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The NY Times has an article discussing the difficulty some folks have locating ingredients for classic (1920s, etc) cocktails. The ingredients have disappeared, and modern equivalents aren't the same. For people set on making classic drinks from the old manuals, this is a serious problem....

 

But mixing drinks from their recipes can be a different matter. There are the old-fangled measurements — a pony of this, a gill of that. But it’s the ingredients that can get really arcane: ground gentian, capillaire, raspberry syrup, tansy, ambergris, gum syrup. Throw in some eye of newt and toe of frog and you’ve got the cauldron from “Macbeth.”

 

It can be enough to foil even the most devoted cocktail archeologist. But Jennifer Colliau, a San Francisco bartender, revels in the challenge.

 

“What I do in my spare time,” she said, “is read old cocktail books looking for ingredients I haven’t tried before,” then try to locate or replicate them. Since last year, however, when she started a one-woman company called Small Hand Foods, Ms. Colliau’s spare-time challenge has changed into a part-time-and-then-some job: she’s producing and selling anachronisms like gum syrups, which are sugar syrups emulsified with gum arabic, as well as artisanal versions of grenadine and orgeat, an almond syrup that was a 19th-century mainstay.

 

 

Shake it!

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This is an area covered in Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. He has an RIP section for brands and ingredients that have died and will never return. However, the recent resurgence in cocktail popularity has helped with some ingredients, notably flavoured bitters. And places like Sonoma Syrup Company are producing high quality flavoured sugar syrups, similar to the person mentioned in that article.

 

I am enjoying tracking down ingredients and playing around with classic recipes, but am beginning to think that taking up heroin might be cheaper :lol:

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In Seattle, we have an apothecary - Tenzing Momo, where we can source just about every ingredient that is listed in the old bartending manuals. Erik Ellestead at the blog Underhill Lounge and who also works at Heaven's Dog in SF is working his way through the Savoy book and has recreated a lot of items as well. Then there are the guys like Eric Seed at House Alpenz who are trying to revive old product categories as well.

 

Rocky

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  • 1 month later...

I just spotted this topic in the course of (highly pleasurable!) catch-up reading on MF. (Making me speculate -- off-topic but saves posting a separate query -- whether I ought to place on MF one or two from the considerable collection of postings I have that might be of interest, and that, moreover, were deleted from one or another competing online forum, not always for obvious reason.) Anyway:

 

 

The NY Times has an article discussing the difficulty some folks have locating ingredients ...

But mixing drinks from their recipes can be a different matter. There are the old-fangled measurements — a pony of this, a gill of that. But it’s the ingredients that can get really arcane: ground gentian, capillaire, raspberry syrup, tansy, ambergris, gum syrup...

 

Heathens! What has journalism come to? Seems to no longer include many people who've read older books. I say so because of the six ingredients listed, only one (capillaire) is unfamiliar to me offhand as I'll elaborate below, and I'm no expert, I just read a little.

 

For the benefit of NY-Times writers and other illiterates, four of the six "really arcane" ingredients are still in common use. (Ambergris is not, barring expensive perfumes I think -- for more, read about Brillat-Savarin, Richelieu, and the psychoactivity of ambergris chocolate in either the "ambergris" article of English-language Larousse Gastronomique editions thru 1988 or so, or in Meditation VI in Brillat directly -- which is exactly why to keep such books on hand.) Raspberry syrup I assume does not sound very strange, and was being dumped on savory courses, to excess, so often in the 1980s US that it spurred a backlash. Commercial "foodservice" suppliers still sell jars of it. Tansy is in herbal liqueurs. Gentian is the standard bitter base of half the flavored cordials made, especially "Angostura" bitters; Underberg, Fernet Branca and their ilk; even Campari I think, and is an ancient medicinal herb available in health-foods stores. Vegetable gums (acacia, tragacanth, etc) are readily available in dry form; mix with water. You can even fake up your own cheap vegetable gum by toasting any starch into dextrin -- the glue used for centuries on envelopes, stamps, etc. And I hate to break the news, but a "gill" is a formal standardized unit of traditional fluid measure -- quarter of a pint -- as any dictionary will explain (a "cup" for example is much less standard, it's a relatively recent US cookbook improvisation, absent from many standard measures tables).

 

Blame Wikipedia and Google as recent substitutes for picking up general knowledge. O the Times ...

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