Thursday, August 16, 2012

Family Traditions: Cocktails With History

A gentleman knows, and is proud, of his heritage. He recognizes himself as one in a long line of paterfamilias, and views himself as a keeper and pedagogue of family traditions, stories, and heirlooms. A gentleman realizes that it is his duty to continue passing down these items—hiding the skeletons along the way—as well as to add to them in order to better the future generations. As a fellow bon vivant, I challenge you to take it upon yourself to both pass on a family legacy as well as to start a new one that later generations will continue.

As I noted in my first post, I proudly wear my grandfather’s 1972, red Submariner Rolex. It is a timepiece that my grandfather sported for over 20 years and, thereafter, kept time on my father’s wrist. Each time that I check it, I know that the watch has ensured that Bon Vivant men timely kept their appointments and, one day, I look forward to passing it to the next generation.

I have also recently acquired another timepiece—a silver, handmade Wempe Zeitmeister pocketwatch—that I hope will become the next Bon Vivant-family heirloom (I even had my initials engraved on the back so that everyone will know who first carried this handsome watch).  In acquiring this piece, I came to realize that a pocketwatch is a lost art, and purchasing a well-made one is not as easy as one might think (even in New York City).  Indeed, it is for this very reason that every well-heeled gentleman should have at least one in his collection; it is just further proof of how refined a bon vivant you really are.

In the 16th century, men wore watches on chains around their neck or pinned to their jackets as pendants.  In the 17th century, the watch itself was shrunken, the face covered in glass, and began to be worn in the pocket usually attached to a chain or a silk ribbon. In fact, it is for this reason that vests have pockets or, as in the case of jeans, a smaller “fifth” pocket was sewn into pants (that small pocket in your jeans is not for coins).

Patek Phillipe created the first wristwatch in 1868. In 1880, Constant Girard (Girard-Perregaux) developed a concept of wristwatches, made for German naval officers. In 1904, Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos Dumont asked his friend Louis Cartier to come up with an alternative that would allow him to keep both hands on the controls while timing his performances during flight. Cartier soon came up with the first prototype for a man's wristwatch called the Santos wristwatch, which was first sold in 1911.  But the pocketwatch remained in favor until World War I. During the war, soldiers needed access to their watches while their hands were full. They were issued wristwatches, called “trench watches.” After the war, pocketwatches went out of fashion, and by 1930, the ratio of wrist watches to pocketwatches was 50-1.

Today, given the resurgence of the three-piece suit and the old-world styles that are now en vogue, a pocketwatch attached to a fob and chain makes a rakish statement, even when worn with jeans. And when paired with monk straps that have the same color metal as the chain (as I am decked in today), the pocketwatch makes an even bolder statement.

In addition to passing on family heirlooms, a gentleman should also teach the next generation how to act like a man (passing along this blog is a good start). My grandfather taught me how to quail hunt, my father taught me how to properly cradle the nose of a football when breaking through the defensive line, and I will add to the list by passing on the art of the cocktail, especially ones that have withstood the test of time. 

One cocktail that is sure to be passed down is the Rolls Royce, a cocktail that was first published in the 1930 edition of the Savoy cocktail book.

2 oz. gin (use a peppery one like Beefeater 24 or one with bite like Ransom Old Tom)
1 oz. Dolin sweet vermouth (or Carpano Antica if using the Ransom)
1 oz. Dolin dry vermouth
1 tsp. Benedictine

***Stir over ice for 25-30 seconds.  Strain into chilled glass.  No garnish.

And for an old-world "last call," a New York Flip:

3/4 oz. tawny port
1 oz. Elijah Craig bourbon
3/4 oz. heavy cream
1/4 oz. sugar syrup
1 egg yolk (note: crack an egg onto a Hawthorne strainer, the white will drip out while the yolk will remain intact in the spring)
1 pinch Nutmeg

***Add all ingredients (except nutmeg) to shaker without ice.  Dry shake for 1 minute to emulsify the egg).  Add ice and shake vigorously for another minute.  Strain into chilled coupe glass and sprinkle with nutmeg.

As a young Bocephus said, “If I get stoned and sing all night long, it’s a family tradition.”  Whatever your family tradition, add some polish to it and make sure it proudly lives on.



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