Archives for category: History

The Grog Dog is not a sentimental type; even after lapping up one too many cocktails, I won’t be howling over texts from an ex. But everyone has their emotional weakness, and cheeky word-humor is one of mine: Post a sly pun on my Facebook feed and I’ll follow you anywhere.

It was over beers with a friend – of one of the many brands specializing in name-puns – that I was reminded of “the language of flowers”, or floriography: a means of sending silent messages to friends, enemies, and lovers using blossoms that had specific, well known meanings. While flowers had been a staple of romantic communication for centuries, their cryptographic use became wildly popular in England and the U.S. during the repressed Victorian era.

Red_Rose_Wiki commons

Strict social mores precluded young sweethearts, for example, from writing or speaking their ardor. To transmit their feelings or indicate their preferences, they would give, hold, or arrange specific blooms in accordance with floral dictionaries, so their intended recipient would know their meaning. Even the scent of certain love flowers, discreetly daubed on a handkerchief, could speak volumes to a suitor.

After imbibing a few brews chosen for their clever names rather than their flavors (I can’t resist a good pun or a bad one), I wondered whether cocktails might also be used to subtly communicate certain sentiments – specifically, cocktail names. Like stringing together an entire story with emojis, cocktail messaging could become a new bar craze among literary types… Cocktail EmojiOr introverts, who may not wish to be approached by a boozed-up barfly, but could carry on a (very) quiet conversation with that other single who has a sophisticated drink and a Kindle, and understand each other perfectly.

Let me be clear: I am not talking about the cocktails that proliferated during what the Corpse Reviver of the American cocktail, David Wondrich, called the Dark Ages: the Sex on the Beach, the Slippery Nipple, the Slow Comfortable Screw, etc. (I refuse to provide links; if you must, look them up yourself.) As he noted in an Esquire column, “those drinks resist craft”. They also resist taste, subtlety, and class.

To make the cocktail-name-conversation thought experiment a little simpler, and classier, I went back to Victorian times – or at least pre-Prohibition – to imagine a more romantic scene.

1st round: Jack Rose, Margarita

2nd round: ManhattanBrooklyn

3rd round: Tuxedo, Champagne Cocktail

blueblazer.it4th round: Hot ToddyMaiden’s Blush

5th round: Hanky Panky, Morning Glory

6th round: Old FashionedBijou

7th round: Scofflaw, White Lady

8th round: South SideTom Collins

9th round: Blue BlazerLast Word

Final round: Turf ClubMerry Widow

While the game is obviously much more fun when your cocktail companion knows you’re playing, you can amuse yourself for hours (or until you hit your limit) using your drink order to comment on life and the world in the moment. mutt-ropolitan-opera-calendar_merry-widow_operatoonityA friend of mine shakes up a Merry Widow when she’s particularly annoyed with her husband… Which may not change his habits, but fortifies her for the next round.

 

 

 

Image credits: Red Rose – Wikicommons; Martini Emoji – emojipedia.org; Blue Blazer – Blueblazer.it; The Merry Widow – Operatoonity.com

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As a writer, the Grog Dog has aspirations to literary greatness. This July 4, however, I dedicate my post to two all-American literary icons whose lasting fame and reputations are unmatched, and perhaps not coincidentally, are related by blood and name as well as writing prowess.

FSK-starspangled200-orgFrancis Scott Key, American lawyer, amateur poet, and coincidental observer of the Battle of Fort McHenry, authored the poem that would become the national anthem of the United States, “The Star-Spangled Banner“. During the War of 1812 (the “second war for independence”), the British attempted to re-establish dominion over the American colonies – and very nearly succeeded.

Not surprisingly, given the colonists’ tendency to produce and consume huge quantities of spirits, ale, and wine, Key set his poem to the tune of an English drinking song: “To Anacreon in Heaven“.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald

One hundred years later, Francis Scott Key’s second cousin three times removed and namesake, F. Scott Fitzgerald, would graduate from prep school and soon set out on a career as a writer – becoming famous for his talent and infamous for his dedication to a drinking lifestyle that rivaled his colonial ancestors’ in scope and frequency. By the time Fitzgerald had published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920, Prohibition had become law, and the post-World War I Jazz Age was blooming like the poppies in Flanders fields. Fitzgerald’s novel perfectly reflected – many say, influenced – the zeitgeist of the era and his own artistic (and hedonistic) circles. As a daring spokesmen for the Lost Generation, Fitzgerald enjoyed fame and fortune and squandered both in spectacular fashion. He was the first (1929) to conjugate “cocktail” as a verb (all the way through the preterit tense, whatever that is – the Princetonian smarty-pants).

fitzgerald-conguates-cocktail-openculture-comPresent: I cocktail, thou cocktail, we cocktail, you cocktail, they cocktail.

Imperfect: I was cocktailing.

Perfect or past definite: I cocktailed.

Past perfect: I have cocktailed.

Conditional: I might have cocktailed.

Pluperfect: I had cocktailed.

Subjunctive: I would have cocktailed.

Voluntary subjunctive: I should have cocktailed.

Preterit: I did cocktail.

So in honor of two American literary icons, whose very existence perfectly synthesized the foundational elements of the American character – drinking and a genius for pop culture that earned them long-lasting fame – I offer The Fitzgerald:

2 oz London dry gin

3/4 oz simple syrup

3/4 oz fresh lemon juice

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake with ice; strain into a cocktail glass. This bright, tart cocktail has a sweet, silky mouthfeel and a slightly bitter finish that makes this literature fan think sentimentally of the troubled author Fitzgerald’s life and times – so different from those of his ancestor but equally inherently American.

Black Dog Flag-Pinterest

Being a free canine spirit, the GrogDog doesn’t appreciate having a “master”. Knowing a master, however – someone with a lifelong dedication to acquiring knowledge about a specific topic – is an entirely different proposition. Masters of knowledge not only teach, but engage, and are passionate about sharing their interest with others. When the topic is liquor, and the sharing adds to the sum total of happiness in the world, it’s the Master who’s earned a good scratch behind the ears and a most excellent job as an expert drinker.

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham:

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham: “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” (1789)

I met such a master this week at a tasting event at Petite Cellars (Ellicott City, Md.). Nick Crutchfield is a Master of Whisky with Diageo, “the world’s leading premium drinks business“. The topic was bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys (and ryes), and Nick spoke about the resurgent American “brown spirits” with the reverence and delight of a man who has found his true calling.

The nice folks at Petite Cellars put together an excellent written introduction to bourbon and whiskey for their guests, which described their history and definitions, processes, and ingredients and equipment used in making whiskey (or whisky). After a brief introduction to the differences between bourbon, whiskey, and rye (which involve much more than nomenclature), we tasted, learned about, and compared six spirits, each with a distinctly different character: IW Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon, George Dickel No. 12 Sour Mash, George Dickel 9 Year Petite Cellars Single Barrel, Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon, Bulleit Bourbon Rye, and Orphan Barrel Forged Oak.

As dedicated GrogDogBlog readers know, I advocate taking the time to learn not only what you like to drink, but why you may like a particular flavor profile, and how to use that knowledge to enhance your overall pleasure in drinking. Whiskey Master Nick echoed the GrogDog’s drinking philosophy when he recommended people drink good liquor for “the escapism of that first sip”. This is why I highly recommend attending a tasting of your favorite spirit at your local liquor retailer. Not only will you learn a lot about the spirit in general and have a chance to ask questions of a master (or at least a very knowledgeable expert), but you’ll have an opportunity to taste different variations side by side for a reasonable price. The knowledge you will gain about your own preferences can save your happy hour or salvage a bad day. It can also help you be attentive to the preferences of friends, family, and party guests who may discover a new cocktail experience from your carefully selected gift or well stocked bar – thus increasing the sum total of happiness in your inner circle. That’s always a good thing!

Keep in mind that just because they work for a specific company doesn’t mean the experts won’t give you good advice, or honest assessments of particular brands or products. Mr. Crutchfield spent many months in formal, hands-on training at Diageo’s properties to learn the histories and nuances of each product, how they are made, why they are made that way – and getting to know the people who make them. (George Dickel, for example, has about 30 employees total, and no plans to get bigger; Bulleit is dedicated to sustainable, zero-impact production.) His insights have made my drinking experiences more enjoyable, and I’ll be less apt to judge a bottle by its branding now that I know more about how it’s produced and (most important) how it tastes.

Dog PhilosopherMany thanks to Whiskey Master Nick Crutchfield and Petite Cellars for a fun and informative event!

p.s. Petite Cellars is a candy store for cocktail culturists (or cultists, if you prefer). They have a huge selection of small batch spirits, craft beer, and fine wine, along with hard-to-find liqueurs, premium mixers, unusual bitters, and an impressive number of miniatures so you can try out a new cocktail or spirit before investing in 750ml. The owner and staff couldn’t have been more accommodating of their tasting guests, and laid out a generous charcuterie/ cheese plate to accompany the drinks. They clearly care about giving their customers a good experience, from the attractive decor to the sensible layout and knowledgeable staff. As an extra added bonus, Petite Cellars also offers a growler program for craft beers, a selection of cigars, and gift-boxed handmade chocolates, which are not only beautiful but decadently delicious. If you’re in the Central Maryland area and love craft cocktails, go there!

Friday night is the GrogDog’s favorite unwinding night of the week – an ideal evening for themed drinking at home to kick off the weekend without incurring a large bar tab or a massive hangover. (Saturday is chore day, and chores aren’t nearly as much fun to do with a pounding head and roiling stomach.)

A booze hound, and young Joan Crawford

As a fan of the classic cocktail and longtime student of the Prohibition era (and the Jazz Age that preceded it), I have many recipes to build personal theme nights around, but I keep coming back to the Charleston – the drink, the dance, and the exuberant attitude that post-WWI America exported to the world.

The Charleston

The Charleston

The Charleston cocktail is 1 part London dry gin, 1 part kirsch, 1 part maraschino liqueur, 1 part sweet vermouth, and 1 part dry vermouth. Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

While you’re enjoying your drink – from a cocktail glass or the flask tucked discreetly under your garter – put on a little hot jazz and try a few steps of the Charleston!

The Charleston

The Charleston

The Charleston is an energetic dance performed to a ragtime rhythm, made popular in the 1923 Broadway musical “Runnin’ Wild”. The Charleston is easy to learn and a fun way to work off the cocktail calories. (Fans of the 1959 film Some Like It Hot, set in the 1920s, will remember Marilyn Monroe performing the song “Runnin’ Wild” with band mates Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, who perform in drag as part of the dance band Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators.)

Other popular 1920s dances included the Black Bottom and the Shimmy (or Shimmie). For some very danceable (modern) performances of popular Jazz Age songs, check out the Hot Sardines on iTunes. (You can get a taste of their style in this irresistible video.)

Rudolph Valentino as The Sheik

Rudolph Valentino as The Sheik

If you’re not feeling that energetic, stir up your Charleston cocktail and put on one of the era-defining movies that thrilled postwar audiences with daring dress, drinking, and debauchery, like The ‘It’ Girl starring Clara Bow, or The Sheik starring Rudolph Valentino. Both films (and many more silents and early talkies) have been nicely restored and are available for purchase or download.

So don’t be a Mrs. Grundy! Stir up some giggle water and make some whoopee some Friday night – creating your own 1920s cocktail theme night is the bee’s knees!

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The GrogDog, if you don’t mind my sharing, tends to enthusiastically embrace certain cultural memes. The rediscovery and resurgence of cocktails and cocktail culture, for one. (The revival of grown-ups’ Chuck Taylors for another.) But I’ve been indulging in alcoholic serendipity, following my own rambling, tipsy path, with – aside from the research I do for this blog – little discipline or objective other than enjoyment.

Image credit: furever.ca

Image credit: furever.ca

My natural curiosity and the expanding cocktail zeitgeist recently brought together two of my deep natural interests: drinking well and learning how they did things back when people did them right.

This week I was introduced to the man who is largely the reason we are all taking the mixed drink seriously again: David Wondrich. He holds a PhD in comparative literature (among many other accomplishments), and has applied his academic gifts to researching and writing about cocktails – specifically, about the cocktail as a uniquely American art form. How did I not know this until now? I can’t really

Squirrel!

OK, so that’s why I’ve never heard of David Wondrich before this week, when MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviewed him as part of the cable channel’s “7 Days of Genius” programming. But you can bet I’ll be curling up on a cushion with his books very soon!