Bellying up to bartenders’ favorite tales
Whether they love it or could leave it, bartenders have inherited the dubious legacy of being a sympathetic ear to customers sitting at the bar. But truth be told, I prefer my imbibing alliance to be the other way around. My favorite drink-slingers are, quite frankly, the best sort of booze geeks: They love nothing more than to delve into the rich and storied histories of the liquor brands they’re pouring and cocktails they’re shaking. On a lucky day, I’ll spend some time catching up with them, and we both enjoy a good tale to go along with the presentation of an elegant creation grounded in cocktail history. Here’s a sample of my recent favorite cocktail conversations.
“I’ve always been into zombies, so I love the name of this drink,” O.P. Rockwell Bar Manager Chris Panarelli says. It’s his bridge between two classic cocktails: The Corpse Reviver No. 2 and the Last Word. “As a style of cocktail, The Corpse Reviver—and all of its many iterations—is meant to be bright and boozy. A true pick-me-up” in keeping with its legendary hair-of-the-dog reputation. It’s also one of Panarelli’s most memorable love-at-first-sip cocktails, which he notes has stood the test of time in both classic cocktail popularity and his own preferences.
As legendary barman Harry Craddock (of London’s swanky Savoy hotel bar) wrote of Corpse Revivers in the 1930 edition of his bar manual, they are, “to be taken before 11 a.m., or whenever steam and energy are needed,” but that “Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.” Panarelli likes to include a bit of green chartreuse in the style of the gin-forward Prohibition-era Last Word replacing the classic Reviver’s touch of absinthe. Also, he says, “The Last Corpse Reviver sounds like the name of a badass superhero.” I’m going to ponder their potential super power while I mix up yet another cocktail, right around 11 a.m. I’m approximating Panarelli’s recipe here, but maybe you’ll have better luck getting the full script when you belly up to his bar in Park City.
The Drink: The Last Corpse Reviver
The Maker: Christopher Panarelli
268 Main, Park City
1 1/4 ounces London dry gin
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce green chartreuse
1/4 ounce Lillet Blanc
Shake all ingredients well with ice.
Double strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Although pirates, especially Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard), were most legendarily associated with rum, seafaring and coastal life from the 17th century onward generally revolved around the potent sugar-based potion. And it was usually served straight up or with minimal dilutions. “Grog, as a category, was invented in the 1740s by English Navy Admiral Edward Vernon,” after the heyday of piracy, HSL bar manager Clif Reagle says. Because of rum’s high alcohol content, the British Navy started correcting rum to lower the proof, but, Reagle says, “Sailors demanded that it be done on deck so that they could witness the addition of water and limes to make sure no one was getting slighted on their ration.”
Writer and booze historian Wayne Curtis calls the ship captain’s rum distribution the “balancing of morale and discipline,” and notes that even diluted, the typical daily grog ration per sailor equaled about five modern-day cocktails. Yo-ho-ho, indeed. Reagle notes that this was all pulled from a barrel called a “scuttlebutt,” which also became a term for water barrels and historically evolved over time as the lingo for water cooler gossip. Reagle recommends that whenever a recipe calls for only a few ingredients, those selected should be the best, as in the case of his minimalist Ti Punch. It’s a historical approximation of grog with 100-proof sugarcane Rhum Agricole from Martinique served with lime over a sparkling clear hand-hewn chunk of ice.
The Drink: Grog/Ti Punch
The Maker: Clif Reagle
418 E. 200 South, SLC
1 1/2 ounces Neisson Rhum Agricole Blanc
splash of Petite Canne (sugar cane syrup)
2 drops saline (approximating the strength of sea water)
1 disc lime zest, about the size of a quarter
Combine ingredients in a rocks glass over a large cube of perfectly clear ice.
Further proving the British Empire had its hands all over formative cocktail history, Water Witch bartender Pat Harrington recommends trying a Pegu Club cocktail to taste a bit of English-meets-Southeast Asia influence circa the 1920s. British military officers and wealthy expats from all over the world established exclusive clubs to hobnob, with each club having a signature cocktail based on familiar British booze usually mixed with local ingredients. “In this case, their spirit of choice was gin at the Pegu Club in Rangoon, formerly Burma,” Harrington says.
“Imagine how refreshing that citrus juice and gin would be when served on the sweltering edge of the jungle.” He says it’s the first cocktail Water Witch owner Scott Gardner taught him to make. They tweaked the classic a bit by using American-made London-style gin, and served it over ice, finished with a fine grating of nutmeg. Gardner says that since Water Witch makes this cocktail without additional sugar or simple syrup, “the warming aromatic garnish gives it a nice sweet note.”
The Drink: Pegu Club
The Maker: Pat Harrington
163 W. 900 South, SLC
1 1/2 ounces Big Gin
(or other London or dry gin)
3/4 ounce orange curacao
1/2 ounce lime juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with lime wheel and a light dusting of fresh-grated nutmeg.
“This is a super simple cocktail. It’s as tasty as it is straightforward.” Bambara’s Beverage Manager Andrew Abeyta describes this as a classic New York Sour at the cozy and elegant Vault bar. Abeyta is particularly fond of the cocktail’s historical pre-Prohibition roots as a classic sour, with the Prohibition-era twist of using whatever was on hand to cover up the taste of often less-than-stellar base alcohols (though the Vault’s version is decidedly top notch).
Drinks historian David Wondrich notes that while whiskey sours of all varieties were a nationwide 19th century favorite, the New York Sour—with its distinctive red-wine floater—probably originated not in the Empire State, but in Chicago. In the 1880s, bartenders in the Windy City started adding a “snap” of claret to the top of rye-lemon sours. By Prohibition, though, the drink became synonymous with New York speakeasies and the name stuck. For best results, skip using overly sweet pre-batched sour mixes, which tend to be cloying and synthetic-tasting. Instead, rely on fresh-squeezed juice and a classic rye whiskey for that vintage flavor profile. Abeyta recommends choosing a very dry red wine with plenty of tannin to hold up to the drink’s bold sour-sweet punch.
The Drink: New York Sour
The Maker: Andrew Abeyta
The Vault at Bambara
202 S. Main, SLC
1 1/2 ounce Rittenhouse rye
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup (equal parts sugar dissolved into water)
1/2 ounce dry red wine
To a shaker with ice, add all ingredients except for the wine. Shake well, strain into a highball glass over fresh ice. Slowly pour red wine over the top of the drink to “float.” Garnish with a lemon wheel.