A couple of months ago, I was sent a story by Stephan Visakay about swizzle sticks (which I happen to collect). I was so thrilled, I asked him, with Maddy Lederman, to write an article for the blog.
“The difficulty of securing a cherry resting at the bottom of a cocktail glass without resorting to boorish antics obnoxious to people accustomed to polite social usages is so well known as to have become a matter of public comment and jest.”
In his three-page patent copy, Jay Sindler used the cherry to describe how necessary his new invention, the Swizzle Stick, was, but legend has it the idea was sparked by an olive.
It was February 1934, a few months after Prohibition had ended. Sindler, an employee of the Converse Rubber Company and an avid inventor, sat contemplating his martini at the Boston Ritz Carlton’s bar one night, faced with the challenge of removing his olive without dipping his fingers into his gin. I like to think Sindler was on his second or third martini when it all came together. He envisioned a small spear with a paddle-like handle, imprinted with an establishment’s name like a miniature billboard. It would be something the patrons could take home, cheaper than a book of printed matches and cheaper still than the cost of vanishing ashtrays and cocktail glasses. Sindler’s patent, number 1,991,871, was granted on February 19, 1935.
Polite society caught on to Sindler’s invention and his new company Spir-it was off to a promising start.
There was some competition, however. With Repeal, all the great glass companies began to manufacture bar ware. Stirring rods once used by 1920’s Flappers were now mass-produced. Unlike the swizzle stick, glass swizzles didn’t have a pointed spear for fruit garnishes and were costly to silk-screen with a hotel logo. Some glass companies had the novel idea of inserting a tube of paper with advertising copy into a glass rod and sealing the end like a message in a bottle, but costly and impractical, this didn’t last. Today this type of hollow (and easily broken) stirrer is one of the most sought after by collectors. Other attractive materials include Bakelite and Catalin.
Major developments in plastic manufacturing came along with World War II. By the 1950’s swizzle sticks came in an incredible array of shapes and colors and served as inexpensive advertisements for clubs, casinos, restaurants and airlines. All establishments had a custom swizzle stick even if they made do with the cheaper, stock version; a straight, tapered rod with a paddle signboard imprinted with a tavern’s logo.
Into the 1960′s and the Space Age, there was a boom in the electronics industries calling for precision plastic parts which led to new technologies in thermosetting plastic injection molding. The period from the late 1950’s throughout the 1960’s was a Golden Age for signature swizzle sticks.
Drinks served on TWA flights sported a red propeller swizzle. At Trader Vic’s, a Hawaiian outrigger canoe paddle with a Tiki God handle graced the drinks at the venerable bar. The Thunderbird Hotel and Swim Club in Miami Beach featured a Flying Thunderbird on top of it’s swizzle with the name in large script over the shaft. Playboy’s signature bunny-head sat atop their swizzles which, for some reason, were extra long. Many people saved the Playboy swizzle if they ever came across it. In fact, most of us have a few swizzle sticks saved somewhere. Taking a swizzle as a memento was encouraged. They were a promotional calling card or a remembrance of a wonderful trip or night on the town and they disappeared from nightclubs and hotel bars as fast as they were set out.
The swizzle sticks’ popularity didn’t last forever, or even very far into the 1970′s. For example, during the Carter years, the White House was dry. It was beer and wine only at State functions, no doubt the reason why Jimmy was a one term President. When he derided the “fifty dollar martini lunch” for businessmen, former House Speaker Jim Wright (D-TX), replied, “If the Good Lord hadn’t intended us to have a three martini lunch, then why do you suppose He put all those olive trees in the Holy Land?”
Inventor Jay Sindler would have agreed.
Check out clubs such as the International Swizzle Stick Collectors Association (ISSCA), www.swizzlesticks-issca.com.
ISSCA President Ray Hoare and thousands of collectors world-wide, sociologists and anthropologists agree that these miniature, pop-culture icons give us an inside look at the past and are a valued collectable worth saving for future generations. And besides, they can still be used to stir your favorite drink.
If you’re looking for swizzles for your next party ask your parents, they probably have a box full somewhere. Or you can purchase swizzle sticks from the company started by Jay Sindler, they’re still in business. Spirit Foodservice, Inc has a fantastic web site with eco-friendly and biodegradable options. Marketing Manager Rachel Pantely tells us that swizzles are hotter than ever with the increased interest in retro cocktails. www.spiritfoodservice.com
Stephen Visakay is author of Vintage Bar Ware (Collector Books 1997) and has written for antique, collectible, and trade magazines. His cocktail shaker exhibition, “Shaken, Not Stirred, Cocktail Shakers and Design” has been featured in museums nationwide, including The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, The Louisiana State Museum, and The Milwaukee Art Museum. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Maddy Lederman is a writer and a filmmaker. email@example.com
Here’s a fun post from guest contributor Nancy Bentley of Kinkead Ridge Vineyard in Ripley, OH.
Wine labels. As I wrote the wine label text for the 2008 Kinkead Ridge reds and 2009 Kinkead Ridge whites, I found this hilarious web site to generate silly tasting notes.
Go visit the Silly Tasting Note Generator and scroll to the bottom of the page. Select Make a New Note and generate tasting notes like these.
“Rounded but equally over-oaked Merlot. Forcefully bites you with hair-spray, morally superior slim jims and traces of orange jello. Drink now through 2011.”
“Ready to drink and overdone Syrah. Essences of prune, acidic monster carrot and scant clay. Drink now through whenever the cows come home.”
“Intense but lackluster Cabernet. Reminiscent of peach-pit, arcane seedless watermelon and dainty beef. Drink now through 2012.”
“Creepy and whimsical Rose. Starts with pear, limp bourbon and semi-weak toast. Drink now through April.”
“Rich and smokey almost unripe Gamay. Detectable toast, middle-aged lime and corpulent juniper. Drink now through never.”
– Nancy Bentley
One of the joys of being involved in a wine store is having the opportunity to attend trade events. These events are usually held once or twice a year by most distributors. Often there are several hundred wines to sample, from value wines at $10 to trophy wines priced at $100 or more. Better than a trade event is an educational seminar. These seminars are priceless opportunities to learn about wine and how better to appreciate them.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a seminar on Barolos and Brunello di Montalcino. This was conducted by one of Ohio’s only Master Sommeliers. I have been to other classes taught by Matt and he is extremely knowledgeable and even more humble. We got to sample four examples of each wine and he pointed out the differences between the different sub-regions for each wine. We were also given marketing tips, such as acreage of these regions versus Bordeaux and Napa Valley. We were shown how this information could be used to show the value of Brunello and Barolos even though they have gone up substantially in price in recent years. It was pointed out that although these wines hail from much smaller regions and have substantially smaller production numbers, they are still much less expensive than many Bordeaux and high-end Cabernets.
We were able to sample another seventy-five Italian wines after the seminar. Some of these were presales for new vintages. We were able to meet winemaker Valter Fissore from Elvio Cogno and sample five of his wines and I was able to revisit a number of wines that I have already brought into the store. Additionally, I found some neat new wines that I will be bringing into the store later this summer.
As summer moves into fall most of the larger distributors will be having their holiday show, which give them an opportunity to show off wines for the holidays. I was able to go to these last year and am looking forward to going again this year. They often will bring in winemakers or principals from the wineries they handle. This gives me an chance to get first hand information about many of the wines I carry. I can get interesting stories about the development of some wines or the thinking behind a label change. It is always a treat to meet some of the Icons 0f the wine world and to realize they are just like the rest of us. I love attending these for my own enjoyment, but always try to come away with something in which my customers would be interested.
Here is another guest post from contributor Nancy Bentley, co-owner of the wonderful Kinkead Ridge Winery in Ripley, OH.
Have you ever wondered about a typical year at an estate vineyard and small boutique winery? Since 2007, Kinkead Ridge winery in Ripley has been uploading video to youtube. The main movie, which has been viewed over 16,000 times, is called “A Vineyard Year” and details what happens from pruning through bottling through harvest.
Another video, “The Romance of the Vineyard” (tongue in cheek!) was a finalist in the Wine Spectator’s first video contest, and my prize was a ticket to the New York Wine Experience in Times Square.
There are approximately 40 very short “mini-movies” that show specific tasks, e.g. punchdown, post pounding, bottling, barrel movement, the flail mower, cane pruning, vine tucking and tying, bottle delivery, hedging and more. Grab a glass of wine, go to youtube.com, search for “Kinkead Ridge” and have fun!
Kinkead Ridge continues to garner international recognition, and will be featured in Opus Vino, an illustrated wine reference book to be published by Dorling Kindersley, who specialize in full-color reference publishing. The books are translated into all major languages and distributed throughout the world. Opus Vino is due for publication in the UK, US and Australia in October 2010, with foreign language editions in 2011 and 2012.
– Nancy Bentley
For this post we again welcome Jay Erisman, our favorite instructor from The Party Source EQ Center and quite the wine and spirits expert. This is actually part 2 of a 2-part Mexican adventure he took in 2007 (part 1).
Tequila country did not prepare me for the Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal producers in Oaxaca. Del Maguey mastermind Ron Cooper took me on a four day tour of Oaxaca. From village markets where we feasted on things like pit roasted goat (and—bonus!—the blood of the goat, cooked in the stomach with mint, swear I’m not making this up), to cutting edge restaurants in Oaxaca City, I was immersed in the most vibrant, colorful culture I’ve ever experienced.
I was acquainted with the traditional production methods used by such Mezcal masters as Paciano Cruz Nolasco of San Luis del Rio.
To actually see these distilleries operate with technology that was virtually pre-industrial was totally amazing. The techniques are positively pre-industrial, such as roasting the maguey in an earthen pit of smoldering wood and hot rocks for up to three weeks, and crushing the cooked plants with a mule-powered stone. Señor Nolasco harvests maguey plants (a relative of the blue agave used for Tequila) from very high hills, in his very high village, at the end of a very bad road. (Paciano is a Mezcal maker, a palenquero, but this generous, forward-thinking man is training his daughter to become a palenquera, possibly the first female Mezcal distiller.) The term “rustic” does not do justice to his distillery, hugging the dusty banks of the rio amidst a cluster of banana trees, vines and lizards. His Mezcal might offer the single most complex aroma of any spirit I sell, a kaleidoscope of smoky earth, pineapple fruits and mountain herbs, citrus leaves and rinds, black and white pepper and more. Nosing a glass of San Luis is like approaching the event horizon of a black hole; inevitably, it pulls you in, and you’re done for.
In the village of Minero, Florencio Sarmiento uses two stills made of clay and bamboo from a unique design of ancient Chinese origin.
Florencio’s distillery is also the only one I saw that used electricity, with a small pump circulating cold water to the internal condenser bowls in his far-out stills. The resulting Mezcal cuts across the palate like a lightsaber, with a breathtaking citrus intensity.
Like El Tesoro, all Del Maguey Mezcals are 100% natural with no added flavors or chemicals used in production/ On top of that, these Mezcals possess full organic certification. Having been there, I can better appreciate where the potent, smoky flavor of these Mezcals comes from. If they are drop for drop the most intensely flavored spirits in The Party Source, surely that reflects the rugged land—and the hand of the maker—from which they spring.
– Jay Erisman
Photos © Jay Erisman 2007-2010
View part 1 of the Mexican adventure – Tequila.
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