Keeping the Spirit Alive: St John Frizell on Charles H. Baker Jr.

Posted by TraderTiki on August 2nd, 2008 — Posted in Events, Guest Blogger, Tales 2008

The following is an article on the Tales of the Cocktail presentation “Keeping the Spirit Alive: St John Frizell on Charles H. Baker Jr.“, written by Lizzy Caston.

As presented at Tales of the Cocktail. Hotel Monteleone. July 19, 2008

“We are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million lives as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims.”

-Charles H. Baker Jr.

A jigger of history, a dash of entertainment and a garnish of grand showmanship set the tone for St John Frizell’s informative and, at times, gut-busting hilarious presentation on the life and times of the late, great cocktail documentarian, Charles H. Baker Jr.

St. John Frizell on Charles H. Baker Jr.

Frizell was a terrific presenter and more than managed to keep the energy going at 10:30 AM on a Sunday morning to a packed room of mostly “tired” (read hungover) cocktail conventioneers, surely no easy feat. With a gregarious and engaging speaking style, an aesthetically appealing slide presentation (including background music!) and treats for attendees such as a handout index of Baker’s complete cocktail recipes and raffle prizes, this was one of my favorite events at Tales this year.

Zane Harris, holding his raffle-won first editions

Mythic and a bit mysterious, larger than life and probably one of the most influential beverage writers of the modern age, Charles H. Baker, Jr. like no other before or since, both defined and documented the golden age of the cocktail. Bon Vivant doesn’t even begin to describe him. From mostly the 1930s onward, Baker scoured the globe in exotic locales from South America, through the Caribbean, to India and beyond, living a life of endless decadent banquets and cocktail parties, glamorous steamer voyages and other Orient Express like adventures. Hobnobbing with the celebrities of the day and minor royalty, Baker’s writings are more manuals on how to live the “good life”, than mere food and beverage guides. With advice on topics ranging from the practical to the esoteric, you can be certain that no matter what Baker is proliferating on it will be in a sort of prose that is both oddly metered and highly superfluous, at times bordering on the surreal:

The Gentlemans Companion

“TO ALLEVIATE APPARENT DEATH from Toxic Poisonings, & Especially Should, in any Happenstance, the Quality of the Liquor Be Suspect

…And in such case the symptoms are usually sudden and violent enough to publish the emergency. In any case where a violent illness is felt, or apparent, administer emetic at once. It is better to tax a patient-guest unnecessarily than to chance severe conclusion, and anyway, since the patient quickly regains a feeling of exhausted well-being no one will ever be the wiser.”

Whew, pass the Gin. I need a drink after reading that one.

Or take this passage on hangovers a la Baker, as presented by Frizell,

“…You awake to blazing light like a hot brazen sword at base of skull. Your scorched blanket-hot eyelids smart like salted live raw beef. In your querulous- queasy stomach lies a heap of tallow golf balls. Your tongue is a gun-wad of old burlap batting. Yestereve’s mixes have long since quit all benefit and have departed to greener pastures, leaving a residual aftertaste offering a fine blending of the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder and a well-aged Norse snow-shoe moccasin— if there be such a thing…”

And so on and so on. Hemingway or Fitzgerald, Baker certainly is not, but he remains beloved anyway for his dogged pursuit of all things liquid and tasty. I for one certainly admire his prolific use of the thesaurus and typewriter, and find his writing style oddly enticing. It is an amusing brain tease certainly, trying to figure out what the hell Baker is talking about most of the time.

Alas, lucky for us, and buried between the mind-boggling passages like the above quoted, Baker did obsessively document his pursuits, tastes and recipes through his once long out of print (they are now available as paperback, see the link at the bottom), but still much coveted Gentleman’s Companion series books and through articles in places such as Gourmet, Esquire and Town and Country magazine.

Revered in hushed tones and considered a must read by serious cocktail aficionados, the influence of Baker continues to resonate. Baker certainly offers a compass and road map for those leading the way in today’s quality cocktail revival. Providing detailed and easy to follow recipes from the well known (including several versions for mint juleps); to the naughty (Angel’s Tit II, for example with its whipped cream mound and a cherry on top); to the exotic and unknown (such as the Yokohama Romance) these are no gimmicks. Instead, the thousand plus drinks in Baker’s universe are each small works of art, the antithesis of the detested “appletinis” and other sugary sweet garbage many a modern drinker falls prey to.

Therefore, who better than contemporary cocktail master St John Frizell of the Pegu Club and The Good Fork fame to keep the memory of Baker alive? For it is fair to say that Frizell is certainly a man on a mission when it comes to all things Bakeresque. In a sea of Baker fans, Frizell may very well be the biggest fan of all. He is certainly the most informed. Having given up his steady job as promotion copy director of Bon Appétit magazine in 2005, Frizell along with his wife Linden, retraced many of Baker’s journeys and tasted many of Baker’s drinks on a round-the-world adventure of their own. In addition, Frizell has an extensive article on Baker in the Summer 2008 issue of the highly regarded Oxford American. Well done, Mr. Frizell, well done indeed.

During the presentation, Frizell took his audience on a whirlwind tour of Baker’s life. From the unremarkable childhood in small town Florida, to the college years at Trinity in Hartford, Connecticut, to the “lost years” where Baker worked at the god-awful sounding Norton Abrasives company, nothing in his past would indicate the excitement to come. From there however, we were indulged with a sample of Baker’s early writings, his beginning travel itch working on an international cruise ship, and his later dabbles in pulp fiction. Through three marriages and several different residences around the U.S., Baker went from staid upper-middle class beginnings to a life of never ending sunsets and parties, fishing trips and world journeys while he wrote and drank his way through it all. In between sips of the refreshing Cuban Grapefruit Blossom cocktail offered to attendees, Frizell provided his take on Baker’s modus operandi and ability to live the life of a well-heeled international gentleman,

“Baker’s three-fold path to success: 1. Inherit money, 2. Work on a cruise ship, 3. Marry rich.”

I’ll toast to that, brother. Cheers!

Frizell was also generous enough to share his Keynote slides with me, and with his permission I’ve posted them here. Granted, gentle readers, as fair warning, both are but a pale comparison of seeing Frizell give this presentation in the flesh.

Still, in a fast-food world where far too many distilleries and bars still pump out mass produced kool-aid flavored swill with nary a thought, and many drinkers would happily sip chilled radiator fluid without a care in the world, Baker is a beacon of light on the way the cocktail world could and should be. We salute this great man for his life’s work and thank St John Frizell immensely for bringing it back to us.

“And so, before the turned page, we say: Salud y pesetas, skol, sante, salute, and here’s mud in your eye!”

Charles H. Baker Jr., The Gentleman’s Companion, Being An Exotic Drinking Book. Or, Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask, 1939

Lizzy Caston is a food writer and hack journalist based in Portland, Oregon and writes for Portland Monthly Magazine, Edible Portland, Portland Spaces and anything else with Portland in the title, along with a whole slew of websites and national trade publications. She also owns the imaginatively named communications firm, Lizzy Caston Communications, with a specialty in marketing, interactive and new media. Although she has launched and manages websites and blogs for dozens of clients, she is adamant about never finishing her own:


Posted by TraderTiki on August 1st, 2008 — Posted in Rum, Tales 2008

During any Tales of the cocktail seminar or event could expect a few drinks in 2 ounce sample cups to be passed around, and eventually make its way down your gullet. On Thursday evening, during The Cocktail Hour, just about every drink made for or inspired by the event was made available, all in one room… right before the 4-5 full size drink Spirited Dinner.  I preferred to think of The Cocktail Hour as the “beginning of the end”, as it made for a wee-bit tipsy of an evening.

Now, do understand I’m biased both physiologically (I’m a non-taster, thanks Darcy) and socially (meet my friends) towards Tiki Drinks… that doesn’t mean I don’t love a damned well-done Brandy Crusta, Margarita, Corpse Reviver #2, or just about anything else out there.  But given a choice, I’ll tend to lean towards the Rum ‘n spices.

After a few sippy cups filled with drinks, some memorable for the right reasons, others maybe not (Jaeger pop-rocks, really Kevin?), this little number by Martin Cate of Forbidden Island had me coming back for rounds 4, 5, and blitzed.  I am announcing it here as my Trader Tiki Most Officially Excellent and Outstanding Original Drink for Tales of the Cocktail 2008, for whatever good that means.

I asked Martin about the origins of this drink, and in his typical fashion, you ask for a handshake and you get a walk in the park.

The origin of this drink comes from something Joy Spence, master blender at Appleton told me when I was touring the estate in Jamiaca with her.  We were trying some of what they call “wet sugar” at the refinery- it’s the first boil of the cane juice before the initial seperation of sugar and molasses. So it’s like molasses with all the sugar still in it- thick, and chunky with big sugar crystals.  She told me that in Jamaica they like to take the wet sugar and use it to make lemonade, with of course a big splash of rum in there.  So I took that idea, lengthed it with soda instead of water, and added a little St. Elizabeth’s for some Jamaican allspice flavor, mon. Combining molasses and simple comes pretty close to the taste of wet sugar.

It was a Diageo sponsored event, so I had to use their rum, but Pampero was a nice choice for this drink.  Originally, it would be Appleton Extra.  The name is a riff on Pampero- the Pampanito is a fish in South America, and also the name of the WWII submarine docked in San Francisco.

Here is the recipe, corrected from the Tales recipe card… when creativity and branding clash, there are no clear winners.



1 1/2 oz Pampero Aniversario
1/2 oz Mild (aka first boil) Unsulfured Molasses
1/2 oz Simple Syrup (2:1)
1/4 oz St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram
Dash Angostura Bitters
1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
2 1/2 Charged Water

Shake and strain into ice-filled Collins Glass

I wasn’t quite sure about the shaking and straining, as Rum and Allspice tend to need quite a bit more watering down, and with the molasses there to bind things up (plus, I saw Martin doing this at the event), I slapped that pappy in the ol’ DRINKMASTER and gave it a whirl.  It is a fine drink, with the rich molasses providing one hell of a backnote to the rum, lemon and allspice.  This one goes down smooth with almost no resistance whatsoever.  With the use of molasses in early rum drinks (Bombo, Black Stripe) to make them more palatable, I can see that this stuff will be getting much better use in my home bar.

A note on the use of molasses.  I tend to be keep my jiggers away from anything over a 2:1 simple, and will usually use a barspoon to measure items like molasses, coconut cream, orgeat, or any of the other super-sticky stuff out there.  I have only a makeshift wet bar (bottled water and a bucket), so cleaning such stuff out tends to be more difficult on a jigger, with its rough angles.  Yes, I do clean my jiggers between drinks, quickly and quietly.  Got a better method for removing goo from bartools?  Let me know!

The Worst Drinks on Bourbon Street

Posted by TraderTiki on July 28th, 2008 — Posted in Events, Places, Tales 2008

A bittersweet irony holds its head aloft during Tales of the Cocktail, as the city so well known for its inspiration in the development of classic cocktails, and the “meeting of the modern cocktail minds” that Tales of the Cocktail is, are so close to Bourbon Street, home to some of the worst drinks known to mankind.  These drinks I have chosen to cover for Mixology Monday: New Orleans.

As a brave and thirsty traveler, of stout liver and not quite so stout mind, I set off on a quest to try these beverages and report to you, dear viewer, on these offenses to the senses.

Please note, I try my best to keep my nose out of the high-falutin’ area, and remind myself I float no higher from terra firma than last week’s bathwater, but damned if I’m not being snotty in the next few paragraphs.  Snark ahoy!

The Hurricane

Developed by Pat O’Brien sometime in the 1940s, the Hurricane was New Orleans top contribution to the rum and tropical flavor tiki drinks of the time.  Initially used as a way to get rid of the rum that bar owners were forced to buy (see this video), today it’s become a bright red, flavorless concoction that comes in a souvenir glass.  Nary a drop of rum to be found, the modern recipe at the bar consists of crushed ice, neutral distilled spirit, and “the red stuff” in the packet above.

Pat was recently written up in the book, In Pursuit of Pat O’Brien, which I have not yet had the opportunity to read.  I did get a chance to look at the original recipe in the back (three ingredients, is it REALLY that damned hard?), and it coincides with the recipe in Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log.  It’s delicious when made true to the original recipe of rum, passion fruit syrup and lemon juice.  Made from the packet… there’s no discernable flavor to be found for miles, and as I learned on one horrible birthday many years ago, that red color doesn’t fade, guzzling down or gushing back up.

Hurricanes on Bourbon Street, cheers!

The Daiquiri

A sweet supple mixture of two of the best friends in the world, rum and lime, along with sugar to tone down some of the bitter, and you’ve got a world class combination.  Take all of those, throw them out the window, toss some industrial alcohol, food coloring, and bottom-shelf booze into a slushee machine and you’ve got yourself a Bourbon street favorite.  There are two locations of Mango Mango Daiquiri (you can’t miss the sign), but the bright neon seems to give it a bit of omnipresence in the French Quarter.

Mango Mango Daiquiri

In one of these establishments, there are as many drinks available as there are slushee machines on the back counter.  The drinks are $9 a pop, and each drink comes with a free shot, and some sort of discount off of a second drink.  This coupon went quickly into the trash.  Having to choose between roughly 15 machines, I decided to go with the interestingly named “Blue Crack“, and a shot of “Jet Fuel“.  The Blue Crack was one of the few machines with labeled liquor on it, noting the presence of Tequila and Blue Curacao.  I might not have chosen this had I seen it sooner, but oh well, life goes on (or I would hope after drinking this).  The shot of Jet Fuel contained Peppermint Schnapps, Neutral Grain Spirit, and Blue Curacao… a straight shot down the hatch gleefully destroyed my tastebuds, preparing me quite aptly for the drink at hand.  The flavor was a bit as expected, blue and artificial sour citrus, that tasted not too far from what Bourbon Street itself might taste like, were one so brave as to do so .  Despite the thorough mixing, pockets of liquid seemed to have developed in the drink, giving every third sip a bit more bite… and not in a good way.  Imagine giving a baby their first taste of Cynar, and that’s about the reaction I had to these little pockets of nasty.  But, being brave as I could, I finished the drink and headed out for something more…

The Hand Grenade

This exceedingly potent potable is sold at Tropical Isle and Funky Pirate, two places owned by the same folks, named different because seeing 4 Tropical Isles as you went down Bourbon Street might be a few too many.  You’ll see the namesake plastic container dangling from the hands of many a college student, the other hand filled with beads, and a lot of hope.  Seeing how prolific these were, I had to try one, and pretty much got what I expected.

Hand Grenades

Imagine, if you will, a watermelon jolly rancher, dragged along Bourbon street, infused into some everclear, placed into a slushee machine, and the result squirted into what is surely later to be used as a bong.  There’s your Hand Grenade.  One melon note, with a whole lot of nasty spirit in it.  Of course, as I was leaving the establishment, a fellow imbiber on the Vieux Carré explained to me “Dude, aren’t those so good?  Twelve of those and you’re totally bombed!”.  At $8 a pop, those $96 could go a hell of a lot further in a liquor store… oh well, perhaps he hadn’t passed Economics 101 just yet.

I’d like to point out though, that while these drinks may be bad, they sell like solid-gold pancakes and are likely one of the biggest contributors to keeping Bourbon Street afloat and the whole damned city alive.  You can’t ignore that there are probably more Hand Grenades sold then French 75s or Brandy Milk Punches.  Hell, I’m even half-tempted to purchase the Ceramic Hand Grenade next time I hit the French Quarter.  Perhaps someday they’ll end up in a cocktail database as some lost legend preserved only in fond memory.  We can only hope that day is soon.

Update: Many thanks to TikiMama for her Mango Mango Daiquiri photo diary.  The look on Craig’s face in one picture is… priceless.  Seriously, nobody would buy that.

It came from New Orleans!

Posted by TraderTiki on July 23rd, 2008 — Posted in Events, Tales 2008

Just a quick note.

I’ve put up a few pictures from Tales of the Cocktail in my Tales 2008 Gallery.  Strangely, I found myself distracted by the good food, booze, and conversation and was more apt to whip out my VISA rather than my camera.

Oh well.  The memories live on!  Enjoy my good times!

On Tiki at Tales

Posted by TraderTiki on July 19th, 2008 — Posted in Events, Rum, Tales 2008

When in New Orleans, it’s hard to turn one way or the other without seeing a Hawaiian shirted tourist headed towards the Cafe du Monde or Pat O’ Brien’s. But the most prominent placement of the brightly colored vestments this week has been inside the Hotel Monteleone elevators, as Tiki fans and aficianados make their way through the various panels and presentations with a big emphasis on Tiki.

It seems there’s not a panel this week where Donn Beach or Trader Vic hasn’t been mentioned in some way shape or form. Hell, these guys ruled the roost for 40 years of the American restaurant and drinking scene, their influence on modern mixology should be (and really is now) well recognized. For awhile, Tiki seemed to be the illegitimate stepchild of the up and coming cocktail renaissance, until the likes of Jeff Berry and Martin Cate (The books and the bar) made the scene. The resurgence of fresh ingredients, a wide selection of rums, and an emphasis on making them as they would have been originally has brought the Tiki cocktail culture back into the spotlight, though there is still a lot of work to be done. A Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane served at Pat O’Brien’s today is, sadly, horrific. A Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane made according to the original recipe is a wonder of nature.

During the Jerry’s Kids panel, led by Ted Haigh, David Wondrich, and Brian Rea (a national treasure, I should mention), they couldn’t help, once rum was brought up, to discuss Trader Vic, Donn Beach, and a few of the cocktails developed by them. Rum, once upon a time a cheap commodity that bar managers had to buy in order to get their whiskey, bourbon, etc. was elevated to the status of exotic elixir once Donn Beach got his hands on the stuff (with a little lime, mint, and pastis/bitters). Here’s a short clip of the panel discussing rum and the fellas that brought it into the limelight.

In a much more related panel, Rum, Ron, Rhum, Angus Winchester, who is a dynamic public speaker if ever there was one, brought up the subject with all the due respoect and swagger. No wonder he had to bring it up right, as Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Martin Cate of Forbidden Island were in the audience… as well as Wayne Curtis (Tale of the world in 10 cocktails) next to him on the panel. Here’s a short clip from Angus’ speech. Oh, and Angus, if you’re ever looking to get rid of that swizzle stick (or a drop of the 17 year old J. Wray & Nephew), I’ll gladly hold onto either, preferably both.

Of course, there was also the Tiki Dinner, with drinks by Jeff Berry and food by Chris DeBarr. I think Seamus and Rick have already said quite enough about it, but I’ve got a few pictures in the Tales of the Cocktail gallery to share. Oh what a night.

Today marks Tiki’s true time to shine at Tales. Starting this morning with the Potions of the Caribbean session, led by Jeff Berry, then moving onto Martin Cate’s Garnish panel, and ending off with the Tiki block party. I’ll be writing up a few notes once these are done with… I’m sure there will be pictures, memories, and a brutal hangover.