A toast to cocktails

There’s more to the drink in your hand than some fancy ingredients

This vodka martini
Image by: Harrison Smith
This vodka martini

Ordering his signature martini, James Bond requested his drink to be “shaken, not stirred.” Though Bond, sitting suavely on a sleek metal barstool, appeared too sophisticated to be corrected on his misinformed order, anyone else might have received a questioning look from the bartender who would inform the customer that, no matter which method is used, a martini will taste the same.

Len Fragomeni, founder and president of the Toronto Institute of Bartending (TIB) said this classic cocktail can be prepared using either method.

“It’s really a preference,” he said. “You can create them either way. If it doesn’t have any mix, like juice or pop, for instance, you would generally stir it because you just want to keep the body and essence of spirit without watering it down.”

Since its debut in 1806, the cocktail has come a long way, Fragomeni said.

“There are several stories about the origins of cocktails,” he said. “The most popular one is a story in which a barmaid named Betsy Flanagan used to decorate her drinks with actual rooster feathers. Hence the name, a cock tail.” Evidently, the original use of garnishes was quite different, too. Fragomeni said the infamous cocktail umbrella was originally designed by bartenders in the tropics, “to keep the ice in the drink from melting.”

“The meaning of the word cocktail itself is a recipe or a drink comprised of spirits, water, bitters and sugar,” Fragomeni said.

“The cocktail was actually an American invention. The ‘golden age’ of the cocktail was around 1869 and [the] 1870s. At that time, bartenders held the same status as lawyers and politicians,” he said.

Fragomeni said bartenders were viewed quite differently at that time.

“The bar was a social gathering place, where many businessmen came to socialize after work. The bartender was looked upon in a much more prestigious manner.”

But, Fragomeni said, this prestige didn’t last.

“What killed the cocktail and the industry was Prohibition,” he said. “All great mixologists weren’t allowed to work in North America anymore, so they all left to Europe. The bar trade became a dirty business and was regarded as so even after Prohibition.” Today bartending is regaining its good reputation with the popularization of many new cocktails. In order to sell each new cocktail, its inventors must come up with a catchy name for their newfound creation.

“Each cocktail has its own story,” Fragomeni said. “The Cosmopolitan, for instance, is the most popular drink in the world.

“The drink’s name reflects the typical New Yorker. The first part of the name, ‘cosmo,’ means universal, while ‘politan’ refers to a more local meaning. The Cosmopolitan represents its consumer, who is well travelled yet at the same time also rooted in his or her city.”

But learning about the origins of cocktails is only half the fun—making them is the real treat.

“When making cocktails at home, simplicity is best,” Fragomeni said. “Take three or four really good ingredients and try to use those, as opposed to seven or eight. It’s like cooking: you don’t want to cram too many ingredients into your dish.”

Cocktail-making has become a major focus of study over the past century. The Bartending School of Ontario and the Toronto Institute of Bartending are just a couple of examples of the many hands-on schools that have been established for up-and-coming bartenders to learn the trade.

Bartending can be more of a responsibility than you might think. Jim Shaw, co-manager of the Bartending School of Ontario, said the best way to learn the tricks of the trade is in a bartending class.

“Bartenders face what is called the ‘duty of care.’ When you are a server and you are dispensing a legal drug, you need to be very careful and responsible. If you are not dispensing alcohol correctly, you could be liable,” he said. For Shaw, training is critical to becoming a responsible bartender.

“Most servers haven’t got a clue as to what they’re working with and how it affects the human body. It should be mandatory to take a class at a specialized school, because a lot of people are completely clueless. It’s a lot of responsibility.”

But Shaw said other pieces of bartending knowledge should be pretty common knowledge.

“It’s all about common sense,” he said. “For instance, if you know how to make a Black Russian, you know that you’re making a drink that consists of purely alcohol. That in itself tells you that you’re going to be using a small glass. If you’re using it with ice, it would have to be a glass you would use ice with.”

The names also act as clues to help the bartender.

“Once you add milk, it becomes a White Russian. It’s simple common sense.”

Laura Mouck, AMS food and safety director, said Bloody Caesars, the Long Island Iced Tea and the Dirty Palmer are some of the most popular cocktails at QP right now.

“We currently have about 40 mixed drinks on the Queen’s Pub drink menu, but there is also a shooter menu available for anyone who wants to try out some new shots.”

The QP also tries to keep up with the changing cocktail fads.

“In second term last year the purchasing manager had a contest where staff members submitted ideas for new drinks,” Mouck said. “Then, they did a one-day sampling and decided from that.”

She said the QP’s drink menu tries to offer something for everyone.

“They try to offer a variety of options so they’re accommodating everyone’s taste.”

—With files from Jill Buchner

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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