I was a very ordinary student in school. Not because I couldn’t, but more because I wouldn’t. I did only as much as was needed to get through reasonably well. Failing was not an option. Being in the last 20 wasn’t either. Sure, I was young and rebellious with one near-genius older sibling and the other a conscientious one. But was it really all just me? Is it always bad students or could it also be ordinary teachers. Or is this too a vicious cycle. We’ve all been through this in one way or another. I wasn’t great at mathematics in school. I don’t know if this was because my teacher didn’t excite or inspire me enough to make an effort to delve into the mysteries of algebra and geometry. But then I didn’t particularly like history or geography either. I do know I gave my Mom many palpitations. But when pushed to the limit by the mathematics teacher who told me in no uncertain terms that I was likely to flunk my boards, I read each book from page to page, alone, and cracked the paper to the delight of my parents and the amazement of my school! It brings to the front that elusive ability called “will”. It allows us to do or become anything we choose to if we want it badly enough. By making us strive to get there.
Bartending has taught me far more than just the basics of what we need to know standing behind the bar. As words, we use without a thought while mixing a drink that means more than just an action. Yes, we stir a classic martini, but we also stir ourselves out of a stupor and become aware of why we are stirring. Of course, we shake that margarita but we also shake off the cobwebs that blur our minds and wake up to the complexities of that great drink! We build a Bloody Mary while building our teams to work as one and build our knowledge to become forces to reckon with. We muddle to bring out flavors that make a glass of Mojito while sorting out the muddle that hounds our lives. Like the English language, a lot that we were not good at growing up suddenly sees light in the euphoric world of bartending.
I understood the various revolutions and wars better seen through a haze of spirited libations. How the imperial ban on alcohol in Russia added fuel to the festering communist revolution. How Lenin saw the futility in continuing the ban saying “drunkenness was better than slavery’. The Bloody Mary created at Harry’s Bar in Paris signified the cup of blood on Queen Marie Antoinette’s beheading when she told hungry subjects to eat cake if they didn’t have bread! Or how British soldiers fought with the Dutch and learned about Dutch Courage (gin or jenever) that they drank to give them that glint in the eye. Later, William of Orange ascended the British throne alongside Queen Anne. And gin became the patriotic spirit to drink. Which led to a period of chaos and utter debauchery.
Even further back it was Catherine de Medici of Spain who introduced sweet liqueurs to the French court in the sixteenth century when she married Henry II of France. I discovered that 1830 (the year the Coffey column still was patented) did not mean 18th century but rather the 19th! I was mortified. It was the glass of blended scotch as a category that alerted me on the Phylloxera plague that almost destroyed the French vineyards in 1880. That stopped the supply of brandy to England (brandy & soda was their main tipple then) which allowed scotch entry. The British Empire then took it everywhere they went, and the rest is history!
The two world wars. The Allied leaders strategizing over martinis. A glass of French 75 cocktail inspired by the guns from WW1, Kamikaze shots inspired by the Japanese Kamikaze fighter pilot suicide squad. The prohibition in the USA from 1920 – 1933 leading to the underground speakeasy bars where the famous and the criminal rubbed shoulders. It was the time of cocktail revolution to mask the flavours of some very bad bootleg. How President Roosevelt repealed prohibition with a martini in his hand.
And rum. Which takes one back to the discovery of the coffin-shaped island of Barbados, R L Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and ‘rumbullion’. This led to the big slavery triangle, the Caribbean islands, rum stills and slaves that gave us this amazing cane spirit. Which the British armed forces adopted with a vengeance and became the front runner of all the armed forces the British Empire touched, including ours. While absorbing all of this I discovered the map of the world and how the seas and the continents were aligned. Whisk(e)y taught me about the Atlantic ocean that bridged the expanse of the glass of whiskey nations of Scotland and Ireland from the Americas. The Raki, Ouzo & Pastis trail showed me the route from the Middle East to Europe.
The fruit brandies of Europe allowed me to understand that storing surplus can also mean evolving the fruit into a spirit that needs far less maintenance. Which opened up the ideology of surplus of a land being converted into their native or traditional spirit. Barley in Britain made both beer and whisky. Grapes made wine and brandy in France, Italy, Spain, Germany. Russia began making vodka with potato and then switched to wheat. Poland made their vodka from Rye. Germans made beer from wheat as well as barley. We made all our spirits, for the longest time, from molasses!
I am now more in the know than I ever was. What I learned in the bar that the classroom so utterly failed to teach me. And yes, the only mathematics I still know is taking inventory and planning lists for events. It has been a journey of discovery via shaking, stirring, teaching, introspection and most of all, sharing and believing. Here’s to finding your spirit, whether in the glass or in your soul. It makes you discover who you are which allows you to become who you will be.
A few kamikaze shots may help…
30ml orange vodka
10ml lime/squeeze of a wedge
1 teaspoon castor sugar or 10ml flavor syrup or crush of your choice
Garnish: fruit chews like mentos or fruitella on the side
- Half fill shaker with ice
- Pour in all ingredients
- Shake for 10 seconds and strain into glass
Wise bartenders will make at least 10 at a time ☺!!
The Can’t Go Wrong Book Of Mocktails : Explore new flavours, entertain with flair and enjoy the deliciousness!
This is by far the most comprehensive collection of non-alcoholic drinks ever, which even includes a brilliant “hot” section. Here’s a collection of drinks you are going to enjoy drinking and making. I have chosen the best and the widest range of mixes my team and I have ever worked with. They have been separated into categories that make it easy for you to find what you are looking for. Each recipe is exactly put down to ensure you get it right every time. Every photograph you see is “real” and not enhanced to look good. So you know that’s what your drink should look like.
You’ll find everything – from the most exotic to the most ordinary. Coolers & Slushies, Smoothies & Lassis, Creamy Stuff & Spicy, Ice Cold & Hot. Ensconced in the most idyllic settings! They’re simple, easily accessible and quick. They also look and taste very good. There are tips about everything too – from equipment and glassware to garnishes and throwing a party. Enjoy the journey…
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She is a Bar and Beverage Consultant to several hundred international brands and bars and also a freelance journalist.