How the Suffering Bastard Offers a Lesson to Bartenders in Telling the Truth vs Fiction

How the Suffering Bastard Offers a Lesson to Bartenders in Telling the Truth vs Fiction
May 22, 2016 Amber Bruce

By Tarquin Melnyk

True stories are often more interesting than anything a bartender could make up.

In 2007, Esquire magazine regaled readers with a tale about a cocktail purportedly invented in 1947, for a hung over Bar Stewart named Joe Scialom, called, “The Suffering Bar Stewart”. The tale was that after the drink earned regard a Scotsman mispronounced Bar Stewart as Bastard, and the name change stuck. A cute anecdote paired with a potent tiki cocktail – a bartenders stock in trade.

The problem – The Atlantic researched the story in 2010, and discovered that not only did Esquire get the naming of the cocktail backwards, it glossed over a way better story – the truth.

As Derek Brown, the author of the Atlantic article noted, as a bartender, he’d always shared the wrong story prior to researching it because, “as with most honest people, I only lie in the absence of truth.”

The true history of the Suffering Bastard Cocktail

Once upon a time the world was at war. Battles were being fought on every continent. In Africa, the Battle of El Alamein pitted the Allies against Nazi Germany. In Cairo, weary British soldiers would walk into the Shepheard Hotel looking to drink away their stress. Head Bartender, Joe Scialom recognized good spirits were scarce and came up with a drink called the Suffering Bastard. Joe’s cocktail was a heady mix of underground-market Gin, stolen dark spirits, hand-picked Limes, ‘bitters concocted by the chemist across the street‘ and sweet Ginger Beer. Perfect to cure what ails you, especially if it was the commonly available cheap booze, or impending death on a battlefield. Keep in mind that the British were losing the war to Germany at that time.


People having drinks at the Shepheard Hotel in its peak.

Joe’s mantra was, “Mix well but shake politics”

Legendary Barman Joe Scialom was known to serve most noted figures of the day. Winston Churchill, Charlton Heston, Charles de Gaulle and the Egyptian King Farouk all reveled sitting at his bar. During the Battle of El Alamein, German Marshall Erwin Rommel was optimistically quoted as saying,

 “I’ll be drinking champagne in the master suite at Shepheard’s soon”

Unfortunately for Rommel he was on the wrong side of history and it was Winston Churchill who got to sip cocktails on the Shepheard’s Hotel terrace. So many battle hardened Brits sipped on the Suffering Bastard cocktail during the war that the Shepheard’s Long Bar became unofficially known as “Joe’s Bar”.

Paste magazine uncovered another fascinating tidbit, in 2015. At the height of the battle, Scialom received a telegram from the frontline: “Can you please send eight gallons of Suffering Bastard, everyone is really hungover.” Scialom filled every container he could find, dispatching any available taxi’s to bring the batch to the British soldiers.

The Suffering Bastard hinted at the post-war faux-Polynesian style that would take the world by storm. The cocktail was soon served at Trader Vics and other Tiki bars around the world. Joe Scialom became a bar consultant for Hilton Hotels in the post WWII years.

Truth is better than fiction.


Making The Suffering Bastard Cocktail:


30 ml Blended Scotch Whisky or a Peaty whisky

30 ml London Dry Gin

30 ml Ginger Beer Syrup 

15 ml Lime juice

Combine ingredients in shaker. Add ice and hard shake. Pour over crushed ice in a beer sleeve or Tiki Mug. Garnish with a bitters float and lime hairs. Peychauds provides a vibrant ice cap color.

Ginger Beer Syrup: Combine 250ml Fresh ginger juice. 500ml (2:1) Sugar Syrup, 2 tablespoons Citric Acid in a container. Whisk and store ginger syrup cold.