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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Ever heard of the Blue Blazer, the Deadbeat, the Fiscal Agent, or the Alabama Fog-Cutter? How about the Moscow Mule, the Suffering Bastard, or the Fuzzy Navel? These concoctions and many more are the stars in William Grimes's entertaining romp through the history of the American cocktail. His revised and expanded history, which devotes an entire chapter to the martini, is not only fun to read but also practical: Grimes thoughtfully includes 104 classic recipes that any modest home bar can deliver.
The cocktail is a peculiarly American invention. H. L. Mencken even contended that it was "the greatest of all the contributions of the American way of life to the salvation of mankind." Putting the spotlight on this unheralded branch of the culinary arts, Grimes traces the history of the American cocktail from the Revolutionary taverns to the golden age of the cocktail (when the martini, the daiquiri, and the Manhattan were invented) through Prohibition and on to the present, a new golden age.
As a bacchanologist, Grimes looks at the past 400 years or so through a different lens than most historians. For example: "When the pilgrims dropped anchor at Plymouth Rock, it was no coincidence that the liquor supply was getting low. " Drinks of the Revolutionary era were old-world in nature: Beverages like syllabubs and flips were substantial, more like food, and their first duty was to ward off the chill. With the advent of commercial ice harvesting in the mid-1800s, the new-world standard evolved into a cocktail that is iced or icy, snappy, invigorating to the eye and the palate; magically, it should amount to more than the sum of its parts. According to enthusiast Grimes, "A good cocktail, properly mixed, should lift the spirits, refresh the mind, and put into healthy perspective the countless worries and grievances of modern life."
In his march through cocktail history, Grimes visits the advent of the grand saloons in the 1800s, and their poor relations, the thousands of corner saloons. In addition to such classics of the era as the martini, the Manhattan, the Sazerac, and the Ramos Gin Fizz, bartenders were responsible for knowing the recipes for as many as 300 different drinks. By necessity, they relied heavily on the early cocktail manuals written by celebrity bartenders Jerry Thomas and his rival, Harry Johnson.
With the advent of Prohibition in the 1920 came the birth of the speakeasies and the invention of the "set-up." When Prohibition was over, cocktails became simpler, more standardized, and possibly duller. America had to wait until the 1950s for Vic Bergeron to invent the Mai Tai and other pseudo-Polynesian drinks in his Trader Vic's. Then it had to wait for the 1960s for James Bond to lead the charge in changing the main ingredient in the martini from gin to vodka (shaken, not stirred, in his famous phrase). (Ginger Curwen)