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Published: Tuesday, 9/11/2012

Old fashioned drinks are fashionable once again

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Other than its hilarious climax, in which all the strings of the farce come together in a brilliant tour de force, perhaps the best scene in Crazy, Stupid Love comes when Ryan Gosling tries, with limited success, to seduce Emma Stone.

He takes her to his stylish, well-appointed, bachelor pad, he puts on a record -- yes, an LP -- of "Just One Look" by Doris Troy, and then he makes her the perfect drink: an old fashioned.

Women in the audience swoon, and probably a few men, and this is even before Gosling takes off his shirt ("Seriously? It's like you're Photoshopped," Stone says). A great would-be seduction deserves a great drink, and the use of a drink that dates back to the 19th Century only drives home the idea that everything old is new again. Or more to the point, happy days are here again.

Mintel, which tracks trends in restaurants, reports that older cocktails are on the rise. The number of menus offering cocktails that are considered "classic" have jumped a staggering 76 percent in just three years, the industry Web site said.

Classic cocktails are generally understood to date back before Prohibition or to the 1930s, after Prohibition. Because no one made cocktails during Prohibition, right? Right?

Of course they did, and for a good reason. According to David Wondrich, a founding member of the Museum of the American Cocktail, people particularly made cocktails during Prohibition as a way to mask the taste of grossly inferior liquor (although the word he used was "indifferent.")

We'll get back to our originally scheduled column, but first this interjection: There is a Museum of the American Cocktail? How did I not know about this?

Anyway, during Prohibition, people developed a lot of ways to get that bathtub taste out of bathtub gin, but not many of them stuck. Writing for ProhibitionRepeal.com, Mr. Wondrich said the only American-made Prohibition-era cocktail that became a classic is the delightful French 75 (1 1/2 ounces dry gin, 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice, 3/4 ounce simple syrup, shaken well with cracked ice, strained into a highball glass with ice, and topped with champagne).

The cocktail most closely associated with the era, the sidecar (1 1/4 ounces cognac, 1/2 ounce Cointreau, 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice, shaken with cracked ice and strained into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with sugar), was actually invented in France, he writes.

Gallic or not, the sidecar is one of the drinks that is showing up on more menus -- 50 percent more in the last three years -- according to the Mintel report. It joins such classics as Manhattans (bourbon, vermouth, and bitters), gimlets (gin and lime juice), and especially Sazeracs (rye, absinthe, and Peychaud's bitters).

What has caused this shift in drinking tendencies?

The folks at Mintel chalk it up, at least in part, to the popularity of the show Mad Men. But that only means that no one at Mintel watches Mad Men, in which plenty of liquor is poured but it is never mixed with anything.

To my mind, part of the change is merely cyclical, the same way fashions come back every few decades. People become tired of the latest fads and trends, and so they look back to a familiar past -- their childhoods or a time just before they were born -- with a nostalgic sense that things were better then.

After several years of sweet drinks concocted more for their salacious names than for any harmonious combination of ingredients, people are looking back to the past for drinks that are simpler and clean. And what is more, the drinks have all been vetted: If they tasted good then, they may still taste good now.

I, for one, applaud the trend. Sipping a drink from the past carries with it some of the class, sophistication, and elegance of the era. Every gin gimlet contains in its glass a splash of Art Deco sheen and polish.

The cyclical nature of trends means that people in the know will soon move on to something else; perhaps wine coolers will be the next big thing again. But some of us will continue to drink old fashioneds just because we love the taste.

We drank old fashioneds before old fashioneds were cool.

Contact Daniel Neman at dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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