GSN Alert: November 8th -National Harvey Wallbanger Day

tumblr_inline_moeit2yoeL1qz4rgpProbably most of us have had at least a few Harvey Wallbangers over the years.  My first was served out of a huge plastic trash can at a frat party in Geneva, NY back in the early 1980’s.  My most recent was at 2014’s Tales of the Cocktail® in New Orleans where it was served at one of the many parties.  But, few of us know the true story behind this variation on a Screwdriver.  Fellow writer Robert Simonson penned the following article a few years ago and uncovered the fascinating man behind the myth.  So, make yourself a H.W. and spend a few minutes with a legend.

Searching for Harvey Wallbanger by Robert Simonson 

The Harvey Wallbanger has one of the most memorable names in cocktail history. And one of the worst reputations.

A mix of vodka, orange juice and Galliano, it was one of the preeminent drinks of the 1970s, a decade recognized by drink historians as the Death Valley of cocktail eras—a time of sloppy, foolish drinks made with sour mix and other risible shortcuts to flavor, and christened with foolish monikers like Mudslide and Freddie Fudpucker.

Not that Harvey Wallbanger is one of those. It’s actually got one of the best—and most unforgettable—handles in the annals of mixed drinks. This may be why it’s survived long enough to be reappraised. Shortly after Galliano reconfigured its recipe a couple of years ago, returning the Italian liqueur to its original formula, mixologists began to sneak the drink back on respectable lists.

This is all good news for Donato “Duke” Antone, the largely forgotten bartender who, according to longstanding legend, is the creator of the Wallbanger, as well as a number other two-ingredient wonders of the time, like the Rusty Nail and White Russian. Antone, the oft-repeated story goes, ran Duke’s “Blackwatch” Bar on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood in the 1950s. The few biographical facts that pop up again and again tell us that he was the brother-in-law of one-term New York State Senator Carlo Lanzillotti, and that he managed featherweight boxer Willie Pep, a childhood friend. He died In 1992 at the age of 75, according to an obit in the Hartford Courant. At the time he was the retired headmaster of the Bartending School of Mixology in Hartford. The Courant notice repeated the claims that he invented the Wallbanger, Rusty Nail, as well as the Flaming Caesar and many other drinks.

So, did he? As much as we hate to doubt a WWII vet and “the recipient of two silver stars, two bronze stars, two Purple Hearts and a Croix de Guerre” (the Courant), the bartending profession has a long history of credit-grabbing. The provenance of almost every famous cocktail is clouded by the claims and counterclaims of various barmen. Even Jerry Thomas, the father of modern mixology, wasn’t above a fib or two.

Certainly, all the drinks associated with Donato display the same, ham-fisted modus operandi. Take a potent, straightforward base spirit (vodka, whiskey), throw in a taste-profile-dominating liqueur (Galliano, Drambuie, Amaretto, Kahlua), maybe some juice or cream, and presto: new drink! But few figures in bartending history can lay their hand to so many famous drinks, so one doubts Donato invented all of them. So this article will concentrate on clearing away as much fog as possible from the most frequent cited of his children.

According to folklore, Donato invented the Harvey Wallbanger in 1952. It is said he named it after a Manhattan Beach surfer and regular named Tom Harvey—a man about whom we can find nothing. But the cocktail didn’t become popular until the early 1970s. This sudden reversal of fortunes coincides with the arrival of George Bednar, who in 1966 became marketing director of McKesson Imports Co., an importing company that handled Galliano. Previously, the liqueur had a staid ad campaign that featured the line “Fond of things Italiano? Try a sip of Galliano.” Bednar somehow found the Wallbanger and hoisted it up the barroom flagpole. The original ads pushed the drink as a replacement at brunch for the Bloody Mary. Round about late 1969, a rather pained-looking, sandal-wearing mascot named Harvey Wallbanger appeared. His line: “Harvey Wallbanger is the name and I can be made!”

And, boy, did the world make him! Soon, reports were cropping up of bowls of Wallbangers being consumed at Hamptons parties and on Amtrak trains. Harvey Wallbanger cakes were sold. A Puli named after the drink won dog shows. By 1976, Holland House was putting out a Wallbanger dry mix and pre-blended bottles of the cocktail were sold. Riding this wave, Galliano became the number one most imported liqueur during Me Decade, exporting 500,000 cases a year to the U.S. (You’d think the Galliano people—the liqueur is now owned by Lucas Bols—would be interested in the origins of their most famous drink. But the company, while curious, had little or no information to offer about the Wallbanger or Donato.)

Antone, however, is difficult to find during this heyday. He’s not quoted or mentioned in articles or advertisements. The California ABC office can find no listing for a bar called Duke’s “Blackwatch” Bar on Sunset. (To be fair, their computer records are not complete.) Neither do L.A. guides or newspapers from the time mention it. Given that the drink rose to fame with the arrival of Bednar, one can’t help but suspect that good old Harvey was the invention of the Galliano marketing department, and that Antone had nothing to do with it.

The flaw in that theory lies in the Courant obit, which indicates that Antone himself never denied creating the drink. So what came first, the Blackwatch or the Bednar?

I dug up a number of answers in the back pages of the Hartford Courant, which printed a few stories on Antone over the years. It even ran a photo or two, provided pictorial evidence that a short, balding man with thick, black-framed glasses named Donato “Duke” Antone did indeed breathe air. A 1966 Courant article about Antone’s bartending school, located on Farmington Avenue, tells us that he was born in Brooklyn in a Italian-Jewish neighborhood, ran liquor for bootleggers as a youngster, had his first legal bartending job at a place called Diamond Jim Brady’s, and was he was “a likable, fast-talking Runyoneseque character.”

Turns out, there’s a good reason you can’t find evidence of Antone and the Blackwatch Bar in Los Angeles during the 1950s and ’60s. It’s because the man was living in Hartford that entire time. The 1966 Courant piece says he founded his school in 1949 “after he found, when working in Las Vegas, that it was difficult to find good bartenders,” and that it “took him 14 years to perfect the school’s curriculum.” Those would be the years when he was supposed mixing up Harvey Wallbangers for beach bums.

The 1966 story identifies Antone as the author of some new drinks—including the Italian Fascination, which “has won prizes” and “contains Galliano, Kahlua, triple sec and sweet cream”—but the Wallbanger is not mentioned as one of them. However, in a subsequent 1970 Courant story (about how Antone taught his trade to his 12-year-old son!), Antone gets full credit for the Wallbanger. Of course, by that time, the drink was gaining fame and popularity. So what happened between those two date lines?

This sentence in a 1977 Courant piece, in which Antone is “retired,” might hold the key: “Antone…has not limited himself to mixing drinks. Rather, he has been active in all aspects of the liquor industry ranging from restaurant design to marketing.”

“Marketing”! OK, theory time. Could it be that George Bednar, newly hired at McKesson in 1966 and looking for a way to boost Galliano sales, read about Antone’s Galliano-heavy Italian Fascination cocktail, and then traveled up to Hartford to see if the bartender, for a fee, could come up a few more cocktails featuring the liqueur? (Around this time, Antone also invented Freddie Fudpucker, basically a Harvey Wallbanger with tequila.) The tale of the Blackwatch Bar, phantom surfer Tom Harvey, and the sudden appearance of the Wallbanger cartoon figure—that could all well be examples of Bednar and Antone’s marketing acumen. One can see how the two men might have bonded. Antone was a boxing man, and Bednar played football for Notre Dame and the St. Louis Cardinals in the mid-’60s. Booze and sports. They were made for each other.

Noted cocktail historian David Wondrich—who, as it turns out, has been doing his own digging in the Wallbanger—pointed out the Harvey surfer character had been designed by commercial artist name Bill Young, at Galliano and McKesson’s behest. The cartoon figure hit the U.S. like a lava flow in late 1969, “pop art posters, bumper stickers, buttons, crew shirts, mugs and the whole bit,” according to an Oct. 30, 1969, San Antonio Light article uncovered by Wondrich.

“I wonder what the execs at McKesson thought in 1969,” mused Wondrich, “when Bill Young showed them the dopey little cartoon surfer he had come up with, complete with a dopey name, ‘Harvey Wallbanger,’ and an equally dopey slogan, ‘I can be made.’ I doubt they realized what they were in for. With Young’s Harvey to blaze the way, Antone’s simple—even dopey—drink would go on to be the first drink created by a consultant to actually take the nation by storm.”

By 1981, Duke had opened a new academy, Antone’s School of Mixology, and was full-on boasting that he was the genesis of “the Harvey Wallbanger, the Rusty Nail, the White Russian and the Kamakazi, as well as the Freddie Fudpucker.” The reporter of that account, sticking in the word “claims” a couple of times, seemed disinclined to believe him.

Do I believe him? Well, I never had much faith in the story of the Harvey Wallbanger’s creation. (A surfer at Manhattan beach going all the way to Sunset Boulevard for a drink? A Italian-American who gives his bar a Scottish name?) But I do believe Antone had something to do with creating the cocktail. To paraphrase the cartoon Harvey, “cocktail history is the game, and I can be made up.”

Robert Simonson writes about spirits, cocktails and wine for such publications as The New York Times, Imbibe, Edible Brooklyn and Manhattan, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and GQ. He holds an advanced certificate from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, and another from the Beverage Alcohol Resource. He was nominated for 2012 Spirited Award for Best Cocktail Writing. Follow him on Twitter: @RobertOSimonson

GSN on the Road: Spain’s Great Match at Mercado Little Spain

I first tasted sherry in my 20s. Always game to expand my tastes and food technique, I bought a bottle of Lustau Fino.  I was living in Syracuse, N.Y., at the time, where a rich home life is a key to good living. The first sip was at my kitchen table.

My previous sherry exposure had been one part Mark Bittman and three parts Frasier Crane asking, “Sherry, Niles?” So, what was I expecting? Something dry and complex that would make my pork chops taste better? Something sophisticated for erudite cocktail hour?

I was a bit surprised then, at the strange taste it had. Had it been on the shelf too long? It didn’t quite seem spoiled. But it wasn’t entirely pleasant, either. Over a few sessions I got used to the flavor. But I’m not sure I understood why Niles and Frasier would drink this all the time.

On October 1, 2019, when I arrived at “Spain’s Great Match,” an event on Spanish wine, I was expecting to see riojas and tempranillos. I was not expecting sherry. Is sherry from Spain, I thought? Pause. Is all sherry from Spain? Naive questions both, and the answers are both yes. Sherry is grown and aged in the Jerez region of Andalusia, on the Atlantic coast of Spain and near the southern tip of continental Europe. Like port from Oporto, it’s a savage anglicization which produces sherry from Xérès and Jerez.

“Spain’s Great Match” is an annual event sponsored by the Trade Commission for Spain in New York, to promote Spanish producers and distributors of wine. The host Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, closed to the public on the day of the event, is a pristine, bustling venue under the High Line, showing off a coordinated range of Spanish food and drink offerings. It’s “a Spanish Eataly,” according to The New York Times, which is accurate, though the airiness and sprawling windows give it a feeling distinctly more Hudson Yards than Eataly’s Fifth Avenue digs. It’s a cute place to have a meal or visit for the afternoon, and I look forward to heading back sometime, particularly to Pan con Tomate, a vendor of the namesake tapa of garlicky fresh tomato sauce on toast.

Many of the guests were Spanish, and in the food and wine industry. I sat next to bartenders, sommeliers, restaurateurs, and distributors, and mingled with winemakers. More than one dude sported the look: jacket and slacks, leather slippers, pocket squares, wide-open shirts, and bushy eyebrows.

A Jerez-Xérès-Sherry “seminar” involved several tastings and a lecture presented by none other than the director of the denominación de origen. It was a real treat learning from someone so knowledgeable of sherry and passionate about sharing it with the world. I discovered that sherry’s unique character comes from flor, a yeast layer which forms from the Andalusian air and sits on the surface of the wine. Winemakers promote its development by targeting a certain alcohol percentage in the young fortified wine. By protecting the wine from excessive oxidation, flor facilitates a process called biological aging, which characterizes the fino and Manzanilla styles, sherries which are extracted early enough to avoid oxidative aging.

Of course the strange flavor I tasted in that first fino – that was flor.

The eight tastings showed the incredible range of sherry. A clean fino expressed the yeast, the palomino grape, and white and dusty soil called albariza. A Pedro Ximenez impressed sweet tea and prunes. A third, a blend, was unlike either the fino or PX: it was spicy, jammy, and sweet. One favorite was Fino La Barajuela 2016 from Luis Perez, boasting flavor of poached pear and apple and aroma of rich, mature dough. Another was Amontillado Cuatro Palmas from González Byass, offering pleasant yeast notes, a medicinal bitterness, and aromas of almond, cherry, and strawberry.

Though regulated, sherry is always made from one of three grape varietals moscatel, Pedro Ximenez, and most commonly palomino, producers on trend will emphasize the region’s diversity, particularly differences in slope, soil, and the races of yeast which predominate. Others bottle their sherries en rama, or naturally, filtering them using a large filter which leaves some living yeast cells intact, and not stabilizing them in the bottle.

The experience definitely made me want to drink more sherry! Well done, el señor.

It was time to venture out of Jerez to see what the rest of Spain had to offer. On the tasting-room floor I met someone representing the winery Parés Baltà. It’s a family-operated winery near Barcelona. The two women winemakers make a wide range of wines including a couple of my favorites of the day. The yeasty cava and Amphora roja 2018 were pleasant, and the Hisenda Miret 2017 was delightfully complex.

A distributor representing Rueda was pouring several verdejos, from the white grape, which ranged from very clean to very oaky, including the Nisia Las Suertes Old Vines Verdejo. One representing Ribera offered a range of tempranillos, including Boada Crianza 2016 from Groupo Yllera, Valduero I Cepa 2015 from Bodega Valduera. Another importer boasted a wonderful rioja alta, the Martinez Lacuesta Reserva 2010. Yet another, white and rose Cava coming from its denominación de origen in Catalonia.

The Rias Baixas is a Northern maritime region on the Atlantic, characterized by namesake low-lying estuaries. Owing to the region’s matrilineal history, its wine industry has historically been run by women and consists of majority women winemakers. Most grape growers have only 1–2 acres, a scale that makes growing more like people’s weekend projects than agribusiness. Neighbors cooperate and hold each other accountable. There’s a sense that helping each other improves quality and yields, and uplifts the region. From here I tasted nine samples of albariño, made from a white grape. The wines made easy drinking, with mineral and citric character. Two standouts came from uncommon winemaking technique. An aged wine, the 2012 by Paco & Lola was delightfully soft and round. Another treat was the Sensum Laxas 2017 from Bodegas As Laxas, a traditionally produced sparkling wine which was balanced and full, with toastiness and a pleasant salinity.

My last taste of the day was not a wine at all, but a rum from Sister Isles. In St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean, the producer ages rum in a variety of spanish wine casks. A spirits lover at heart, I found these delightful, conveying subtle and not-so-subtle notes of the sherry grapes moscatel and Pedro Ximenez.

I appreciated getting to deeply explore a few of these regions, and the opportunity to connect the grape with the flavor and culture of these places. I find myself choosing Spanish wines as I continue to eat my way across Brooklyn and Manhattan every week. And I’m keeping my eye out for Parés Baltà, aged albariño, and these rums. My sherry interest is piqued. After a long absence I’m excited to return.

Written by GSN’s NYC based correspondent Paul Melnikow

GSN Alert: October 19th – International Gin & Tonic Day

b42086b2206396354f7173a543355bc0“85% of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N’N-T’N-ix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand or more variations on the same phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian “chinanto/mnigs” which is ordinary water served at slightly above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan “tzjin-anthony-ks” which kills cows at a hundred paces; and in fact the one common factor between all of them, beyond the fact that the names sound the same, is that they were all invented and named before the worlds concerned made contact with any other worlds.” – Douglas Adams

Be that as it may, we here on planet Earth will be celebrating International Gin & Tonic Day this weekend.  Cheers!

Gin and Tonic
2 oz. London dry gin
Tonic water (from a fresh bottle)
1-2 ample wedges of lime
Plenty of cold ice cubes
Highball glass

Preparation
1) Chill the glass. You may want to fill it with ice, then empty it and refill, as some bartenders do with a martini glass.
2) Fill the glass with whole ice cubes. If you wish, take a wedge of lime and moisten the rim the glass with it.
3) Pour the gin over the ice, which should be cold enough that it crackles when the liquor hits it.
4) Fill glass almost to the top with tonic.
5) Squeeze one wedge of lime into the glass. Drop the squeezed lime into the drink as a garnish if you like; it’s not necessary, but can add a bit of extra flavor. (If you do, notes Dale DeGroff, make sure the peel has been washed.) Serve.

GSN Alert: October 16th – National Liqueur Day

liqueurs2There are more liqueurs out there than you may realize.  A few of them are crucial for classic cocktails (triple sec), many are liquid desserts (Irish creams), and a few are totally unique (coca leaf liqueur).  What exactly is a liqueur, you ask?  Basically take a distilled spirit, add some sugar, and voila.  But that’s only part of the picture.  Often, liqueurs are flavored with fruit, citrus rind, berries, herbs, spices, and particularly in the case of Chartreuse the liqueur takes on the color of the ingredients.

Here are some of the many liqueurs that GSN has reviewed over the past several years.  Everything from ancho chili liqueur to bacon liqueur.  As an added bonus, I’ve included a video by the inestimable Robert “DrinkBoy” Hess which will show you how you can use as many liqueurs as possible in a single classic cocktail .

1921 Tequila Cream Liqueur

300 Joules Cream Liqueurs

Agwa Coca Herbal Liqueur

Ancho Reyes Chili Liqueur

Bärenjäger Honey & Bourbon

Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur

Berentzen Liqueurs

Berentzen Bushel & Barrel

The Bitter Truth Liqueurs

The Bitter Truth Pimento Dram

Bols Foam

Caffe Borghetti

Charbay Nostalgie Black Walnut Liqueur

Cointreau

Cointreau Noir

Crave Liqueurs

Crave Chocolate Truffle Liqueur

Domaine de Canton

Galliano L’Autentico

Galliano Ristretto

Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur

Heering Coffee Liqueur

Hiram Walker Caramel Apple Liqueur

Hiram Walker Triple Sec

House Spirits Coffee Liqueur

Jaan Liqueur

Kahlua Coffee Cream

The King’s Ginger

Kringle Cream

Licor 43

Love Potion #9

Lovoka Caramel Liqueur

Mama Walker’s Liqueurs

Mandarine Napoleon

Mandarine XO Grande Reserve

Marie Brizard Chocolat Royal

Mariposa Agave Nectar Liqueur

Original Canton Delicate Ginger Liqueur

Patron XO Cafe Dark

Pierre Ferrand Ancienne Methode Dry Curaçao

Punzoné Lemoncino

Pür Likör Liqueurs

Root

Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur

Sorel Hibiscus Liqueur

St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Liqueur

Xanté

GSN Alert: October 4th – National Vodka Day

vodka_glass_gl_16dec10_istock_bIn honor of National Vodka Day, Good Spirits News is proud to share some of our many reviews from over the years, plus a few original flavored vodka cocktails created by Blair Frodelius.  Cheers!

Alchemia

Aylesbury Duck

Bak’s Bison Grass

Bengerminz

Bootlegger 21

Boru

Cariel

Chopin

Crystal Head

Deep Eddy

Double Cross

Exclusiv & here

Golia

Karlsson’s Gold

Ketel One

Leaf

Michael Godard

Orange V

Oval

Purity

Rehorst

Reyka

Russian Diamond

Smooth Ambler

Sobieski

Spring 44

Tuthilltown Indigenous

Vesica

Wódka

Orient Express
2 oz citron vodka
1 0z grand marnier
0.5 oz canton ginger liqueur
0.5 oz lime juice
2 dashes Fee’s orange bitters
Shake and strain into cocktail glass.  Spear a piece of pickled ginger on bamboo skewer and lay across top of glass.

Admiral Perry
2 oz absolut pear vodka
1 oz original cinn schnapps
1 oz dry vermouth
0.25 teaspoon white creme de cacao
Add all ingredients to mixing glass and stir with ice until chilled.  Strain into cocktail glass.  Garnish with a thin slice of pear.

GSN Alert: Flaviar announces Distillery Tour program for members

Flaviar, a spirits club designed to help people try more new things more often, has teamed up with over 25 distilleries to kick start the program.

Flaviar members will be able to access an array of special perks and privileges, from complimentary distillery tours and tastings, free distillery swag to meet and greets with master distillers, exclusive access to special drams, and industry discounts on distillery shop produce.

Each distillery chosen to be part of the program has a story to tell and some delicious drams to share including small batch whiskey, Cognac, rum, vodka, gin and liqueurs. From award-winning, family operations; to grain to glass, hyper local distilleries; organic and even kosher operations, all the distilleries involved have one thing in common ‘quality’ at the heart.

Jugoslav Petkovic, co-founder of Flaviar, comments: “There is literally nothing better for understanding a spirit than to visit the place where it is made and to speak to the people pouring their heart and soul into the glass.

“We’ve hand picked some of our favorite producers that will extend special industry privileges to our members and give them more access and opportunity to explore their palates and have a great time.

“There has been a huge increase in visitors to distilleries, in Kentucky alone there have been 1.4m visitors in 2018, which has a huge impact on the local economy. The Flaviar Distillery Tour program is a win-win for everyone, our members get access to a great experience and independent brands are able to reach a highly engaged, spirits enthusiast audience that drive distillery door sales.”

For details of the full line up and how to take advantage of any offers, please visit:

www.flaviar.com/distillery-tours

GSN Alert: September 20th – National Rum Punch Day

A_Midnight_Modern_ConversationBack in my college days, I thought that punch equalled a 1.5l bottle of Silver Bacardi mixed together with a few cans of tropical flavored Hawaiian Punch.  After a few different occasions where this was the beverage of choice, I had enough to last me a lifetime and moved on to other less cloying things like IPA.  In fact, I hadn’t had any punch for a few decades until I read David Wondrich’s phenomenal book Imbibe! back in 2007.  I decided to make a batch of Philadelphia Fish House Punch for my first effort, and there’s been no turning back for me.  Granted, there is a bit of extra work involved than just emptying bottles into a large bowl (oleo-saccharum, anyone?), but it pays off in spades.  Not only is a real punch incredibly tasty, but you realize why punches are gaining popularity again.  These days, many of the best bars offer punch bowls on the menu, and some are even served with antique cups.

Here’s the recipe for PFHP (luckily, it doesn’t actually call for any fish).

Philadelphia Fish House Punch
(Servings: 18 – 20)
1 cup sugar
4 lemons, peeled and peels reserved
4 cups black tea (or water)
1 cup lemon juice
4 cups rum, Jamaican
2 cups cognac
1/2 cup peach brandy
Garnish: lemon wheels and freshly grated nutmeg

In a large bowl, add sugar and lemon peels, and rub together to release the citrus oils into the sugar. (This is called oleo-saccharum).
Allow oleo-saccharum to infuse for at least 30 minutes.
Dissolve sugar with warm water or tea.
Add rum, cognac, lemon juice and peach brandy and stir to mix.
Add a block of ice to chill, and continue to add smaller pieces of ice for desired dilution.
Garnish with lemon wheels and freshly grated nutmeg.
Ladle into individual glasses.

Another quite popular punch is Planter’s Punch, the recipe for which was first published as a poem in the New York Times on August 8, 1908.

Planter’s Punch
This recipe I give to thee,
Dear brother in the heat.
Take two of sour (lime let it be)
To one and a half of sweet,
Of Old Jamaica pour three strong,
And add four parts of weak.
Then mix and drink. I do no wrong —
I know whereof I speak.

Pretty easy to figure out what the measurements are, if you’re handy with a jigger.

Cheers!