Cocktails: Mixing it up

>Joe Raucci used to see Pink Squirrels on the job. Longtime local bartender Raucci wasn’t hitting th

Joe Raucci used to see Pink Squirrels on the job.

Raucci wasn’t hitting the sauce. He was pouring it.

Longtime local bartender Joe mixes an ounce of creme de almond, an ounce of creme de cacao, an ounce of Half and Half and combines the flavors with crushed ice for a creamy, nutty-flavored frozen drink popular with women and squirrel lovers.

Raucci and others in the beverage assembly line know Pink Squirrels and other drinks have made a splash in the vocabulary: Zombie, White Russian, Tom and Jerry, Harvey Wallbanger, Sidecar and Rob Roy all have colorful histories. They also say drinks, like fashions and hairstyles, are only popular for a limited time.

Rob Roys are still around, popular with seasoned connoisseurs of the cocktail hour.

According to Difford’s Encyclopedia of Cocktails, a 2009 reference book that includes 2,600 drink recipes, the Rob Roy was created in 1894 at New York’s famous hotel, the Waldorf-Astoria. Mixed with Scotch, sweet vermouth, aromatic bitters and Maraschino syrup, it was named after a then-popular Broadway show.

Author Simon Difford offers other origins:

— Blue Hawaii — blue curacao liqueur, pineapple and lime juices, sugar syrup and rum — was created at Henry Kaiser’s Hawaiian Village Hotel in Oahu, Hawaii, in 1957. It was named after the hit song in the 1937 Bing Crosby movie “Waikiki Wedding.”

— Brandy Alexander — cognac, brown and white creme liqueurs, heavy cream and milk — is an after-dinner drink created before 1930 and based on the original, gin-based Alexander.

— Hurricane — dark rum, passion fruit syrup, fresh lemon juice — became famous in 1939 when it was served at the Hurricane Bar in New York City during the World’s Fair.

— Gibson — a dry martini made with dry vermouth and dry gin and garnished with two cocktail onions — has a couple origins. One beginning puts artist Charles Dana Gibson into the picture. Gibson’s pen-and-ink illustrations of young women — Gibson Girls — were popular from the 1890s into the 1930s. The double order of onions is believed to be a sly nod to the curvy models.

— Tom and Jerry — egg white, egg yolk, golden rum, cognac, sugar syrup, ground cloves, ground cinnamon and boiling water — has been around since the early 1800s. It was attributed to Jerry Thomas and billed as a great cold weather drink.

‘End of an era’

Some drinks may be drying up. Raucci, who is shaking and stirring at Georgio’s Ritz Terrace on Van Vranken Avenue in Schenectady, said Pink Squirrels are down and out as popular libations. So are bunches of other drinks with clever calling cards that were once the toast of nightlife.

“It’s the end of an era down here,” said the affable Raucci, 58, who lives in Saratoga County. “I would say Old Fashioneds will be gone in 10 years. Manhattans will be gone in 15 years. Only people who are 70 years old drink them.”

An Old Fashioned is a blend of fruit, sugar, bitters, club soda and bourbon and puts Scotch or rye in the starring role. It’s been around since the late 1800s. “Young people don’t drink them,” said Raucci, who has been mixing drinks since the early 1970s and has worked in Saratoga Springs and Schenectady, at places like the Gideon Putnam Hotel, Gaffney’s, Joe Collins’ restaurant and Sage’s Casa 13. “Guys in their 40s don’t know what they are.”

Raucci said Pink Squirrels and Grasshoppers – named for their pink and green colors, respectively — make comebacks on holidays. Especially Easter. “A Jack Rose is an applejack sour with grenadine that was popular years ago,” Raucci said. “Applejack, I don’t think it even exists anymore.”

People used to gulp Jack Roses during the early 1920s. In addition to showing up in bars of the era, the drink also made an appearance in Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel, “The Sun Also Rises.”

A Seven and Seven is easy to figure out, for people who know their swizzle sticks; a glass of 7-Up is jazzed up with a few shots of Seagram’s Seven Crown whiskey. “When people order a highball, that’s what they want,” Raucci said. “You give them a Seven and Seven.”

Fading fame

Raucci said cocktails with funky names often started in famous hotels or restaurants like the old Ciro’s in West Hollywood and the former Toots Shor’s in Manhattan.

“A guy could create a drink in there and it would get famous because of the clientele,” Raucci said. “These guys would create the drink because Bogart and those guys all hung out in there and a drink would get famous. If I make a drink, it’s not going to get famous in Schenectady or at Sage’s Casa 13.”

Flirtatious drinks

Like Raucci, Dan Batto knows the classics. Like the Brandy Alexander and Pink Lady. “You’re not going to make them at the club,” said Batto, director of the Northeast Bartenders School in Clifton Park. “You’ll be making them at the country club.”

New bartenders are not stuck in the past; they’ll learn measures for a Rusty Nail and a Gimlet, but also get the plans for flavors of the day like Cosmopolitan and mint-friendly Mojito. “The drinks today you’ll find are more flirtatious in nature than they were back in the day,” Batto said. “Now it seems they create a drink around a clever name.”

Used to be the drink came first. Bartenders kicked around the name later.

A classic like the Manhattan, the common story is it was originated by a bartender at a hotel in New York City called the Manhattan Club,” Batto said. “They were having an event for a presidential candidate, they wanted to have something special so they created a drink called the Manhattan.”

Batto said some drinks get more than one back story. He’s heard a couple about the 1970s sensation, the Harvey Wallbanger, and its vodka-orange juice-Galliano trio.

“I always remembered this story because it made sense,” Batto said. “I saw this in an industry magazine. He was a bartender in Cape Cod, in Provincetown. He was tending bar and there was a storm coming in off the ocean. The sign for the bar was a big wooden anchor. The guy’s making a screwdriver (vodka and orange juice) and as he’s finishing it, the anchor sign hit the wall with such force it knocked a bottle of Galliano — it’s a tall, narrow bottle — forward. Harvey, the bartender, reached for the bottle and got it before it hit the ground, but people in the bar said ‘Harvey, the gods are telling you to put in the Galliano.’ And that’s how Harvey Wallbanger started.”

The Sidecar came in with World War I. Batto said an Army officer stationed in France used to travel to his favorite bistro in a motorcycle sidecar. He always ordered French brandy bolstered with shots of Cointreau orange liqueur and fresh lemon juice. The bartender referred to the customer as the ‘sidecar guy,’ and the designation began to identify the Army man’s favorite vice.

Missing something

Batto is not impressed with the flavored martinis currently in with the in-crowd.

“All those martini drinks with the flavored vodkas, the only thing they have in common is the glass,” he said. “They’re served in a classic martini glass, but none of the new Martinis have any vermouth at all.”

Batto said a Cosmopolitan, one of happy hour’s current favorites, was devised by a Miami bartender who wanted to help her female customers look sharp after hours. The bar woman learned the ladies loved being seen with a martini glass — but didn’t like the high-octane alcohol taste.

“What she did was make a drink that was popular at the time — a Kamikaze — and added cranberry juice to make it a pretty pink,” Batto said.

The Cosmo was served in a martini glass. “Women liked drinking it,” Batto said. “They could not only look sophisticated and cool, they also liked the flavor.”

The drink also became a pop culture darling when writers from the HBO television comedy “Sex and the City” made Cosmopolitans the drink of choice for Carrie Bradshaw and her three metro-minded friends.

Catching on

Bartenders cannot patent creations that catch on, so there may not be financial windfalls. But Batto said if the taste becomes a sensation, word will spread. People will want to try the drink at the place it began; bar management will want to keep the bartender on staff, and might even increase salary to keep him or her in place.

Batto said another popular pour for 2010 is the Three Wise Men, which he described as a combination of Johnny Walker Red Scotch whiskey, Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey and Jim Beam bourbon whiskey — with Johnny, Jack and Jim subbing for the Christmas story’s original wise men. A variation is Three Wise Men Go Hunting, which adds a shot of Wild Turkey bourbon.

Jennifer Musella of the Grog Shoppe on Erie Boulevard in Schenectady said sometimes people on the other side of the bar give drinks their names. “We have the Sleeper,” she said. “It’s vodka with grapefruit juice and a little splash of 7-Up. One of our regulars made it up.”

Like Raucci, Musella said the old school drinks are fading.

“Once a month, I’ll make a Rob Roy,” she said. “As long as I’ve been bartending, about 15 years, I’ve never made a Grasshopper. A lot of basics, Captain Morgan and Coke, Jack Daniels and Coke, gins and tonics. And definitely a lot of beer.”

Raucci adds that people don’t come into bars just for Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. A place has to offer other perks to ensure a strong customer base.

“It’s food and entertainment, too,” he said. “And the food and entertainment are great here.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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