Akrotiri continues to give up secrets about Minoan society 4,000 years ago, and the similarities to our own modern comforts are pretty incredible....
Perhaps the ancient Minoan towns that populated Santorini Island and Crete 4,000 years ago looked similar to this modern-day view.
Standing on the edge of the caldera and looking out into the sea, it's difficult to imagine that beneath these peaceful, lapping waves lurks one of the world's most powerful volcanoes, and that this calm view was one of armageaddon-like destruction during the Minoan Explosion sometime between 1500 and 1627 BC.
The volcanic eruption all those millenia ago buried in ash and pumice an ancient Minoan town that archeologists refer to as Akrotiri. This bustling sea-faring town boasted three story houses with a market square, paved streets, artistic wall paintings, advanced furniture, toilets and plumbing, pipes and 'air conditioning' systems, and evidence that ancient wine was traded through this town. The sea-faring Minoans had some sort of warning of the volcanic eruption, because no human remains were left at the site. Perhaps early smoke, sulfur, and pre-volcanic earthquakes caused their organized departure. Archeologists posit that although they made it off the island, the people of this town most likely perished on their ships in a tsunami that followed the explosion. The volcanic explosion weakened other Minoan outposts to the point where other cultures and civilizations could easily move in and take over their cities. Imagine what the world could be like today if some of the Minoan technologies could have been advanced on thousands of years ago.
These plaster casts of wooden beds are just one example of the craftsmanship and handiwork of the Minoans.
Here, you see a glimpse into a bustling marketplace where amphorae filled with grains, oils, and wines supplied the locals with daily needs.
A closer looks shows a view of an amphora that held grain-- the contents were usually hinted at by the designs on the pottery. In the amphora in the upper left of the photo you can see the grain design painted on the outside of the clay.
Akrotiri continues to give up secrets about Minoan society 4,000 years ago, and the similarities to our own modern comforts are pretty incredible....
Today, the Margaret River is a thriving wine region of Australia, popular for similar varieties upon which Napa Valley has built its bread & butter, such as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. But back in the early 1960s, there was no wine in the Margaret River-- that legacy belonged to South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. Planting vines at Vasse Felix in 1967 signaled a turning point that brought this wine region into the world's eye.
Vasse Felix is named after a historic figure: Thomas Vasse. During storms in the early 1800s he was swept overboard on his ship, and though some presumed him dead, other legends abounded about his ultimate fate: Was he adopted by Australian locals? Had he been picked up by an American ship & taken back to Europe? Had he been jailed?
Tom Cullity, a cardiologist who purchased his first vineyard site for $75, named his winery 'Vasse Felix' ('Lucky Vasse'), humorously rebranding history's view of local legend Thomas Vasse. But the winery had to throw most of their first vintage (1971) overboard when local birds ate much of their crop. Determined not to share Vasse's fate, Cullity brought in a falcon to scare off the birds... but he flew away on his first release. (However, you can still find this feathery wanderer on every Vasse Felix wine label).
After a few vintages, things turned around. One of Cullity's early riesling vintages garnered some early support for the region. In 1972 he made his first cabernet sauvignon vintage, which would soon become a benchmark wine for the Margaret River. And, of course, today, these high-quality wines have helped set the course for the Margaret River's wine scene.
Recently, a friend shared this beautiful bottle of 2001 Vasse Felix 'Heytesbury', and it was like peering into the history of Western Australia's wine history. Heytesbury is old-vine cabernet sauvignon, with syrah, petit verdot, and malbec blended in (84% cabernet sauvignon, 8% syrah, 6% malbec, 2% merlot). They hefty alcohol (14.2) blends in to the rich, dark wine, and savory tertiary aromas presented in a way that made this wine great with meats.
The word sommelier has come to us byway of an interesting etymological journey. A somier (Old French for 'pack animal'), was watched over by a sommerier. A sommerier's responsibility included the animals and their cargo. Sommerier mutated into soumelier, and the meaning slightly shifted-- a soumelier (a Middle French word) was responsible for transporting supplies. The spelling and meaning slightly shifted again-- a sommelier was someone in charge of a specific type of cargo. Now, this term refers exclusively to beverages, and sometimes cigars (Parr & Mackay 2010:4).
During the 1300s in England, the royal butler would source wines for the king. We can reasonably concur that many butlers in wealthy households also procured wine for their households. In the butler's records from this time we can see interesting trends: Some years, just before harvest (in late summer) there would be a shortage of wine-- the previous year's wine having been consumed. The price of wine would rise sharply, then fall again when the new vintage became available. The butler would buy heavy in poor years for the household's table wine, but in good years the butler would buy larger quantities of the best wines for the king's personal consumption, and less bulk purchases for household consumption (James 1971:6-7). In a way, the sommeliers in most restaurants today echo similar rhythms and trends: we try to concentrate our higher end bottle selections in the finest vintages, and look for good declassified wines in less-acclaimed vintages for the house pours.
The modern day sommelier emerged alongside the modern day restaurant. Public dining used to happen in a tavern-like form: diners would eat whatever stew, pie, or meal the tavern owner had made that day. The phenomenon of the a la carte menu didn't occur until during the French Revolution. The word restaurant comes from a French root word that means "to restore," and these first dining venues were seen as places to eat restorative food during the trying times of the Revolution. By 1782, two of the first a la carte restaurant menus at Antoine Beauvilliers 'Beauvilliers' and 'Boulanger' offered made-to-order dishes in France (Bakas 2011). Another early restaurant, Boeuf a la Mode (1792-1936), also helped cement this new genre of eating establishment into a form with an assured future. André Jammet, formerly an owner of the NYC restaurant La Caravelle and a descendant from a family with centuries of French restaurant experience, notes that the chef profession was once a patronized job funded by the European aristocracy. After the French Revolution-- with the aristocratic class wiped out-- many chefs found themselves without a job and began to open up small shops cooking for the public. This was the impetus for these early 18th century restaurants.
These venues began to require beverage professionals, and the first sommeliers laid the foundations of our current discipline. Early wine stewards were usually rejected cooks, kicked out of the kitchen and sent to the basement, usually with a chip on their shoulder (Steinberger 2008). But early sommeliers had much different jobs than we do today; they dealt with negociants and barrels, and a few bottles here and there. Estate bottling only became the standard format for transporting wine in the mid-1900s.
During the Fin de Siecle, most Americans visiting Paris were suspicious of sommeliers and weren't shy about publishing their concerns in the New York Times, citing high wine prices and Champagne selections as the main concerns (Anonymous 1887; Parr & Mackay 2010:4). In Manhattan, the careers of two of NYC's earliest sommeliers launched at The Algonquin Hotel in 1930s and 1940s. Here, Elizabeth Bird and Francois waited on the famous Round Table club of writers. Francois & Elizabeth's careers coincided with one of the most exciting times in wine: the era when wineries began to estate bottle and ship corked glass bottles with labels on them. This shift in format paradigm changed what a restaurant wine list could be. Browse through the pages of the Lutece 1962 wine list-- a list that was cutting edge 50 years ago. Then browse through the current wine lists at Daniel or Eleven Madison Park-- huge tomes that hold a hundred times more than the Lutece list-- made possible by the change in wine trade format. With wine packaging easily accessible in one-meal portions, suddenly restaurants could collect many more varieties of bottles in their cellars than previously had been possible. Bottles could be aged differently, and provenance was more trustworthy knowing the wine had been bottled at the estate and not at a negociant's warehouse.
With these growing restaurant wine lists, growing wine cellars, and a consumer demand for variety and knowledgable service, came the demand for the sommelier profession. The lively and popular sommelier profession as we know it today is a recent development made possible by the challenges and changes of the 20th century. Tremendous growth in the sommelier industry carries with it just a few decades of recent history.
But how does the present day sommelier differ from a sommelier in the mid-1900s?
A Second Career, and the Renaissance of Interdisciplinary Exchange
Many US sommeliers I meet were once on a career path for something completely different, but through often tumultuous circumstances, found wine. I hear this same story again and again, and even lived it myself. Browse through a few of Levi Dalton's sommelier interviews on the I'll Drink to That podcast, and you will see how many sommeliers came to restaurants after a different career. Pascaline Lepeltier? She was studying philosophy. Jeff Porter? High school teacher. Thomas Pastuszak? A pianist. Matt Stinton? An actor.
I'll posit that most of us come to being sommeliers after a first career because the legal drinking age in the US is 21, and most people graduate college and set their career paths long before they have exposure to inspiring wine. Then in our 20s, after setting the course, we become entranced by wine and are confronted with a crossroads: break away from the chosen career path and commit to the restaurant lifestyle, or stay the course and be a wine enthusiast on the sidelines. There are exceptions. Grant Reynolds discovered wine in a study abroad program to Piedmonte. Roger Dagorn was incubated in a sommelier household. And in other countries, an early connection with wine is more easily forged.
But despite the lucky few who found their callings early in life, the plethora of people coming to wine from different careers has had a profound effect on the industry. In just about any area of study, when an infusion of interdisciplinary ideas merge, there is usually a renaissance of some kind. In the Manhattan market, I've been amazed by this phenomenon. When people come to restaurants from a science background the operational data of the restaurants are enhanced. I worked once with an MIT guy who instated some of the most incredible spreadsheets I've ever seen for tracking wine. The spreadsheets help go through the motions of wine ordering and inventory evaluation much faster, and the sheets have since been passed around from restaurant to restaurant. Now the entire restaurant industry is better because of this simple way of seeing things from an engineer's perspective. When people come to restaurants from an acting or theater perspective, the dining experience can be enhanced for the guests-- many former actors find correlations between service and acting and have taught the tools of entertainment to their FOH colleagues. When people come to restaurants from a dancing career, the movement in the dining room can be almost like choreography. Per Se famously brings in ballet dancers to teach their staff how to move with grace. When people come to wine from a teaching career, their tableside manner and philosophies on staff education can be revolutionary. When people come to wine from a writing background, the quality of tasting notes and the day-to-day verbal jargon becomes enhanced with more meaningful vocabulary. When former cooks come to being sommeliers, they bring with them an enhanced depth of food and beverage pairing that can inspire the entire industry. When different disciplines collide, new genres and ways of doing things emerge, and this incredible, culture-rich phenomenon is happening right now in the sommelier community.
The modern-day sommelier emerged from the violence of the French Revolution, but the future of the profession is blossoming into a beautiful web where snippets of wisdom from all walks of life come together and express the multi-dimensional magic of wine.
Anonymous (1887) "The Bill at Bignon's" New York Times. 10 April 1887.
Bakas, Rick (2011) "The History of Restaurants & Dining." Wine Country Eating.
James, Margery Kirkbride. (1971) Studies in the Medieval Wine Trade. Oxford: Clarendon.
Jammet, André. (2013) Personal Communication at a wine event in NYC. December 30.
Parr, Rajat and Jordan Mackay. (2010) Secrets of the Sommeliers: How to Think and Drink Like the World's Top Professionals. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Steinberger, Michael. (2008) "A Turn of the Corkscrew." Slate. 2008 January 2
Dogfish Head 'Theobroma' (Milton, Delaware)
Theobroma, or, 'food of the gods,' is one of the loveliest beers I've had in quite a while. It's an ale brewed with honey, ancho chilies, annatto, and Askinosie cacao nibs. The recipe is an ancient recreation based on chemical evidence from 3,000 year old pottery sherds in Honduras. An alcoholic chocolate beverage similar to this one was used by early civilizations to toast special occasions.
This is part of Dogfish Head's "Ancient Ale" series-- a collection of unique fermented beverages that have been brewed based off of historic evidence. Some of their other interesting ancient ales include: Chateau Jiahu, Etru Sca, Midas Touch, and Ta Henket.
Back in April the University Settlement in NYC-- an organization dedicated to fight poverty and provide services to low income families-- held their 9th Annual Fine Wine Dinner & Auction to fundraise for their cause. Several sommeliers from around Manhattan volunteer for the night and serve a table. This was my second year volunteering at this event; here's a photo of us in action:This photo is an excerpt from University Settlement's facebook album- view the album by clicking the photo.
Chef Andre Soltner and Mimi Sheraton - photo by Pascaline Lepeltier
For dinner, Chef Andre Soltner recreated some items from his legendary Manhattan restaurant, Lutèce (1961 - 2004). Soltner was there through the 1990s, and famously missed just 5 days of work during his 34 year tenure. Chef Jacques Torres made dessert, and, as usual, kept everyone laughing most of the night.
One of the most memorable parts of the evening occurred during food critic Mimi Sheraton's speech when she lauded Lutèce and detailed Soltner's contributions to the culinary world. Soltner leaned into the microphone and reminded her that once she took away one of his stars. She replied, "Oh, I knew I wouldn't get through this night without you mentioning that!" It was a touching exchange between a chef and a critic, who, after decades of working for different parts of the same industry, have formed a unique friendship.
There were many legendary bottles up for auction, but what caught my eye was a large blue book that was a part of one of the lots: an original Lutèce wine list from 1962. The list is hand written in swirling calligraphy, and the pages are cut from thick stock.
It was amazing. The sommeliers gathered around and we practically drooled over the pages. Not only is this an incredible piece of history, but this wine list is a look into the producers and vintages that were available in Manhattan 50 years ago. It's wild to think that you could drink these legendary bottles so easily, but it is also interesting to note the limited selection compared to today's availability.
Here are some highlights from this legendary piece of history:
On the opening page, a letter to the diners. This is a part of a wine list that is frequently disregarded today. First, they thank the suppliers, of which there are seven:
Henry Behar, Vintage Wines
Michel Dreyfus, Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.
Robert Haas, Leeds Imports
Reginald M. Halpern, North America Wines
Herbert Kahn, Excelsior Wines and Spirits
Frank Schoonmaker, F. Schoonmaker Selections
Col. Frederick Wildman, Frederick Wildman Co.
Compare this with today's average number of suppliers: I work with 50-60 wine suppliers (of which there are sales representatives, winery representatives, and owners to meet with), 1 coffee supplier, 4 tea suppliers, and 20-25 spirit suppliers. The only way to keep it all in line is to have an organized spreadsheet.
I find it touching to see this relationship between restaurant wine buyer and wine merchant. Today, merchants are rarely given the credit they deserve for sourcing special bottles, and I've never seen merchants thanked on a modern wine list. Perhaps it would be nice if we could return to paying these sort of respectful homages to those who source the wine for our lists.
Then, they thank the author of "Wines of France," Alexis Lichine, for creating an "invaluable source for technical and background material." This nod highlights the access to information that we often take for granted today.
Flip to the first page and you are greeted with a mind-blowing vertical of Lafite Rothschild dating back to the 1890s.
Or you could choose some Haut Brion from the 1930s.
Pre-depression Mouton, anyone?
Here is a look into the French rose available in 1962 Manhattan.
Flip a page, and we come to a sampling of some of the red Burgundy offerings. Only once in a while does the list mention the producer name-- it seems that the producer is listed only when it is a monopole, or when they have released a special cuvee. It does highlight the vineyard, the vineyard's class (grand cru, premier cru, etc.), and the vineyard hectare size.
This way of writing the wine list is a look into how wine from Burgundy was (is?) perceived. Especially growing up in the US I've always had this ingrained notion that it is the producer who is paramount, and the land is second. I've wrestled with seeing this different ways, sometimes changing my mind about the importance of terroir, sometimes believing that, no, it really is the producer who is the most important. We all know that it really is a combination, but ultimately, it is hard for me to disregard the producer and think solely in terms of pieces of land because I was raised with constant subconscious messages that the producer is the most important (it's always the producer or brand on US labels that is bolded, front and center on the label, and sometimes the land source is not even mentioned).
But this wine list illustrates that this is not the case everywhere. I wonder what it might have been like, growing up talking about wines almost exclusively by the pieces of land they come from. How would I think about wine differently?
This way of thinking about wine is beautiful-- it gives the land personality. It forces you to think about the land from which the grapes came, and by forcing this association, I think consumers end up respecting the product more by feeling more connected to it. When I drink Champagne I think about the hills of Champagne; I am instantly transported there, and I enjoy the experience that much more.
But this causes confusion to the uninitiated. I remember -- years ago-- a woman in her late 70s complained that her glass of chardonnay cost $15. I smiled and said, "Well, it is from one of the most wonderful places that chardonnay can be grown, Puligny-Montrachet." She gasped and scolded me, "Why, that's not chardonnay, that's MONTRACHET," and she told me to correct the wine list.
As crazy as she sounded to a sommelier's ears, I undertand her confusion.
It is only compounded by the many global producers in the early-mid 1900s who pilfered the terms "Burgundy" and "Chablis" and used them to reference vast quantities of wine from anywhere.
All these things occurred to me as I marveled at how Soltner had organized the list.
Then I flipped to this page.
This page may have been the most important page on the entire list. Burgundy and Bordeaux would probably have still reached their zenith heights without being on Soltner's wine list.
This page-- to me-- seems like a labor of love. From today's eyes, three Alsatian wines seems like a measly amount, but in the 1960s, these wines were not readily available in Manhattan. Chef Soltner (who is an Alsatian native) helped arrange for these wines to be at his restaurant. He had them brought in because it wouldn't be right to have a wine cellar without them. This page, I believe, is the primary genesis of the Alsatian wine market in the US. With this page, this wine list made history.
As for your choice of Champagne, these were the options:
Moet et Chandon
Pommery et Greno
Today we all think of these as the classics. But one of the reasons we consider many of these producers to be iconic is because Soltner put them on his wine list in 1962.
As I flipped through these fantastic pages I became more and more amazed. This is the grandfather of all our wine lists. Decades later, the ink on these pages continue to ripple through our industry...
Yaupon (pronounced YO-pon) is indigenous to southeast North America. Other names and spellings include youpon, cassina, North American Tea Plant, and the Christmas Berry tree. Yaupon's scientific name is Ilex vomitoria (more about this shocking name later). The plant grows like a bush and is in the holly family; technically, it is a perennial tree shrub with white flowers and red berries. Yaupon is similar and related to yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis).
Yaupon is the only caffine-rich tea plant native to North America. In the 1500s and 1600s, and probably long before, Native Americans living in southeast North America made a drink from yaupon. In the late 1600s yaupon was a major part of south eastern North America Native American trade (Bartram in Meyer:1976; Kravitz 2000). The drink was described by Spanish and English colonists who called the beverage "black drink" (due to its dark color) or "te del indio."
Southeastern Native Americans used yaupon as a ceremonial beverage, in some cases traveling over two hundred miles to harvest the plant (Hale 1883). In many tribes yaupon was used during a purging/cleansing ceremony to induce vomiting, and this has been described-- pretty fantastically-- in several sources:
"They are three days taking it, eating nothing," "They who have drunk eject it, which they do readily and without pain."
(De Vaca, Cabeca: circa1530 near the Texas Gulf Coast)
In Florida, drinking large quantities of strongly brewed yaupon was used to test the strength of warriors:
"those who cannot keep it down, but whose stomachs reject it are not entrusted with any difficult commission or any military responsibility."
(Le Moyne de Morgues 1564 ,near the mouth of St. John's river on the Florida coast)
"...the warrior, by hugging his arms across his stomach, and leaning forward, disgorges the liquor in a large stream from his mouth."
(Fairbanks, in Hudson 1979:136)
These early accounts of yaupon made it seem as if the plant had emetic properties. However, during these ceremonies the tea was brewed into a thick, dark concoction, and the warriors had fasted for days. I imagine that large quantities of a strong brew of anything could be emetic after a fast. Still, accounts of this particular use of yaupon in the ceremonies was enough to dissuade many colonists and Europeans from trying it. It also got the plant its wince-inducing scientific name: Ilex vomitoria. Some have even commented that big tea companies from Europe may have suggested the name to dissuade colonists from wanting local yaupon, to preserve their export market. Francis Putz suggests that William Aiton-- the Scottish botanist who named yaupon "Ilex vomitoria" in the late 1700s, was a secret employee of Ceylon tea merchants (Putz 2010:2).
Colonists Reject Yaupon
Colonists drank yaupon tea, and in 1700, the tea was first brought to England. But over time, drinking yaupon became associated with being not wealthy enough to afford imported tea. Yaupon's use grew during the Civil War when imported goods were hard to come by, but decreased later when European teas were one again easy to find (Dunbar 1958:35).
A few commercial yaupon producers remained in existence (these can be confirmed on census records from the 1800s), and in the 19th century and early 20th century many people made yaupon for their own homes (Cynthia 1973; recalling making yaupon in c.1900; in Bauers 1997).
But since the 1950s nobody has made this tea available commercially. To revive this centuries-old beverage of the southern coast, Pat Garber-- a writer who lives on Ocracoke Island, N.C. for part of the year-- harvests yaupon and sells the tea on the island. This is also a tea that you can easily forage for yourself and make at home. Yaupon grows in southeastern North America and can be found in Florida, Texas, and North Carolina. A yaupon revival is happening on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina's Outer Banks. Yaupon grows all over Ocracoke, and can be found at Springer's Point. Yaupon has high anti-oxidant levels similar to blueberries. You can read more about yaupon's health benefits here.
Here is how to make your own yaupon tea:
Green Yaupon Tea
Black Yaupon Tea
If you want to make black tea (not green tea):
1. I find it easiest to pick larger branches of the tree, about one foot long.
2. rinse them to clean them
3. lightly dry them
4. rustle them in a bag to lightly bruise the leaves (for me, this usually happens in my bookbag when I transport the branches after picking them)
5. leave them for a few days to dry
6. continue drying them in a 200F oven, daily for about an hour, until they reach the darkness that you desire; or, hang the branches for months in a cool, dark place to cure.
7. remove the leaves from the branches; small twigs can be left in if desired-- historically, small twigs were an integral part of yaupon tea.
Black yaupon tea will finish looking something like this (and you could get them even darker, if desired):
Bauers, Barton M. (1997) HSJ 15(3):18.
Cynthia [no surname given]. (1973) Seachest. Cape Hatteras High School.
Catesby, Mark (1754) The Natural History of Florida and the Bahama Islands. 2:57 London
Dunbar, Gary. (1958) Historical Geography of the Outer Banks. Louisiana State University Press.
Dunes of Dare County Garden Club, Wildflower Identification Committee. (1980) Wildflowers of the Outer Banks, Kitty Hawk to Hatteras. Chapel Hill: UNC Press.
Fairbanks, Charles H. (1979) The Function of Black Drink among the Creeks. In Hudson.
Galle, Fred C. (1970) Hollies Native to the United States. American Horticultural Magazine.
Hale, P.M. (1883) Woods of North Carolina.
Hudson, Charles M., Ed. (1979) Black Drink, A Native American Tea. University of Georgia Press.
Kravitz, Linda. (2000) The Black Drink of the Outer Banks. Research paper on display at the Ocracoke Island Museum. North Carolina.
Meyer, Frederick C. (1976) Plant Cultivation in Colonial Gardens of the South. The Harvester. Spring Issue. Georgia Horticultural Society.
Putz, Francis E. Jack. (2010) Yaupon Tea has a Bad Name. The Gainesville Sun. 8 April 2010.
Springer's Point is one of the most beautiful places on Earth!
mosses and fungi spread out like doilies over the tree branches
mushrooms pop up from the underbrush
This fresh-water well once attracted Algonquin-speaking Native Americans. They came for the water source, and also for leaves of yaupon that grow here, which they used to make a tea.
When pirates in the 1700s heard wind of this fresh-water well they made Springer's Point a resting place. A pirate's life is one of the hunter and the hunted. Their tiny sloops could navigate the shoal-speckled inlets better than the large ships that were both their predators and targets. Blackbeard the Pirate made Springer's Point his camp on many occasions, and he even hosted the largest known pirate gathering here, shortly before his capture and death just offshore at what's now known as "Teach's Hole." At this party, the pirates consumed massive amounts of rum!
Yaupon leaves make a caffine-rich tea once drunk by Timucuan and Seminole Native Americans. It is related to yerba mate. In the last century, this local product has all but been forgotten. I found a few plants among the myrtle and love oaks, but I didn't pick from here because Springer's Point is a wildlife preservation area.
Back in the forrest the live oak branches reach out to the sky like veins and form a fine lace canopy. From the beach the thicket seemed like a solid tangle of wood, leaves, and insects; but inside, birds dart through the spacious atmosphere between the ground cover and the canopy leaves, spiders tie branches together with their webs, tiny lizards dash among a carpet of dried leaves, dragonflies perch for a moment on purple flowers that seem entirely too delicate for their surroundings. It's loud in here-- full of the sounds of life and rustling branches. The waves fade out, the brush envelops you, you feel as if the forrest has wrapped you up. The canopy of this forrest creates a shell around the entire "bubble" ecosystem that exists within the branches. The incredible anatomy of this place protects it from hurricanes and storms that can batter the Outer Banks, and creates a haven for wildlife that could not survive on the beaches in high winds.
Aside from being a unique wildlife preserve, Springer's Point has been a central location for major events in beverage history: this was the site of Blackbeard's legendary rum party, a place where Native American's travelled to collect yaupon for sacred rituals, and the location of a fresh-water well which attracted Native Americans, pirates, colonists, and seamen.
There are a few yaupon plants at Springer's Point, but much more yaupon grows all over Ocracoke Island. I found some plants along the bike trails and picked leaves to make tea. Click here to learn more about yaupon tea.
The night began with everyone arriving in full dress-- one guest ever brought along a newspaper from 1921! We poured a cocktail tower of the Bees Knees, a classic cocktail from this era.
In the early part of the century, homemade "bathtub" gin was so noxious that people flavored it with lemon and honey to take away the sting. This cocktail became known as The Bees Knees.
The Bees Kees
2 oz. gin
1 oz. honey (watered down to 1/2 & 1/2)
1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
Everyone came dressed in their Gadsby finest!
We had a box hat cake decked out with feathers and roses!
But the star of the night was this:
Coume du Roy, 1925
With each smell, you cut through layers of flavor that seemed to unfurl mysteriously in front of your nose. You get all of the expected aromas from old fortified wine: caramel, coffee, hazelnut, almond, plus some faint hints of fruit like plum skin and durant. But this wasn't just a technical wine, it had that extra indescribable element to it-- the closest word I can think of to describe this is "soul." It was amazing, and the perfect way to end the evening.
Colonial and Prohibition Era Cranberry Juice
The use of cranberry juice cocktail behind the bar in recent decades has helped shape a new generation of cocktails. Cranberries—one of just a few fruits native to North America and a wild diet staple of Native Americans for centuries—became cultivated around 1816 and seriously marketed to urban populations when cranberry cooperatives spent $5000 on cranberry advertising in 1918 and increased sales over $1 million. These early 20th century cranberries were sold either canned or fresh, though the market remained largely seasonal. In 1930 Ocean Spray put a cranberry juice cocktail on the market, though cranberry juice had been made by pilgrim settlers as early as 1683 (Eastwood, 1856).
Concerns of the ensuing Prohibition Era (1919-1933) affected the cranberry industry. Because cranberry products revolved around seasonal family holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, the industry consciously chose not to associate themselves with alcohol, which could have potentially alienated their largest consumer base (Felten, 2008). Testing the libatious waters, in 1945 Ocean Spray began to play with a cocktail called The Red Devil (vodka and cranberry juice cocktail), and in 1955 the cranberry industry released a pamphlet for the Toll House Cocktail, which had an optional addition for rum.
Cranberry Crash & Recovery
In 1959 the cranberry market collapsed when the US Department of Health announced that aminotriazole—a dangerous herbicide—tainted the cranberry crop. Producers searched to bolster their businesses through diversifying cranberry products to expand the industry market and Ocean Spray released their first cranberry juice in the form of a cranberry-apple blend. Most likely spurred by the 1959 cranberry crash Ocean Spray partnered with Tropico and released a bottled drink called “Sea Breeze” made of Ocean Spray cranberry juice and Don Cossack vodka. In 1965 they advertized for the Cape Codder—their version being cranberry juice and vodka whereas earlier 1940s versions called for cranberry juice and rum (Felten).
Demand for cranberry juice rose in the 1980s, correlating with reports about the health benefits of the fruit.
Juice or Cocktail?
There is a distinct difference between bitter and intense cranberry juice and sweet and fruity cranberry juice cocktail. The phrase “cranberry juice” is frequently used to reference cranberry juice cocktail, causing many people to refer to cranberry juice as “100% cranberry juice” to distinguish it from cranberry juice cocktail. To heighten the confusion, most cocktail recipes that use the juice call for “cranberry juice,” but really mean “cranberry juice cocktail.”
There are several cranberry cocktails that pre-date lead up to the Cosmopolitan craze of the 1990s predate:
Vodka and cranberry juice cocktail. Ocean Spray created this cocktail to promote cranberry juice cocktail circa 1945. Originally, they called it "The Red Devil."
Vodka, cranberry juice cocktail, and orange juice.
The Bog Fog
See Rangoon Ruby
Vodka, cranberry juice cocktail, and lime juice.
The Rangoon Ruby
During the 1950’s in Oakland, California, Victor J. Bergeron served the Rangoon Ruby at the restaurant Trader Vic’s (Chirico, 2009). Bergeron also invented the Mai Tai in 1944 at this same restaurant (Bergeron, 1970). The Rangoon Ruby was a highball of vodka, cranberry juice, soda, and a lime slice. The Rangoon Ruby also became popular as the Bog Fog in Miami and Palm Beach (Felten).
Cranberry Juice in the 1990s
Cranberry Juice Cocktail was embraced as a bar staple in the 1990s. It became one of those juices that you could ask for in almost any restaurant or bar, due to its long-term shelf life and ease of storage (no refrigeration necessary!). The popularity of The Cosmopolitan epitomizes this, and does not need much explanation.
Backlash in the 21st Century
Today, there is a backlash against cranberry juice cocktail. Ironically, people choose not to stock bars with it these days for the same reason that it was popular in the 1990s: it practically never goes bad. In the 21st Century, bartenders followed the farm-to-table ethos of their chef counterparts and moved away from pre-packaged products behind the bar. Fresh squeezed juices, garnishes, and produce, an emphasis on local spirits and products (if available), and a shift away from simple syrup as the staple sweetener occurred in the early 2000s. Cranberry juice cocktail-- an ultra-pasteurized, sugary product with only a small amount of real cranberry juice in it-- was abandoned in the search for fresher flavors.
Chain restaurants and dive bars will still carry the juice because of its easy storage, recognizability, and the popularity of cranberry juice in the wake of the cosmopolitain craze, but the respected cocktail bars of the world have abstained.
I believe that there could be a place in a high-quality cocktail bar for pure, 100% cranberry juice. It's extremely bitter and can provide a nice balance for spirits that taste sweet. Also, during cranberry season, I've seen great bars use fresh cranberries to make syrups and garnishes that go toward cocktails that make playful tongue-and-cheek references to the cosmo. In this way, The Cosmopolitan has become farcical. Still, many bartenders will not touch cranberry juice (even 100%) because there is still a sentiment to completely divorce a quality bar from the ethos of The Cosmopolitan and all of the "Sex & The City" cultural baggage that comes with it.
Eastwood, Benjamin. (1856) The Cranberry and Its Culture.
Cape Cod Cranberry Grower’s Association. www.cranberries.org
Chiriko, Rob. (2005) Field Guide to Cocktails. Quirk Books.
Saucier, Ted. (1962, original 1951). Bottoms Up. New York: Greystone Press.
Bergeron, Victor J. (1970) “The Real Mai Tai Story: Let’s Set the Record Straight.” As seen on http://www.tradervics.com/maitaistory-0.html
Felten, Eric. (2008, June 21) “Cranberry Cocktail Confusion” in The Wall Street Journal. Online at http://online.wsj.com/public/article_print/SB121399651293592873.html
Corkscrews are essential, and I'm sure you've worked with several different kinds, as I have. I work with this instrument so often, that I often overlook it and take it for granted. Once in a while though, I'll come in contact with some incredible corkscrews that make me realize how this simple tool is so important for our daily lives (or... at least the daily lives of sommeliers!).
Two of the most extensive corkscrew collections I've ever seen are in Spain and Germany. In Spain, Dinastia Vivanco's wine museum has an entire exhibit room dedicated to corkscrews. In Germany, Von Hovel's tasting room is encrusted with them from floor to ceiling.
Artifacts at Pompeii and other sites confirm that corks were used to plug the holes in amphorae in Ancient Greece. Using cork stoppers to plug bottles evolved along with the glass-blowing industry. Dom Perignon experimented with stopping bottles with cork, and this practice became more popular starting in the 1790s, but this was still about 150 years before estate bottling became the "normal" way to sell wine. Nevertheless, ever since there have been corks, people have needed tools to get them out of the bottle.
In 1892 the crown cap became widely available. This closure never took off with wine, but it became the status quo for beers by the early 1900s. But corks were once a popular beer closure, and if you find old corkscrews from the mid-late 1800s, or even the early 1900s, they may have brewery advertisements on them. The idea was to create a high-quality corkscrew that people would use again and again, and each time they used it, they'd see the brand logo. In fact, Adolphus Busch (of Budweiser/Anheuser-Busch) practically used these corkscrews as business cards for decades.
While the crown cap overtook the cork in the realm of beer, corks remained popular in wine, and only recently have they been challenged with the screw cap.
Cork is made from the bark of the Quercus suber (cork tree), and corks are a renewable product. A cork tree can live up to 300 years, and the bark re-grows every ten years. I think it's interesting how the wine world has such direct ties to so many different species of oak. The tree genus Quercus (oak) has over 600 species. A little more than a century ago, you may have gone to any European dock and found a boat made from Quercus suber (cork oak)-- not the bark, but the hard wood trunk was used in ships because of its resistance to rot-- packed with barrels of Quercus robur (French oak) and Quercus petraea (Russian oak) filled with wine, and the barrels may have been stopped with corks made from the Quercus suber bark. Due to this complex inter-relationship between Quercus forestry and beverage production, an entire business of cork-extraction machines emerged over the last several centuries, and as a result, we have some inventive corkscrews in the world around us.
Here are a few photos of some interesting corkscrews:
Some are colorful.
Some have tines for extracting a cork from the sides.
Some act as spigots and have pour spouts.
Some are complicated.
Some are really big!
Some are funny.
Some are... even funnier!
OK, this one is just obscene.
Some are practical.
Others are utilitarian.
Some are advertisements.
Some are... a little weird.
And some are gold.
I’m Erin, and I’m thirsty for drinks and the secrets they hold. Wine is my main game, but I’ve been known to love a cocktail here and there, and who doesn’t like a good beer on the regular? This blog is for wine/spirits/beer geeks. No beverage will be left unsipped! Posts are at least weekly, more if possible.