West Coast Cocktail Culture Preserved at UC Berkeley

A cocktail is more than just a drink. It is a conjugate of history, and a deliciously intoxicating storyteller of American life. Until recently, however, the majority of stories behind drinks were never transcribed. Bartenders are too busy and guests often too tipsy to remember and write them all down. 

But UC Berkeley’s Regional Oral History Office recently started a new project to archive these sorts of stories, specifically those behind West Coast cocktail culture. Former NYC bartender and current historian Shanna Farrell founded the project as means of collecting stories to gain a further understanding into the everyday lives of Americans.

Often overshadowed by the storied past of the East Coast scene, the West Coast history of cocktails is fascinating in a way of its own. If the East Coast focuses on preserving the history and the tradition of classic cocktails, the West Coast is dedicated to experimentation with its bounty of fresh and seasonal ingredients. “In the Bay Area, bartenders go to the farmer’s market to look for fresh ingredients,” says Farrell. “There is even a bartender who forages.” West Coast bartenders are responsible for original drinks that have become classics in their own right like the Tommy’s Margarita, Pisco Punch and the Mai Tai; their stories deserve to be told.

The project has enlisted David Wondrich and Dale DeGroff as project advisors, as well as PUNCH editors Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau. 

Farrell has already recorded pilot interviews with cocktail historian David Wondrich, Jennifer Colliau of Small Hand Foods, Rhachel Shaw of Hog Island Oyster Co. and Claire Sprouse of Tin Roof Drink Community. The next set of interviews will include St. George Spirits’ Jörg Rupf and Bar Agricole’s Thad Vogler.

So far, the project’s biggest obstacle has been funding. The online crowd-funding campaign through Indiegogo started on June 3 and since has amassed $5,283—only about 25% of the campaign’s $20,500 goal. “The project has received a lot of support, but we have been a little slow on Indiegogo,” says Farrell. Contributions can be made until July 11 here. Farrell will be also hosting a fundraising event at Bar Agricole this evening. Find all of the information here.

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