Jennifer Colliau Schools Us on Cocktail History, the Daisy and More
You don’t often associate bars with well-lit spaces filled with scholarly types and activities, but San Francisco’s The Interval at Long Now is that kind of place. Step inside and you’re greeted with a collection of 3,000 carefully curated books intended to keep humanity going should it ever need to start from scratch again. There are also communal wooden tables ideal for serious congregation (when I was there, a discussion on philosophy was taking place among a group of men), as well as an expansive cocktail menu that doubles as a mixologist’s history manual.
Jennifer Colliau, The Interval’s beverage director who’s responsible for the easy-to-get-lost-in menu, fits right in. Bartender or not, anyone would be lucky enough to sit down and pick Colliau’s brain for even 10 minutes. We got a half hour, and used that time to talk about the inspiration for her menu, as well as a family of drinks that doesn’t get much attention these days.
“Menus are one of those things that, when you talk about conceptual bar development, lend themselves to so many opportunities to do something really creative and out of the box,” Calliau says. “I knew I wanted to make something that was different from a regular cocktail menu, and I knew I wanted these drinks to have something to do with time and evolution.”
To fully appreciate this menu, you must first understand that Colliau is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to cocktail history. The words on each page are essentially straight from her brain to paper with very little additional research required.
“I’m kind of like the Rainman of cocktail details,” she says. “For whatever reason, I was terrible at history in school, but I can be like ‘the Lemon Drop was invented in 1972 at Henry Africa which is now where Nick’s Crispy Tacos stands.’” (That one factoid is just a glimmer of the kind of stuff you’ll learn during a sit-down with Calliau.)
As she was putting The Interval’s menu together, she’d write down different categories and drinks she wanted to include on big pieces of paper. Then she’d pin the papers onto the wall in an organized way that would allow her to visualize what the finished product would look like. Her goal was to create a conversation about cocktail history and evolution, making the menu a seamless fit into The Long Now Foundation’s dedication to the passage of time and long term thinking.
“For example, in the Old Fashioned portion of the menu we have an Oaxaca Old Fashioned, which was created at Death & Co by Phil Ward. But when we put this menu together, we had a bartender named Tiny Delota who started adding Ancho Reyes to it. At that point, it was no longer Phil’s recipe. It became Tiny’s, but it was still her version of a New York bartender’s drink that is itself a variation of a traditional whiskey cocktail.”
The Daisy family
It’s hard to pluck just one page from Colliau’s menu, but we were especially intrigued by The Daisy Family. It’s one of those categories that doesn’t receive much attention these days, but remains very important in the evolution of cocktails.
“When I started looking at these old cocktail books and investigating this history, I would see these things like ‘The Santa Cruz Daisy’ or ‘Gin Daisy’ and I was intrigued,” Colliau explains. “I learned that a daisy was a category of cocktail – like a fizz or a sour – and that daisies always contained a spirit, citrus and some sort of flavored liquid sweetener, and sometimes a splash of soda water.”
Colliau explained that, before 1928, daisies typically contained strictly curacao, yellow Chartreuse, raspberry syrup and grenadine. Then there was a book published in 1928 that introduced orgeat to the cocktail. Today, daisies allow for a little more variation, and people can use their choice of flavored liquid sweetener, be it a fruit syrup or liqueur.
The daisy you’re probably most familiar with? The margarita, which, by the way, is the Spanish word for daisy. You’ve got your spirit (tequila), your citrus (lime juice) and your flavored sweetener (curacao). And by the way, Colliau wants you to know that a Tommy Margarita is not a margarita (or daisy) at all. It’s technically a daiquiri because it contains tequila, lime and agave nectar, which is an unflavored sweetener.
Another Daisy you’re familiar with is the Sidecar, which is often conflated with a sour. In any case, we love the daisy – and Colliau loves the daisy – because they’re super easy to whip up and they’re delicious.
“They’re what people tend to drink before they have really started to develop a palate for alcohol,” she explains. “That doesn’t mean they’re dumbed down drinks at all. I drink like an old man, but on a hot day outside I will kill a margarita. The flavor and the balance with the citrus, if it’s made well and balanced properly, is a really accessible drink.”
If you find yourself at The Interval, we recommend trying anything off the menu because there’s no going wrong. Do give the daisy a go, though. The classic, straightforward Gin Daisy is a refreshing, splashy drink perfect for a hot day, and the Mexican Firing Squad Special is perfect for anyone looking for a little extra heat.
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