"I'll have a Manhattan," said the white-haired gentleman after watching me make drinks for a few minutes. "You know back in the golden age, they didn't shake every drink. Sometimes they stirred them, especially Manhattans. Those were better times."
I have often heard of this "golden age of cocktails," which usually refers to a time in the late 1800s and early 1900s when cocktails were in vogue, before Prohibition supposedly killed the phenomenon.
I couldn't disagree more. In fact, we are living in the golden age of cocktails. Never before have such a bewildering array of products been available. Many old mixers such as creme de violette, lime cordial and peach bitters have become readily available. Fresh fruits and vegetables are available year-round. The advances in refrigeration, sterilization and preservation over the past century are unparalleled. But an important and often-overlooked factor that makes the most difference is that these days, the federal and state governments regulate the production of the liquor itself, meaning that every major liquor available has a standard of identity governing its manufacture. That didn't exist 100 years ago.
Recently San Francisco's Anchor Distilling (part of Fritz Maytag's Anchor Brewing) released a new edition of "Cocktail Boothby's American Bartender," written by William Boothby, San Francisco's most celebrated bartender of the so-called golden age. When Boothby died in 1930, the San Francisco Chronicle called him, "(probably) the best-known bartender in San Francisco in the pre-Volstead days," Volstead being Andrew Volstead, the teetotaling congressman behind Prohibition.
Born in San Francisco, Boothby was a traveling comedian and minstrel before embarking on a career as a bartender. He tended bar in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Kansas City before returning to the city of his birth. He would go on to work at the Hotel Rafael in San Rafael and later preside over the bars of San Francisco's Fairmont and Palace hotels before becoming a state assemblyman. In fact, his 1908 edition of "The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them" is prefaced "To the liquor dealers of San Francisco who unanimously assisted in my election to the Legislature by an unprecedented majority," a sentiment to which perhaps San Francisco's current mayor might relate.
I highly recommend Anchor's new edition of "American Bartender" (assembled by Maytag along with historian David Burkhart, no relation), in part because it proves my point about the golden age admirably.
Anchor's version of "Cocktail Boothby's American Bartender" is a must-read for anyone interested in local cocktail history especially those inclined to waxing philosophic about events that they, themselves, never witnessed. --Jeff Burkhart, Marin Independent Journal
Why does "Cocktail Bill" Boothby get short shrift in San Francisco drinking history? Perhaps because the original edition of his 1891 book, "Cocktail Boothby's American Bar-Tender," had all but vanished.
A new edition by Fritz Maytag's Anchor Distilling should remedy that. Maytag and historian David Burkhart first encountered the book at the California Historical Society, which has one of what Burkhart says are two surviving copies of the original. They faithfully reproduced it with a few addenda, including pages of apocryphal recipes.
"Boothby claimed his drinks were all originals, but there is a lineage here," Burkhart says. So devotees can track the evolution of such period drinks as the Blue Blazer, or the Martini, made here with sweet gin and sweet vermouth. There's also Boothby's 10 commandments for barkeeps and other miscellany - like how to make new whiskey taste old. It involves prune juice.
Absent from the original, but included in the new foreword, is the namesake Boothby cocktail, invented during his time at the Palace Hotel bar around 1910. --Jon Bonné, San Francisco Chronicle
The giddiest days of the Gold Rush must have tasted like Breck and Brace: cognac and champagne in a sugarcoated glass. That buoyant bartending spirit was carried into the 20th century by San Franciscan William (Cocktail) Boothby, and it has been revived for the 21st by Anchor Distilling's reproduction of Boothby's 1891 "American Bar-Tender." The little volume has 361 recipes, plus the original advertisements, trade secrets and reproductions of notes Boothby's own? found tucked into one of the two first-edition copies known to exist. It has equal fascination for the mixologist, the history buff and that guy who can't resist reading out loud the most amusing parts ("Wait, here's a good one: 'Dog's Nose'!"). --Susan Steade, San Jose Mercury News
San Francisco's pioneer mixologist, William T. "Cocktail Bill" Boothby (1862-1930), served as the self-proclaimed "presiding deity" at some of the San Francisco Bay Area's finest early saloons and hotels: Byron Hot Springs, the Silver Palace, San Rafael's Hotel Rafael, the Parker House, the Pacific Buffet, the Fairmont Hotel, and the Palace Hotel. During Prohibition, the busy bartender was arrested for plying his trade at the Orpheum Annex on San Francisco's O'Farrell Street.
Boothby's earliest performances were on stage rather than behind the bar. In the late 1880s, he toured the West with the Vigor of Life Minstrel Company, hawking its medicinal cure-all and honing his vaudevillian skills. In 1891, already well known for his mixological creativity as well as his showmanship, Boothby published the first edition of his classic collection of uniquely Californian drink recipes, Cocktail Boothby's American Bartender. Its hundreds of historic recipes and useful tips for bartenders still make for great reading--and great cocktails!--today.
Foreword by brewing/distilling pioneer Fritz Maytag, winner of the 2008 James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, and David Burkhart, winner of the 2006 Benjamin Franklin and Independent Publisher Book Awards in History.