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Lewis Bag

Before the days of 'pebble' or 'nugget' ice (those perfect little pellets you see in cocktails that once called for crushed ice) there was... well, actual crushed ice. 

Today, we're taking it back to to the 19th century where the Lewis Bag was a staple in almost every cocktail bar. It's a sturdy canvas bag with an accompanying wooden mallet. You fill the bag with cubes of ice and wack the hell out of it with the mallet until you've achieved your desired size and consistency of crushed ice. 

The canvas bag has advantages of both durability and water absorption, leaving you with relatively dry crushed ice for your cocktails. Over do it with the mallet and you'll probably end up with shaved ice, but with a little practice you'll be making proper juleps, cobblers, and swizzles in no time. 

While the Lewis Bag is rarely used in modern cocktail bars because it isn't totally efficient for large volume drink preparation, it's perfect for the home bartender looking to make exceptional 'crushed ice' style cocktails at home. 

Given our affinity for tiki drinks, we grabbed our new Bull in China Lewis Bag and made ourselves a Mai Tai. Recipe below!

MAI TAI

3/4 oz lime juice

3/8 oz orgeat 

3/8 oz curacao

1 oz jamaican rum

1 oz agricole rhum 

Combine ingredients in a small shaking tin. Dry shake, transfer into a tiki mug (or double rocks glass), and mound with crushed ice. Garnish excessively and enjoy! 

*Adapted from a recipe by Trader Vic 

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4 BOOKS FOR THE UP-AND-COMING BARTENDER

I'm often asked, "what are a couple of books you'd recommend if I'm just learning to bartend?"

While there are countless books available for the novice (and advanced) bartender, it's important to consider what you'd like to get out of reading these books -- after all, mixing drinks is a skill acquired more by doing, and less by reading, although both can be worthwhile. When starting out, few things will take you further then some technique, an understanding of the classics, and a history of the sport. 

I'll start near the beginning. In 1862, Jerry Thomas wrote a book called How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant's Companion. It's largely regarded as the first printed bartender's guide for mixing all types of punches, juleps, sours, toddies, cocktails, and more. 

You can easily get a reprint and should own one as a historical reference. Many a great bartender have combed though the book adapting nearly every recipe for the modern palate along the way. There are some better resources for how to actually execute a gin sour, but you should know that Jerry Thomas wrote it down first -- in 1862.  

1. 'How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant's Companion', Jerry Thomas, 1862

While Thomas' book is essentially a very early recipe guide, it gives us little to work with in terms of history. Thankfully, cocktail historian David Wondrich wrote an incredibly well researched book that essentially chronicles the life and times of the "Professor" Jerry Thomas.

When learning to mix drinks, you'll want to have a sense of time and place as to where it all began, and this book will set that scene. Trust me, you'll wish you could be transported to San Fransisco and then back to Manhattan all to watch the Professor pour a liquid stream of fire as you sip his famous Blue Blazer. It turns out the Professor was both a showman and a pioneer in his own right. 

2. 'Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar

I should mention that we don't arrive at the famous 'Prohibition era' until nearly 60 years after Thomas first wrote How to Mix Drinks, but we'll jump there none the less. By the early 1900s, tending bar was a respected career and the cocktail was uniquely American. 

However, The Volstead Act (prohibition) left many bartenders jobless. Some left the States to work in Europe and Cuba, while others posted up in Speakeasies across America. Harry Craddock, a UK born bartender working in the States, went back to London where he took over as the head barman at The American Bar at the Savoy Hotel.

Durning his tenure at the Savoy, Craddock wrote what is largely regarded as one of the most thorough recipe books for mixing American-style cocktails. It's a bit of an encyclopedia in length, which makes it the perfect industry standard reference book for Prohibition era drinks. So many vintage cocktails have resurfaced due to the popularity of this book and have joined the ranks of the Classics.

The Alaska cocktail, one of the first recipes in the book, appears in print several times prior to the 1930 release of The Savoy Cocktail Book. The earliest reference I can find is in the 1914 book, DRINKS, by Jacques Straub, who calls for a dash of orange in his version of the Alaska. Craddock omits the orange bitters. Why? I don't know, but every other recipe I can find calls for them so I use them. But, what I love about Craddock's version of the Alaska is the 3:1 balance of gin and yellow chartreuse -- so I use that too. 

ALASKA

  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • 3/4 oz yellow chartreuse
  • 2 1/4 oz gin

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice, stir, and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist. 

3. The Savoy Cocktail Book, Harry Craddock, 1930

Dale Degroff is largely credited with reviving the profession of bartending in the late 1990s, but in my opinion (and the opinion of many others), it's the late Sasha Petraske who nearly perfected it. Sasha opened Milk & Honey in 1999 with attention placed on everything from quality spirits, fresh ingredients, accurate measurements, hand cut ice, impeccable service standards, and as for the menu -- bartender's choice.

Regarding Cocktails is a collection of M&H family recipes shared by Sasha's wife and colleagues - many of whom have gone on to open their own bars using Sasha's set of best practices. Not only will you learn a thing or two about making good drinks, you'll get a small glimpse into a little bar that inspired so many, including myself. 

4. 'Regarding Cocktails', Sasha Petraske & Georgette Moger-Petraske, 2016

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PISCOLOGÍA

Whenever I score a new bottle of booze, I always start with a couple of classics to see how an unfamiliar brand holds up in a few familiar cocktails. When this bottle of Piscología arrived, I knew the first two cocktails I had to try were the timeless Pisco Sour and San Francisco staple, Pisco Punch. 

In short, Pisco is Peruvian grape brandy (although it can also be from Chile, but we'll save that for another day). Pisco is a wonderfully versatile spirit and we love Piscología for its floral nose and tropical finish -- think ripe banana and pecan. 

In his 1951 book, The South American Gentleman's Companion, Charles H. Baker begins his chapter on the Pisco Sour by stating, "Now for the Internationally famous Pisco Brandy Sour, which is by long odds South America's most famous and original mixed drink and founded on Pisco Brandy from Peru."

He goes on to share his recipe for the iconic drink and even mentions "spotting the foamy surface [of the cocktail] with 5 - 7 drops of Angostura bitters, which was the finishing touch put-on by the talented bar-maestro of the wonderful and luxurious Lima Country Club."

We're shaking our go-to adaptation of the recipe below! 

PISCO SOUR

  • 1 egg white
  • 3/4 oz lemon & lime juice (combined)
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup
  • 2 oz Piscologia 

*Combine ingredients in a shaking tin. Dry shake (without ice), add ice, shake and strain into a chilled sour glass. Garnish with 5 drops of Angostura bitters.

Pisco had made it's way to San Francisco by the 1849 Gold Rush, largely by South American trade ships. Duncan Nicol, owner of the Bank Exchange & Billiard Saloon in San Francisco, is credited as the creator of the famous Pisco Punch. Unfortunately the Bank Exchange closed in 1919 due to Prohibition and Nicols is said to have taken the original recipe to his grave.

To this day, like many of the classics, it's a largely debated drink, and while we're not giving out our house recipe for this one, the original is said to have consisted of Pisco brandy, pineapple, lime, sugar, gum arabic, and distilled water. The punch was so strong that one writer of the day wrote “it tastes like lemonade but comes back with the kick of a roped steer.” Good luck! 

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