Several weeks ago, I had a discussion with a friend regarding his plans for New Year’s Eve. Given the restrictions placed on us by the pandemic, he pointed out that he was simply going to sit home and do something that he had not done for yeas; sit alone with a bottle of his favorite alcoholic beverage.
I do not know what my friend actually did. As travel was limited because of the virus, I was not concerned that his drinking would result in some issues, problems, or troubles. But his plans to drink took me back to those days when drinking alcoholic beverages was a favorite pastime, particularly on New Year’s Eve.
However, my thoughts not only turned to drinking but to those popular back in the day drinks and cocktails that have disappeared or whose popularity has diminished over the years.
I am not a drinker today, but I had my experiences back in the 1980s. Back then, I was a scotch and milk drinker. I shall never forget coming home one night after being out on the town, getting in bed, and rushing to the window the next morning to see if my automobile was in the driveway. I had no memory of how I got home! It was then that J & B, my favorite scotch or any hard liquor disappeared from my life. For those of you drawn to J & B, I doubt if you knew its actual name; it is Justerini & Brooks. Contrary to the theme of this column, J & B Scotch is still sold in the green bottle that many of you recall from your drinking days.
I had one personal experience involving an alcoholic beverage that is no longer sold today — at least, not in our country. This experience occurred back in the early 1990s when I worked in the city of Newark, New Jersey, while having a meal and beverage at the city’s premier Black-owned bar and restaurant, The Bridge Club. As the business was permanently closing, the owner was selling off items and I saw an unopened half-gallon bottle of I.W. Harper Straight Bourbon Whiskey. While I am not a bourbon drinker, I wanted it as a memory of a place where I enjoyed many hours and completed business deals. This bottle remains on my basement bar to this day. But, unlike J & B, I.W. Harper, which goes back to 1872, disappeared from the shelves of American stores in 1990 and was only sold in other countries. It was primarily sold in Japan, but after 20 years and it returned to the United States where it can again be purchased in most package stores.
I had another experience in the late 1960s involving alcoholic beverages tha occurred while having lunch at the Ebony Lounge, in the Chesterfield Hotel, at Broad and Oxford streets. The flamboyant civil rights and criminal lawyer, Cecil B. Moore entered as I was having lunch. As he sat down, I heard him loudly tell the waitress to bring him some “drinking liquor.” Out of curiosity, I turned around to see just what “drinking liquor” was. Moore must have been a regular at this facility as the waitress brought him a full bottle of Old Crow bourbon.
In all of my years, this was the first and last time that I observed anyone drinking Old Crow. I understand, however, that Old Crow was the drink of choice for many from 1830 over the decades. This is a drink that is still sold today but is clearly from, back in the day.
Do any of you wonder what happened to other brown alcoholic beverages that include bourbon, brandy and cognac? You might also include brown rum, beer, brandy, vodka, gin and others in this category. Those of you that were drawn to brown drinks will remember drinks such as Southern Comfort, Old Grand Dad, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Hennessy as they were popular in the past, have not disappeared and continue to be sold today. But, here are some bourbon whiskeys that you can only find today overseas. Now, tell me that Wild Turkey was not a drink you were driven to drink in the past. What about Four Roses, Evan Williams, Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel 130 Proof, and I have no doubt that there are many more.
For you non-brown alcohol drinkers, is that cheap scotch Inver House still sold? Is Ballentine or Cutty Sark scotch still on the shelves of state and package stores today? What about Old Boston, Old Rockin Chair, Royal Vodka, Gordon’s gin, and the various Schenley products? For you beer drinkers are Schmidt, Yuengling and Orlieb’s beers still available. What about Pabst Blue Ribbon? As for you wine drinkers, we know that Thunderbird can still be purchased but not in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
In fact, most of the wines that gave folk headaches in the past are still around; Boone’s Farms, Mad Dog 20-20, Don Juan Blackberry, Tiger Rose, Gypsy Rose, to name a few. Has anyone recently seen Cold Duck or Taylor’s Port for sale?
While I am just scratching the surface in this column with regard to alcoholic drinks of the past, it would not be complete if I did not pause to mention those mixed cocktails sold at every bar in the past, usually being enjoyed by a young lady. I cannot remember the last time I observed someone ordering a whiskey sour. While a Bacardi daiquiri was a drink that many enjoyed, it has virtually disappeared. Some of you will recall the era when everyone just had to have a CC and ginger ale; that was Canadian Club and ginger ale, back in the day.
As you finish reading this column, I trust that it will simply resurrect fond memories of your fun-filled days of the past. Please do not let it return you to drinking as many of us did with an aspirin nearby, as was the case, back in the day.