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October 13, 2011

John Myers

John MyersJohn Myers
JOHN MYERS: at work at the Old Port Sea Grill; he's never simply mixing drinks.

John Myers comes from a long, if intermittent,
line of saloonists and now plies his trade in Portland Maine.

In "the little drinking town with a fishing problem", John has been
described as a Librarian with a Bartending problem. His Casco Bay
Institute For Applied Intoxicological Studies is one of the most
significant collections of booze and bar literature in New England .
His cranky alter ego, FatDeko, is a frequent contributor to several
boozy online forums and he publishes the "Fluid Dynamics" website.

His book, "What Would Jesus Drink: Cocktails for the Second Coming"
is targeted for an Easter release.
He is also a member of The Museum of the American Cocktail's Board of


Recent Article on John Myers

The Liquorato’s cocktails
“John Myers loves the history and lore in liquor”

In Old Port Sea Grill bartender John Myers’s world, there are things a good drinkslinger simply does not do. He does not loudly call attention to the level of inebriation of any of his customers ("Buddy, really tying one on tonight, aren’t you?"). He does not fudge ingredients, even on penalty of death ("The FDA, the USDA, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms people, the IRS, the Treasury Department, and all the rest in between should ban sweet-and-sour mix"), and, most importantly and without exception, he, at all times and in all scenarios, does his utmost to revere the craft and pageantry which is cocktail mixing ("The evolution of the American cocktail is part and parcel of the history of American innovation").

In Myers’s domain, grown men fall head over heels for gin fizzes, the amber glow of unfinished whiskey in the belly of a rocks glass recalls the rancor of hundreds of early American insurrectionists, and ordering a vodka martini is at best evidence of a complete lack of originality and at worst symptomatic of several deep-seated deficits of character.

If you catch Myers after one too many Sazeracs, he might confess to you the story of his cocktail obsession. He might tell you that he had his first drink when he was seven, when he and his younger brother guzzled themselves into a stupor after breaking into their mother’s cooking sherry. He would then go on to tell you that he met his first bartender at nine years old, a man nicknamed "Woodstock" employed at his uncle’s Woodstock tavern, who one day slipped a handful of ice down Myers’s shirt convincing Myers that the job of bartender might just be fun enough to be worth doing.

And if you order a Sazerac yourself and rave about the puckery anise flavor of the cherry-red liquid, or, better yet, confess to Myers that you consider it a personal affront that the state’s liquor provider, Maine Beverage, doesn’t see fit to carry the Maraschino liqueur needed to make a proper Brandy Crusta, Myers might warm to you enough to let you in on what really hooked him on cocktails in the first place. It was a book, faded and well-worn, which he stumbled upon nearly 20 years ago.

"I was a freshman in college and a couple of us went down to a used bookstore in town," he says. "I just really wanted to be at the Daiquiri Factory instead. I was just patiently biding my time and [my friends] were going on and on about getting some Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine in the original French and all this crazy stupid shit and I said, ‘Oh, yeah? Well, I’m going to get this.’ And I just grabbed the first book off the shelf and it turned out to be Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide."

Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide was first published in 1947. Stuffed full of old-time cocktail recipes and advice for the elegant bartender, the guide was popular during the 1950s.

The pageantry of the prose in the Bartender’s Guide appealed to Myers and, even years later, the book remains the prized element of his personal collection of cocktail memorabilia — which includes some 30 vintage bottle openers, around 200 books on alcohol and its history, a handful of toys paying homage to bars and drinking, several original receipts for medicinal spirits prescribed during Prohibition, and, curiously, a leather-bound copy of the autobiography of Portland’s (in)famous "Father of Prohibition" Neal Dow (who Myers grumbles was "intransigent at best, and stubborn, willful, self-righteous . . ."). Over the decade or so that Myers has plied his craft, he’s managed to rub shoulders with some of the country’s best-known cocktail historians — men like "King Cocktail" Dale DeGroff (author of The Craft of the Cocktail) and "Dr. Cocktail" Ted Haigh (author of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, see sidebar, this page) — whom Myers calls "The Liquorati." In January 2005, Myers joined his fellow Liquorati in New Orleans to toast to the opening of the country’s first museum dedicated to the craft — the Museum of the American Cocktail.

It is an otherwise dreary Thursday afternoon when the Liquorato appears behind the bar at the Sea Grill to introduce this writer to the pomp and circumstance of liquor mixed to perfection. He tells three stories, each about one of history’s greatest mixed drinks. Three cocktales, if you will:

The Ramos Gin Fizz — 1880 ("The Paramour")

"The Ramos Fizz has long been synonymous with the finest in New Orleans art. Thinking that the formula, like any history dealing with the dead arts, should be engraved on the tablets of history, it was given to the world after the now rejuvenated Ramos bar closed for the ‘dry’ era."

  • From The Gentleman’s Companion, by Charles H. Baker Jr. (1939)

Liquorati have fallen in love with the Gin Fizz since the Ramos brothers first whipped up the drink over a century ago. Henry C. Ramos created the meringue concoction sometime around 1880 in his bar at Meyer’s Restaurant in New Orleans . For decades, Ramos and his brother secretly shared the frothy white drink with only their close friends, until Prohibition suddenly, and ironically, jumpstarted a whole new market for delicious, illicit cocktails, prompting the brothers to introduce the Gin Fizz to the masses in 1915. Today, the Gin Fizz is one of New Orleans ’s most famous drinks. The drink includes strange ingredients like a whole egg and orange-flower water, but those who drink one made by a bartender who can really pull it off are nearly always hooked for life.

"The important thing with this drink is to shake the living hell out of it," says Myers. "What you’re trying to do is make the meringue. When you think you’ve shaken it enough, shake it a little more. This is a great morning-after drink. Nice and smooth on the stomach and somehow you manage to slip a little gin past yourself."

The Gin Fizz looks like a vanilla milkshake when prepared properly and has a smooth, sweet flavor. Some people add vanilla, though Myers thinks this overwhelms the delicacy of the gin.

1.5 oz. Gin
3 drops Orange Flower Water
.5 oz. Lemon Juice
.5 oz. Lime Juice
1 oz. Cream
1 Egg White
(shake like hell)
Top with Soda

The Brandy Crusta — 1850 ("The Missing Link")

"A Crusta is a particular little breed of drink which seems to require two things to make it legitimate: a frosted wine glass and the entire peel of a lemon or orange fitted into the glass."
— From Trader Vic’ Bartender’s Guide, by Victor Jules Bergeron (1947)

According to cocktail historian Tom Haigh, the Brandy Crusta was created by Joe Santini sometime in the 1850s. Originally hailed as an "improvement" on the cocktail, which previously was defined roughly as alcohol with some kind of bitters added, the orange-flavored Crusta became the template from which some of today’s most popular cocktails were created.

"The Brandy Crusta is the drink that started it," says Myers. "This is the drink that begat the Sidecar, which begat the Margarita, which begat the Cosmopolitan. It includes the basic cocktail elements — it has a strong spirit, a weak spirit, a sweet spirit, and a sour component. You’ve got these four arguing with each other and somehow the synergy creates this other flavor."

The orange Curacao in the Crusta creates a distinctly sweet candy flavor. Serve straight-up in an elegant glass with an optional garnish of one lemon rind and a sugar-coated rim.

1.5 oz. Brandy
.25 oz. Maraschino liqueur (or substitute cherry liqueur)
.5 oz Orange Curacao
1 dash aromatic bitters
.25 oz. Fresh Lemon juice
Stir in mixing glass with ice and strain.

The Sazerac — 1900? ("The Immortal")

"Hold under the nose, inhale the fragrant blend of scents, sip and relax . . . This, then, my dear children, is just how little Sazaracs are born! Mark well . . ."
— From The Gentleman’s Companion, by Baker

Originally served in a glass coated with absinthe, the Sazerac is known in bartending circles as the original New Orleans cocktail. The Sazerac first appeared in city bars at the turn of the last century. Soon, nearly every bartender in town was slingin’ the simple concoction. Sazerac fans have long warned against tinkering with the simple formula, since any change could ruin the drink altogether. The single acceptable alteration is to replace absinthe with Pernod, as the former is currently banned in the US . Thought to be the precursor of the Manhattan , the depth of the Sazerac’s rich red hue is matched only by the drink’s distinctly sharp licorice flavor.

This is Myers’s favorite drink, chiefly because it includes his favorite type of alcohol — whiskey. Whiskey, for the Liquorato, is one of America ’s most important contributions to world culture, along with baseball and jazz. The Sazerac, he believes, symbolizes the rebellious and cantankerous spirit in all of us.

"The Sazerac has got this great perfume to it," Myers says. "The Pernod really brings out the taste of the anise bitters. It’s a great drink to have with a cigar."

2 oz. Rye whiskey
10 dashes Peychaud Bitters
1 teaspoon sugar
Lemon peel to flavor rim

Coat a thick-bottomed rocks glass with absinthe or Pernod by rolling the liquid around the inside of the glass and removing the excess. Mix above ingredients with ice and strain. Run a fresh lemon peel along the rim to flavor the glass with the oil and aroma of the fruit. Serve neat with a smoking Ashton VSG.

After the three drinks have been mixed and the afternoon sun has softened, the Liquorato ends his tale with a Sazerac in hand and the future of bartending in Portland on his mind. The drama of the drink, he fears, is disappearing in port city.

"If the customer doesn’t appreciate the craft, the bartender can get pissed off," he says. "But not all bartenders appreciate the craft, unfortunately. Portland’s an interesting study in this because nobody goes into bartending as a career — it’s just something you do while you’re in college or something to do while you’re going to get your real-estate license. And it’s our fault, too, because we don’t train bartenders in the craft and pageantry, we just teach them how to make a drink for the shift that we need them."

He sips his Sazerac thoughtfully.

"The only way we can ever move forward is to keep both eyes on the rearview mirror, looking back to the tradition and heritage. And the pageantry."

The Liquorato empties the last bit of red liquid from his glass and falls silent. His cocktail is finished.From The Portland Phoenix

John Myers lives in Portland Maine