The Great American Distiller’s Festival: History of the Cocktail with Robert Hess

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The Great American Distiller’s Festival was this past weekend, and I was there on Sunday to witness some of the action with my crusty sidekick, Scott.

The first event was a seminar titled “The History of the Cocktail“, led by Robert Hess. Robert jumped right in there with a crash course on spirits, theories about the origins of mixed drinks in general, and some basic drink etymology. The team from the Teardrop Lounge mixed Old-Fashioned Whiskey Cocktails while Robert demonstrated the simplicity involved in creating this, the original cocktail and a surprisingly complex little number considering its spartan ingredient list.


Robert then jumped into a brief history of aromatized wines such as vermouth, and their popularity in cocktails in the late nineteenth century. The team whipped up a batch of very large Manhattans while the crowd braced themselves for a 1PM rye whoopin‘.


And in a perfectly logical move, Robert demonstrated how the Martini grew out of the Manhattan and proved it by passing around his interpretation of the original Martini, made with Dry Fly gin, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, and Angostura orange bitters. The crowd swooned as they took another brunch-sized blast of 80 proof liquor.

Ted Munat gets himself mentally prepared

13 Replies to “The Great American Distiller’s Festival: History of the Cocktail with Robert Hess”

  • Jeff Frane says:

    Chas, the (s) was a clue. Or a joke. One subject, but several tests in the evening. Gin used was Bombay Sapphire, based on comments about milder gins not standing up to the Carpano — and I would agree, based on this tiny sample.

  • Chas. Munat says:

    Mr. Frane:

    What gin are you using? And how many test subject(s) do you have?

  • Jeff Frane says:

    Results from the small database research file:

    Equal parts gin and Antica Formula (ack! bottle is now empty!) is definitely preferred by 100% of the test subject(s). About 1/4 oz of Maraschino & 1 dash of Angostura Orange Bitters is mighty good. Further research will follow.

  • Jeff Frane says:

    For some reason, the Savoy’s recipe for a Martinez is for six people! But it has equal parts gin and French vermouth, with orange bitters and Maraschino or Curaçao.

    Clearly, some research is required.

  • Chas. Munat says:

    I don’t remember what proportions Robert used (I thought it was equal parts, but I wasn’t really very sober at that point), but CocktailDB has a recipe for a Rex Cocktail with those ingredients:

    Stir in mixing glass with ice & strain
    1 3/4 oz gin (5 cl, 7/16 gills)
    3/4 oz sweet vermouth (2 cl, 3/16 gills)
    1 dash orange bitters
    Serve in a cocktail glass (4.5 oz)

  • dshenaut says:

    Sazerac Rye

  • heckler says:

    sazerac manhattan? what’s that/

  • Jo3sh says:

    Even if the Dry Fly did not hold up well, I’d love to see the recipe Mr. Hess used for his Martinis. Even more interesting would be a post from him about it.

  • dshenaut says:

    Historically, wouldn’t a sweeter more mellow gin be more appropriate in the Martinez. Of course, the desision to serve Dry Fly may have had something to do with Kent buying me brunch.

  • Molly says:

    Damn. I knew I shoulda stayed in Portland on Sunday, but I … yeah, excuses don’t cut it.

    (Did you just call Scott crusty? [I wanted to italicize that but didn’t know if your comments would let me.] There’s something almost creepy about that…)

  • Chas. Munat says:

    Hmm. Westbourne Strength Martin Miller sounds like a good match, especially now that I’m infatuated with the lovely and charming Emma Davis. (Doesn’t hurt that she gave me a bottle last week.)

  • Sadly, I wasn’t able to try the Martini, as Daniel skipped me as the samples were going around. But if memory serves, the Dry Fly is 80 proof, which tends to get lost in a big vermouth like Antica Formula. I’ve tried this particular drink with some London monsters like Sapphire and Westbourne Strength, and also with the muscly Junipero from California, and they all stand up well to the vermouth.

  • Chas. Munat says:

    The Munat Bros. is in the house! Nice photo of Ted’s right ear. If you’d taken that shot twenty minutes later, you could have gotten one of Ted slumped over a table littered with cocktail glasses.

    (OK, he didn’t really slump over the table, but surely we’re allowed a bit of poetic license in the comments section?)

    Frankly, I didn’t think the Dry Fly held up very well in the martini. Dry Fly is a very mild gin with a gentle juniper flavor. The Carpano Antica just crushed it, in my not-very-humble opinion. I’d like to try the drink again with something more potent, like Junipero. Can you arrange another distiller’s festival for next weekend so we can test that? Thanks.

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