Cocktail Historians Continue on 'Spirituous Journey'
"What we have today is a generation of bartenders who are reaching back to the point before the chain was broken and rebuilding that link with the professionalism of the past.
Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown are the most famous cocktail and spirits historians in the world. Passionate about their subject, they are the co-founders of the Museum of the American Cocktail and custodians of the spirits collection of the EUVS (Exposition Universelle des Vins et Spiritueux), located on Bendor Island in the South of France. They have published many books, which can be purchased online.
Since you travel to every bar show in the world, can you tell us what you think of the Bar Convent Berlin that will be held in October?
Anistatia Miller: BCB is the best bar show by far. At one time it was the London Bar Show, but now I see the seriousness and creativity of the business coming together at the Bar Convent Berlin. The bartenders are dedicated to learning and performing and providing great service. It’s fantastic.
Bartenders also seem to be increasingly sensitive to the history and fundamentals of the business. How do you explain that?
Jared Brown: It all began when bartenders came to accept that this is a profession, not just a job. It’s very evident here in Germany: they are professionals and they take their work very seriously. Apart from that, bartending skills were traditionally passed on from master to apprentice. You can go to bartending school and learn things to help you in your work, but in the end you have to work under a master to master the craft. However, Prohibition and the two World Wars broke the chain linking master to apprentice. So what we have today is a generation of bartenders who are reaching back to the point before the chain was broken and rebuilding that link with the professionalism of the past.
Is this a worldwide phenomenon?
Miller: Yes, it is happening worldwide as each culture is rediscovering its link with bartending and cocktail history. People are going in and researching their own area: “What was the work like before? What made it right?” and you have to turn to history to find out.
Brown: And it’s something that has to be done by everyone considering a life and career in professional bartending. Just as you can’t build a house without foundations, so you can’t build a drink without the foundation of the classics.
You have had an opportunity to discover Berlin’s bars. What is your overall impression?
Anistatia: I would say the quality of service. We went to Lebenstern and Rum Trader, and I now know what to expect in terms of level of service and the quality of the drinks. I could go to New York or San Francisco and not find half as many bars of that standard. As I say, it’s wonderful to come in Germany and know that I can find quality in each city.
Can you tell us a little about your most recent book, Spirituous Journey Book 2?
Brown: The story began in a small book shop in New York, years ago. We were talking with the owner who was a former editor with Crown Publishing, an excellent editor who just wanted to run his own book shop. We were about to release the Pocket Guide to 100 Cocktails for the Museum of American Cocktails, and he said: “That’s wonderful, but what the drinks industry needs is a big book of in-depth information. One has never been written; why don’t you write it?” and that started us on our Spirituous Journey. It has taken us from 7000 B.C. the 20th century, tracing the roots and history of drink from the earliest evidence of the practice of fermentation to the invention of the soda gun. We lost heart when the soda gun was invented, so we did not take the story beyond that point. (laughs).
We made some surprising discoveries along the way: We discovered that Mint Julep was mentioned in a book published in Dublin in 1753, and apparently the drink was very popular in London and Edinburgh; we found a Bloody Mary recipe minus the alcohol, dated 1892, that was sent from the Manhattan Club to London, were it was published in the London Hospital Gazette. It didn’t catch on because there was a misunderstanding in England: no one was going to try a drink requiring Tabasco sauce. Tabasco was only 25 years old at that time and was virtually unknown in England.
So we spent a lot of times reading old newspapers, visiting archives, researching old books. There are some books many bartenders have, but none of them have “non-alcoholic” sections for some obscure reason. (laughs)
Miller: We had some real surprises, for instance the daiquiri. Everyone knows the recipe dates from 1898, but no one can explain to me why the same recipe exists in a 1769 French Dictionary describing punch as a British drink.
What is your next project?
Brown: We have just moved from the center of London to the countryside, which suits us perfectly, not only for distilling but also for crafting new drinks. We have created a website featuring “slow drinks.” Anistatia has been making strawberry ratafia, which is a French recipe from the 1600s. We’ve also been making our own Crème de Mûres with wild blackberries, an old recipe that Anistatia found: you steep the fruits in a good-quality Bordeaux for two days, then reduce them to a syrup and fix it with brandy. It’s a great drink but you can’t purchase it anywhere in the world. These old recipes are still there, the fruit is there, the wine is there: all you need to do is make it in the slow way they used to.
Are you planning to develop drinks of this kind?
Miller: We’re at least thinking of publishing a book to encourage people to look at local ingredients, go to farmers market, find out how drinks were made in the 1800s, rather than using all these commercials products, and so get a sense of local identity. Because each country has its own products and specialities, and variety is the spice of life.
Top image via Mixellany