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Photo: Chris Shields

Old School

Drinking the old-fashioned way, with help from some 150-year-old recipes

By John Brodeur

 

There’s nothing quite like tasting gin after a burp. At 10 in the morning. On a weekday. At a meeting. How does one explain that kind of thing to their boss?

Thankfully, no explanation is necessary. This morning’s unsavory repercussions are the product of a long evening of drunkitude that the man in charge totally signed-off on—and participated in. Not that that makes the hangover any more comfortable, but still, it’s nice to know someone else is in the same boat.

This is a history lesson of sorts: Today’s is a hangover for the ages, the wrath of 150 years, thanks to an adventurous stroll through cocktail history and a forgiving bartender who was kind enough to play tour guide. After stumbling upon a reprint of Jerry Thomas’ 1862 booze bible The Bartenders Guide or How To Mix Drinks: The Bon-Vivant’s Companion, I became curious. I wanted to find out how 19th-century America got its drink on.

Here’s how: With egg. Peoples got to get their protein somewhere, and in the mid-1800s they got it over the bar. Flip through the pages of Thomas’ book and you’ll find an inexplicable amount of recipes that feature egg, white-only or whole. It seems unimaginable today, what with salmonella being an undesirable side effect, but back in Honest Abe’s day, apparently this was the norm.

So my mission seemed tainted from the get-go. Not many bartenders would even dare to serve up a pink rose fizz (gin, egg, grenadine, lemon juice, cream) or a millionaire cocktail No.2 (gin, absinthe, egg, anisette). In fact, due to certain ingredients being unavailable—our old friend absinthe, another frequently listed component, is not-so-legal these days—and others being more or less antiquated (kümmel, anyone?), the big list was quickly whittled down to a manageable group of recipes deemed “doable.”

The list and I made our way to the bar at Lark Street restaurant DeJohn’s, where bartender Hal Hughes, always a good sport, agreed to accompany me on this journey—although his initial reaction was more along the lines of, “You’re not gonna do this to me all night, are you?”

First up, appropriately, was the Journalist Cocktail. This, er, interesting concoction combined French (dry) and Italian (sweet) vermouth, dry gin, plus dashes of lemon juice, curacao, and bitters. (A more recent variation substitutes triple sec for curacao.) The color was an awful, putrid green, and it smelled about as bad as it looked (gin has that reputation). To taste, it was only slightly more appealing. The gin simply dominated (it also has that reputation) and I had to push it away before long. The green funk made a trip around a table of colleagues, where it got a variety of responses, most of them of the “yuck” variety. “Tastes like grass,” said one. “Minty grass,” added another.

So it was on to something else. Hal perused the list and spotted the Cablegram Highball. A simpler piece of work, this was simply whiskey shaken over ice with powdered sugar and lemon juice then mixed with ginger ale. It was on the sweet side, due in part to the substitution of simple syrup for plain sugar, but it was a welcome palate-cleanser after that first mess. I could see drinking this in the summertime, mid- afternoon, while avoiding things like responsibility and the outside world. This one went fast.

The Straits Sling was next. Another gin drink, this one included lemon juice, cherry nectar, bitters and Benedictine, mixed with seltzer. Hal used his improvisational skills here, subbing B&B (Benedictine and brandy) in lieu of straight Benedictine, and dropping in an extra smidge of cherry juice to improve the flavor. But it’s bright red, never a favorite color for an alcoholic beverage, and the prevailing opinion on the taste from the peanut gallery was “cough-syrupy.”

Next, Hal, having decided that my well-being was forfeitable, tracked down an egg and stirred up an Elk’s Own Cocktail: one egg white, whiskey, port wine, lemon juice and sugar. He labored over the mixture, carefully separating the egg and muddling the lemon slices; when finished, he commented on the suggested presentation: “After all that shit, a pineapple!” The process piqued the interest of several folks at the bar, a few of whom commended me on having the “balls” to try a drink with raw egg in it. Strangely, these same people then asked to sample the drink when my reaction was short of falling down seizing. Gone in no time flat, it really wasn’t half bad. However, the first three had started to take hold by now, so my judgment may have been impaired. The egg flavor reminded me of the milkshakes my mother made when I was a kid, but overall it blended in with the other ingredients.

Speaking of blended, I don’t recall much about the Chinese Cocktail (grenadine, Jamaica rum, bitters, cherry juice, curacao) or the Up-to-Date Cocktail (sherry wine, whiskey, bitters Grand Marnier) besides that they were sweet, and that I was having trouble standing. I was shot, and Hal, who had been sampling each concoction as we went along, was ready to close up shop. I never got a chance to try my intended finale, the Fallen Angel, which I would have tried simply to test the limits of my gag reflex: dry gin, bitters, crème de menthe, and lemon juice.

What, no egg?

jbrodeur@metroland.net


Photo: Chris Shields

Collar City Crawl

One reporter does what it takes (not really) to explore the bar scene in Troy

By Chet Hardin

 

‘We only made it to three bars,” he taunts me. “I thought you were on a crawl!”

Yelling over the din of the one-man acoustic hair-band set, my buddy reminds me that I’m not just out looking for a good time. I am out looking for a story.

That’s right—I be working!

“Working? What do you mean?” another friend asks in between chugs of Busch.

“I am writing an article about a pub crawl in Troy,” I say, pleased with myself. I got this all figured out—drink, work, drink some more.

“I don't get it. What’s the article about?” he asks.

“Pub crawls in Troy,” I shout.

“But you’ve only been to three bars!"

Pub crawls in Troy are a seasonal affair, I offer, trying to make up for my lack of ambition. There are so many good bars, but they are so spread out.

Warm summer nights afford a hop-scotching path from one cluster of bars to another, from the homey North Troy haunts through the all-business downtown posh to the South Troy dives (RIP Mom’s), curling back around to end at Positively 4th Street. But on nights like tonight, unseasonably cold and predictably dreary, each bar is oh-so- difficult to leave. Packed in and warm, who wants to hoof it the five blocks it takes to get to the Ruck when the beer is already flowing?

So skipping the long haul and making for the shortcut from Ale House to P4, with a stop in for a custom hefeweizen at Brown’s, I argue, is a reasonable jaunt.

“Who wants to hear some Poison?” shouts the British guitarist, up in the raised backroom, his bleached-blond, overstyled hair glimmering in the stage lights, the padlock hanging from a chain around his neck an apparent hypnotic trigger for the lone 20-something girl in his audience of six people.

A woman hoots. Most people in the bar ignore him. A little woman throws herself bodily across the lap of my more tolerant friend and asks the four of us if we are “faggots.”

“Why do you want to know?” my buddy snickers.

“Yes we are,” I say, adding, “now go away”

She is a very little woman, not much taller than a yardstick, with a ripped-up ’80s metal look, and she tells us that she wouldn’t care if we were homosexuals. She just wants to make time with a man, she says, as she curls into my friend’s lap.

“There are so many ways to approach a pub crawl in Troy,” a buddy reasons, turning away from the unsightly barroom lust. The Ale House route that we took tonight is good because, well, the Ale House has damn good sandwiches, and a night of drinking demands a strong constitution, but one could just as easily start at Daisy’s.

“Then you can go the Golden Fox, maybe, maybe swinging down to Ryan’s Wake or Jose Malone’s or Brown’s,” my buddy continues. Holmes & Watson makes a starting point, I add. Or for those of us from south-South Troy, there is Mahr’s, or Nature’s if you’re hardcore. But more than once, that final blearily ordered can of $1 beer for the bender-driven clan has been made right here at P4.

P4 has descended into that crazed pitch late-night drinking can bring to life, and more crawlers from other bars are spilling in from the outside cold.

As my buddy orders the sixth round (it is for research, after all), he tells me that if you can drink six beers in one night, you probably have a problem. We have been on a few of these crawls before, and I am planning on a few more before I give up drinking for a life of restraint, but yeah, right now I tell him, I do got a problem. “And that problem is called a deadline!”

chardin@metroland.net


Photo: Chris Shields

Chasing the Booze Away

One reporter explores the desperate world of hangover cures

By David King

 

Let’s assume you actually bothered to wake up. You lost your valiant stand against your favorite bar’s stock of high-grain alcohol last night. And now you are wrestling your crusted eyes open, the stinging morning light punishing you for your commitment to hit every last call you possibly could before collapsing on the nearest available couch. After your eyes adjust, the pain starts to creep in from other places: maybe a headache, perhaps some shakes, that overwhelming feeling that today the world is simply not a place you want to be. And then the spins start, a sense of overwhelming regret and the feeling that if you had a time machine you might just take care of this so called Jack Daniel’s guy before he could start this disastrous chain of events that has left you here half-sober and broken. So what could you have done the night before? If you could hit a button (as in some obnoxious Adam Sandler flick) and turn back time (as in an equally obnoxious Cher song) to just before you passed out, too tired to take off your socks—what could you have done to prevent all this suffering?

No, Mom! (I can hear her dry advice right now.) “The best cure for a hangover is not to not drink at all.” Not drinking is simply not an option—any self-respecting writer like myself could tell you that.

During the course of my thorough investigation, I discovered there are truly only two legitimate schools of thought on hangover prevention. And those schools of thought are represented by two types: the stomach coaters and the obsessive hydrators.

The stomach coaters—those are the ones who feel the need to counteract the beer and booze and their nasty clawing on the stomach with some sort of chow. My vegetarian friend Tom always suggests a can of V8. I suggest to Tom that a can of V8 would do as much to prevent barfing for me as eating for a week at Taco Bell. Other friends of mine have made a habit of breaking in the middle of their binge drinking to slam some greasy burgers or fries from an all-night dive, or that been-on-the-counter-all-day pizza from I Love.

Does this strategy actually work? Well, experts do say that drinking on a full stomach will ensure that the alcohol is absorbed by all those digesting bits of burger, thereby giving your stomach a break. Also, having all that food lodged in your innards will almost certainly ensure you won’t be able to chug as many brewskies as you might have otherwise. And yet, ordering food at greasy, open-all-night pizza places in Troy almost always gets me in trouble. (It’s not just the knife fights.) For some reason, barbecued chicken cacciatore pizza always sounds good when I’m half-cocked. So the hydrating strategy is a much more reasonable option for me.

The hydrators—these are the folks who keep their Poland Spring bottles strapped to their sides on any trip to the bar so they can alternate between cheap grain alcohol and the sparkling, thirst-quenching H20.

Personally, I despise these folks and their lack of commitment. If it’s time to get shitty, it’s time to get shitty, no frills necessary. If you have enough faculties to remember to keep sipping water, you simply aren’t drunk enough. And yet, truth be told, these folks are doing themselves a huge favor, as alcohol-induced dehydration is what leads to those awful room-spinning headaches that make you regret that last shot of Goldshlagger. The one no-no of hydration is caffeinated drinks like coffee and coke. They will only help dehydrate you.

Furthermore, hydrators sometimes like to throw painkillers like Tylenol into their routine—one big bottle of water followed by a handful of gel-caps. The problem with this strategy is that these drugs contain Acetaminophen, which is reportedly not so good for your liver in high doses or when mixed with large quantities of alcohol. While I personally understand this is a concern, if you are willing to do your liver damage to get trashed, you probably don’t have much of a problem damaging your liver to feel better.

Of course, the most interesting hangover cures are the ones that creatively combine proven strategies, or just altogether ignore them. Take, for example, a recent encounter I had with a friend, whom we joined at 10 PM on St Patrick’s Day. “I hopeth youss don’t mind but I already sthhhtarded,” he slurred to us. I mentioned I was on the lookout for hangover cures and that it looked like he would need one sooner than later. “I’ll tell yah,” he further slurred, “buthhh firsthh, car bombsthh!” I protested briefly, wanting to hear this cure when sober. But quickly I capitulated. We dropped shots into drinks, and then we were off to the bars. In between drunken fits of laughing, my nameless friend cupped his hand over his mouth and said, “Pedialyte ice-pops and Vitamin Water!” Yes, that Pedialyte. The stuff meant to prevent dehydration in children with diarrhea. “You’re gonna make me puke!” I told him, going back to my drink.

Around 3 AM, I found myself at a diner slinging back a big, greasy egg breakfast. Finally, at 5 AM, about to climb the stairs to my apartment, I hesitated, deciding to cave in and try the Pedialyte cure. I trudged back to a Price Chopper, grabbed a Vitamin Water and a bottle of Pedialyte. I rushed through the cash register line, beginning to feel a bit queasy. I fiddled with the Pedialyte, looking down to see the face of the happy bear on the bottle. “Bears don’t drink,” I thought to myself. “That’s why he’s smiling and I’m about to hurl!” My stomach started to rumble. Drunk as a skunk, I raised the bottle to my mouth as though it were some sort of miracle cure that could suppress the raging bile rising up in my gut. And then I puked.

dking@metroland.net

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