Cocktails, built to federal standards

“I’m from the federal government, and I’m here to help you mix a drink.”

Cocktail construction chart Craig Stoltz cocktail blog

I’ve picked up some curious artifacts in my reckless cocktail expeditioning. One of the most curious curios so far is this: A 1974 engineering diagram issued by the U.S. Forest Service documenting proper techniques for constructing a cocktail.

There are a dozen amazing things about “Cocktail Construction: English-Metric” — the fact that it exists, for example, or that it’s preserved in the National Archives, or that you can buy a reprint the size of a living room window for $230, or that it didn’t trigger some big government waste-and-abuse scandal. [Richard Nixon had helicoptered off to San Clemente just a couple months before, so Congress probably had other things on its mind.]

But my favorite amazing thing is the creator’s fidelity to the geeky principles of  technical illustration. The textural signifiers for each drink’s ingredients. The precise visual rendering of proportions. The cleanness of line. The economy of language. The distinctive forward slant of the architect-y, all-caps handwriting.

Martini Gibson cocktail construction chart
Federal verification that a Gibson is just a Martini with a cocktail onion. But the 2:1 ratio may strike some citizens as a bit too vermouth-forward to be in the public’s best interest.

This is clearly the work of a skilled civil servant. You need specs for a retaining wall or outbuilding in a U.S Forest Service  outpost? Meet your go-to guy.

A 3-Martini lunch

You don’t have to dig deep to figure out this whole thing was probably a lunch-hour lark. Note that the work of the “self appointed barmasters” was checked by staffers Ima Sot and I.P. Freely.

Cocktail construction chart author detail
The U.S. Forest Service cocktail assembly instructions work for both right- and left-handed citizens. But please, if it’s a cold drink without ice, use a stemmed glass and “hold by stem”!

Esquire gumshoed into the backstory about the federal cocktail chart. It appears to be handiwork of Cleve Colbert “Red” Ketcham, a civil engineer, WWII Navy vet, and faultless public servant of 32 years. His pastimes included building mailboxes for friends that looked like their houses.

But, as Esquire’s Kenny Herzog reported, Red actually didn’t drink much.

Unclassified information

The recipes on the cocktail chart are pretty routine, the kind you find printed on mid-century cocktail shakers. One is too easily tempted to say they are…good enough for government work. The happy hour equivalent of the federal school lunch program.

But I actually found some surprising information on the document. The “General Notes” include these tidbits:

  • Always put ice, etc., in the mixing glass before pouring the main ingredient.
  • When mixing drinks containing fruit juices, always pour the liquor last. 

I’ve never heard these directions before, but that may be my shortcoming. I have no idea if this advice is correct.

Look, has the government ever been wrong?


Author: Craig Stoltz

Suburban boulevardier. Former Washington Post journalist, entrepreneur, Top 25 blogger. Foodie. Cocktail geek. Proudly work in digital communications for you, The American People.

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