History of Booze author Henry Jeffreys has made spirits his area of expertise – writing the Masters of Malt blog during the day and conducting much fastidious drinks research by night. On the eve of the publication of his latest book, The Cocktail Dictionary, he chats to Peter Dean about the effect Covid and the Low/No generation will have on cocktails, as well as why a Palmetto would be the last drink he had on earth. We also include an exclusive extract from the book on how to make an Americano.
“I’m pretty old school when it comes to drinks, I’m not into liquid nitrogen and serving it in miniature kettle,” Jeffreys says.
How has Lockdown been for you? And what has been your Lockdown cocktail of choice?
Very busy from a work perspective. I’m the features editor for the Master of Malt blog and its business went bananas during lockdown. It was like Christmas every day. I felt very lucky to have a steady job.
Also loved spending time in the garden with my family but missed friends, London, restaurants and especially pubs. Not being able to have a pint in the evening was hard. But the upside was that without all the beer and pub food I managed to lose about a stone in weight.
I drank a lot of Old Fashioneds, mainly with bourbon but also with Tequila Anejo. I’m also a great fan of the pre-prandial whisky and soda, made quite weak with orange bitters and piece of orange peel.
Do you anticipate a whole raft of pandemic-inspired cocktails? Or ones created by mixologists with a lot of time on their hands?
There have been a lot of Quaratinis made, we were inundated with brands coming up with new lockdown ‘serves’ but whether any will make the next edition of the book is doubtful.
I think the trade not just bartenders but wine merchants, retailers etc found it really hard. Not just the money but we’re a sociable lot and not being able to interact in person was rather depressing. Everyone started making videos on Instagram which I am sure were fun but scrolling through, seeing everyone talking into the camera, it seemed as if they were trapped and crying for help. Like in Poltergeist.
Given the amount of boozy research you need to do, are you on first name terms with your couch?
We’re very formal in our house, it’s Mr Sofa.
Tell us about your new book… Clearly the world needs another Cocktail guide – but what makes yours different?
This one is a particularly beautiful package with great illustrations by George Wylesol and I’ve tried to be non-nerdy and hopefully amusing in my introductions to the cocktails. It’s just very user friendly and pretty much everything you need can be bought from your friendly local online drinks retailer. There are no special tinctures made from Himalayan honey and whatnot.
Is it meant to be a Bible of essential cocktails or a light read?
It’s more of a light read.
Who is it aimed at?
People who love a Martini or an Old Fashioned and want to take things further. Or as a gift for the booze enthusiast in your life.
How do you go about writing a Dictionary? and what criteria do you choose as to which cocktails to include and leave out?
The publishers came up with a list and I suggested a few changes and we went from there. Pretty much everything in the book I love. Apart from the B52.
Why no Pornstar Martini or Dark and Stormy?
Oh God did we leave them out? This is like that episode of Blackadder with Dr Johnson’s Dictionary. Maybe they’ll go in the next edition.
Are some ingredients too passé ? I do not see any apricot brandy or blue curacao for example.
All those ingredients are actually coming back in, any moment now. Talk to bartenders these days and it’s all about drinks with rude names, cocktail umbrellas and blue curacao.
What do you feel is the classic era of cocktail making?
Not very original but I’d say the 1920s and 30s with Ada Coleman and Harry Craddock at the Savoy. So many great drinks were being invented and older ones assuming their modern forms. But it wasn’t just in the bars, you get the impression from reading say Hemingway or Wodehouse, that if you visited someone’s home, you would be offered a decent cocktail rather as now, we expect to get good wine.
What era are we in right now?
We’re in a good place. What Kingsley Amis calls ‘the tyranny of wine’ is finally ending and people are rediscovering the joys of mixed drinks at home. And, if you live in a big city, you’re probably never more than a short cab ride away from a top quality Martini. It’s so different to when I was growing up where specialist cocktail bars involved barmen juggling bottles; the taste of the actual drinks was not the priority. And in trendy bars people drank bottled lager or Mojitos made with soggy mint.
How is the cocktail audience changing?
We are much more knowledgeable about what we’re drinking. People will now specify a brand of gin where previously they would just be happy with whatever they were given. Usually Gordon’s. We are also more adventurous in our choice of flavours. It was only 10 years ago that Negronis were considered challenging, and now big bitter flavours are everywhere.
Low/No alcohol drinkers – good or bad for the cocktail do you think?
I think good. When my wife was pregnant, I got really into making no or very low ABV cocktails using, for example, white port instead of gin, and using shrubs and bitters to add more grown-up flavours to fruit juices. This sounds super hipster but my wife made her own shrub (vinegar based cordial – Ed.) out of brambles last month. It’s not as if the advent of lower options means the originals are going anywhere.
Is the internet changing the way cocktails are invented and build a following?
Cocktails in bars are now at least as much about visual appeal as taste. If you’re opening a new venue, you have to have something that looks good on Instagram. Which is fair enough, but I’ve had a fair few cocktails that look a lot more impressive than they taste. I’m pretty old school when it comes to drinks, I’m not into liquid nitrogen and serving it in miniature kettle.
What’s the worst name you’ve heard for a comedy cocktail from the 70s and 80s?
Probably a Slow Comfortable Screw Against a Wall.
Have you ever put an umbrella in a cocktail you’ve made?
Hell yes! Some cocktails are not meant to be tasteful.
What cocktail would you have before facing the firing squad?
Probably a Palmetto: half super funky Jamaican rum, half red sherry vermouth, dash of Angostura bitters. Stir with ice and serve straight up with a twist of orange peel. I could take on anything after a couple of those.
The Cocktail Dictionary is out on September 3 and can be purchased here.
We now include a brief extract from The Cocktail Dictionary. How to make an Americano
Another cocktail that gets the James Bond seal of approval. It crops up in Ian Fleming’s short story ‘From a View to a Kill’, where Bond recommends drinking it in hot weather when one of his more usual drinks (like a Vodka Martini) would be too strong. The Americano was previously known as a Milano-Torino, after the homes of its two principal ingredients, Campari and Martini Rosso vermouth. It was originally served at the Milan bar belonging to Gaspare Campari, the creator of Campari. Campari was just one of many bitter herbal liqueurs, or amari, that were made in Italy at the time. With his genius for marketing, Gaspare’s son, Davide, turned his father’s creation into an international brand. The Milano-Torino proved so popular with American tourists who flocked to Italy in the 1920s that it became known as the Americano. It’s a great drink for when you really want a Negroni but have to do your tax return or bump off a Smersh agent in the afternoon.
1 MEASURE CAMPARI
1 MEASURE SWEET VERMOUTH
SODA WATER, TO TOP UP
ORANGE SLICE, TO GARNISH
Fill a highball glass with cubed ice, add the Campari and sweet vermouth, stir and top with soda water. Garnish with an orange slice.