|Behind The Stick
Interviews with the Movers and Shakers Of Mixology
Hosted by Blair Frodelius of Good Spirits News
Doctor Is In
A Conversation with Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh
Ted Haigh is one of mixology's most respected authorities. Not only did Ted help found the groundbreaking website CocktailDB.com, but he also was instrumental in launching the Museum of the American Cocktail. This summer we were delighted by the publication of a new expanded and revised version of his classic book "Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails". I asked Dr. Cocktail about his new book and what he's got on the speed rail these days.
GSN: Why did you decide to write a revised version of "Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails" instead of an entirely new book?
TH: Frankly, it all started because the first edition went, unexpectedly, out of print – which launched a real scramble for the ownership of the book. I was surprised that Quarry terminated it and wanted to acquire the rights for myself...as did at least three other publishers. In defense of Quarry, I was the first cocktail book they ever published. In general, they do books on architecture, crafts, and the like. I think they were caught off guard by the fast outcry. They eventually said to me that they would retain rights and that they would really like a revised edition. I agreed with the following provisos....I would have creative control, I would have better royalties. With only one major exception, they kept that bargain, and in the end, I found myself quite proud of this book.
GSN: While doing research for this book, did you uncover any surprises?
TH: Oh, SO many. There were so many wonderful facts just waiting to be discovered and I reveled in every one of them. This book was an utter pleasure to do.
I think one of the limitations of cocktail books is that they limit themselves to the glossy veneer of cocktail culture. I always want to push deeper into the culture of the day...cocktails never happened in a vacuum, and yet they were iconic of what what happening in the larger world.
said, the most interesting thing in retrospect
was an abstraction: the farther afield I took the lines of
between specific drinks (or cocktails in general) and the wider world
the incubator for their creation, the more I enjoyed the telling, and
broadly persuasive was the impact of both what I wrote and the
cognition of how
and why these drinks and the craftsmen (and that includes women) who
were much more than a series of recipes in a misunderstood niche.....to
the chase, the broader the zeitgeist, the more valuable the knowledge
do you feel has revived the cocktail since its' near death during the
dark days of prohibition?
TH: Cocktails had been around for over a hundred years already then – and were beginning to seem stuffy and tired. Prohibition made people miss them immediately and those lucky enough to journey to Europe met with a fresher take on the cocktails being made.
But to the question: I think initially it was the swank lounge scene that focused the interest – based on the chimera of sophisticated cocktail parties of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Trouble was, by then, cocktails weren’t what was being consumed at those parties, mainly highballs and lighter fair....by the ‘60s even VERIFIED cocktails were being served like highballs....Martinis, Manhattans, Jack Roses....all on ice (and sometimes crushed ice.) But no matter....the lounge set was really into music....Rat Pack and brash jazz. What they wanted was the iconic conical Martini-style cocktail glass, but they sure as hell didn’t want a real Martini in it. This was early to mid ‘90s.
Back at the end of the ‘80s, I was beginning to espouse the germinal concept of cocktail revival, but nobody was listening to me then. In New York Dale DeGroff was doing the same thing – but from a fresh and defined ingredient perspective. People WERE listening to Dale, but only in New York. Still, the combo of that info in the New York nexus and the swanksters promoting the iconic glass image (which I believe began -- faux-cocktail-wise -- in one or more chain hotel drink gimmick/promotions in the late ‘80s.) The “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” character of svelte sophistication as nostalgia. By ‘95 the Internet was becoming pervasive – if not yet exactly mainstream. I was an early cocktail adopter and began to have an impact, especially after I became the spirits maven for what was then the 800lb gorilla in the room, America Online. Being suddenly interconnected, even simply with only other AOL members gave individual interests national exposure. Here is were we learned of Dale, where I met Gary Regan, Bill Grimes, and Ted Breaux - and made contact with the future standard bearers of the cocktail resurgence. AOL began making a number of silly bureaucratic tactical mistakes with its forums, policies, plans and direction. It had become unpleasant to be around, and it forced my onto the very-much-wider World Wide Web. It wasn’t anywhere near as user friendly back then – especially considering that a 28.8 dial-up modem was considered blazingly fast. Yet the information began to flow.
On the other end of things, the Lounge crowd could only go so far began they would naturally encounter a REAL cocktail of some sort, and some would inevitably like it. This would lead to bartender involvement as a matter of necessity as they began making drinks of a style largely sidelined since the early ‘50s. At that point it was only a matter of time. By Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails in 2004, I was already an old hand and was worrying that I’d waited too long for my book to make an impact. By the new millennium, there was already some evidence of sublimation of our cocktail aims. As it turned out, the book hit the market like a long shot horse wagered to win by the crazy guy with a system, when everyone went wild as Beetlebomb was first by a nose! The hiccups of sublimation I spoke of were strongly counterbalanced by the emergence of the next generation of aficionados taking their own positions as beacons for the next wave of newbies to follow....thus Paul Harrington led to Robert Hess – and to my mind, that’s as clear as it gets.
GSN: If someone was just starting out as a cocktail enthusiast in 2009, what books would you recommend they read?
TH: Vintage Spirits, Killer Cocktails, Joy of Mixology, The Essential Cocktail, Chas. Baker, Sippin'’ Safari, The Essential Bartender’s Guide, and Jerry Thomas – just for perspective as to how far we’ve come. I have to say, this list has changed substantially as web info has increased in quality. Much of what was previously mysterious has now been parsed conveniently for new cocktail explorers. All of the recent books now on my list provide good cocktail theory, good recipes, and good bar instruction. Most make it clear where ingredients can be found and tend to lead the reader on a journey into various worthy hideaways in the larger cocktail maze. The same can be said about the vintage books I include, but they mainly set the scene for a better understanding of the width and breadth of the culture we’d lost for quite some time.
GSN: You have been instrumental in getting the Museum of the American Cocktail established. Why did you choose New Orleans as the location?
TH: It wasn’t just me, it was the whole Board of Directors who unanimously gave the nod to New Orleans...Dale DeGroff, the world’s most celebrated barman and his wife Jill, Phil Greene – a descendant of Antoine Amedee Peychaud, Chris McMillan – the patron saint of New Orleans mixologists – and his wife Laura, Robert Hess – cocktail evangelist and star of video series “The Cocktail Spirit”, Tim McNally and Brenda Maitland – journalists on wine and spirits, and myself. Speaking, I think, for all of us.... New Orleans is a perfect fit for us for several reasons: it is central in the country making it more convenient for travel than either coast would be, it exists as a referent to a world of a different time (exactly as does our museum) and most importantly it celebrates history and the convivial arts as no other city does. To that I would add that we all love it.
forgotten spirit would you most like to see come back and why?
all have witnessed the long-awaited revival of a number of cocktail
constituents. Of those, I’d say it is a tie between the original 70
Picon and the original Lillet recipe.
is your most treasured cocktail related possession?
TH: There are three: My bottles of Carypton, Secrestat Bitters, and Koosh Bitters. Carypton was a product issued by Angostura before Prohibition. We believe it was a seriously alcohol-laden version of falernum, though, according to Dave Wondrich (from whom I got the alert of the bottle's availability), the product's original color was green....presumably honoring the lime juice. A serious stab at an alcoholized falernum is a worthy endeavor.
The other two are bitters that, once Prohibition took effect in America, gained credence as cocktail-worthy. We NEVER saw them in the U.S. Yet they appear tantalizingly in the British "Cafe Royal Cocktail Book". I'm just thrilled to own full examples of both.
GSN: What is your all-time favorite name for a cocktail?
TH: The Symphony of Moist Joy.
GSN: Speaking of moist joy, tell me about your acting experience in "Super Bad."
Spellman, the production designer, has always been a promoter of
mine, both in my film graphic designer career and in my guise as
was hired to do the voluminous liquor labels and other graphics for the
The director, Greg Mottola, and I because friends, and very
wanted me for the bartender in the movie. He and the crew advocated
giving me a
scenario, not lines. So I tried the role, by turns, as aggressive,
and obsequious. It was a lovely experience with lots of props from the
question! You can establish the era you are viewing by the
depiction of cocktails in film. In general, the early days saw the
drinking. This might lead to some inebriation, but it was all portrayed
some class...often with sardonic intent. Cocktails were always a
device in film, but exactly what they portrayed and represented changed
continually over the years. In the final tally, cocktails have run the
from worshipped and reviled in film. To my mind, that suggests film,
journalism, is doing its job.
GSN: Who are some of your favorite imbibing actors and actresses in film? Bogart, William & Eleanor Powell, Sean Connery?
TH: No one played intoxicated better than Charlie Chaplin. A meditation on his short reels displays a feeling for, and understanding of, the internal manifestations of “schnockered” better than anyone since. A larger (and equally-valued) number can play inebriation observed well, Chaplin took you into the boozy mind with (if I may use a countermanding term,) clarity. All those you mentioned I hold in great regard. There are so many more worthy of mention...why not give you one no one knows? Luther Alder: In the American remake of Fritz Lang’s “M” he plays the lawyer. Raymond Burr is a henchman.. Alder’s role is superb, and the film worth searching out.
you were to nominate the most important, iconic cocktail, what would
can only be one answer: The Martini. Other cocktails are
important, historic, cultural
GSN: What is the best cocktail you've ever had and where?
TH: That is very hard to say. Best Martini was in a locals dive bar in Vegas. Best of so many classics were at my house...not because I mixed them so superbly, but because that first encounter of something wonderful ends up being the most memorable. If I had to recall one utterly ascendant cocktail I had in a commercial venue, it would have to be the Mai Tai I was first served at Madam Wu’s in Santa Monica by the great Tony Ramos, with the future Beachbum Berry at my side.
GSN: What is the worst cocktail you've ever had and where was it?
were two. One was ordered for me in Richmond, VA by then-future GWAR
member, Chuck Varga aka the Sexecutioner. It was in a joint named
McLean's...one still exists there, but the one we frequented was on
Street in the Fan – a hotbed of artsy Virginia Commonwealth University
– and long ago closed. What I had was a Jackass Flat, and in modern
it was a bar mat martini.
Ted Haigh is a regular
contributor to Imbibe Magazine and currently works for the Hollywood
film industry as a graphic designer. His film work
includes "American Beauty", "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", "The Road to
Perdition" and the TV miniseries "John Adams" for which he won an
Excellence in Production Design Award from the Art Directors
Guild. His latest project "Battle: Los Angeles" is in production.
"Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails" was published on July 1, 2009.
He can be reached
Blair Frodelius lives in upstate New York and is the
editor of Good Spirits News. He is also a professional musician
and is co-founder of Out of the Box Entertainment. He can be
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