The Cocktail-o-Matic

A long-forgotten 1950s product applies “modern” technologies to re-invent the ink-on-paper cocktail recipe book. You can figure out how this one ends

The 1950s were the flowering of American modernity — an aesthetic sensibility, tugged along by a newly affluent middle class, devoted to clean lines, simple forms, and a sense of an urgent new century unfolding.

The 1950s were also some really stupid times.

Witness the Bar Guide.

Bar Guide Measured Spirit cocktail recipes Craig Stoltz blog
The Bar Guide: A 1950s technology breakthrough that failed spectacularly to make paper-bound cocktail recipe books obsolete. Pictured at right: #79, the XYZ cocktail.

The Bar Guide is a shiny plastic device the size of a Canasta deck that updates the cocktail recipe book with “hep” modern technologies like plastic, newfangled printing methods, and a cool thumb wheel with traction grooves.

Its chief accomplishment appears to be transforming something that works quite well into something that’s confusing, hard to use, and easy to break.

And this was way before the Barnes & Noble “Nook GlowLight Plus.”

I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 80

Located at the heart of the Bar Guide is a paper scroll bearing 80 numbered cocktail recipes, each condensed to the size of a fortune cookie.

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Math + alcohol = x + why?

Some simple mathematical formulas can produce fine, solid cocktails. They can also produce undrinkable plonk.

Mixing drinks that don’t taste like they were wrung out of a wet t-shirt from a spring break dance party can be tough for rookie drinksmakers. This I know from hard, unpleasant experience. For this I apologize to all affected parties over the years.

And so I appreciate attempts like this one, from a recent issue of bon appetit magazine, to convey some practical fundamentals of mixology to a lay audience. It’s a simple graphic that illustrates how to assemble a basic sour cocktail from, well, just about anything you have around.

Follow a formula — 2 oz base/1.5 oz modifiers equally split between sweet and sour —  and it’s hard to mess up too badly, no matter what’s in the bottles. The results are solid, if unspectacular. Good bones, as they say.

Sour wheel A Measured Spirit Craig Stoltz

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Cocktails, built to federal standards

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

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.
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