Mixologist of the Past

  • 23rd March 2012

Here’s the thing about great mixologists: The drinks they’ve devised remain popular long after they, themselves, are gone. Lest they be forgotten to history, though, homage must be paid to four of the best from yesteryear.

Jerry Thomas

The overweight, flamboyant Thomas set the standard for barroom showmanship. As he plied his trade across 19th-century America, his signature drink, the Blue Blazer, may have set off a few alarms.

This bold creation was named for the fiery arc produced by Thomas every time he mixed one. Patrons may have backed off slightly as Thomas set the whiskey alight, rolling the flaming liquid from mug to mug before serving up the drink.

Thomas’ illustrated “How to Mix Drinks,” written in 1862, can be had today as a reprint. It includes instructions for mixing the Blue Blazer, minus the blaze.

Constantine Ribalaigua Vert

The Daiquiri has been around in one form or another since 1900, but it took Cuba’s Constantine Ribalaigua Vert at the Floridita Bar to come up with the version everyone knows today. It soon became the favourite drink of Ernest Hemingway, the American expatriate who patronised the Floridita on a regular basis.

Vert later created the Papa Dobles, an oversized Daiquiri, in Hemingway’s honour.

Donn Beach

He was born Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, but everyone called him Donn Beach. It did make sense. Don the Beachcomber was, after all, what he’d named his string of watering holes. The first of these opened in Los Angeles in the 1930s, and it boasted the Polynesian decor that was to become so popular in mid-20th-century America.

It was not for the atmosphere alone that people flocked to Beach’s restaurants. His exotic assemblage of self-devised cocktails proved an even bigger draw. The most famous of these was the Zombie, an alarming concoction named for its potential after-effect on all who had the courage to polish one off.

Victor J. Bergeron

The famous Trader Vic’s restaurant chain started life as Hinky Dink’s in 1934. It was founded by Victor J. Bergeron, and his decor of choice was the Polynesian theme already popularised by Donn Beach.

Bergeron designed his own variety of cocktails, and one of these, the Mai Tai, was an instant hit. Donn Beach, however, called foul, insisting that he, himself, had invented that drink more than a decade earlier. The two versions of the Mai Tai turned out to be quite dissimilar, but that didn’t stop the rivalry between these two men from lasting throughout their lifetimes.

Raise a Glass to the World’s Mixologists

The work of these four and many more has contributed to the betterment of happy hours everywhere. The next time you are served a great cocktail, drink a special toast to the unsung mixologist who brought that drink to you.

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