How a hangover cure in World War II became a classic cocktail
In the summer of 1942, as World War II raged across most of the globe and the United States frantically prepared to join the fighting, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was counting his victories against the British in Northern Africa.
At one point, he looked toward Cairo, where the British were headquartered, and said, “I’ll be drinking Champagne in the master suite at Shepheard’s soon,” referring to the opulent hotel that exemplified all things British and aristocratic.
Back at Shepheard’s Hotel, however, there was another headache to worry about.
The poor quality of alcoholic spirits in Cairo had a dreadful side effect: raging hangovers. The threat of an approaching German Army was serious enough, but Lord help the Brits if the Jerries made a lot of noise advancing.
To the rescue came Shepheard’s bartender, Joe Scialom, an Italian who had moved to Egypt many years before. Hearing some officers complaining about the heat, the desert and the bad alcohol, he set out to create a “cure.” Following the theory that the best way to cure a hangover is to get drunk again, Scialom mixed brandy and gin with a few drops of bitters, then topped it with ginger ale. The Suffering Bastard was born.
In the years that followed, Scialom’s cocktail often was referred to as a drink that changed the war. Whether it did is conjecture, but history does show that by the end of 1942, Rommel was retreating in North Africa without Champagne or ever setting foot in Shepheard’s. And as the last major battle began, a telegram arrived at Shepheard’s requesting 8 gallons of the cocktail be taken to El Alamein. Using every conceivable container, Scialom sent his Suffering Bastard to the front.
This year marks 75 since the end of World War II, certainly one of the most dramatic times in written history. Unlike World War I, however, the second world war’s lasting influence in the history of cocktails is not that dramatic. Only a few well-known cocktails were born in the war years between 1941 and 1945.
In 1941, Glenn Miller’s Orchestra recorded “Moonlight Cocktail.” It called for a couple of jiggers of moonlight and a star, then pouring in the blue of a June night and one guitar. Mix in a couple of dreamers, and there you are, lovers hail the Moonlight Cocktail. Actually, it would be almost a decade before anyone made a real cocktail with that name.
That same year, famed American author Sherwood Anderson swallowed a swizzle stick at a cocktail party and died. The cocktail in which the swizzle stick was served is lost to history.
Suffering Bastard had some siblings. Facing periodic shortages of certain liquors, Scialom substituted bourbon for the brandy and called it Dying Bastard. He made a third using bourbon and rum, which he called Dead Bastard.
The U.S. Navy made a valiant effort to enter cocktail fame, but unfortunately failed miserably. In its rush to get ships to sea, the navy used whatever it could find to put together a fighting force. This included using alcohol as a major component in torpedo fuel. In no time, there was a problem with crewmen drinking it. With no taste, lots of burn and plenty of proof, it could be consumed with juice, water, soda or almost any other liquid refreshment and provide quite a party.
Naturally, it didn’t take long for naval authorities to think there might be a problem with intoxicated sailors and torpedoes with no fuel, so a chemical was added that caused nausea. Not to be outdone, sailors soon discovered the chemical could be removed by straining the fuel through a loaf of bread. Then there was a bread shortage, too. Needless to say, this craze ended with the war.
The British Navy, on the other hand, forsook torpedo fuel and remained very loyal to gin, particularly the esteemed Plymouth gin made in the city of that name. During the London Blitz, the Germans also were bombing Plymouth because of the naval base there. Bombing London was bad enough, but destroying the country’s beloved gin was too much. One sailor said, ‘Well, Hitler just lost the war!’”
Two of the cocktail kingdom’s biggest beneficiaries from the war were rum and tequila. With both being made next door to the United States, they could be inexpensively and safely imported. It was no coincidence that one of the biggest song hits of 1945 was “Rum and Coca-Cola” by the Andrews Sisters. In 1945, Americans were drinking three times as much rum as they had in 1941.
In 1944, a rum-fueled craze took hold in California, particularly at a bar called Trader Vic’s. It was the beginning of the tiki bars, a fictional South Pacific culture that included strange drinking glasses, tiki gods, lots of fruits and strange adornments. That was the year the world was introduced to a cocktail made with rum, rock candy syrup, or almond syrup, and orange Curaçao. It’s called the Mai Tai.
Trader Vic’s also came out with its own version of Suffering Bastard, but without any claim it could cure anything or win wars.
Vodka, too, got its foothold in American bars during the war when both the cost and scarcity of good gin made it an attractive choice. Many cocktails formerly made with gin now came with vodka. World War II can thus claim credit for giving birth to the vodka martini and to another cocktail that has recently been making a comeback, the Greyhound.
Harper’s magazine is the first known written mention of the Greyhound, which, by the way, is not a reference to the dog. “The cocktails were made of vodka, sugar and canned grapefruit juice — a greyhound,” Harper’s said in 1945. “This cocktail was served at Greyhound’s popular restaurant chain that was located at bus terminals, called ‘Post House.’”
1945 also saw the birth of the Cape Cod, although at the time it was called Red Devil. Created by Ocean Spray, the cranberry juice maker, the Red Devil was a marketing attempt to get the buying public to recognize the alcoholic possibilities of its juice. The name was changed to Cape Codder in 1959 after it was learned a portion of the country’s cranberry crop had been tainted by a herbicide. Selling juice was hard enough without having to deal with a Satan reference as well. It was later shortened to Cape Cod.
Most likely, the last contribution World War II made to the cocktail menu is The Atomic Cocktail, a Champagne-based concoction with equal parts brandy and vodka and a bit of sherry. It was popularized after the war, but came about in 1945 with a hit release by Slim Gaillard.
“It’s the drink that you don’t pour/
“now when you take one sip you won’t need anymore/
“You’re small as a beetle or big as a whale, Boom! Atomic Cocktail.”
This drink was created in 1942 by Joe Scialom, bartender at the “long bar” in Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo, where the British Army was based in World War II. Bourbon can be substituted for the brandy. Shepheard’s, with its links to British colonialism and wealthy aristocrats, was destroyed during the Egyptian revolution of 1952.
1 ounce gin
1 ounce brandy
1⁄2 ounce fresh lime juice
2 dashes angostura bitters
Mint sprig for garnish
Pour all the ingredients except the ginger ale in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a highball glass and add ice. Top with ginger ale and add a mint sprig for garnish.