Then to the Flowing Bowl did I adjourn,
My lips the Secret Well of Life to learn,
And lip to lip it murmur’d – “While you live,
Drink! – for once dead you never shall return.”
– Omar Khayyam.
1. The Etymology.
I’ve always liked making up words (see here followed by here, if you must). Even though the art/craft of cocktails already has a commonly accepted word – mixology – I don’t see any harm in giving it a synonym, and if said synonym happens to be a bit more impenetrable and anachronistic, what’s the harm? Also, “spiriturgy” is going to stand out waaaay more on a Google search, and that’s just good ol’ new-fashioned 21st-century brand savvy.
Thus, spiriturgy (n.) – the study of mixing spirits with other things to make a composite thing that you subsequently drink.
II. The Backstory.
I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but at some point in the last year I began to discern a burgeoning interest in cocktails and mixology (oops, excuse me – spiriturgy – I’ll get the hang of this). Perhaps it can be partially attributed to the disposable income I had at the time, as well as a desire to improve and “class up” my knowledge of ingestibles – perhaps I’d also just watched too much Mad Men like thousands of other twenty-somethings and wanted to dabble in some bygone debauchery (and yes, I am aware of the existence of this).
However clichéd the origins may have been, I’ve done a little bit of self-education on the matter over the previous months, and today I find myself with a small pittance of knowledge and desirous of more. Fortunately, I have a paper-and-ink tutor to oversee my lessons.
III. The Book.
That opening inscription from Omar Khayyam also serves to introduce a book that will come to have great import over future entries in this series. Since hearing of my burgeoning interest in spiriturgy (nailed it that time!), a friend of mine bestowed upon me a cocktail-book as a Christmas gift last year. But Just Cocktails, compiled and edited by W.C. Whitfield with decorations by Tad Shell, is not just any book, no indeed!
This particular friend is also a devotee of the idea of “book as object” – that books are to be valued and loved as much for their physical character as for the content contained within. Fittingly, this book is, for the present, the greatest apotheosis of this philosophy I have yet encountered. I really do consider it an objet d’art, perhaps the only real one I own, and I love it for that.
Unfortunately, pictures only gives you so much of what the book actually is: you can’t run your hand over the covers made of polished wood, or fiddle with the bindings (leather cord and copper hinges), or crinkle the translucent sheet of wax paper atop the title page, or even just take in.the smell of it. Some perfunctory Googling has indicated that the principals produced this book (in 1939) and another cocktail-book entitled Here’s How (in 1941), but I found nothing particularly concrete about the lives of the author, artist, publishing house, or even the book’s rarity and value. It seems to epitomize the sort of curiosity-book we always wish to find in visiting a stranger’s garage sale or digging through musty shelves in a cluttered used bookseller’s.
IV. The Bar.
Both before and after receiving this book of import, I’ve been endeavoring to expand my personal bar. The initial impetus was hosting a housewarming party (an apartmentwarming, to be perfectly accurate, though modern living situations rarely create words as etymologically manageable as their forebears). Originally, I’d planned to go over the pictured roster here and now, but I think I’ll wait and introduce the players gradually in future posts, as our spiriturgical rogue’s gallery will also keep expanding and adding new members as recipes dictate.
Consider your appetite whetted! We’ll be back.
V. The Plan.
The plan is simple – go through Just Cocktails and make every drink in the book. I should note that I have no idea how long this will take – I do know, however, that it will be a hell of a long time. I don’t expect to cover more than two or three recipes per post, and there are well over 350 in the book, so feel free to crunch some numbers yourself. At this point I make no guarantees, as both time and money are variables…but I’d sure like to see this thing through, even if it takes a very, very, long time.
Another note: considering its time of publication, we should be no illusions that working through the book’s recipes is a substitute for of modern spiriturgical training or expertise. Many modern and popular cocktails are nary to be found in Whitfield’s compendium, so I’ll be doing my own posts occasionally to cover those that I’m familiar with. On the flip side, the book does contain scads of recipes that are completely of their pre-Prohibition time: now archaic and nearly forgotten (perhaps, we may find in some cases, even for a reason). So there will be no shortage of curiosity and discovery as we trek off the beaten path.
And one final important note, in terms of legality: as far as I can tell, due to the dearth of modern info about this book, I can safely assume that the contents are public domain. I plan on copying out recipes in full, as well as including some photographs of the book’s interior (folks, there are some great cartoons), and I don’t expect any trouble to come of that. However, if for some reason the book’s contents are still under copyright, and the copyright holders need a word with me, please use this site’s contact page to get in touch.
Feel free to keep an eye on this project’s landing page and full table of contents – I’ll keep it updated as new pieces are published. Thanks for reading!
Now online! Part 002 – “I’m not old, I’m just distinguished” – two recipes for an Old Fashioned.
I’ll just let the bar’s Vikings-in-residence close this out…