Friday, October 17, 2008

David A. Embury

I finally received my copy of David Embury's The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, courtesy of the bartender's dream publisher, Mud Puddle Books. They've been reissuing out-of-print cocktail books, including Harry Johnson's Bartender's Manual (1900) and How To Mix Drinks: A Bon Vivant's Companion by Jerry Thomas (1862). They all have introductions by the likes of David Wondrich, Audrey Saunders and other current players.

Embury was never a bartender, just an aficionado. And his drinks are unquestionably strong and dry (8-2-1 proportions in a daiquiri?). But his passion is undeniable and a delight to read. Until now, if you wanted a copy it would take months of diligent ebay-ing and a few hundred dollars.

My favorite quote so far, on procuring bottles of Mount Vernon rye and Old Granddad bourbon 18-20 immediately after the repeal of prohibition:

Oh yes, I still have a bottle or two of these rare old jewels of perfection, but I don't drink them. I occasionally get out a medicine dropper and gently anoint my tongue with a few drops - just so I won't forget what real whisky should taste like.

David Embury, you are a treasure. And Mud Puddle, I love you guys!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

orgeat... how it all began

People who know me know that I’m obsessed with orgeat. For those who don’t know me: I’m obsessed with orgeat.


Orgeat syrup is a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar and rose water or orange-flower water. It was, however, originally made with a barley-almond blend. It has a pronounced almond taste and is used to flavor many cocktails, perhaps the most famous of which is the Mai Tai.

It began as an argument between my boss and me. Any time a customer ordered a Mai Tai we made them essentially a rum and juice cocktail. It had raspberry syrup (we didn’t carry commercial grenadine) and pineapple juice. We didn’t carry orgeat or crème de noyeau or even Amaretto. And anytime I had to make one of these concoctions I would bitch about it. In a loud and complainy manner. Because what differs a Mai Tai from any other tropical rum-and-fruit beverage is the almond flavor. It’s what makes the drink as far as I’m concerned. And finally my boss tired of it and said, “Fine. You want a Mai Tai? We’re doing the original Trader Vic’s Mai Tai. But commercial orgeat is crap. Why don’t you make some?”

So I did.

I’ve been making orgeat for about two years now. It became the cornerstone of my new business, Small Hand Foods, making pre-prohibition era cocktail ingredients. It's a long story, but rather than write the novel that would be the history of it all now, I’ll relay pieces here over the next while, interspersed with other things thrown in as they happen.

I hope you enjoy it!