If there is any holiday season that demands attention to tradition, we're in it.
With that in mind, I've been hitting the books to honor the season. The bar books, that is.
Such classic cocktail bibles as "The Ideal Bartender" (1917), "The Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book" (1935) and "The Savoy Cocktail Book" (1937) provide fascinating looks at the society of their day as well as some great drinks. And, they make excellent last-minute gifts, available in various editions through the likes of eBay and Amazon.com.
"The Ideal Bartender" was written by Tom Bullock, an African-American master bartender who in the early years of the 20th century was beloved by his customers at such upper-crust places as the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Ky., and the St. Louis Country Club. His wizardry was so respected that the foreward to his book was written by George Herbert Walker, a patron of the St. Louis club and grandfather of President George H.W. Bush.
The Waldorf-Astoria book is a post-Prohibition collection of pre-Prohibition drinks, honoring the bar at the storied Manhattan hotel that closed in 1929 then reopened in 1931 but without its iconic watering hole.
The Savoy book was written by Harry Craddock who reigned as head barman at The American Bar in London's elegant Savoy hotel in the 1920s and '30s where he was instrumental in transplanting the high-spirited American cocktail society to Europe.
That society, memorialized in jokes, films and stage plays, is acknowledged in each of the books. Such as this utterance by W.C. Fields: "Once during Prohibition I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water."
Incidentally, if you pick up any or all of these books, don't be surprised if some terms and ingredients are unfamiliar to you — acid phosphate, carbonic, Calisaya, Bevo, shrubs, gum syrup and so forth. Remember how much the language and public tastes have changed since they were written. Nevertheless, it's easy to substitute an available modern ingredient for the original when necessary.
Here are samples from each of these guides to spruce up your holiday gatherings. A larger selection is available online at SpiritsNotebook.blogspot.com.
(From "The Ideal Bartender")
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1/2 fresh lemon
1 slice fresh orange
1 piece pineapple
1/2 jigger dark rum
1 1/2 jiggers brandy
Fill glass portion of cocktail shaker three-quarters full of shaved ice. Dissolve the sugar in a little water. Put juice from the half-lemon, sugar, rum and brandy into the glass with the ice. Shake very well, strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with pineapple and orange.
(From "The Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book")
1 part brandy
1 part Plymouth gin
1 part French dry vermouth
1 strip of lemon peel
Combine brandy, gin and vermouth into a coocktail tumbler with several ice cubes, stir gently, then top off with a splash of soda.
ENGLISH ROSE COCKTAIL
(From "The Savoy Cocktail Book")
1 dash fresh lemon juice
4 dashes grenadine syrup
1 part apricot brandy
1 part French dry vermouth
2 parts dry gin
Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with fresh ice. Shake vigorously, strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with cocktail sugar.
(William M. Dowd covers the beverage world at BillDowd.com.)
c.2007 Hearst Newspapers