Last week, we put out a call for questions from this column’s readers, an elite group (it has to be, if you’re in it, right?): Ask me anything having to do with the history of spirits and cocktails or the more obscure corners of the world of booze and I’ll do my best to answer it, researching what I don’t know. The response was so great that I will not be able to answer all of your queries, or even all of the most interesting ones, today. However, rest assured I’ll take another crack at the ones I didn’t get to soon, and if you missed your first chance to stump the columnist, just tweet what you’re wondering about to me, @davidwondrich; I’m keeping a file.
And so, without further ado, let’s start with a few warm-up exercises:
Q. @AmolProducer asks: “Who invented the Long Island Iced Tea? Was it Bob Butt?”
A. As far as can be determined after extensive digging, it was indeed Robert “Rosebud” Butt who invented Long Island’s deadliest export, when he was working at the legendary Oak Beach Inn in the early- or mid-1970s. I went to high school on Long Island and remember using my fake ID to sneak into that establishment and drink its signature concoction, while listening to the music of the area’s finest cover bands, back in 1978 or early 1979. That aside, no other claim has any documentation.
On the other hand, the drink first turns up in print in 1978 not on Long Island, but in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in an ad for Yesterday’s Lounge (the drink has “4 full shots,” the ad points out), while its second known appearance is two years later at the parkway Tavern in New Orleans. Louisiana always did like to keep up with the latest in strong drink trends, though, wherever they’re from, so I’m still going with Bob Butt.
Q. @StationWEFUNK asks: “Gin Ricky? Always absent of sugar?”
A. Every time someone puts sugar in a Rickey, “Col.” Joe Rickey (1842-1903), popularizer of this peerless summer cooler, spins a couple of times in his grave. His theory was that sugar heats the blood and therefore for a perfect cooler it must be omitted. Then again, he also hated gin, making his with rye whiskey: a shot of whiskey, the juice of half a lime, ice, and soda water. Simple.
Q. @AngusWinchester asks: “should the French 75 be served in a Champagne glass or a highball glass with ice?”
A. Angus, one of the most widely travelled barmen on the planet and as O.G. as you can get in the modern cocktail revolution, knows that there is no correct answer to this one.
The fabulously intoxicating French 75, a Prohibition-era American drink, began as a Tom Collins (gin, lemon juice, sugar, and soda water in a tall glass with ice) with Champagne subbed in for the soda water, because what the hell. You only live once (at most, if you keep drinking these). So historically, the correct answer is “highball glass with ice.” But while made thus it is a cool, refreshing and very deceptive drink, it might not be the most flavorful version. That belongs to the French 75 bar at Arnaud’s restaurant in New Orleans, where head barman Chris Hannah, another cocktail O.G., makes them with Cognac rather than gin, and serves them up, in a flute. (Shake 1.25 oz VSOP cognac, .25 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and .25 oz simple syrup with ice, strain into a chilled Champagne flute and top off with 2.5 oz chilled brut Champagne. You’re welcome.)
Q. @winenshine asks “Why did someone get the idea to murder an innocent whiskey w/ pickle juice & how to go back in time to prevent it?”
A. This question comes from Amanda Schuster, drinks writer and boulevardière-about-Brooklyn, who is no doubt asking in the same spirit that small children poke big dogs with sticks: just to see what will happen. But while there is something in me that doth not love a Pickleback, if I had a way of going back in time and preventing anything it would not be this. Or the invention of Midori. Or any other drink-related chazerei, no matter how nasty it might be. Focus, people.
Q. @TristanWilley asks, “What do you call a dry-vermouth Americano?”
A. I hate to disappoint Mr. Willey, one of the best drink-mixers I know, but I know of no name for precisely what he describes, a mix of Campari, sweet vermouth, and soda water, on the rocks in a tall glass. In 1936, however, the rather eccentric Swiss-Italian barman Elvezio Grassi did publish a recipe for an “Americano Argentino” (he had worked in Buenos Aires), with the dry vermouth, ice, and soda, but the French Secrestat bitters instead of the Campari. And Secrestat is long out of production. According to European drinks-historian Francois Monti, it tasted like a “perfect combination of Amer Picon and Fernet Branca,” so you could probably fake something up, if you can get the Amer Picon (it’s not sold in America). But the Americano was always an idea more than a specific recipe: bitter, sweet, bubbly, on ice. So, let’s not be picky and just call that Campari and dry vermouth Americano an “Americano a la Willey,” and go have us a couple.
Another dry vermouth question:
Q. @whiskeyryan asks, “Could a late 1800s/early 1900s recipe that calls for “French vermouth” actually have been blanc vermouth? Or always dry?”
A. Blanc vermouth, a semi-sweet, white vermouth, occupies the space in between the heavier red vermouths and the lighter dry vermouths. It has always been a minority taste, though. The French version, hailing originally from Chambéry in the French Alps (just across the border from Turin, center of Italian vermouth making), was never widely popular in America and indeed the only classic cocktail from the period in question to use it, the Presidente, is from Cuba. It does, however, turn up from time to time here: in 1871, it’s in New Orleans, in 1907, San Francisco, and four years later in New York. But when it does appear, it’s always as “vermouth de Chambéry.” So, without additional evidence, I’d have to say that in any old American recipe calling for “French vermouth,” dry vermouth is what was intended. (If you want to play around with the real stuff, pick up a bottle of Dolin Blanc, made right there in Chambéry. Unlike dry vermouth, it mixes as well with brown sprits as white ones.)
And finally, this:
Q: @Almagoozlum asks, “Who was Patrick Gavin Duffy, the author of The Bartender's Guide, one of the best (I think) cocktail recipe books ever written?”
A: Patrick Gavin Duffy’s 1934 Official Mixer’s Manual was one of the books that did the most to help get American drinking back on its feet after the repeal of Prohibition. Its author was an interesting man. Patrick Duffy was born out of wedlock to Thomas Gavaghan and Bridget Duffy on March 16, 1868 in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon, Ireland. Duffy liked to play games with his name: Sometimes he was Patrick Joseph Duffy, sometimes Patrick Gavin Duffy, occasionally in letters to the editor Henry Griffin Duffy (the name of his young son). His friends, however, called him “Patsy.”
In 1884, at age 16, Duffy left the family farm for Jersey City. “It was like leaving for another planet,” as he later recalled. After working for his uncle, a stonemason, for a few weeks, Duffy took himself across the river to New York and found himself a job as busboy at the Ashland House hotel, on Fourth Avenue. After a year of hopping bells, he was promoted to bar back.
Duffy spent two years in that position, during which he went to night school and discovered a lifelong love of literature. When he was promoted to bartender, and soon after head bartender, his greatest satisfaction was listening to the conversation of the literary men who drank at the Ashland bar, one of the city’s most popular with that crowd, along with actors and sporting figures such as heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan. In 1894, Duffy opened his own bar, the Lyceum Café, right across the street from his old job. Much of the Ashland’s theatrical and sporting clientele followed him there, but in 1898 his lease was not renewed and the bar was torn down for development. Duffy worked for a time after that at the Hotel Empire, 63rd Street and Broadway, and then ran his own bar nearby. In 1907, however, he returned to Ballaghaderreen, where he went back to farming and eventually got himself elected magistrate.
In 1921, however, Duffy came back to New York, settling in Brooklyn, where he ran a couple of rooming houses and worked on his (unpublished) memoirs, where most of these details come from. I don’t know when he died, but it was some time after 1950. (Thanks to Doug Stailey of Washington, D.C., for comparing his extensive notes on Duffy with mine.)