Periodista Tales: New Orleans, Part 2 — Clues at Cure

Continued from Part 1…

I knew Adam Lantheaume as the owner and operator of The Boston Shaker, a cocktail supply shop in Davis Square. He was at Tales of the Cocktail hosting a coming-out party for a new product line.  Bittermens bitters, made by a husband and wife team based in Somerville. The party was at Cure, New Orleans’s hottest new cocktail bar, located five minutes from absolutely nothing.

When I arrived I made nice with the Bostonians then went to the bar for a drink. Before I could order, somebody handed me a glass of punch. In the corner, Lantheaume was placing a drop of bitters on the back of a woman’s hand with an eye dropper. She licked her hand and her eyes scrunched up, then widened. Call that a sale.

It was early but the place was packed. The back bar at Cure is floor-to-ceiling bottles. Death’s Door white whiskey. Chartreuse VEP, yellow and green. Rums from countries I’d never heard of.  A man in a pinstripe suit asked for a single-village Mezcal, neat. The order sent a barback scaling the wall. I drank my punch.

From the slurry of nearby conversations I picked out the name Angus Winchester and connected it to a man in a dark suit with a starched white shirt opened two buttons down from his throat. Winchester is the brand ambassador for Tanqueray gin and a friend of Brother Cleve’s. He’d been helping me chase a lead I’d gotten from Beach Bum BerryCharles Schumann’s Tropical Bar Book, published in Germany in 1986. So far, it was the earliest printed reference to the Periodista anyone had been able to find. Schumann is based out of Munich. Winchester knew him—he’s based out of everywhere.

I introduced myself. Winchester had something new for me.

“Have you ever heard of The Bartender’s Sixth Sense?” he asked. “It’s a sort of Cuban-y bartending book. I mentioned the Periodista to Michael Menegos. He’s Havana Club. Global ambassador kind of guy. He said that would be the book that he’d go to first, because it’s filled with a lot of Cuban recipes. It’s difficult to find, but Michael has it in his library. So Michael is sort of on the case.”

A shock of white hair announced the appearance of Wayne Curtis. Curtis writes on travel and spirits for The Atlantic. He’d also written a book called And A Bottle Of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails. Guess which drink didn’t make the shortlist.

I excused myself from Winchester and approached Curtis for an introduction. Apparently I didn’t need one.

“While I was working on the rum book,” he said, “I collated all my facts and names and dates into one big hundred-thousand-word volume so I could keyword search it. I looked for the Periodista, but couldn’t find anything.”

Typical.

“I think you’re right,” he said, “that it probably appeared in connection with the Sandanistas in the 1980s. If you can’t find reference to the drink before then, that seems like a good theory to me.”

A good theory, maybe, but not mine.

“Oh,” he said. “Well, someone suggested that to me in connection with the Periodista.”

I felt suddenly as if eyes were boring into the back of my head. Who else out there was on the trail of the Periodista?

“I like this crew of people,” Curtis said. He was taking in the room. “I’ve done a lot of travel writing for the past twenty years, and I’ve never really liked travel writers. I find them a disagreeable group. But the drinks people, they’re just really a lot of fun. They all seem to carry with them some form of passion. It’s interesting. They all seem to focus on one thing. It might be a bitters, it might be a bourbon, it might be an era—you know, drinks of the 1910s or something—and they just get obsessed about that.”

He didn’t give me a pointed look. He didn’t have to. I finished my punch as a man approached and held out his hand to Curtis. He had a weathered face, long gray hair hanging loose around his shoulders, and stood a head taller than the rest of the room.

“You hookey-playing sonovabitch,” the tall man said to Curtis.

“Speaking of which,” Curtis said, “this is Ed Hamilton. He’s a rum expert. He’s put out a few books on rum. Ed, have you ever heard of the Periodista?”

“I do know the cocktail,” Hamilton said, turning to me. “But, I’m not a cocktail guy. I spent twenty years on a sailboat in the Caribbean. In the Caribbean a cocktail is, ‘Well, what do we got? Squeeze that, put some rum in it. Oh, it needs some sugar, okay. Oh, it needs more lime, okay.’ And away you go.”

I thought about a world where a cocktail was so simple. No obscure ingredients. No specialized tools. No origins. No histories. Just a cold drink on a hot day that steels the spirit. Then I remembered that most people live in that world. I had, too, not so long ago.

Hamilton mentioned the Bacardis. In Cuba, the Bacardi name was synonymous with rum before Castro. “There’s a guy who’s written a book about it,” he said. “That might be a place to look. He’s part of the Bacardi family. I can’t think of his fuckin’ name. Little short sonovabitch. They’re still family-owned, but they really control any information that goes out about the company.”

Them and everyone else. That added up to a few solid leads—a few not so solid.  Someone handed me another glass of punch. What did a guy have to do to pay for a drink in this town?

I drank punch until my head began to feel like something hanging in a butcher shop window, then got into a cab with Lantheaume. We rode across the city. Outside the cab, the residential blocks of New Orleans glided past. Stately old homes with painted shutters and wide porches, raised galleries with wrought iron railings. I thought about Katrina. I thought about BP. But it all just looked like a fairy tale.

To be continued…

Bonus recipe!

Charles Schumann’s Periodista

1 ½ oz white rum
2 splashes apricot brandy
2 splashes triple sec
Juice of ½ lime
1 tsp sugar
1 scoop crushed ice

Mix in a shaker.  Serve in a Cocktail glass, with a lime twist.

From Charles Schumann’s Tropical Bar Book (1986, 1989).

Tasting notes: The most salient thing to notice here is the similarity between this recipe and the first Chez Henri recipe that Joe McGuirk adapted from his original source (note the addition of a small amount of sugar in both). Joe acknowledged that the recipe he discovered in that long-forgotten drinks pamphlet called for white Cuban rum, as does Schumann’s. It was only after McGuirk tinkered with it that he arrived at the current, dark rum version of the drink so popular throughout Boston. Joe claims that the recipe he adapted called for Rose’s lime juice rather than fresh, which may be an indicator of when that pamphlet might have been published.

One thought on “Periodista Tales: New Orleans, Part 2 — Clues at Cure

  1. Br. Cleve

    re: Rose’s Lime Juice – there are a couple of elements that should be brought up in order to qualify why our pal Señor McGuirk would use this in the Periodista. First up is in regards to the pamphlet that the recipe was found in. It’s conceivable that the booklet itself was published and distributed by Rose’s, whose lime cordial and grenadine had become ubiquitous in the US. I have a large collection of these drinks pamphlets, and the majority of them showcase a particular brand or distributor : Southern Comfort, for instance, or Seagram’s products or the S.S.Pierce company are some I have. These little tomes were given away as free promotional items in liquor stores and/or with the bottles of hootch themselves. We don’t know for certain about the booklet in question, but it’s within the realm of possibility.

    The other thing to remember is that using fresh juices in cocktails was rarely done for a period of about 30 years or so. If a cocktail called for lime juice, it was generally served using Rose’s; this was especially true in the era of Kamikaze’s (a hugely popular drink in the 80’s) and Gimlet’s (another popular drink, in greater Boston anyway, in the 70’s and 80’s).

    Rose’s was a staple in bars, packaged goods stores and supermarkets. When the Cosmopolitan cocktail entered the mass market culture in the mid/late 90’s, it made with vodka, cranberry juice and Rose’s (using incorrect measurements and usually garnished with a rancid lime. Nice! Gimme two!)Fresh juice was looked upon as too expensive and/or too much work, for something so few cared about. That’s not to imply that McGuirk didn’t care, it’s just how things were done back in those dark days. Days when Angostura was the only bitters available, rye whiskey was nearly impossible to find, and peach schnapps was the bestselling liqueur.

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