What it is

Late-breaking telexes from the craft spirit front by Wayne Curtis, author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in 10 Cocktails, columnist for Imbibe, and designated drinker for The Atlantic magazine.

  • And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails
    And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails
    by Wayne Curtis

Contact: Email me via

Twitter: @waynecurtis

Powered by Squarespace

Quote of the week (funhouse mirror edition)

"Rum not usually appealed to the colonists' adore of rapid inebriation, though additionally brought the magnitude of standing as great as referred to the initial stairs toward informative independence."

— Wayne Curtis, apparently. Google Alerts recently alerted me to an article that had appeared about me and my book. I checked it out, of course. It's evidently an old A.P. story translated into another language (Russian?) and then back into English and posted online. Why? I don't know.

Bonus quote: excellent instructions for drink preparation: "Shake all the mixture in the bubbly beverage shaker with ice as great as aria in to the whirly glass. Add maraschino cherry as great as orange cut for garnish."

And if nothing else, the story has provided me with fine back-cover blurbs for a future edition:

"I'm unequivocally preoccupied by what he's done." — Minister of Rum Ed Hamilton

"I consider this comes along during the right time since people have been removing some-more meddlesome in rum." — Jeff "Beachbum" Berry.


A cocktail too far? Make mine emu

For those who’ve spent time lying awake at night wondering, why is it that I’ve never had a cocktail served in an emu egg, I have good news to report.

The Los Angeles Times noted a few days ago that Matthew Biancaniello, a bartender at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s Library Bar, has developed a cocktail called the Indian Summer, which is served in an emu egg. (Recipe: “Step One: Acquire an emu egg. They come pre-drained from Schaner Farms, available for $10 each.”) The drink itself is gin-based, made with fresh curry leaves, lime juice, cucumber slices, and is topped with an egg-white foam made with cherry liqueur. Sounds sort of intriguing.

Experimenting with new things is good, of course. Somebody more than a century ago had the bizarre notion of mixing wine and spirits, and among the results were the Martini and the Manhattan. I get that.

And I understand the commercial drive to exploit the new and different — there’s a significant clientele of cool-hunters who have as their chief aspiration the doing, eating, and drinking of things that no one else has. I fault no one for taking money out of these people’s wallets — the more and the faster the better, I say.

But drinking from $10 emu eggs? I really don’t get that. I suppose this is the ultimate slow cocktail — you need to create the egg cup very, very slowly, first perforating it with the end of a paper clip — which allows one the time to contemplate many things, like, why am I am stabbing this egg with a paper clip rather than drinking a cool and refreshing adult beverage? And you thought mojitos were a pain in the ass.

Worse yet, the emu egg is apparently a gateway egg. The L.A Times notes that,

“By April, he'd like to start serving something he'll call the Humpty Dumpty, a cocktail made of vanilla bean-infused bourbon, almond-infused cherry liqueur, cream, egg whites and lecithin, which he'll freeze using liquid nitrogen into popcorn-size bits. "I'll serve it in an ostrich egg," he says of the concoction, which will cost $25 and serve two.”

The making of fine cocktails is more chemistry than cooking —  anyone who has seen a bartender doling out precise drops of bitters knows this. Two drops too many can be two drops too many. Selecting the right vessel and creating the right mood are both part of the equation. But by my estimation, when doing something silly and preenish like serving it in an emu, ostrich or goose egg, you’re multiplying the whole complex equation by zero.

Which, as you may recall from grade school math, yields a net result of zero.


The National Angostura Reserve: 15.5 million bottles 

The news about the looming shortage of Angostura bitters has yet to provoke a reaction like that of Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast, in which a panicked citizenry rampaged down the streets screaming. This is mysterious to me since the shortage, unlike the Welles invasion, is apparently real. This crisis has arisen due to changes in Angostura’s ownership, cashflow problems, production stoppages, and whatnot. You can read about it here, here, and here.

This is not the first time an Angostura shortage has threatened civilization as we know it. In 1944, German U-boats targeting cargo ships in the Caribbean and on trans-Atlantic routes led to an Angostura drought throughout Europe. When Ernest Hemingway left Cuba to report on the war, he filled a suitcase with “innumerable two-ounce bottles of Angostura bitters” to address the situation, a humanitarian mission for which Hemingway has not been adequately recognized. 

My guess is that panic has been muted to date in part because everyone knows how much Angostua actually still exists in the world in the form of untapped reserves. These reserves include bottles with yellowing labels in the back of your aged parent’s liquor cabinet, others sticking up from behind the spices at your aunt’s house, and the many thousands of bottles (hundreds of thousands?) on college campuses purchased by students who thought it would be cool to drink Manhtattans, but quickly realized their callow taste buds couldn’t yet handle anything more assertive than Bud Light.

Just how big are these reserves?

I have attempted to calculate the amount. Here are the assumptions on which my calculations are based:

  • Number of households in US based on US census data: 105 million (Source: U.S. Census figures)
  • Percentage of Americans who drink alcohol: 64%  (Source: 2006 survey.)
  • Percentage of these alcohol-consuming households with a bottle of Angostura bitters on hand: 30% (Source: wild ass guess.)
  • Percentage of these with a second bottle of Angostura in another cabinet which they’d forgotten about sometime during the Clinton administration: 10% (Source: wilder ass guess.)
  • Bottle size: 4 ounces (Source: my liquor cabinet.)
  • Percentage of Angostura bitters remaining in each bottle: 70% (Source: average of the three bottles uncovered in my liquor cabinet, and, no, you can’t have one.)

Factoring all this in, I come up with an Angostura National Reserve of 15.5 million untapped bottles hidden in cabinets and cupboards around the nation.

People of America: There is no need to panic.

What we are faced with is simply a matter of logistics, of moving supply to meet demand. An ambitious collection drive would do it,  modeled after the scrap metal drives of World War II, which effectively mitigated the steel shortage.

I urge bartenders in the major cities to set up collection bins at their places of employ, and encourage patrons to bring in their old Angostura bottles to help us get through this time of need. Those who participate would be rewarded with a nice Manhattan.

Buck up, drinker.

We can do it.


The Benjamins: fuzl’d, raddled, jambled, & c.

Among Benjamin Franklin’s many feats — how the man found time for sleep I don't know — here’s one for which he has gone all too unheralded. In January 1737, Franklin published in his Pennsylvania Gazette a comprehensive inventory of euphemisms for the word “drunk.”

You know, fuzzled, cocked, or jambled. 

Or gone to Barbados — or gone to Jericho, France, Jersusalem, Geneva, or Concord. Some terms are hopelessly obscure: tipium grove, nimptopsical, got the hornson, Prince Eugene, and he makes indentures with his leggs. Some of my favorites are distinctly visual, including got a brass eye, drunk as a wheel-barrow, pigeon-eyed, and got on his little hat.

And I love the Anglo-Saxony terms that make no sense when read but make perfect sense when spoken aloud: burdocked, buskey, dagg’d, fuzl’d, hiddey, priddy, raddled, jambled, and wamble-cropp’d.

In honor of Franklin’s birthday today, I republish the whole list (after the jump). Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go put on my little hat.

Click to read more ...


Jonathan Miles signs off Shaken & Stirred

Jonathan Miles closes out his tenure as the "Shaken & Stirred" columnist for the New York Times, where for the past four years he's been covering the where and what of the New York bar scene — a fascinating but vexing time to try to stay on top of fast-moving trends. He made it look easy, and I'm sure he endured a lot of conversations that began, "So, you get paid to drink?" Trying to marshall widely varied trends into something concise and intelligent is not an easy thing, and there's no good answer to that question. (Either yes or no, and you get eye-rolling and grief for being either a slacker or a liar.)

Miles's final column does a great job wrapping up what's happened over the the past decade in the drink world in a tight and tidy package that doesn't preen. An excerpt:

"No, the real story was in rediscovered in drinks like the aviation cocktail, a sublimely floral combination of gin and maraschino liqueur (and later, as cocktail historians dug deeper into its origins, the violet-flavored crème de violette) that was a Web sensation before bars like Milk & Honey started featuring it on cocktail lists...

"These were artisanal drinks with history and gravitas and a contrapuntal range of flavors — sweet, sour, savory, bitter — that hadn’t been balanced in generations. They’re representative of a lost American art — the art of the cocktail, as practiced by pre-Prohibition bartenders — that, after the ’00s, can no longer be called lost."


Quote of the week: Alison Schneider

“Sometimes, you think two barrels are going to go together well, you think they’ll get along, but they’re like bachelors who have lived alone for twenty years, and when you move them in together, they pace circles around one another. They won’t blend.”

— Alison Schneider, winemaker and brandy blender at Jepson Vineyard in California, quoted in Max Watman’s forthcoming book, Chasing the White Dog. (Due out February 16.) 


An early look at Banks Five Island Rum

Banks Five Island Rum will be rolling into bars and liquor stores over the next couple of months. It’s named after noted explorer Sir Joseph Banks, and is the product of John Pellaton (former president of Hine Cognac USA) and his partners. It’s not a rich amber rum, like you might expect, but an intriguing, intense white rum bottled at 43 percent ABV, with a suggested retail price of $25 to $28. He’s planning to roll it out nationally over the next year.

I sampled a dram with Pellaton when he was in New Orleans with his family engaging in some holiday cheer. We met at Bar Uncommon, presided over by the inimitable Chris McMillian. On first sniff, I was pretty sure that it was an agricole rum — the aroma was pleasingly vegetal and grassy. But Pellaton shook his head and smiled a little. It’s not from fresh sugar cane, he said. This flummoxed me.

I let the silence hang, and eventually he started confessing, saying it was actually a blend of rums from five distilleries, each aged between three and twelve years then filtered. The rums are from Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana (well, four islands plus one, I guess) and a “secret island.” More silence, more inscrutable nodding.

Eventually, it came out — the fifth island was Java — the largest Indonesian island, and a place where Banks the explorer spent some time. The rum blend actually contains Batavia arrack, which at last explained some of that pleasing funk I was picking up.

Banks is a lovely rum, fairly dry and with a big mid-palate taste, although the exceedingly long finish was complicated for me — it was gingery and peppery, which was nice, but also a little bitter and puckery. I’ll give Banks the benefit of the doubt, though: I’d just had a Campari cocktail before sampling, so that may have led me astray. I look forward to trying Banks again with a fresh palate.  

McMillian made us a daiquiri with it — quite nice. It had the robustness of a daiquiri made with an aged rum, but with that lovely alabaster luminescence of a white rum daiquiri. (I don’t like my daiquiris to look like the Mississippi River.) I'm guessing with its extremely full body, this will make a nice addition to tiki drinks and other exotics. It’s not be “arracky” enough to substitute for the fuller Haus Alpenz Batavia Arrack, but I’d like to try them side by side.

Banks, in fact, might be edging into a new category of rum. I’m not sure what to call it, but it’s not a navy rum like Goslings (another blend), nothing like a Demerara rum, and didn’t even compare with a medium-bodied rum like Mount Gay. Banks grazes alone in its own pasture, and seems perfectly happy being there.

Banks Five Island Rum will be appearing in selected markets starting in February. For more information, check Banks Five Island Rum.


Bridget Albert highlights shrub, a colonial favorite

In the pre-electricity, pre-refrigerator, put-potatoes-and-cabbage-in-the-basement, salt-the-meat-and-stick-it-in-a-cask days — we’re talking 18th and early 19th century here — it required considerable ingenuity to keep the taste of the summer season alive through the bleak months of winter. I wrote about one approach in my history of rum — how colonials used to capture the flavor of seasonal fruits and berries in a “shrub,” which was basically an infusion preserved with vinegar. Doled out sparingly during the cold months, a glass of shrub could be enlivened with a dollop of brandy or rum. A sip would bring to mind fond memories of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries or other small heroes of the warm weather months.

I also wrote in the book that “vinegar-based cocktails may not be the trend of the moment.” I possibly spoke too soon.

Last week at the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans, author and mixologist Bridget Albert gave a talk on how to use the fresh flavors of the summer throughout the year. One of the superb drinks she served was a pisco shrub, a rich, complicated concoction with a Christmasy tang. And not even a hint of vinegar.

Albert, who’s the author of Market Fresh Mixology, called shrub “kind of like a souped-up salad dressing,” which I assure you is less appealing sounding than tasting. She said shrubs lent themselves to just about any sort of fruit — she leaned toward stone fruits — and you could be equally creative with additonal spices. Her pisco drink used a cherry shrub, which she made with this recipe:

Cherry  shrub
1 c. white sugar
1 c. water
3 pints fresh cherries
2 c. white vinegar
spices (be creative; Albert used allspice in her cherry shrub.)

Mix everything in a saucepan, then boil until the sugar is dissolved. Let simmer for 20 minutes. Let cool and steep overnight. Strain into sterile glass jars.

The flavor is intense and concentrated — a couple of jars will last a while. Dole it out a little at a time to spark up your winter drinks. Here’s Albert’s great idea:

Pisco Shrub
1.5 oz Pisco
3/4 oz cherry shrub (use any kind of fruit shrub)
juice of one lime
ginger ale

Add first three ingredients to tall glass with ice. Top off with ginger ale. 


Press releases I didn't finish reading (#4)

“In honor of Elvis’s would-be 75th birthday this Friday, January 8th, Three-O Vodka has put together a few cocktail recipes that will help you remember “The King.” For a more complete celebration, try pairing your cocktails with some of Presley’s favorite foods – peanut butter & banana sandwiches, sweet potatoes, cheeseburgers, and burnt bacon.”


Gulliver's Cocktails

From eighty-six ounces to two ounces.... the biggest and the smallest cocktails get the gimlet eye in the February Atlantic Monthly.

Don't have the patience to read more than 140 characters these days? Here's my two-minute recap, complete with colorful, easy-to-figure-out pictures: