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The Root: Where it all began

September 11, 2013 by Russ

Especially that one on the right.

I feel that the name of this fancy thing bears some explanation.  It also seems like a good place to start filling up all this empty space!  First, some history:

My lovely wife, Elyn, and I began our amateur explorations into cocktails when we were just dating.  It was about 4 years ago,  and we were eager to explore this boozy world together.  We would wander into liquor stores and get things that looked pretty or interesting or both.  I’d been thinking of cocktails in terms of what I’d had thus far (simple highballs, White Russians, and a few unnaturally colored mixtures at local bars), and shopped accordingly.

Pama, anyone?

I considered surrounding this set with mini-bottles, but a shot glass required less dusting.

We armed ourselves with a few mass-market cocktail recipe books and tried to make due with what we could find.  We learned our way with a few decent liqueurs, a few affordable base spirits, but not a lot of citrus or bitters and even less sense of where to go next.  Then the holidays rolled around and Elyn picked up a book for me that changed everything: Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh.

I pored over every recipe and each story on our winter vacation, swept along by the sudden avalanche of perspective.  I’d been thinking of liquor, as well as cocktails, in very shallow terms.  Here, there was history!  There were stories behind every drink!  There was humor and levity right alongside a very tangible sense of… what?  Importance?  Substance?  The word I came to realize was written into each page and explanation was significance.  Reading that book made me feel the significance of these drinks.

From there, we read Imbibe by the excellent David Wondrich, and our understanding grew and deepened.  I can’t speak for Elyn, but personally I felt like I’d found a period of history that resonated with my tastes; namely, from the days of punch through Prohibition is where I think my palate belongs.

Especially that one on the right.

A formidable trio of resources.

Don’t get me wrong, I still completely enjoy creations more recent than 1933.  But there is a simplicity and elegance to those old recipes.  Just as I like learning the roots of words and watching How It’s Made, I really think you can taste the origins of modern drinks in those old recipes.  In this fellow’s opinion, that is the right kind of significant drinkin’.


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