comes to drinks with nutmeg or other spices grated on top, they are there for aromatics: Their purpose is to float on top of the glass and provide a pleasant odor to the overall experience. Trust me: If I thought your drink needed a half-teaspoon of nutmeg incorporated into it, it would be in there—so please don’t stir in the grated coffee bean, nutmeg, cacao nibs or other gritty aromatics! You don’t want that texture … trust me.

Speaking of nutmeg … forgive the aside, but there is a special cocktail that deserves a little more love: the Army and Navy. I had been doing a little research on this little oddity of old-fashioned flavors, and found myself in muddy waters. I checked in with bar manager at Truss and Twine, fellow cocktail writer Dave Castillo, for an assist. He relates that it first appeared in David A. Embury’s Fine Art of Mixing Drinks circa 1948, but was “Embury’s reformulation of an earlier cocktail which called for a larger portion of gin and was described by him as ‘horrible.’”

I can tell you this reformulated mix of gin, lemon, angostura bitters and orgeat is anything but horrible. It just might be the perfect drink for a warm day or even a cool fall night in the desert, when there is just the slightest hint of autumn in the air.

Continues Castillo, “Embury’s recipe called for a lemon twist as a garnish, but we prefer a grate of nutmeg, as it plays off of the confectionary flavors of the bitters.” Having tried it both ways, I can certainly vouch for that. As with most drinks calling for something sweet and sour and boozy and bitter, these are just recommended specs:

  • 2 ounces of London dry gin
  • 1 ounce of lemon juice
  • 1/2 to 3/4 of an ounce of orgeat
  • (Aside within the aside: There are many mediocre orgeats on the market, and sweetness and complexity will vary greatly. I suggest that if you can’t make your own, then Liquid Alchemist is a nice homemade-like choice. Dave’s not parting with his recipe, but there are plenty of them online!)
  • One or two dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Shake with ice; double strain up into a coupe! Top with a grate of good ol’ nutmeg with the microplaner positioned directly across the rim of the serving glass.

If there is a garnish more revered than nutmeg, it’s mint. Unlike exotic citrus fruits and seasonal berries, which were certainly used when available, mint grew from coast to coast for months out of the year. Mint is both a garnish and an ingredient, and in a drink like the mint julep (a topic for another time)—basically a sweetened bourbon over ice—the aromatic garnish becomes an ingredient by sheer force of intensity.

Let’s be honest, though: When you hear “mint,” you are probably thinking “mojito.” Well, few drinks are as often botched as the mojito. In my early days behind the bar, I certainly was no exception. Using the back of a bar spoon to punish some wilted mint into submission, adding some granular sugar packets into the mixing glass, squeezing yesterday’s lime wedges while hoping for some brownish liquid to precipitate … the horror. The mojito deserves an article of its own; for now, refer to the Southside article from a couple of months ago (available for free at CVIndependent.com!), and substitute a nice, light-bodied Cuban style rum for the gin.

The lesson I learned from my early days of making what I now call “mint soup” is that leafy herbs are best treated lightly and with generosity. The key to a good mojito, or eastside fizz, or Planter’s punch isn’t mint incorporated into the drink; it’s the bounty of fresh, lively, green mint flooding your nose with terpenes and other aromatic molecules! In other words: Please don’t shove the mint garnish into the glass. If the drink needed more soggy mint, we would have added it! It doesn’t do any good in there, and just makes it look like you’re drinking swamp water. Obviously, this advice also goes for basil, rosemary, or anything else with a stem.

Now that the two main types of aromatic garnishes (hard spices and fresh herbs) are out of the way, let’s discuss the rest. As for the ubiquitous lime or lemon slice on the top of your glass, try the drink first. If it’s a bar that cares about your drink, the slice will be fresh and vibrant. If it’s not, maybe switch to a bottle of beer. Do not drop a nasty piece of citrus into your drink … citrus garnishes can cause foodborne illnesses! If the slice looks good, try the drink before just squeezing it in. We put it there for you to adjust the tartness to your taste, so if it calls for it, by all means, use it.

As for other garnishes, like your classic “flag” of cherry and pineapple or orange, the same warnings apply. If they look like something you might eat at home on a plate, eat them. If they look suspect, take them out and put them on a beverage napkin. The same goes for the leafy stuff if it’s overpowering or annoying—just take it out, and let us clear it away. Easy!

When it comes to garnishes, a little can go a long way, and a lot can go a long way—but at the end of the day, remember that sketchy garnishes are often the sign of a sketchy drink program. Good garnishes are a sign that the bar cares about the details. In this month of scary things, make sure to avoid the ones on your glass.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

14 Sep 2018
by  - 

A funny thing about the Coachella Valley: Opinions on the “slowest month” in the bar industry vary greatly depending on whom you ask. After what was a surprisingly OK summer, it seems that as of this mid-September writing, we are smack-dab in my nominee for the slowest bar month.

Now, it would be selfish of me to concoct some reason to get you into the bars and restaurants and away from whatever adventures are currently occupying your day—and selfish is not my style. So … if you are taking advantage of the somewhat cooler days to get outside and be active, or maybe just taking a break from the bars, let me throw a couple of concoctions your way to make those parched hikes, thirsty loops around the golf course and pool days a little more pleasant.

I am talking about … and don’t freak out now … vinegar-based beverages!

For those of you who are still reading and haven’t skipped to the beer or wine column, rest assured: These concoctions can certainly be improved with the alcohol of your choice. I will even suggest some pairings.

I have held off writing about shrubb until now for a few reasons, not the least of which is the shrubb fad in cocktails is long past. The other reason is that people just don’t seem to like them. Perhaps the modern American palate rejects vinegar as a flavor in beverages, or maybe it was the heavy-handed way in which bar folk tended to incorporate them into drinks (myself included).

The first time I tried one, maybe 10 years ago, an eager bartender at my favorite spot let me try her lovingly homemade rosemary and thyme version. I was equally intrigued and displeased as I worked the drink down my gullet. A few years later, I experimented with some myself, and sample bottles started piling up inside the reach-in fridges at the bar. Then, poof, it was over. RIP, shrubb fad—and good riddance.

But what exactly is a shrubb, and why should you care?

A shrubb, I have read in several places, is a corruption of the Persian word “sharâb” (or “wine”), and shares the same etymology as “syrup.” A shrubb is, in most cases, a type of syrup … that has taken a left turn into vinegar country. Traditionally, it was a method of preserving fruit in the days before refrigeration. Techniques vary, but if you have some fruit that’s about to spoil, grab a pound, and let’s get colonial:

  • 1 pound or so of the fruit of your choice (but avoid citrus because of the acidity)
  • 3/4 cup to a cup of sugar
  • 3/4 cup to a cup of vinegar (red wine, white wine or apple cider work well; I have high hopes for rice vinegar, too)

Dice the fruit; add the sugar; cover, refrigerate and leave overnight or longer to draw out the liquid. Remove the fruit and strain. Add the vinegar … and you’re done. Boil for a few seconds to make it last longer if you want, but it’s good to go.

You can use the spent fruit; it won’t taste amazing, but it will work on an English muffin or ice cream or something. Usually I use fruit that’s a bit mealy or past its prime, like the red plums in my latest batch … so I don’t bother with the spent fruit. Herbs can be added; too; I usually just toss them in with the fruit and sugar in the first step. Try unconventional things like jalepeños or cucumbers; there are lots of fun options here!

What do you do with this stuff? You force it on friends and family! I like to use about an ounce with soda water and ice, topped with mint, cilantro and even basil. I find it delicious and refreshing as a teetotaler tipple … think kombucha. You could also use it in a cocktail. Try making something margarita- or daiquiri-like and putting a little in there. It adds a unique flavor.

Pineapple shrubb is the king for cocktails, in my opinion; cut back on the vinegar for cocktail use, maybe to half, as there usually will be lime or lemon juice as well in the drink. Perhaps make a sauce with it. Experiment!

Now onto the main event: Switchel!

Switchel, yankee punch or swizzle was a colonial “sports drink” popular in New England and the Caribbean. I am assuming from the name that it was probably mixed with a thin branch, or switch, as the modern cocktails in the swizzle family are. The earliest recipe I have seen, I found on the excellent “Jas. Townsend and Sons” colonial cooking YouTube channel (yes, this is what I do with my spare time), and it comes from The Skilled Housewife, an 18th century cookbook.

  • 1/2 gallon of water
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1/4 cup of vinegar (apple cider)
  • 1 tablespoon of powdered ginger

Mix, serve chilled.

You didn’t think I was going to just leave it alone, now, did you? I did two versions—one with Vermont maple syrup, and the other with California wildflower honey instead of the molasses. I used a thumb of smashed fresh ginger in both, since I am not going for historical accuracy here. I also reduced the recipe by half. To the maple syrup version, I added:

  • One small Gala apple, diced
  • One stick of cinnamon
  • A pinch of green caraway seeds
  • Several star anise pods

Leave it overnight in the refrigerator, and transfer to a thermos after straining; place another cinnamon stick into the thermos. Go on a hike, preferably somewhere at cooler elevations. When the climb, altitude and exhaustion start to hit, take a good swig in the shade. I did just that in Idyllwild, and my hiking companion and I felt totally rejuvenated. I also think it would be amazing with apple brandy or a nice Barbados rum, even bourbon. Garnish it with some apples or lemons, thinly sliced, and serve it with a block of ice on a hot day. Yankee punch indeed.

What about the honey version? It was so tasty that it may end up on a cocktail menu or in a bottle at some point, so I have to keep some secrets!

Yeah, maybe I am a little selfish after all, but it’s slow this time of year …

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

17 Aug 2018
by  - 

One of the most common questions I get behind the bar—after, “What’s your favorite thing to make?” (answer: money, duh)—is, ‘What is your favorite cocktail?” This seems like an innocuous-enough question, but to answer it honestly and frankly is difficult.

What defines someone’s favorite cocktail? Is it the cocktail one drinks the most often? Is ice-cold vodka with cheese-stuffed olives really anyone’s favorite cocktail, or just a “go-to” to help someone unwind after a long day? By that logic, my favorite cocktail is a boilermaker. A beer and a shot is hardly a cocktail in any modern sense of the word, however, unless you do it the way we occasionally do after work—that is, taking a slim shot-glass of bourbon, and dropping it into half a glass of pilsner. It’s a powerful way to end a shift.

That’s not what anyone wants to hear, though. I generally respond immediately by saying it’s the daiquiri, since it’s the cocktail I drink the most frequently, and certainly one of my all-time favorites.

Depending on my audience, I sometimes hear their respect for me and my bartending abilities crash to the floor like a tray of drinks. One of the customers (a lady, usually) will emphasize what they’re all thinking: “A daiquiri? Really?!”

Yes, really.

To some people, a daiquiri is something consumed from a foam cup or tacky plastic “yard” on Bourbon Street, the Vegas Strip or anywhere else it is socially acceptable to consume frozen, sweetened stock-car fuel. Others will know better, and for the rest of you … well, it’s time to enjoy one of life’s true pleasures.

Dale DeGroff resurrected the term “mixologist” to separate what he was doing from the beer-and-highball jockey down the street (but please don’t ever call me a mixologist; even DeGroff now regrets bringing the term into modern parlance). Similarly, I wish I had a simple way of letting people know that the daiquiri I consume is a far different animal than what they expect. Classic daiquiri, real daiquiri, fresh lime and sugar daiquiri—none of these seem to quite do the trick. So usually, I just use my old “Try it; if you don’t like it, I’ll drink it” routine. I rarely get to drink it.

This is a drink with a long and storied history. The conventional story—the one Bacardí rum promotes—has to do with a mining venture in Southeastern Cuba at the turn of the 20th century. A mine engineer named Jennings Cox was entertaining friends when he ran out of gin. Believing, incorrectly, that alcohol and citrus prevented malaria (and perhaps other tropical diseases), he substituted Cuban rum. Another engineer, named Pagliuchi, claimed to have come up with the name by referencing the local place name. The story continues that Admiral Lucius W. Johnson brought the drink to the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C., and it spread throughout the nation from there. The same club even has a room named after the drink. (There is another drink named after the club, but that is for another time.)

Other sources differ slightly on the naming, including Basil Woon’s When it’s Cocktail Time in Cuba, which I first learned about in an article on the Difford’s Guide website. To paraphrase, Woon states that the mine’s engineers were enjoying the new cocktail at the bar at Santiago’s Venus Hotel when Cox himself named it. Difford also references a drink called the “canchanchara,” a sort of rum punch with lemon and honey, as a possible predecessor of the daiquiri.

It seems unlikely to me that this mining engineer was the first one to combine rum, lime, sugar and ice. Aside from the “canchanchara,” a drink about which I must admit my previous ignorance, I was certainly aware of “grog.” Not to be confused with Trader Vic’s better-known Navy Grog (a heady mixture of three rums, including an over-proof rum, lime, grapefruit and allspice), grog was a mixture of diluted rum, water and lime consumed by British sailors. Admiral Edward “Old Grog” Vernon, in the mid-18th century, gave strict orders that all rum rations should be mixed with water. He did allow for sugar and lime to be added, if the sailor had the funds for such purchases. Sounds like a daiquiri, no? In fairness, some sailors were drinking rum and water, and it was still “grog” … and it’s probably fair to assume nobody had ice. It became a staple of the British Navy.

Back to the daiquiri: Cox certainly had plenty of documentation, including both witnesses and the handwritten recipe in his journal (from Bacardí by way of The Alcohol Professor website:)

  • 6 lemons
  • 6 teaspoons of sugar
  • 6 cups of Bacardí rum
  • 2 cups of mineral water
  • crushed ice

Well, it sure sounds like a party, but it doesn’t really sound like a daiquiri. Picking up on the drink where David Wondrich does in Imbibe!—at the Army and Navy Club, and then onto Hugo Ensslin, who has the drink as “The Cuban Cocktail” in his Recipes for Mixed Drinks from 1917—we get this recipe:.

  • 1 jigger of Bacardí rum
  • 2 dashes of gum syrup
  • Juice of half a lime

OK, now this sounds like a daiquiri! It’s a bit on the dry and boozy side, and the gum is unnecessary … but we’re nearly there. I also agree with Wondrich that the Bacardí rum we know in the U.S. is not best for a daiquiri; it doesn’t have enough body or funk. I am fond of saying that the only way to get two bartenders to agree on the best rum for a daiquiri is to shoot one; I, in the absence of true Cuban rum, prefer Wray and Nephew, a Jamaican over-proof white rum with lots of funk. One of those babies is sure to get your night going. Rums from Panama and Nicaragua are great daiquiri rums, too, and many swear by the rich demerara rums of South America or the agricoles of former French Colonies, or … well you get the idea.

As far as the recipe goes, the most common one is certainly:

  • 2 ounces of the rum of your choice
  • 1 ounce of fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce of simple syrup (1:1)
  • Shake, up in a coupe

I actually prefer a half-ounce of simple syrup, and I am not alone. At home, I use a teaspoon of superfine sugar, and it’s divine—a much racier drink without the polymerized simple mouth feel. This is one drink that can be made beautifully at home by nearly anyone; in fact, it may be better to make at home: Squeezing limes à la minute is much better for the finished product. Most bars can’t juice on the spot, for logistical reasons, and the super-fresh lime offers a noticeable flavor difference.

As my bar manager said when it was 115 outside with humidity creeping up into the 30s: “It’s daiquiri weather.” Sure enough.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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