Drinkers Drinks Those That Serve Them

Nicely toasted…

“I drink to your health when I am with you,

I drink to you health when I’m alone,

I drink to your health so often

I’m beginning to worry about my own”

            Those people who know me will know that I have a great passion for drinks, drinking, drinkers and bartending. I freely admit that I like the whole ritual of drinking and bartending: often I think that cocktails are so interesting because they can be  more about the process by which they are made than by the actual ingredients themselves. Also those people who have met me know that I am a slightly ‘pukka’ person with my British tailoring, handkerchiefs etc. Thus hopefully this months topic will be no big surprise. I am attempting to resurrect the ancient ritual of The Toast.

            A toast is defined as “ to call to an admired  person (normally a woman) or object”. How ever a better description is that a toast is a basic form of human expression that can be used for any emotion from love to rage. They can be sentimental, cheesy, cynical, defiant, comic, poetic, long ,short or even one word. What they do very well is mark a drink or drinking occasion. It makes a drink more personalised as well as the experience of drinking it. Some have said that when one toasts something truly special then the glasses should be broken afterwards to ensure they are never toasted with again!

            My interest in toasts however is not to drive up your glassware costs but to help make drinks and drinking more enjoyable to the drinker. A good/funny toast or remark when serving a drink or drink order can surely only help make it more memorable. The toast, tho’ coming after the order can definitely be an upselling tool or good service practice.

            No-one is entirely sure who the first toast was for but the custom of drinking to health permeated the ancient world with mentions in the Odyssey, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Shakespeare. The habit of clinking glasses is said to have come from the need to  make bell-like sounds to ward off evil spirits when drinking – devils being banished by bells . Mostly the act of toasting occurred at organised dinners and the like with imbibers drinking to gods, then rulers then friends/guests and then even absent friends! Toasting became less pragmatic and more social in the 17th century: as one unnamed Englishman said “to drink at table… without drinking to the health of someone special, would be considered drinking on the sly, and as an act of incivility”.

            Toasting became even more pervasive in the 18th century when they solidified their formal aspects (Nelson himself decreed that every day in his officers’ wardroom would have a different toast – Monday “our ships at sea”, Tuesday “our men”, wed “ourselves”, thurs “a bloody war or a sickly season”, Fri. “a willing foe and a sea room”, sat “sweethearts and wives” and finally “absent friends”. But also with this the Toast was used as an opportunity to show some wit and banter: “these were not an excuse for speeches but for wit and wine” as one expert toaster put it.

            More toasts of course led to excessive drinking and in many places the practice was banned or outlawed. Louis XIV forbade the offering of toasts at his court and Massachusetts put into place a law banning the “abominable… and useless ceremony” of drinking to another’s health. One of the major concerns with the Temperance Movement (founded 1517) was to abolish the custom of toasting whish they saw leading to debauchery. Others saw it differently with a toast being described as “ a quality as pleasant as a handshake, as warm as a kiss” by an unnamed Victorian.

            Some toasts are well known to all – especially what is seen as “National” such as “cheers” in the UK and US, Santé in France, Skål in Danish etc. We all surely know “here’s looking at you kid” from Casablanca. Even “here’s mud in your eye” is well known but interestingly it is a shortened version of a longer “ here’s mud in your eye while I look over your lovely sweetheart”… makes more sense now doesn’t it. Many great Toasts of course have already been said and I shall end this article with a selection that I use and find that they work. How do I mean work? Well if you drop them in at the right time they will make the customer feel more like a guest. They will feel more human and the experience more personal. You might want to choose a shorter one for 9.30pm on a Friday but I hope you will find that they make people smile and make you more money. Cheers!

“only the young die good”

“here’s to you… no matter how old you are you don’t look it”

“here’s champagne for our real friends and real pain to our sham friends”

“joy to the world and especially to you”

“may your sex life be as good as your credit”

In English beer/with English cheer/to the right little/tight little island”

“eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we diet”

“may the hinges of friendship never rust and the wings of love never lose a feather”

“blue skies and green lights”

“may the most you wish for be the least you get”

“may we be happy and our enemies know it”

“may our house be too small to hold all our friends”

“here’s to your health! You make Age curious, Time furious and all of us envious”

“here’s to my car and your car and may they never meet”

“may you be hung drawn and quartered… yes – hung with diamonds, drawn in a coach and for and quartered in the best houses in the land”

and finally when you have served a “nasty” drink or been served one by a bartender:

“may we never drink worse than this”

“I used to know a clever toast,

But doh! I cannot think of it – so fill your glass to anything

And, bless your souls, I’ll drink it”


Modern Classics

So one of the best parts of my career is creating training modules and presentations to roll out at Bar Shows and education sessions around the world. One is either given a totally free hand and/or is trusted to come up with interesting and educational topics and information that will help inspire bartenders to be creative, bring their standards up or teach them valid lessons. I have found the key to this is to research heavily, to choose wisely and to have a structure that creates a flow and a credible dialogue. I never intend them to be slavishly followed and am happy when attendees bring up arguments or points I did not consider and love it when it creates ripples throughout the world of bartending (or at least the attendees).

I bring this up because I recently gave a talk at the inaugural Athens Bar Show entitled “The Seven Wonders of the Modern Cocktail World” in which I attempted to show that in the time I have been bartending or involved with the world of cocktails and bartending there have only been perhaps seven drinks that have been created and are destined to be (or already are) cocktails that all bartenders from now on will need to know in the future. And as you can imagine it ruffled some feathers and started some pretty intense conversations.

My theory was this. Ninety years ago the list of “Must Know” aka Classic cocktails was very different to 40 years ago and is different to now. At the turn of the 20th century drinks like Clover Clubs, Cobblers, Sazeracs and Silver Fizzes were the bartenders staples. Skip forward 50 years and Mojitos, Margaritas, Mai Tais and Bloody Mary’s were on everyone’s lips. Yet what drinks have been created in the last 30 years (I chose my bartending careers start date as one I could use realistically) will stand the tests of time and be added to the roll call of great cocktails?  As Mixology has become more established, credible, creative and widespread so the number of ‘Signature’ cocktails has increased and surely there are many great new cocktails out there… or are there? The key really (other than being a seriously dedicated and well-travelled bartender who has drunk a fair amount of new cocktails) was the criteria that I used to  decide what made a Modern Classic.

Firstly the drink had to have a practical side: it must use ingredients that are fairly common around the world or at least can be substituted fairly easily. Also on a practical nature it must have  a name that is easy to say and ‘call’ in a bar and is funny or memorable.

Secondly it must taste great of course (often meaning that the exact proportions can be varied successfully  to accommodate a range of palates. But this taste should also come due to innovation – either in new/irregular combinations of flavours or ingredients or new techniques being used to create those flavours.

Thirdly it must be popular (dur!) by which I mean not just that drinkers love it but other bartenders copy it and thus it starts to show up around the world on cocktail menus. Too many drinks have been lost by bartenders keeping recipes secret and it is a feather in any bartenders cap when colleagues in other bars like a drink so much they drop their pride and ask for the recipe.

This leads to the fourth criteria I used to select the drinks: they must inspire bartenders to copy or tweak the recipe in much the same way that the great Classics have done with twisted Negronis, Manhattans and Old Fashioned’s being examples of. 

My Magnificent Seven?


Tommy’s Margarita

Vodka Espresso aka Espresso Martini

Breakfast Martini


Paper Plane

Gin Basil Smash 

One of the downsides of modern bartending is new bartender desperately cling to the idea that totally new drinks are the key to guest satisfaction. I professionally have drunk literally thousands of ‘new’ drinks that, tasty tho they may be, are relatively  forgettable and, according to the ‘market’, are unworthy of the title Modern Classic. 

Any list is not definitive as I stated at the beginning and I intended it only to show off some of the criteria that I think will aid bartenders create modern classics in the future as well as showcasing great drinks  that exist right now… as well as reinforcing my selection by having bartenders push these drinks in the future. Now all I have to do is listen to my own work and create one myself! Tho in the short term I look forward to hearing howls of protest and suggestions from you dear reader… cheers!