Let me recommend a book to you: Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh. The subtitle is “100 Rediscovered Drinks and the Stories Behind Them.” Quarry Books, Beverly Massachusetts, 2009. ISBN 1-59253-561-3
This is a beautifully-produced book, spiral bound, board covers, glossy paper, illustrated with gorgeous color photos of the drinks themselves, and assorted period pamphlets and paraphernalia. The list of drinks runs from the Alamagoozlum Cocktail to Don The Beachcomber’s Zombie, with stops along the way at the Moscow Mule, the French 75, the Leatherneck, and the Fred Collins Fiz.
Besides the illustrations, the text includes long and learned disquisitions on the differences between a cocktail, a highball, and a vodka buck, the history of cocktails (originally a morning drink), and two centuries of general social history.
Some of the Prohibition-era cocktails have names like The Twelve-Mile Limit and the Scofflaw to give you an idea of who was drinking them, where, and why. Many of the drinks have exotic ingredients: Maybe you have gomme syrup, Crème de Violette, and Amaro Cora on the shelf but I sure don’t. Helpfully, there’s an appendix listing sources for many of the more exotic ingredients, and even a recipe for making Boker’s Bitters1 (which is no longer in commercial production). Other parts of the appendices include recipes for the drinks mentioned in passing, some in quite interesting variations.
1 Unfortunately, the Boker’s Bitters formula makes well over a gallon of the stuff, which is probably more than a lifetime supply. I can imagine getting a good number of small pressed-glass bottles, some corks, printing some labels, and thus having unusual holiday presents for all your historical-cocktail-drinking friends.
Measurements are helpfully provided in ounces, gills, and centiliters.
Let me show you how this book reads: This is the text for “The Secret Cocktail”:
Just so you know, the real name of this drink is not the Secret Cocktail. I will eventually reveal its rightful title, but be forewarned, it has two characteristics that scare people to death: its name—it is enough to send virtually all men and most women running away, screaming—and that darned egg again. See the Alamagoozlum Cocktail (page 28) and the Delicious Sour (page 104) for my stance on egg in drinks.
First of all, this is a forgotten cocktail in the truest sense, but it is cloaked in familiarity because you can walk into virtually any bar and order one, if you have a mind to, but they will all be wrong, incorrect, not even close. ALL of them. First concocted in the early twentieth century, the Clover Club Cocktail was named for the venerable Philadelphia men’s club, created at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, and was consumed in copious quantities by its estimable members (financiers, attorney, captains of industry and traditional literary sorts).
The Secret Cocktail is not a Clover Club, but I must tell you what a Clover Club contained so you will understand the insanity surrounding the not-yet-unnamed cocktail of our discourse. It contained gin, lemon juice, and egg white, and a bit of grenadine. It was an opalescent, light-rose hue. Very fetching. Our Secret Cocktail contains the ingredients you see:
- 1-½ ounces (½ gill, 4.5 cl) dry gin
- ½ ounce (⅛ gill, 1.5 cl) applejack
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 egg white
- 2 dashes real pomegranate grenadine
Shake it up with all due vigor in an iced cocktail shaker, strain into a cocktail glass, and serve with a cherry.
Note the similarity to the Clover Club? Same production, same proportions. Men, however (and now women) would not be caught dead ordering our little Secret Cocktail … the original Pink Lady. All the Pink Lady did was to add some applejack, which made the drink immeasurably tastier, but not one whit sweeter. It was also just a tad stronger,and the two cocktails were equally pink. Now you tell me: Who was smarter, the guys or the dolls? Jury is in. The women win. So make this drink correctly for all your friends, but don’t tell them the name of the drink until after they’ve tasted it.
I’d also like to add that the best place to order either the Clover Club or (shhhh) the Secret Cocktail is at the Clover Club bar in Brooklyn, New York. This place is the brainchild of one of the great visionaries of the bar, Julie Reiner. I wish I was there right now.
So, how did I happen to come upon this marvelous little book?
There I was, walking through a real doors-and-windows bookstore, looking for a book on interpreting EKGs. (I wanted to see what they had on the shelf, y’see, and compare it to my needs.)
And, as one does, whilst walking through a bookstore, I cast my eye onto the other shelves. And there this was. One look and I knew that it would be mine. It’s pretty, it’s full of history and trivia, and the recipes look Darned Good.
Why do people buy books? Mostly because they’ve read and enjoyed something else by the same author. In this case I’d never heard of Ted Haigh before. A second reason is because a trusted friend recommended it (as I hope I stand in relation to y’all: You do want to buy this book if what I’ve told you of it so far seems at all interesting). In this case, nobody had mentioned the book, either. There’s a third class of sales: The ones that come from a reader Seeing Something Interesting on the Shelf.
Now the serious part of this post:
If I want a toy, I go to a toy store. If I want candy, I go to a candy store. If I want electronics I go to an electronics story. Do you know what I want when I go to a bookstore? Any guesses? Well, it isn’t toys, candy, or electronics. I want books.
Not just books: A good selection of books. And that includes midlist and backlist. Say I see the third volume of a series on the shelf, a series I’d not encountered before. It looks interesting. I want to buy the first couple of volumes too. They came out a few years ago. If they aren’t there, what’s the message? You want me to order ‘em from Amazon? If I’m doing that I might as well order all three and get free shipping.
I know it sounds like Dreadful Business Speak, but what you need to do is get back to your core competence: Selling books. To people like me. I’m here, I’m eager to buy books. I’ll drive three hours to get to a well-stocked bookstore. And that does not mean well-stocked-with-sports-jerseys-coffee-cups-and-calendars.
For the Love of Benji, all those books are fully returnable. I bet the candy isn’t. Stock books. Give people places where they can sit, good light, ample parking, and Sell Me A Book, kay? Not just the book I was looking for. The book I wasn’t looking for, but knew, the minute I saw it, that I had to have it.