One thing about me is that I like collecting items. I like to buy physical books and keep them as trophies after reading them because I need that personal validation in my life. Recently, I took all of my cocktail books to the bar and started a library in the office for the staff with a sign-out sheet and everything. I received a text recently from one of my bartenders who commented on one of these books, a reprinting of Bar La Florida Cocktails from 1935.
“Dude, I’ve been reading the El Floridita cocktail book tonight, and there’s some crazy stuff in there.”
In response, I mentioned at some point while I rambled on for far too long that I very much enjoy browsing through old cocktail books. I never asked myself why it is that I very much enjoy browsing through old cocktail books.
When I finally put thought into this question, it did not take me long to conclude that I love looking through old books simply because the specs are awful. The palates were so different, and the flavor of products would certainly have been vastly different from modern expressions. More times than not in these old prohibition era books, you can find some wild and exciting flavor combinations from a bygone age. The only justifiable thing to do in this case would be to recreate and make some of these drinks palatable in a modern sense. Doing so makes me appreciate the classics and their lesser-known comrades from way back when.
Everything has been infused.
Everything has been barrel-aged (except, of course, for a Cosmo).
Everything has been smoked.
Everything has been fat washed (hopefully not that Cosmo we definitely never put in a barrel).
In a time when everything has seemingly been done, you still have the opportunity to dig up something interesting from the 1900s to make your own. You can help this cocktail evolve. You learn this cocktail’s story then help tell it. I realized the first time someone complimented an Old Fashioned or something similar I presented to them as “the best they’ve ever had” that there are three ways to make drinks: incorrect, adequate, or delicious.
Called a Mexican Firing Squad, this pomegranate margarita was the first cocktail I ever made “my own.” Not only is the Firing Squad still on the menu at The Alleycat, but it is one of our best selling as well. This cocktail was first introduced in 1937 to a gentleman named Charles Baker at La Cucaracha Bar in Mexico City. The world was first introduced to this cocktail a few years later in a volume of The Gentleman’s Companion, written by Mr. Baker. I was introduced to this cocktail thanks to a menu at a restaurant that I was working in 2015 or so. If my memory serves me correctly, the house build at this restaurant was as follows:
It was an immediate crowd-pleaser. I used this drink often over the years at different places yielding generally favorable receptions. I was tinkering with it all the while.
If we look in the modern-day bartender’s bible, or what is sometimes referred to as The PDT Cocktail Book, the Firing Squad was made a little differently. The house build at the legendary NYC speakeasy caught my eye. Meehan and the company opted to serve this with a bit of heat by replacing the Angostura with Hellfire Tincture. Interesting. But what did the initial concoction that Charles Baker would have received taste like? The Gentleman’s Companion would have the answer:
“Take two jiggers of tequila … add the juice of two small limes, 1½ or 2 tsp of grenadine or plain Gomme syrup. Add two dashes of Angostura Bitters.”
No heat or spice here. Additionally, the full description sounds very tiki to me, but this cocktail has the early warning signs of a Margarita at the end of the day. Considering one of the most common guest requests I receive is “something spicy with tequila,” I gravitated to putting some fire into this tried and true Firing Squad foundation. Thanks to a half-ounce worth of assistance from St. George Green Chile Vodka from California, I incorporated a touch of heat in the form of green chile coupled with three healthy dashes of Angostura. Not to toot my own horn, considering I was not the one who conceived or even rediscovered this drink, but my reiteration is mighty delicious.
This is my favorite part about bartending. This is the one aspect I love about being a bartender more than anything else. Regardless if we are talking about a hobby or a profession, you need that one thing you can come back to and be reminded of why it is that you initially loved whatever it is that you do. The history and evolution of cocktails are that for me. Even if it seems insignificant, from time to time, this is all the motivation I need to keep striving. Familiarizing ourselves with what was done in a time before us is integral to what we are capable of doing going forward. This is why I love bartending. This is the reason I continue to absolutely love what I do for a living.