Lauren Clark is a freelance drinks journalist in Boston. She chronicles the city’s drinking landscape at Drink Boston.
Anyone who thinks media coverage of bartenders and cocktails is part of some new trend did not attend this morning’s panel Jerry’s Kids: The Life, Drinks and Legacy of Professor Jerry Thomas. (Check out a blow-by-blow post on this session by Rick Stutz of Kaiser Penguin.) How did the outsized personalities of Jerry “The Professor” Thomas and William “The Only William” Schmidt become widely known and define the bartending profession in the mid- to late 1800s? Because those guys worked in bars popular with journalists. And journalists, being boozehounds, trumpeted the talents of these men, and printed some of their cocktail recipes, in their broadsheets. There is even speculation that some of Schmidt’s journalist buddies helped him pen his book The Flowing Bowl. There you have it: media coverage has been elevating the careers of bartenders from day one.
This afternoon, I attended the overflowing session The Three Amigos: The Three Most Important Drinks You Need to Know and Why. Amid a lot of lively banter, Simon Ford of Plymouth Gin, bartender-consultants Wayne Collins and Jason Crawley, and Phil Ward of NYC’s Death & Co., conveyed the secret of mixology: every drink in the world derives from one of seven types of old-time concoction: punches, milk punches, slings, cocktails, sours, cobblers and highballs. (Meanwhile, the Three “important” Amigos are, I think, punches, cocktails and sours.) Even drinks that are seemingly hard to classify can be wedged into these notches. Bloody Mary? Well, that’s spirit, fruit and spices: punch. Gin and Tonic — highball, you say? Try cocktail: spirit, sugar (in the tonic), water and bitters (again, the quinine in the tonic).
My favorite part of the panel was when Jason was talking about variations on the cocktail and mentioned the Barbara West (as in “add a little sherry and you have a Barbara West”). That happens to be not only a great cocktail, but my namesake in the Boston chapter of Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails.