Lets Welcome the Spirits
November 11, 2016
Words and thoughts by Ian Fisermanis
My Frustration with “Juice Cocktails”
As I mature, and my journey through bar tending and mixology continues, I find myself increasingly frustrated with the ‘juice’ cocktails. I’m creating a new term here, so a definition is needed. Juice Cocktails – a cocktail mixed using alcohol but blended specifically to hide the flavour of the spirits used. Often the results resemble a large glass of pineapple juice with a slightly odd background of peach, with a cocktail umbrella, two cherries and a slice of orange.
Where has all the juice come from?
If you research your mixology history and you know your stuff, you will understand this is a relatively modern addition to the range. Mixology is a Victorian English word and this is where the real history began. As spirits came into London from all over the world, for the first time a small underground network of bars began to appear. Spirits were mixed and modern cocktails were born. It would have been a very small circle of people who knew of this scene in the back streets of the foggy city. One such person was a young would-be journalist, an American, looking for a story that he could write about. Legend says he stumbled across the birth of mixology and wrote his first piece, which he submitted to the New York Times. It was printed, and cocktails went stateside.
Where does the word “cocktail” come from?
The word cocktail comes from the vibrant horse trading scene of the time. When a horse of mixed breed was sold, it’s tail was cropped (Victorian English would have been ‘cocked’) to show it was not purebred, hence the term ‘A cocktail horse’. You may have heard the Nursery Rhyme ‘Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross’?. This terminology some how made it into the bar scene and a drink of mixed breed was refereed to as a cocktail drink.
Mixology goes to the USA
As mixology swept the cites of the U.S.A. the country was going crazy. Alcohol washed the streets as drunken behavior soared. The term ‘Punch Drunk’ comes from this era, where people were so intoxicated they could be punched without realizing it. As women got the vote they no longer felt trapped in social rules and for the first time in history began to party just as hard as the men. They cut their hair short, exposed their bodies and began real careers. The Great Gatsby era was born.
The U.S.A. was drunk, entirely smashed on spirits and partying. As most of the country began to fall apart socially, the far moral right gained enough power to pass Prohibition, a law which entirely banned alcohol. The U.S.A. was going sober!
Now, we all know, if you ban something, we all want it more. The alcohol scene just went underground again, as it had started in Victorian England. People began making spirits at home, in the bathtub, in buckets and in out-houses. Without the correct ingredients, the processes and equipment it was bound to become problematic. Because alcohol was illegal, its purity was not regulated. While fruit, vegetable, and grain alcohol is usually safe, alcohol made from wood is not — but it is difficult to tell the difference until too late. Over 10,000 people died during Prohibition from drinking wood alcohol. Others who were not killed went permanently blind or had severe organ damage, and who knows how many people died because of organized crime, or due to corrupt or overburdened police. When the police spend much of their time arresting and investigating crimes that cause no harm to others, the crimes that do cause harm increase and real criminals are more likely to go free.
Back to the “juice”
In order to disguise the taste of these often poisonous spirits, for the first real time, fruit juices were added, giving birth to the modern cocktail scene. Jump forward to the 1960s when international travel first became affordable to the masses and you’ll find British families traveling abroad and trying new spirits. Often not particularly palatable to the tea drinking traditionalists, again fruit juices were added, in large amounts, to disguise the taste. Can you see where we are going with this now?
So here we are, luckily, the modern mixology scene is back near where it started with customers preferring quality spirits, mixed well and with splashes of flavour, but sadly, some of the past ghosts remain. The June Bug, famously created by restaurant chain T.G.I. Friday for example is a glass of pineapple juice hiding any of the complex notes of the three spirits in it. The Pina Colada, a glass of coconut milk with some pineapple juice, the rest you can’t taste. Before you suggest my recipes are wrong, sadly they are, because if you made the drink the way it is supposed to be no one would want it. ‘It’s too strong, can you add some more sugar/juice/cream/cola?’ These are examples of the juice drinks, but there are many more. The Woo Woo and Sex on the Beach for example, both drinks for people who don’t really like alcohol, and don’t get me started on the Strawberry Daiquiri.
So lets welcome back the spirits
I see two very distinct customer bases appearing on the U.K. cocktail scene these days. The first are interested in the spirits you are using, they ask questions, suggest alternatives, and are drinking an Old fashioned or your own latest special, they want to know more and taste alcohols for their flavour. The second group are the juice drinkers. They don’t want their drink to taste of alcohol but they wanna get drunk. If that’s what you want, then great, that’s your choice, I support it, just don’t make it something its not, you’re not a cocktail drinker, I’m sorry. You’re drinking a mixer and spirit. It’s no different from a Gin and Tonic, a classic, a fantastic combination and I love them, but a cocktail they are not.
Words and thoughts by Ian Fisermanis