Episode 064 - New York Cocktails

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What’s shakin, cocktail fans?

Welcome back to another episode of the Modern Bar Cart Podcast!

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This week, we sit down with author Amanda Schuster, who’s the current Editor in Chief of AlcoholProfessor.com, and an expert on the New York cocktail scene. And not just the scene itself, but how cocktails in the Big Apple have developed and evolved over the years.

Amanda’s book, New York Cocktails: An Elegant Collection of over 100 Recipes Inspired by the Big Apple, is available at most major booksellers, and we’ve got a link to it over on the show notes page for this episode over at modernbarcart.com/podcast.

Some of the topics we discuss New York cocktail author Amanda Schuster include:

  • How she used her deep connections in the New York bar scene to help create her book, New York Cocktails, on an insanely tight deadline.
  • The history of cocktails in New York, which starts with the first celebrity bartenders waaay back in the 1800s, goes straight through prohibition and the dark ages of the mid-20th century, and lands in today’s cocktail renaissance.
  • Tips for exploring New York’s cocktail scene if you’re visiting for the first time, or really, if you’re visiting a certain part of the city for the first time.
  • An overview of some of the most important figures that helped spur and inspire the cocktail resurgence in the late 90s and early 2000s.
  • Why cocktail strainers might just be the only thing standing between chaos and order.
  • And much, much more.

Featured Cocktail - The Sherry Cobbler

This week’s featured cocktail is the Sherry Cobbler, which is an intriguing drink for a couple reasons. First, it doesn’t contain any hard spirits - sherry is the only source of alcohol. Another cool aspect of this cocktail is that you’re kind of encouraged to use whatever seasonal fruit is available as a garnish, so it’s always in motion with the natural changes of the earth.

To make a Sherry Cobbler, you’ll need:

  • 3-4 oz of Sherry (talk about types here)
  • ½ oz of simple syrup
  • 2 orange slices
  • Seasonal fruit & mint to garnish

Take your orange slices and muddle them in the bottom of a cocktail shaker with the simple syrup. Then add your ice and sherry, shake, and strain into a highball glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with your seasonal fruit and mint, and enjoy.

We talk a bit about the sherry cobbler in this episode, and if you want to learn a TON more about sherry, please check out our amazing interview with Chantal Tseng in episode 52.

Show Notes

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According to Amanda, there are a number of reasons why New York City has always been a titan in the cocktail scene.

First off, it's America's most important port when it comes to the importation of both cocktail ingredients and the people who would meet and enjoy them.

Because of its prominence and sheer size, a number of really prominent bars began to spring up in the mid-1800s, and some of the earliest "startenders" became famous behind the stick. These include such noteworthy characters as:

In addition, there has always been a connection in New York City between fine dining and cocktails, which is not necessarily the case elsewhere in the United States.

When asked about how to "do cocktails" in NYC, Amanda recommends starting off at a neighborhood or hotel bar that has been operating for quite a while. This is a great way to see how the locals drink and to soak in New York culture. After that, try a newer place, and see what's on the cutting edge of cocktail culture.

NYC and the Cocktail Renaissance

Back in the 80s and 90s, there was this idea that a cocktail bar was a place where people go to shout over loud music and spill things on one another.

Sometime in the late 90s and early 2000s, a number of important bars and bartenders started to spring up and influence how cocktails were served and consumed. Some of them even enforced rules for proper conduct. Here's a copy of the house rules from Milk & Honey:

  1. No name-dropping, no star fucking.
  2. No hooting, hollering, shouting or other loud behaviour. 
  3. No fighting, play fighting, no talking about fighting.
  4. Gentlemen will remove their hats. Hooks are provided. 
  5. Gentlemen will not introduce themselves to ladies. Ladies, feel free to start a conversation or ask the bartender to introduce you. If a man you don't know speaks to you, please lift your chin slightly and ignore him. 
  6. Do not linger outside the front door. 
  7. Do not bring anyone unless you would leave that person alone in your home. You are responsible for the behaviour of your guests. 
  8. Exit the bar briskly and silently. People are trying to sleep across the street. Please make all your travel plans and say all farewells before leaving the bar.

It's almost impossible to cover all the important figures and their establishments in detail, but here's a list of a few of the most prominent bars and the noteworthy figures who piloted them.

Lightning Round

Favorite Cocktail

Boozy, stirred cocktails like the Manhattan. If Julie was in "the Lord's cocktail bar," she'd use Pappy Van Winkle 13 year rye ($1200 per bottle these days), and Carpano Antica.

If You Were a Cocktail Tool or Ingredient, What Would You Be?

I would be a strainer (Hawthorne or Julep) because I would be taking in information and then filtering it for better consumption.

Cocktail with Anyone, Past or Present

I'd go to a smoky, Midtown cocktail bar with Peter O'Toole, start of Lawrence of Arabia.

Influential Cocktail Books

Advice for New Home Bartenders

Read and watch. As eloquent as so many of these writers are, it's hard to understand the cocktail experience without going to a bar and watching someone make cocktails. Go to a good cocktail bar and watch what happens.