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cocktail partyThe Cocktail: The Noble But Not Always Sobering Art of Mixology
by Marjorie Dorfman

Why is a zombie stirred and swallowed rather than avoided on a dark deserted highway? Does Brandy Alexander have a royal birthright and why is a grasshopper green? These and other sober issues will be touched upon below or at eye level, if you prefer.

When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.    – Henny Youngman

If you are like most people, you’ve probably sipped Martinis and nursed a few Margaritas and Bloody Marys during the cocktail loungey moments in your lifetime. To make matters worse, you’ve probably done so without giving even a thought to the rich history and varied cultures that have rendered the cocktail into such an inspiration to stylish drinkers world wide. The cinema has always glamorized our debaucheries in its own subtle way. James Bond elevated the mystique of the Martini just as Paul Henried romanticized smoking when he lit those two cigarettes in the tropical moonlight and handed one to Bette Davis in Now, Voyageur. Much of James Bond’s ability to woo women stems from his cultural connection to the Vodka Martini, which is shaken and not stirred. (Part of it also comes from his being behind the wheel of his classy and speedy Astin Martin, but let’s not get picky.) It is interesting to note, however, that Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, connects his character with the drink, but never with the effects of its excess.

mixed drink But where did the word cocktail come from? No one really knows. Its true origin is shrouded in the mystery of fable and urban myths and may never come to light. Many tales abound, but one of the best known occurs in 1779 when Betsy Flanagan, whose husband was killed in The American Revolution, opened an inn near Yorktown that was frequented by American and French soldiers. An English chicken farmer lived nearby, prompting Betsy to promise her customers she would serve them a feast of roasted chicken. Her guests mocked her until one evening she presented them with a lavish meal of chicken, stolen from her English neighbor. When the meal was over, Betsy moved her guests to the bar, where she served drinks decorated with the tail-feathers from the chickens amid calls for "more cocktails".

Whatever the truth, it is most likely that cocktails are an American tradition. Some argue that residents of Central or South America discovered them centuries ago, while others claim that they originated in Elizabethan England. It is certain, however, that the Prohibition Era in America was a tremendous catalyst in their growth and popularity. Mixed drinks disguised the poor taste of the low-grade illegal spirits being produced in the hills and basements of the United States. Cocktails became all the rage in the 1920s. They then traveled (hopefully sober) across the Atlantic to Great Britain. Ironically, the drinks that were made popular by the gangsters and hoodlums of America became the toasts of the "Bright Young Things" in England during the Roaring Twenties. One can only wonder how crusty old Al "Scarface" Capone would have fared among the Anglican elite! (He probably could have held his own unless Elliot Ness was invited to the same cocktail party!)

The study of the cocktail is inter-connected with the liquor from which its is mixed. One can not isolate the Margarita from tequila just as one would not consider separating icebergs from the sinking of the Titanic. Perhaps the truth about the Margarita’s beginnings will always be a bit clouded both by the misty passage of time and the deterioration of not so sober memory. The most popular claim originates in 1948. A Dallas socialite named Margarita Sames hosted a poolside Christmas party at her vacation home in Acapulco, Mexico. As a lark, she got behind the bar to see what concoctions she could invent and serve her party guests. She mixed three parts tequila with one part Cointreau and one part lime. Her guests loved it and after they recovered, the drink quickly traveled through the elite society of Dallas and on to Hollywood under the name of the lady who created it.
cocktail drinks
There is also the story of a showgirl named Marjorie King who had an allergy to alcohol and for some reason could only drink tequila. In 1938, while visiting the Rancho Del Gloria Bar in Rosarita Beach, Mexico, she asked one of the bartenders to mix her a cocktail rather than just taking a shot. The bartender, Danny Herrera, poured tequila over shaved ice and then added lemon and triple sec. He translated Marjorie’s name into Spanish and thus the name, Margarita. I like this version best, but of course it has nothing to do with the fact that my name is Marjorie also. Who knows, darling? In all the cocktail bars of the world all of the drinkers are asking the same question as they sip their custom made concoctions: Who cares?

Regardless of its history, the Margarita has developed into one of the most popular cocktails of all time. There are many different versions with fruit; such as strawberry, peach and watermelon. And let’s not forget the beautiful Blue Margarita made with blue caracao. It can be served frozen or on the rocks (just like most vegetables). Some types require the lining of the rim of the glass with salt, others with sugar or nothing at all. It is not only popular in bars and restaurants, but also in the home. The mysterious drink always seems to have a new version waiting somewhere in the wings. Still, a margarita is nothing without its classic ingredient, tequila.

Tequila was initially a ritual beverage produced by religious authorities long before the Spanish came to Mexico in the l6th century. At that time, they started fermenting agave plants and in 1656 the town of Tequila was founded. (They could not elect a sheriff or write a charter because no one was ever sober enough to do so.) During the 18th century, Jose Cuervo became the first man to commercialize tequila with legal rights from the Spanish government. Tequila is produced by the Blue Agave plant (century plant), and, according to Mexican law, must always contain a minimum of 51% Blue Agave. There is a 100% Agave tequila made, but the government must inspect it before it is shipped. Most Blue Agave plants that are used for tequila are produced in the state of Jalisco. Mexican law doesn’t require aging, but Gold Tequila usually is aged in white oak casks for about 3 years and Tequila Anejo for at least one year. There are 3 basic kinds: Gold Tequila, Tequila Anejo and White Tequila.

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food humor"Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks."
Lin Yutang
The Importance of Living, 1937

"Talk of Joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread
. . . there may be."

David Grayson
Adventures in Contentment, 1907

Don't miss this excellent book:

The Bartender's Companion
by Robert Plotkin

The Bartender's Companion

The 4th edition of this creative drink recipe guide that includes over 2,600 delicious drink recipes, alphabetically listed and indexed by drink type and main ingredient. Also included are reviews of 126 of the hottest liquors and liqueurs on the market today.

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