World history in a drink, thanks to 'Around the World in 80 Cocktails'

Updated: May 05, 2019, 07:54 IST | Ekta Mohta

Bartender Chad Parkhill creates a cocktail map of the world, which 'shows how much meaning can be contained in a glass of mixed juice'

World history in a drink, thanks to 'Around the World in 80 Cocktails'

In his new book, Around the World in 80 Cocktails (Jaico Books), Chad Parkhill has distilled the great cocktails of the world to create an inclusive, exhaustive drinks guide.

What was the prep involved in the research of this book?
The first stage of writing Around the World in 80 Cocktails was to figure exactly which cocktails I would be writing about. I started by coming up with a list of cocktails that I knew had fascinating stories behind them, and then placing their points of origin on a world map. After that, I looked at the gaps in that map and tried to figure out what cocktails could fill in those gaps (either classic cocktails or an original cocktail from a leading bar in that area). The second stage was an intensive one of research and recipe testing. I'd spend my days reading old cocktail manuals and other primary sources, as well as secondary sources from other people who have written about the history of different cocktails. In the evenings, I'd be testing the recipes from the book to ensure they were shipshape. It was hard work, but fun.

Chad Parkhill
Chad Parkhill

How did you shortlist the drinks from each city?
Fortunately, most parts of the world have bequeathed only one or two classic drinks to the world. However, New York, London and New Orleans have acted as prolific cocktail incubators. So, the challenge for these cities was choosing just one cocktail. New York was easy: the Manhattan towers above all cocktails. New Orleans was trickier. I thought long and hard about whether to choose the more historically-contentious Sazerac, or something like the Ramos gin fizz. (In the end, I went for the Sazerac.) With London, I think the Hanky Panky is a dramatically underappreciated cocktail, and I wanted to write about its inventor, Ada Coleman, the first female celebrity bartender.

In your experience, what makes a drink leap on to the world stage? The Pisco sour or the mojito were born on the other side of the world, and yet we all know about it.
A few factors are at play. The first is simply deliciousness. No cocktail that is unappealing to a wide spectrum of drinkers will ever become world-famous. Then there is access to ingredients. After that, a lot comes down simply to timing and luck. There are a great number of delicious cocktails that have been largely forgotten. One of the best parts of my job as a bartender is discovering them and helping them gain the appreciation they deserve.

Which cocktail you think should be more well-known than it is right now?
I'm very much a partisan for the Bamboo, which until recently was an obscure cocktail that few people ordered. It's a delightful little mixture of dry sherry and dry vermouth with a dash of bitters, and, optionally, a simple syrup or curaçao, to make it less austere. It drinks like a low-proof version of a classic dry martini. It's as refreshing and as sophisticated, but you can have a few of them without falling over.

How can a cocktail sum up a country's culinary and political history?
The thing I love about cocktails, above anything else, is that they're a window that open up to huge vistas of human thought and history, if you investigate them. Take the mojito, for example. It's a simple mix of rum, lime, sugar, mint, and soda. But look into it, and it opens up a remarkable history, spanning back hundreds of years. And, I don't mean the probably spurious story of how Sir Francis Drake supposedly drank rum with lime and mint to soothe his upset tummy. How did rum get to Cuba in the first place? That's a story of western imperialism, capitalism, slavery, oppression, dispossession. Where did the sugarcane to make that rum come from? That's a story of earlier exploration and trade, of silk roads and early contact between east and west. Where did the technology to distill the molasses into rum come from? That's another story of east-west contact, because as far as anyone can tell, distillation was first practised in India. For this reason alone, India should get much more credit in the history of the cocktail, not to mention, the cocktail's ancestor, punch, which came from India, too.

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