Naming names: the cocktail beat

In the New York Times Magazine on Sunday the 24th, an entertaining “Drinks” column by Rosie Schaap, about cocktail names, with special attention to the cocktails created and named by Jill Dobias, of the East Village restaurant Joe and Misses Doe. Two of her works, Eye of the Komodo and Clam in a Can:


Naming is not an easy business. Some situations call for the constant creation of an enormous number of names, which will then have a legal or official status: drug names, both generic and proprietary, for instance; or taxonomic names in biology. Drug naming is generally a very serious business, but the invention of binomial names in biology allows for some playfulness of the part of the biologists (see my posting of the 25th on playful nomenclature from entomologists).

A significant difference between drug naming and species naming is that the first enterprise involves, for the most part, the creation of the substances needing names, while in the second enterprise the species requiring names already exist; they are discovered rather than created, and in addition many of them are species that have common names, though rarely ones of sufficient, um, specificity (in English, ordinary speakers have the common name wasp and names for a few types, like yellowjacket, but they have nowhere near the profusion of names entomologists need).

Drink names are still another kind of thing: unlike drug names and taxonomic names, there are no bodies responsible for controlling drink names, so they’re more like commercial brand names, but without trademark protections. In any case, ordinary language, not technical language.

Now to Schaap’s piece, in print “Named Desire: Christening cocktails can be as delicate an art as creating them”, on-line “How Sex, Animals and Obama End Up in Drink Names”, and beginning:

The names of the most venerable and beloved mixed drinks — the Old-Fashioned, the Manhattan, the martini — are so deeply familiar to bartenders and our patrons, and spoken so often, that we seldom give much thought to their origins. We puzzle more over certain drinks of more recent vintage, the ones that many of us associate with the 1970s and ’80s and are embarrassed to utter, and others find so hilarious they just can’t say them often enough. I’ve never had an intense yearning for a drink made up of vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice and cranberry juice, but — out of professional interest, of course — I’ve had to make, and try, a Sex on the Beach more than once. If that’s what a customer wants, that’s what he or she will get.

Then there’s the Slippery Nipple. And the probkem of nomenclatural invention,

the difficult art of inventing names for cocktails. Nearly every time I think I’ve come up with something new and memorable, I peek in the indexes of my cocktail books or head to Google and discover that it’s already taken. I try to strike a balance: something dignified, but not too serious. Something distinctive, but not too off-puttingly weird. The Bitter Darling (a rye-based cocktail with clementine juice and a good lashing of bitters) and La Puesta del Sol (a Spanish-inflected aperitif) are two of my favorite coinages. Straightforward stuff.

But some braver creators of drink names seem instead to say: dignified, shmignified. Jill Dobias, of the restaurant Joe and Misses Doe in Manhattan’s East Village, in Manhattan’s East Village, is a madcap master of mixed drinks and their names. She has one named after a guy who made a reservation at the restaurant for a Saturday night and never showed up. She has a tribute to our commander in chief called the Hot Obama. She has a variation on a screwdriver whose name I really can’t go into here.

And then she has a drink called the Clam in a Can. It’s a delicious take on an oyster shooter that, to my palate, anyway, is also suggestive of a michelada — if the Maryland seashore was part of Mexico. I can’t explain exactly why the name cracks me up, but it does.

Maybe I’ve just got a thing for drinks named for animals. Recently, one of my best friends handed me a drink he’d created and dubbed Ojo del Komodo. I Anglicized it as Eye of the Komodo. In any case, name a drink after a lizard, and I may be instantly won over — but especially when it’s the answer to the riddle: What’s green and spicy and garnished with an eyeball?

Illustrations in #1 above.

Now, about that “variation on a screwdriver whose name I really can’t go into here”, except to explode in a volley of one-syllable words about the Times policy of not using taboo vocabulary and not conveying the cited words by typographical or other indirect devices but still alluding to something the paper cannot print. Jesus Fucking Christ, either convey the taboo vocabulary or DON’T MENTION IT AT ALL, but don’t hand us this shit about stuff you cannot go into, you coy smarmy assholes.

My guess is that Dobias is offering something called a Fuckdriver, with a play on screw as a milder synonym (but still labeled as “vulgar slang” by NOAD2) for fuck. But I can’t find any attribution of such a drink name to her on the web, though there’s a somewhat screwed-up Urban Dictionary entry for it, with an explanation that it’s “a concoction of Jack Daniels [bourbon] and orange juice”, the name reflecting “the fact that Jack will never fail to just fuck you up”. (There is, however, some confusion in the entry between the drink names Screwdriver and Sledgehammer.)

Now, I don’t know that this is Dobias’s drink creation, or her name for it. Whatever her creation was, it presumably appeared on her drinks menu at some time, with an explanation, but I don’t have access to this material. In any case, here are Jill Schuster and Joe Dobias of JoeDoe, before they got married (in 2013):


Earlier NYT coverage of JoeDoe, “Microwaved and Messy, Not Stirred” by Robert Simonson, from 7/9/14:

The East Village cocktail scene does not lack invention. A bar crawl of limited mileage will bring you face-to-face with draft cocktails, bottled cocktails, drinks heated up with red-hot pokers or cooled down by liquid nitrogen, high-tech Jell-O shots and alcoholic phosphates.

Compared with laboratories like Booker and Dax and Saxon & Parole, the tiny bar at Joe & Misses Doe, on East First Street, can come off like your nutty uncle’s makeshift garage workshop. Yet Jill Dobias, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Joe Dobias, restlessly MacGyvers her way through enough eyebrow-raising drink ideas to furnish multiple bars.

Her Honey Beer, a beer-gin cocktail, has a rim of salted honey that congeals as it drips down its pilsner glass, requiring guests to lick the side to get the concoction’s full effect. “You’ve got to go for it, and it’s messy,” said Mrs. Dobias, 31. “It’s part of the experience.”

For Pop and Peanuts, modeled after a traditional bit of Southern snack-time expedience, she stuffs house-roasted peanuts and a shot of Jägermeister inside a full Coke bottle. In winter, she sticks drinks topped with marshmallow fluff in the microwave, creating a gooey candy shell. In summer, she saturates halved watermelons with tequila, scooping out the innards to make a drink she calls Three Sheets to the Watermelon.

Yet another offering: Meshugenah Margarita. a margarita with Manischewitz.

But back to screwdrivers and other members of its drink(s) family. (A rather confusing world. As with common names for plants, the same referent can have different names for different people, and different referents can have the same name for different people.)

The classic screwdriver (or Screwdriver: since this is a proper names of a type, rather than an individual, there’s variation on initial caps, but I’ll now start lowercasing systematically) is vodka and orange juice (normally, mostly orange juice, with some vodka in it). The gin variant, which I favor, is either a gin & orange or an orange blossom (roughly, but far from rigidly, BrE vs. AmE).

Also in the aggressive implements family (for hard-fisted macho drinkers) are the sledgehammer and the piledriver. For sledgehammer, on four different sites I get:

(a) 1 part each Cognac, light rum, Calvados, 1 dash Pastis

(b) 1 part each Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort, Sambuca

(c) 1 part each Campari, orange juice, pineapple juice

(d) 2 1/2 oz quality vodka, 1/4 oz orange juice, half of a fresh squeezed lime

Version (d) is essentially a reverse screwdriver: mostly vodka, with the orange juice as flavoring (which is why you want quality vodka: you want the wheatgrass taste, not just the alcoholic content). That is, the spirits are the primary ingredient, the juice the flavor accent; compare the classic martini (spirits — gin or vodka — as the primary ingredient, dry vermouth as the flavor accent) or the martini gin (gin the primary ingredient, sweet vermouth the flavor accent) or any of the many versions of the manhatttan (with some kind of whisk(e)y as the primary ingredient).

And then the piledriver, which is most commonly a cocktail with prune june as one of its ingredients (the name is an icky play on prunes as an anti-constipation remedy and the word piles ‘hemorrhoids’): equal parts vodka, orange juice, and prune juice. Plain vodka and prune juice is apparently known, in some circles, as a bowel banger.

One site has an entertaining drink labeled piledriver: 2 parts each dark rum, vodka, 1 part each cola, orange juice. A sort of combo of a rum & coke and a screwdriver, both heavy on the spirits. Guaranteed to drive you into the ground, I suppose.

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