Shake It Up! Vintage Cocktails Are Ripe For Revival
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
You might be stocking up on champagne for New Year's Eve, but this morning, we're going to offer you an alternative. Doesn't this all get you in a mood for a cocktail party? Well, author Lesley Blume wants to revive the cocktail culture of "Mad Men" days and even earlier eras. In her book, "Let's Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition," Blume urges a comeback for such elegant libations as the Parisian.
LESLEY BLUME: It's one of these really old-fashioned drinks that you never see made any more, and ingredients are layered. Each ingredient is added from the densest to the least dense. It's so beautiful. You know, it's in a clear, bell-shaped glass, and you sip it with either a sterling silver or a gold straw one liqueur at a time.
GREENE: Blume's book includes the stories behind the drinks and tips on how and when to serve them.
BLUME: What my book really chronicles is genuinely lost cocktails in cocktail culture from bygone eras. So we have 144 cocktails that you just probably wouldn't see on bar menus or being served at at-home cocktail parties today. Really quite obscure, but delicious and delightful stuff.
GREENE: So it's not so much that the whole culture if fading. It's that you want to bring back some of these secret oldies that just don't show up that often anymore.
BLUME: Exactly. And also, I mean, I'm not a bartender. I'm an historian. And so when I came to this topic, I started researching in historical archives for cocktails. One of the things that I uncovered was how mischievous and amusing a lot of cocktail history was. And I feel like a lot of contemporary cocktail culture has gotten a bit self-serious. And one of the things that resonated with me how un-self-serious cocktail culture was in bygone eras. I would say 99 percent of the cocktails that we selected for this book really are impish and outrageous, and they're portals into social history.
GREENE: You know, it's funny you say that. When I've gone into some of these newish cocktail bars in, you know, some cities, it feels very serious. It's like some of the bartenders are not smiling. They're shaking the shaker, like, with a lot of force and they look so serious. I mean, you're saying that's not the way it used to be?
BLUME: Some bartenders were famous for a particular kind of gravitas, like the original father of mixology, who was known as Professor Jerry Thomas, although he is not really - it's never been confirmed that he held any kind of advanced degree. He was a serious bartender in the age of whiskey slingers in, you know, in the 1800s in San Francisco. And, you know, he had a starched white shirt with diamond cufflinks and a silver bar set, which he toured in Europe with. And he really elevated the art of mixology. But, you know, for the most part, a lot of bartenders were determined to create really delicious drinks. But there was a culture of hilarity that surrounded drink-making. I really wanted to celebrate that in his book.
GREENE: Well, you know, the names of the cocktails throughout this book - a lot of fun. One of them was Death in the Afternoon.
BLUME: Love Death in the Afternoon. It was supposedly a Hemingway invention, which he named after his famous book about bullfighting. And in a recipe drafted by the famous author, he instructs readers to, quote, "pour one jigger of absinthe into a champagne glass. Add iced champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness." And then he adds: drink three to five of these slowly. So you can see why these drinks were called Death in the Afternoon. I mean, three to five of these drinks would likely do most us modern drinkers in.
GREENE: Yeah, that would take care of me.
GREENE: What is your general advice to people who are hearing this and are thinking about throwing a party, you know, in this holiday season and are like, wow, I could, you know, try one, you know, a new cocktail or two?
BLUME: In choosing a cocktail for a party, I mean, there are a couple of different ways to go about it. So, perhaps you pick a theme. So, like, for Halloween, for example, maybe you pick, you know, the Corpse Reviver or the Zombie Punch. Or maybe you tailor the drink to the guest of honor of the party in an amusing way. So let's say during a bridal shower, why not serve the reserved the demure Maiden's Blush cocktail?
And then, you know, for the holidays, I love the idea of reviving the gin fizz. A very basic version of the gin fizz contains gin, simple syrup - which is sugar water - lemon juice and egg white. You shake it with ice, and then you pour it into a champagne coupe or a cocktail glass and you top it off with seltzer. It's really effervescent and velvety. Except for the holidays, I recommend that you top it off with champagne instead of seltzer. And then that officially changes the category of gin fizz to a diamond fizz. And, you know, what could be more glamorous or celebratory than a diamond fizz?
GREENE: Any other tips that you can offer if you really want to gussy up a party with presentation?
BLUME: Well, for me, I'm looking at everything through sort of a vintage prism. One of the things I really love about vintage cocktail culture was that there was often such an element of high presentation involved. Like vintage barware and glassware often got so creative and so delightful, you can find it really easily at garage sales or eBay today. It's really fun to serve vintage cocktails in vintage glassware. And, you know, back in the day, there was a great fanfare involved with serving cocktails. For me, the old-fashioned champagne tower, for instance, makes that point really nicely.
GREENE: Champagne tower - what's that?
BLUME: So, popular in the 1920s, these towers were basically a pyramid of champagne coupe glasses - you know, the round glasses, as opposed to the flutes. And champagne was poured into the top glass, and it trickled down into all of the glasses below. So instead of being handed a common old flute of champagne by a sullen waiter when you walked into the room, you got to, you know, prance up to this tower and you pluck a coupe of champagne off of this golden, glimmering affair.
GREENE: And hoped you didn't knock the whole thing over, I guess.
BLUME: I'm sure that happened quite frequently, but, you know, later in the evening, when the drunks would stagger over to it hands extended. But, you know, at least in the beginning of the party, it sets the tone of the party really beautifully.
GREENE: Well, so, we couldn't have this conversation without making a drink. But there were a couple of rules we had to follow. I mean, we couldn't light a match inside a radio studio.
BLUME: Well, that actually omits half of the recipes in my book, since they all are very pyrotechnic.
GREENE: Yeah, and also my skills are a little limited. But we came up with the Godmother, and I think I have the ingredients here in front of me.
BLUME: That's a good one. I profiled the Godmother cocktail as one of my inseparable combination series. The Godmother, obviously, goes hand-in-hand with the vintage Godfather cocktail.
GREENE: Of course.
BLUME: The Godmother cocktail is one ounce of vodka, one ounce of Amaretto. And you stir it with ice.
GREENE: All right. Well, I have some ice. I have a plastic shaker here. We've got the vodka. We've got a bottle of Amaretto. So I just mix it up and strain into a cup, right?
BLUME: Yup. This is not a shaken cocktail, for whatever reason.
GREENE: All right. So, I'm just - I'm stirring, here.
BLUME: Stirring it with ice. Make sure that - you know, give it a good stir, so the liquid ends up being of a uniform temperature.
GREENE: Got it.
BLUME: And then I assume that you don't have a chilled cocktail glass, unless you've gotten very fancy in the studio.
GREENE: Sadly, I just have a paper coffee cup, but I hope - presentation is not good here.
BLUME: Well, we can't see it, so we'll just imagine that you're pouring it into a chilled cocktail glass. And then you drink it up. And for me, I always like to imagine the inspiration behind the cocktail, you know, as I'm drinking it. So we suggest that you serve this particular cocktail with a list of wishes to be granted by your godmother.
GREENE: Oh, that's nice. OK. So, I'm pouring this into my cup here, and I should be making a wish?
BLUME: Yes. Well, you can have a whole list of wishes. Just imagine that your godmother is there to grant them.
GREENE: OK. I'm imagining. I'm going to take a taste, here. Oh, that's really good. That's...
BLUME: Ooh, good.
GREENE: ...going to make this day very interesting. Lesley Blume, cheers to you.
BLUME: And to you, as well.
GREENE: Thank you. She's the author of "Let's Bring Back: The Cocktail Edition."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.