Friday, August 4, 2017

:: great hoaxes of cocktail history ::

For my final talk that I attended at Tales of the Cocktail 2017, I wrapped things up with a discussion of propagated falsehoods in the booze world that was led by authors David Wondrich and Robert Simonson. Wondrich started with a mention that forgery was as old as writing. "Apocryphal" is another word for forgery, and it dates all the way back to the Bible where splinter groups would forge their own Gospel. While Wondrich provided a few examples of how forgery was utilized for financial gain, he alluded that more of the alcohol-centric forgery was done for amusement. For example, The Squire's Recipes allegedly from 1784 was debunked though it used an 18th century style of language and had papers "aged" in an oven. This book written in 1912 got into the wild and caused a stir until it was pointed out that it called for ingredients like Old Tom Gin that was not around until 1810 as well as other ingredients such as grenadine, tartaric acid, and sweet vermouth that were not very common in the 1780s.

A forgery begins when there is a hole to fill -- a vacuum. Can the author create something that people can trust? Effective forgers have a date and often a location. The description needs to seem real and solid, and it will often cite unnamed sources such as "a book in my possession" or "personal communication."

Simonson covered falsehoods after Prohibition. He began by describing how after World War II, newspapers launched articles and concepts onto the leisure class. Often corporations farmed things out to publicity who fed it to newspapers. This included stunts like during the 1940s how Pimm's hired a PR person to raise the brand in the United States. A rehearsed stunt of an orchestra leader and a few actors and actresses walked into a bar as duos with one pair requesting a Pimm's Cup with cucumber and the other with mint. The argument over which one was right led into a catfight and arrests. This story found its way into all of the newspapers with a lot of useful information about Pimm's for the general public's consumption. There was a similar stunt with the Pink Squirrel where a squirrel was painted pink to promote the drink with similar earmarks as the Pimm's story: a club, a pretty actress, and outlandish behavior. "Shocking pink squirrel wreaks havoc in bars" read one newspaper headline. This stunt was probably hired by Bols that made both of the liqueur elements in the drink.

Wondrich returned to bring up the example of the Singapore Sling. Gin slings were popular throughout British Asia with the earliest definitive reference to a Singapore Sling being in 1903 as a "pink gin sling." It was most likely made pink with Bols Cherry, Cherry Heering, or sloe gin. The Benedictine and bitters components fell out of favor in the 1960s as the ingredients became more expensive. The Raffles Hotel in Singapore needed to up their business so they "found" the inventor's recipe in a safe. Except that this recipe had less expensive ingredients and a lot of fruit juices. There was a similar fabrication done with the Harvey Wallbanger where a businessman was trying to increase sales of Galliano, and he noted that a good amount of Galliano was sold at Manhattan Beach in California. He linked the idea to a surfer and that story lasted for decades. He also hired a caricaturist to put a face to the story, and then gave out swag if people hosted Harvey Wallbanger parties.

The Seelbach Cocktail was another recent hoax that came to light. In 1995, Adam Seger was hired to improved the Louisville hotel's bar program as his first job out of college. He figured that since F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed there and mentioned it in The Great Gatsby, that there had to be a house cocktail. He fabricated how the house cocktail was created before Prohibition when a bartender spilled a Manhattan into a glass of Champagne and the combination worked. Gary Regan while working on the New Classic Cocktails book that was published in 2002 badgered Seger for the recipe, and then it ended up in Ted Haigh's book as well. In October 2016, Seger admitted two decades later that his story was a fake and wanted to unburden himself. He wanted to keep his job and make his mark, so he made up the story and the drink. Perhaps he wanted to come clean due to guilt, or perhaps he felt angered that he had created a great cocktail but he could not tell anyone that the recipe was his. In the end, the drink world was spit between feeling betrayed and thinking that it was awesome that he got away with it for so long without anyone asking to see the original recipe.

Finally, it was time for Wondrich to come clean. While working on his 2002 Esquire Drinks that was published 3 years into his work with Esquire, he succumbed to forgery. Esquire was paying him for a drink of the week while he was a junior professor needing money, and forgeries happen when there is a need. Drinks like the Swinging Chad, the Zamboanga Monkey Tail, and others were "all rectally sourced." The Dulchin was another, but it was one that effected me. Houston's Anvil put it on their 100 drinks list and I went out to a bar to have it made for me since I lacked the eau de vie at the time. Turns out that there was a need for pisco drinks, and it was created for a friend of his, but it was made to sound like an Art Deco era drink. The Vera Rush was not created for a "silent film queen" but for his wife Karen (nicknamed Vera) for a drink that she liked to order in dive bars. The Swinging Chad was not found in the "Clarion Shopper" in the 1960s but was named after the 2000 election's paper counting scandal in Florida. The dash of bitters and Pernod was a trick that Wondrich acquired from Jeff Berry's Tiki work. With that one, Wondrich learned that it is possible to be too obvious and people questioned him about that one.

Wondrich rounded out the talk by stating that he knocked off his own hoaxer status while working on his book Imbibe and realized that he had to be taken seriously. He also dropped the fact that Benedictine was not 500 years old from 1510 but was created in the mid-19th century. And finally, "You can bring a drunk to water, but you can't make him think."

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