Whether mired in the boozy morass that is the holidays each year, or dipping my toe in the water after another Drynuary, this is the time of year I turn to The Artistry Of Mixing Drinks for cocktail guidance. This classic was written by Frank Meier, the purported inventor of the Sidecar, who, in the 1920s and '30s, presided over the bar at the Ritz in Paris. There he served not only as barkeep, but also physician, shrink and executive chef to his patrons. As the book's foreword says:
The successful barman must be a chemist, a physiologist and psychologist of the first order, in other words the true mixologist is a man of science. Furthermore, he requires an understanding of humanity, and ability to sympathize with his patrons' real or fancied troubles, and laugh when they repeat a story which he had told them the day before… A good barman really requires everything a diplomat should have and something more, genuine knowledge of food and drink.
Unless you're content with your vodka tonic—which, why do that to yourself?—you should own a copy of Frank's book. (I got my own copy as a Christmas gift from my brother-in-law—I married well.) The book is meant to help the rest of us enjoy, in the comfort of our homes, the concoctions he served to the well-heeled and aristocratic. All you need, says Frank, are "12 bottles" and simple "household supplies," and you too can start banging out coolers, fizzes, puffs, punches, sangarees, smashes and zooms. Ah, to have a cocktail named or prepared just for you, such as the Seapea (named for Cole Porter) or the Blue Bird (for Sir Malcolm Campbell). All in all, there's 300-some recipes for cocktails and mixers. Some of the entries are wonderful in their simplicity—the Barmen's Delight is "Just a little Whiskey, straight if you please"—while others require the white of an egg, the juice of one half pound of currants or Tincture of (Vegetable) Blue.
With Continental aplomb, the book also contains an encyclopedia's worth of supplemental information: recipes for sandwiches, a disquisition on wine varietals and regions, formulas and statistics (such as the circumference of the Earth—useful!), cleaning tips for various substances (the OG Ask A Clean Person?), first-aid advice for cases of poisoning and mad dog or snake bite, as well tips on horse racing. Basically, everything you might need to know while spending a significant portion of your life in a bar, either as a patron or a server.
Far be it from me to criticize a man who has an ode penned to him at the beginning of his own book (by J. Ainsworth Morgan), but if Artistry has a fault it's that it lacks an index. You can't quickly search for cocktails that contain rye or rum: you pretty much have to scan recipes for words that jump out at you, like Old Tom Gin. It's pretty fun, however, to just open up to a random page, pick a random drink, and see if you've got the ingredients to make it. That's how I end up having a Yashmak: a dash of Angostura bitters, one-third each of Anis "Pernod Fils," French Vermouth and Rye Whiskey.
With Frank as our guide, let's talk about some alternatives to the boring or rote drinks in your repertoire. I'm not talking about throwing a cinnamon stick into a glass of warm brandy and calling it "festive," or choking down sugary eggnog at a holiday party. I'm talking about sprucing up the kind of cocktails you'd make for yourself at home or order as you pop in for a swifty on the way home from work. Here's how to bring Frank home for the holidays:
Instead of champagne…
… go with a Champagne Punch. In a tumbler half-filled with cracked ice: the juice of one-half lemon, one-half glass of Strawberry or Raspberry syrup; fill with Champagne, stir slightly, add slice of orange, serve with straws.
Note: In Frank's world, a "glass" is defined as "a 2-ounce, 2-dram, or 6-centilitre glass."
This champagne punch is super refreshing and festive and less stuffy than straight sparkling wine. Instead of the syrup, I substitute Chambord (because: more booze! And you should always have it on hand for the emergency Kir Royale). But you should go completely nuts and try Goji berry liqueur.
Instead of wine…
… go with a French Kiss. In a wine glass over ice, one-half Italian Vermouth and one-half French Vermouth, serve with a twist. I'm a huge fan of Vya for this one, from Quady Winery in Madera, CA. It's around the same ABV as wine (15%), and is much nicer to sip on a Sunday night while you're roasting a chicken.
I personally think Vermouth gets a bad rap. Mostly because of the douchebag cliche of ordering a dry martini while telling the bartender to "whisper 'Vermouth'" over the glass. I mean, come on! Frank has three recipes for the martini (dry, medium, and sweet), all of which are half vermouth.
Drunk Muscovite devushkas love "Martini sok," which is nothing more than dry vermouth and orange juice. I recently discovered Carpano Antica Formula, and it has changed my life because it's changed my Manhattans and Brooklyns. Good enough for them, good enough for me. Vermouth is that versatile.
Speaking of the martini…
… go with a Vesper instead. In a cocktail shaker, three parts gin, one part vodka, and a splash of Lillet Blanc. Strain into a martini glass, serve with a twist.
I discovered this gem well before Daniel Craig's Bond invented it, at my old East Bay local Nizza La Bella. The Lillet brings a floral quality to it that really compliments the gin, and makes you want to stroll through a Monaco casino in a tux. If you aren't already.
Instead of a Manhattan…
… go with The Slope. Over ice, combine one part calvados, one part French vermouth, two parts rye whiskey, a dash of orange bitters. Serve with drunken cherries (dried cherries soaked in brandy overnight).
That's my version of The Slope at least; the calvados is a substitute for the apricot brandy in the Clover Club's recipe. Mainly because I discovered calvados making a ridiculous stuffed pork tenderloin, and now I want to add it to everything. Including breakfast cereal.
Should you suffer any lingering effects after any of these, Frank's still got your back. Ever ready with the Morning Bracer, Corpse Reviver, Pick-Me-Up, or...
… an Eye Opener. In a shaker: the yolk of and Egg, one-half glass each of Curacao, Rum, and Anis "Pernod fils"; shake well, strain into a fizz glass and serve.
A version of this article appeared on The Awl on 14 December, 2011.