Vintage Books and Cocktails

As those who listened to our first podcast of the New Year may remember, my resolution this year was to drink more. Not just in quantity mind you, but in quality. In that regard (and as Chairman of the League of Gentlemen Adventurers Historical Society), I have sought out a book written in 1939 by a man who I am convinced was a League member in his day. His name was Charles H. Baker, Jr. and he was one of the true cocktail connoisseurs. His book, Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask, is the chronicle of a trip through exotic locales via cocktail recipes. Perhaps it is because it was written so soon after The Noble Experiment, but every page of this book conveys a love and appreciation for the cocktail. So it is with great pleasure that I announce that I have finally secured a copy for the LGA Curios Cabinet.

So what makes this book different from other cocktail recipe books out there? Quotes like this one from the Foreword:

“One comfortable fact gleaned from travel in far countries was that regardless of race, creed or inner metabolisms, mankind has always created varying forms of stimulant liquid – each after his own kind. Prohibitions and nations and kings depart, but origin of such pleasant fluid finds constant source.”

The book is a 200 hundred page treasure trove of information about cocktails of the era. Perhaps due to it being written not long after the end of The Noble Experiment, this book contains a joy in drinking not often found in recipe books. It lists not only old and oft forgotten drinks, but (like any good LGA drinking night) also goes into stories around the author’s experiences with them.

“FIRPO’S BALLON COCKTAIL, the Calcutta Classic

Our college mate C. Byron Spofford, at the time American Commercial Attaché in Calcutta for all of India, Burma and Ceylon, once gave a dinner celebrating the farewell of a very opinionated pair of men wished in him from Russia Famine Relief Headquarters by Herbert Hoover. We seem to recall their names as being Sabine and Renshaw, but that doesn’t matter – it didn’t then, and it certainly doesn’t now. The thing that does matter is that Firpo mixed us a special round of Balloons – named because the 5th one consumed is guaranteed to set us bobbing about up under the ceiling.”

Other recipes have insights about the drink or life in general.

“BALAKLAVA SPECIAL No. II, when Ladies Are Present

Just why handsome women prefer sweet and creamy cocktails has always troubled us, but they do; and anyway a lot of things about handsome ladies have troubled us, so why get tweaky about the business at this late date?
…And for heaven’s sweet sake don’t think this snake-in-the-grass drink is a harmless and gentle lady’s affair just because it has cream in it!”

Beyond the recipes, the book also makes several appeals for the manner in which cocktails are served. From drink temperatures to glass sizes, this book really does touch on all things cocktail.

“AN EARNEST PLEA for Three Meticulous Observances in the Construction of any Mixed Drink – and Especially that of the Cocktail

1. Measure accurately, and don’t be betrayed by that insidious temptation to pour with a “heavy jigger.” It is undeniable hospitality to wish guests to get their amply share of spirits, but don’t force the amount. More drinks are spoiled through being too strong that being too weak.

2. Serve cold drinks arctic cold. Chill bottles and glasses, to speed up the process… Serve hot drinks steaming hot… Compromise on either of these events is merely bargaining with fault and disaster.

3. If there are guests present who appreciate decent cocktails, let’s do the mixing ourself. The amateur will always take infinitely more pains than any houseboy or butler. Trust him for such usual fare as whisky-and-soda, the Tom Collins, and so on. They are easy. But the crisp pungency of a proven cocktail demands infinite care in observance of the simple mixing requirements. It is such a brief step from excellence to mediocrity.

4. Don’t try and make decent cocktails out of cheap, briefly aged liquors. Stick to highballs, or else do the job up right. We can no more build a fine cocktail on dollar gin that Whistler could paint his mother’s portrait with barn paint.”

Consider this my new bible on the subject of all things cocktail. I look forward to selecting concoctions I’ve never heard of from the book and trying them out myself. In closing, I leave you with one final quote from Charles Baker, Jr. himself:

“We are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million lives as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims.”

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