When you’re young, you see things differently. New experiences pile up all around you and you want to try everything. And with the sharp, social competitiveness of youth, you want to test your limits to see if you can outdo your friends. It’s all a part of discovering who you are. My teenage years were spent between the UK and the USA. In the UK, it was all about how many pints of beer I could drink and how hot my curry would be afterwards. It was a badge of honour and it took me many years to step out of that phase.
Too many, actually!
How it all began
Then I went to college in the USA – and that’s where I found out that I had a taste for cocktails. It wasn’t a very refined taste in those days. Some would say it still isn’t! All I know is that in those early days, I tended to gravitate towards the ones that were either easiest to drink or contained the most alcohol.
So, after a few years on the “Long Island Iced Tea Diet”, I found myself on a road trip to Chicago, sitting at the bar of Trader Vic’s Tiki Lounge at the Conrad Hilton, when somebody bought me a cocktail I had ever tried before. It was called a Suffering Bastard (and I can only assume that it was named after the hangover that I had the morning after). If so, it’s the most appropriately named drink I’ve ever had.
And over the years, these deceptively strong drinks have been the source of some of my best evenings (and worst mornings) ever since! So, what is in this delightfully named drink that makes it so appealing? Well, let’s take a look under the hood of this cocktail classic and see if you like it. If you do, it could easily become the taste of summer.
Legendary hotels and their cocktails
As we know, all good drinks contain a legend. And many of the greatest cocktails began their lives behind the bars of some of the world’s most legendary hotels. They often changed the lives and fortunes of the bartenders who invented them as well, many of whom went on to become household names. We’ve recently written some articles about hotel cocktail classics such as the Singapore Sling, invented at the historic Raffles Hotel in Singapore. But now it’s time to reveal the story behind the legendary Suffering Bastard and how it got its unique and dramatic name. So, here’s the deal…
Originally invented as a simple hangover cure by the bar team at Cairo’s Shepheard’s Hotel, the Suffering Bastard gained a small, local reputation before the hotel burned to the ground in a fire in1952. But wind the clock back 10 years to see where the story really begins.
A legend is born
It’s 1942, Cairo and the Shepheard Hotel is fast becoming party central for British troops based in North Africa and the press corps that were covering the war. They had seen a lot and often found their solace in drink. The head bartender at the Shepheard, a guy called Joe Scialom, was on duty at the bar when he heard some officers complaining about the size of their hangovers. His ears pricked up and it got him thinking.
He began playing around with some recipes that might cure the hangovers of some of the troops who were his regulars. Joe tried a variety of combinations before deciding on his final mix, which combined two liquors with lime juice, bitters and the curative qualities of ginger beer. Apparently this drink became instantly popular. Before long it was being shipped to the front lines to fortify the troops and to keep their spirits up for the hard times ahead.
An unholy alliance
The most common recipe combination for a Suffering Bastard calls for an unholy alliance of bourbon and gin. To this day, that remains the favourite combination but many variants exist which substitute brandy for bourbon. Rum also sometimes makes an appearance. And sometimes ginger ale is substituted for ginger beer (which is harder to find in some places). For those who like to tone down the spice or who prefer a dryer, more refreshing drink, this might be the combo for you.
After the war, news of the Suffering Bastard spread beyond Egypt and into the post-war cocktail culture before being hijacked by the burgeoning Tiki Culture of the 60s and 70s. Polynesian bars were popping up everywhere and fruit-based cocktails, served in giant ceramic bowls paying homage to Hawaiian culture became all the rage.
The leader of this cocktail fad was the infamous Trader Vic (otherwise known as Victor J. Bergeron). His recipes leaned more towards rums and he added a slice of cucumber for garnish. But, he also added orgeat (for sweetness) and a splash of curacao liqueur (for some extra fruitiness). Whichever version you prefer, is entirely up to you. But remember, these are strong drinks that are deceptively easy to drink. So, if you have too many the night before, expect to be suffering in the morning. And we all know the best way to beat a hangover. Have a taste of the hair of the dog that bit you.
The Suffering Bastard – the legend lives on
And what happened to the legendary bartender responsible for creating this infamous concoction? Well, after the original hotel burned down in 1952, Joe decided to remain in Egypt. Unfortunately after a while he was arrested on a charge of espionage and eventually, after the Suez crisis, he was exiled from Egypt by President Nasser. On arrival in the US, he ended up being hired by a certain Conrad Hilton, founder of the Hilton hotel chain. Joe spent the rest of his career opening bars for Conrad Hilton in Puerto Rico and Havana. But he’ll always be known for one thing in particular – the Suffering Bastard. And that’s the way it should be.
- 1 oz bourbon
- 1 oz London dry gin
- ½ oz freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitter
- Ginger beer
- Mint sprig to garnish
- Add the bourbon, gin, lime juice and bitters into a shaker with ice
- Shake until well chilled (about 30 seconds)
- Strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice
- Top up with ginger beer (or ginger ale)
- Garnish with a sprig of mint
Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)
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