I'm interested in learning more about the historical aspects of bartending and drinks from around the turn of the (last) century and around the era around prohibition. CHOW regularly covers that sort of thing, but I'm interested in going deeper and broader with my research.
Where to start?
I have a copy of a privately printed book dated 1926 (right in the middle of Prohibition!), "Life and Letters of Henry William Thomas, Mixologist" by Charles V. Wheeler. It appears that Thomas was a much-admired bartender in the early part of the 20th century at various clubs and restaurants in Washington DC, his longest tenure being at George Driver's bar, described as "the first irrigation or service station on the east side of the [Pennsylvania] Avenue as one came away from the Capitol."
It's a fascinating little volume, containing a brief biography of Thomas, anecdotes from his career, real and imaginary toasts, recipes for drinks, quotes and quips on the subject of booze and bartending, all in all a delightful read.
In one particularly evocative passage, the author waxes nostalgic about the pre-Prohibition era:
"It is a tantalizing experience today to dip into a classical Hand Book of Bar Information for the year 1911. There are to be found the amazing wine production of the countries of the world for 1909. There is a list of the importation into this country of over two-hundred and fifty thousand cases of Champagne in 1910. There follows the Tariff rates on Ales, Wines, and Spirits and a table of the contents of different kinds of casks; comparative tables of liquid and proof spirits of all lands; the Chateaux wines of France and their classification; American equivalents of foreign measures and money; full instructions for cellar management; and price-lists wholesale for every kind of wine and liquor used in the trade, whether imported or domestic. A mighty business was toppled over by fanatics who knew the traffic only as RUM.
Just read these case-prices for quarts - and weep!
Guiness' Stout $2.80
Bass's Ale 3.10
Munich Beer 4.00
French and Italian Vermouth 6.00
Italian Chianti 6.00 to 20.00
German Wines 7.50 to 25.00
Clarets and Sauternes 6.00 to 40.00
Burgundy 10.00 to 40.00
Madeira 9.00 to 20.00
Port 9.00 to 50.00
Sherry 9.00 to 20.00
Hungarian Tokay 11.00 to 30.00
Sparkling Chambertin 28.00
Champagnes 24.00 to 100.00
Cordials 15.00 to 27.00
Gins 10.00 to 18.00
Three Star Brandy 14.00
14 year Brandy 20.00
30 year Brandy 30.00
60 year Brandy 50.00
U.S. Whiskey 6.00 to 16.00
Canadian Whiskey 12.00
Irish Whiskey 13.00
Scotch Whiskey 14.00 to 30.00
At a good restaurant, or in the expansive dinner served at home, we thought but little of serving beverages at each course..."
Man, imagine living through prohibition with memories like these! Thirteen years of hell.
Hard to tell if this will still make it to you but I am desperately seeking a copy of the above referenced book. The Library of Congress has it but they it's currently unavailable due to construction. I'm doing research on D.C. bartenders and bars, such as the infamous Shoomaker's. I'd love to read the book. Anyway I can get a copy?
Derek M. Brown
You should be able to get a copy on Interlibrary Loan from Cornell, Duke or a few other libraries that list it as available. If you ask your local public library to order it, there might be a small fee. If you're a student or affiliated with a college/university, you should be able to order and borrow it for free.
For a very interesting broader picture try, A History Of The World In Six Glasses, by Tom Standage.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Standage starts with a bold hypothesis—that each epoch, from the Stone Age to the present, has had its signature beverage—and takes readers on an extraordinary trip through world history.
"Imbibe" is great book, but not necessarily the best entree point if you want to begin mixing the drinks. Read it by all means, it is a wonderful book, but its mixology is quite often quite advanced especially in terms of bitters -you'll be making your own, and liquor - you'll often be modifying existing liquor to match older characteristics.
I would recommend "The Savoy Cocktail Book" by Harry Craddock -one of THE great period guides to old school cocktails. The Alembic Bar in San Fran does a Savoy night where they replace the regular cocktail menu with multiple copies of the Savoy for the patrons to peruse and order from.
Ted Haigh's amazing (and amazingly out-of-print) "Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails : From the Alamagoozlum Cocktail to the Zombie" seems to have had a sharp drop in used copy price. While still not cheap, it's an revelatory guide to the old drinks but recreating them with existing, though not always easily available, ingredients.
"The Gentleman's Companion Vol 2" by Charles Baker is now back in print as "Jigger, Beaker and Glass: Drinking Around the World". So entertainingly written as to forgive the inclusion of some pretty awful cocktails, I'm going to go slightly off thread and say read "Knife, Fork and Spoon: Eating Around the World" as well. Just damn fine stuff.
There's plenty of great websites as well - I'd start at Robert Hess's drinkboy.com and branch from there- where you'll start to pull resources and info from in no time!
You may want to attend Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans this summer from July 16-20, 2008. This event has tons of seminars about cocktails. Everything you want to know, plus some. AND the top mixologists and cocktailians in the world will be there, many willing to talk you ear off as long as you buy them a cocktail.