The lack of ample supplies during World War II was not enough reason for soldiers to not enjoy legendary cocktails. And where is the best place to create one other than Egypt? So when you were in the middle of a war, nobody had time to stop and wait for your hangover to subside, a brilliant Joe Scialom emerged to come up with a hangover cure. Some even believed it was key to bring down Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps in Egypt during the Battle of El Alamein. Perhaps as a thirst-quencher, maybe as a morale booster, or even if those were just a plain exaggeration, what’s certain was that this cocktail was present when the sufferings turned toward the Germans.

“Mix Well But Shake Politics”

…was his motto. Let’s get to know first the man behind this crudely-named drink. Joe Scialom was a trained Chemist who followed his heart and decided to be a barman instead when he found out that making and mixing drinks was more enjoyable than mixing chemicals. He was also noted for being multi-lingual: able to speak eight languages, and he spoke fluent alcohol. He was working at the Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo in 1942 during World War II, where British officers and press corps would frequent to quench their thirst in the hot desert climate. Or perhaps it was to cheer themselves up somehow, as Erwin Rommel, Hitler’s Commander-in-Chief of the Afrika Korps, was successfully driving the British off Libya and back to Egypt with their devastating desert attacks. They also complained about the occasional hangover amplified by the hot weather. Joe, at that time, was some sort of a celebrity, being an Egyptian-Jew who was not only multi-lingual but was also great at remembering his customers’ names and faces and what drinks they preferred.

Joe Scialom, head barman at the Long Bar in Shepheard's Hotel
Joe Scialom, head barman at the Long Bar in Shepheard’s Hotel, Cairo, during WWII. (Photo: The Chap Facebook Page)

Ending The Suffering

When Joe heard the suffering of the British soldiers, aka their hangovers, he was eager to help, and the limited supply was not stopping him. He gathered whatever local ingredients were available and came up with the recipe and made the Suffering Bastard. In case you want to try it, here’s the recipe. Taken from Esquire Drinks: An Opinionated & Irreverent Guide to Drinking, by David Wondrich:

  • 1 oz/30 mL bourbon

  • 1 oz/30mL gin (use a dry style for best results)

  • 1 tsp. lime juice

  • 1 dash of Angostura Bitters

  • approximately 4 oz/118 mL of chilled ginger beer

Shake all ingredients with ice except the ginger beer for 15-20 seconds. Pour unstrained into a double Old Fashioned glass. Stir in ginger beer, then garnish with mint sprig and an orange wedge.

Although there were claims that the original handwritten recipe called for brandy and not bourbon and that it was only frequently swapped whenever brandy was not available. This was what wrote in their article:

“The New York Times, in a report in 1959, reported that Jo Scialom had concocted “something to quench the boys’ thirst” when liquor was short during the war. The report read: “He combined equal parts gin and brandy with a dash of Angostura bitters, a teaspoon of Rose’s lime juice, and English ginger ale.”

And then he garnished it with a sprig of fresh mint, a slice of orange, and a cucumber peel.

The drink was sometimes called the “Suffering Bar Steward” for those who find its original name too offensive. The bourbon version was called “Dying Bastard,” while the combination of both bourbon and rum, perhaps if the suffering was just too unbearable, was named “Dead Bastard.” And many swore that the cocktail kissed their hangover goodbye like a charm.

Joe’s cocktail was so successful that he received a telegram from the British front lines to deliver 8 gallons of his concoction and be brought to the front lines so the troops could dig in against the Nazis. Naturally, he complied.

Shepheard’s Hotel – The Bar, c. 1895. (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Turning The Tide

Whether it’s because of the Suffering Bastard or not, the tides turned in favor of the British, and they won in the Battle of El Alamain, spoiling Hitler’s plan to take the Suez Canal and be a part of the Arab Uprising against British-held Palestine. They also spoiled Rommel’s vision that he would be “drinking champagne in the master suite at Shepheard’s soon.”

As for Joe, he stayed at the Shepheard’s Hotel. However, he was imprisoned for possible espionage and later exiled by then Egypt President Nasser. Conrad Hilton (owner of the Hilton hotels chain), upon hearing what happened, immediately hired him in his new property in Puerto Rico. This is where he would spend the rest of his career traveling and opening bars for Hilton Hotels all over the globe.

Do you prefer it with brandy or bourbon? We’d love to know!