Cairo, 1942. In sweltering conditions, the forces of General Erwin Rommel and Field Marshal Bernard ‘Monty‘ Montgomery were locked in a struggle to secure North Africa. The centrepiece of the conflict was the two-act Battle of El Alamein, fought 150 miles northwest of Cairo. The Nazis in the West had confidently vowed to be drinking Champagne in Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo in pretty short order.
However, they were not reckoning on the inventiveness of Joe Scialom, the bartender at Shepheard’s. Scialom’s bar was known as the ‘Long Bar’ – not because it was long like its Singaporean namesake, but because it was always so busy that it took a long time to get served.
The story goes that Scialom arrived at work one day nursing a debilitating hangover. He used some of the bitters formulated at the pharmacy over the road from the hotel to make a drink for himself. This was the first Suffering Bastard. The drink became popular among the British troops at a time when cocktail ingredients were scarce, but battle-worn men needed something to wind down with.
At this point, the story gets a bit crazy. A telegram from the front line of the Battle of El Alamein was purportedly received at Shepheard’s. The telegram asked for 8 gallons of Suffering Bastard to be delivered to El Alamein because somehow the Allies had got pissed overnight and were not feeling well. Given the shortage of alcohol at that time, and the need to fight a shooting war with a degree of discipline, it seems unlikely to me that this telegram really existed. However, Paste magazine pointed out that as liquor shortages became acute, bad booze started flowing, and troops were drinking anything they could get their hands on. Jeff ‘Beachbum‘ Berry apparently confirmed that Allied generals later stated that the telegram was indeed sent.
The recipe for the Suffering Bastard varies between cocktail writers. Right out on the edge of strange is the 1972 Victor ‘Trader Vic‘ Bergeron tiki-style version that mixes two kinds of rum, looks very like a modified Mai Tai, and has no ginger beer in it. In Around the World in 80 Cocktails, Chad Parkhill describes a recipe that uses lime cordial instead of fresh juice, which is a maybe going to be on the sweet side given that Old Jamaica ginger beer is notorious for being loaded with an awful lot of sugar.
The recipe that seems most consistent is also the one that is the most simple to describe: equal parts of bourbon, gin and lime juice, topped off with ginger beer, with a dash of bitters. That is the version we have recorded here, and we rather think if a load of booze was loaded onto trucks and driven across the desert to some very unwell soldiers of the 11th Hussars, then it was this recipe.
- 30ml gin
- 30ml bourbon
- 30ml fresh lime juice
- 1 dash of Angostura bitters
- About 100ml of chilled ginger beer
Shake the first four ingredients with ice and strain into an ice-filed Old Fashioned glass. Top with ginger beer, and garnish with an orange wheel and a sprig of mint.