This week there’s been a whisky focus at Master of Malt what with World Whisky Day coming up, whereas next week it’s all about gin. So for our Cocktail of the Week, we’ve combined the two with a Suffering Bastard. Oh, and it’s World Cocktail Day tomorrow. Will the fun never end?

The great thing about cocktails is that you can sling all kinds of things together and if they taste good, then that’s all that matters. I mean who could have predicted that Campari, vermouth and gin would work such magic together in the Negroni? The flipside is that it’s easy to make something revolting. Today’s drink is in the former category combining some seriously strong, disparate flavours: gin, bourbon and ginger beer. It’s one of those drinks that shouldn’t work but somehow it does. Unlike most cocktails whose origins are lost in the mists of time the Suffering Bastard has a fixed who, when and where.


The who was a man called Joe Scialom, who was bartender at the Long Bar in the legendary Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. And the when was 1942. Scialom was an Egpytian Jew of Italian extraction, his surname is an Italianised version of the Hebrew word “shalom”, meaning peace.

The hotel was a popular haunt of British officers and assorted hangers-on during the war. As you might expect, quite a bit of drinking went on with the resultant hangovers and one day Scialom was inspired to create a cure.

Anyone who has had a hangover will know that ginger has magical palliative properties. Or seems to anyway. When I worked at Oddbins in Leeds, a bottle of Fentimen’s Ginger Beer and a couple of paracetamol was all too often the breakfast of champions.

Joe Scialom

Joe Scialom, in the white DJ

Brandy or bourbon?

To that ginger beer, Scialom added lime cordial, brandy and gin, not something we’d recommend as treatment for a hangover but delightful as a long drink. All those strong flavours were partly a way of disguising that by 1942, good quality booze would have been in short supply. This is from a 1957 New York Times interview with Scialom:

When liquor was short during the war, he had to concoct “something to quench the boys’ thirst.” He combined equal parts gin and brandy with a dash of Angostura bitters, a teaspoon of Rose’s lime juice, and English ginger ale. He garnished the drink with a sprig of fresh mint, a slice of orange and a cucumber peel. The bartender advised Americans to substitute ginger beer for the ginger ale because the British version of the soft drink is more heavily seasoned with ginger than ours.

Or was it bourbon? In an interview with Collier’s Magazine from 1953 – it’s worth reading the whole thing on this wonderful blog Egypt in the Golden of Travel – it reads:

“I always thought that gin, which I had, and bourbon, which I had, don’t marry,” Joe says. “But I stuck some gin and bourbon into the vase, and looked about for something to take the curse off. There was some Angostura and some lime cordial and some dry ginger ale for fizz. I shook it all up with some ice and decorated it with mint.

“I was most surprised at the result. The customers did not drop dead. They recovered, and clamoured for more. Been clamouring ever since.

So the story isn’t quite so straightforward after all.

Shepheard's Hotel Cairo

Shepheard’s Hotel in its heyday

Two revolutions later 

Sadly, in 1952 Shepheard’s Hotel was destroyed during the revolution that overthrew the monarchy and brought President Nasser to power. Nasser’s aim was to free the country of foreign influences which involved nationalising industries including the Suez canal. Most non-Arabs including the country’s ancient Jewish community took the hint and left but not Scialom who moved across town to open Joe’s Bar at another hotel, the Semiramis. That is until he was imprisoned under suspicion of espionage.

On his release he left Egypt, worked for Hilton hotels in Puerto Rico and then later Cuba, where again he had to flee a revolution. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: to be caught up in one revolution may be regarded as a misfortune, to be in two looks like carelessness. If you want to know more, it’s worth reading this post on Scialom which hints that he may well have been involved in espionage in some way.

From its birth in wartime Cairo, the Suffering Bastard, sometimes known as the Suffering Bar Steward for those who don’t like a bit of good old fashioned swearing, became a staple of tiki bars. It was on the menu at Trader Vic’s though made with rum instead of brandy, and it was served in a special mug that looked like a particularly lugubrious chap holding his head in his hands following a hard night – see below.

Suffering Bastard - Image courtesy of Difford's Guide.

Oh my head! Image courtesy of Difford’s Guide.

How to make Suffering Bastard

The version in Difford’s Guide is made with Remy Martin Cognac, though nowadays it’s usually made with bourbon. The version we’ve got below is based on David Wondrich’s Esquire Drinks: An Opinionated and Irreverent Guide to Drinking with 250 Drink Recipes.

It eschews the lime cordial which was probably there in the first place to cover up bad booze and seeing as this is the Master of Malt blog, we’re not likely to use such a thing. For bourbon, we’re using Woodford Reserve, plus a good London dry gin, Fords. And then Fentimans ginger beer to finish the whole thing off.

Down the hatch or rather l’chaim!

Suffering Bastard

Suffering Bastard, surprisingly delicious

30ml Woodford Reserve bourbon
30ml Fords London Dry Gin
1tsp lime juice
1 dash of Angostura Bitters
Chilled Fentimans or any good strong ginger beer

Add the gin, bourbon, lime juice and bitters to an ice-filled Highball glass. Top up with ginger beer, stir gently and garnish with an orange slice and a sprig of mint.