Cocktail Road Trip: California

Pete Capella
(Photo: )

We traveled through the South and trucked through the Northeast, exploring traditional drinks of regional America. Now we come to the West Coast. So strap your surfboards on top of your Winnebago and prepare yourself for the grandeur of the Redwoods. It’s time we hopped onto the freeways of Ca-Li-For-Ni-Ay.

Hinton Helper, a 19th-century journalist from North Carolina, spoke of the Golden State in his 1855 book, The Land of Gold: “I have seen purer liquors, better sugars, finer tobacco, truer guns and pistols, larger dirks and bowie knives, and prettier courtesans here in San Francisco than in any other place I have ever visited; and it is my unbiased opinion that California can and does furnish the best bad things that are available in America.” We here at The Savory tend to agree. California has access to some of the freshest ingredients in the US and it shows in the culinary culture. This is why from Los Angeles to San Francisco, California is constantly on the cutting edge of all things cocktail.
The Cocktails
Moscow Mule
Also known as a Vodka Buck, this drink (like most things in LA) is a transplant. Originally born in New York City in 1941, by 1942 it was proclaimed the most popular drink in Hollywood. With name play on the Russian origins of vodka, the drink is still on the menu at many cocktail bars in California. Plus, who doesn’t want to drink their cocktail from a copper cup? 
Moscow Mule Recipe
2 oz Vodka
Juice from ½ Fresh Lime
4-6 oz Ginger Beer
Pour all ingredients into an iced copper mug
Pisco Punch
Pisco is currently on the forefront of many cocktail programs throughout the US. But in the late 1800s it was a superstar on the San Francisco bar scene, due to trade routes from South America leading up the western seaboard of the United States. The Pisco Punch was all the rage at The Bank Exchange, the most popular bar in San Francisco at the time. Rumor has it that Duncan Nicol, the inventor of the Pisco Punch (who took the original recipe to his grave), got all the patrons hooked on the drink, which contained his own secret ingredient: cocaine (which was legal at the time). Check out The Savory’s Pisco Punch recipe HERE.
San Francisco legend has it a man came into a San Francisco bar and asked for a good strong drink before his trip to Martinez, a city located 35 miles northeast of San Francisco. The bartender made him a mix of Old Tom Gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur and bitters. Back then Old Tom Gin was a poorly distilled gin, so it became more palatable with the addition of sugar. Today you can buy quality versions of Old Tom-style gin. If you’re presently hooked on Negronis like we are, this is a must try.
Martinez Recipe
2 oz Old Tom Gin
.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
.25 oz Maraschino Liqueur
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
Orange Twist for Garnish
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Don “The Beachcomber” brought Tiki culture to Los Angeles and started a phenomenon that swept the country. His bar was the “it” place for all of Hollywood at the time, with celeb regulars making their way through the door every night. The zombie was rumored to have been created as a hangover remedy for a customer who needed to get to a business meeting. The peeved customer returned and said that he was like a zombie the entire trip. The drink is so strong, Don the Beachcomer restaurants put a limit to allow only two Zombies per customer. 
Mai Tai 
Victor Bergeron, the owner of a BBQ joint in Oakland, decided that Tiki was the way to go. Without hesitation, Hinky Dink’s BBQ became Trader Vic’s and the rest is history. Now you’ll find arguments from both sides over who actually created the Mai Tai, but the Trader Vic story is a great one. When a friend from Tahiti was visiting him, he made her try the drink and she exclaimed, “Maita’i roa ae!” (Literally “Very good!”, figuratively “Out of this world! The Best!”), hence the name. Here is The Savory bartender, Pete Capella, teaching you how to make a Mai Tai at your home bar:
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