Words by: Jane Ryan
Impressively knowledgeable and gloriously eccentric, Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller are the detectives of the drinks world. For nearly 20 years, the intrepid duo have been uncovering little-known facts, debunking myths and using their expertise to help launch drinks brands. Along the way, they've become cocktail royalty themselves.
They've traced the history of alcohol back nine millennia; uncovered recipes for the mint julep that predate its previously accepted birth-date by decades; and they've dashed American pride on more than one occasion, sensationally revealing that the word 'cocktail' first appeared in an English publication (in 1798) and that Harry Craddock was actually English by birth (he became a naturalised American in 1916). Their latest book exposes how a whole bunch of 'Cuban' cocktails - from the Mojito downwards - were not actually Cuban.
These quirky intrigues and more are the product of research by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown, the husband-and-wife team whose work forms the basis of much of what we know about the origins of a multitude of drinks, brands and bartenders.
So who exactly are they? He's American, working a 'hip professor' vibe and doubling as master distiller of Sipsmith; she's English but with a mixed up, mid-Atlantic twang. As gaz regan puts it: "they are beyond a shadow of a doubt, the quirkiest couple in the booze biz. They're wildly creative, totally unique, and above all, they are people who can be counted on to come through for their friends, no matter what. Oh, and by the way, they're fuckin' crazy, too."
Their current home is a cottage in the rolling green hills of the Cotswolds, west of Oxford. Its roaring log fire is a far cry from Manhattan, where they met 20 years ago, but it's where they have settled after a lifetime of wandering and fact-finding. At one point or another it seems they have lived everywhere and worked for practically every brand. On the isle of Bendor in the south of France - coined 'Alco-traz' - they've sifted through piles of unorganised documents for the Ricard family (yes, one half of Pernod Ricard); they've helped launch a tiny little distillery and bar in Idaho called Bardenay; and they've recently spent times going through the archives of Dewars Scotch whisky.
"Dewars was the most fun we have had researching for a brand," says Jared. "We were supposed to present our findings over a 15-minute coffee. Next thing we knew it was three hours later and we still had the attention of the entire board." They had, in fact, uncovered much of the history used by John Dewar and Sons that forms the basis of its marketing and back-story, which included the brand laying claim to the first moving picture advertisement, projected in New York.
Though their itinerant lifestyle might be over, they haven't slowed down in the research stakes and are at ease with the role they've carved out for themselves as drinks historians. "I couldn't show someone how to make a modern drink," says Anistatia. "We deal with the past and you can't have it both ways." Jared, on the other hand, doesn't seem quite so convinced by this, instantly sparring back "I wouldn't say that's true, what about my beer milkshake? That's something I've invented only recently and it actually tastes better than it sounds by the way."
The hard work gets done upstairs in the library and their office. The tiny book-invaded space contains a phenomenal collection of old books, most leather-bound with brown and yellowing pages. A single bed hides more titles beneath it, used for camping-out when deadlines approach. In the office, paper and books tumble across the floor, steadily encroaching on any available desk space. Downstairs, Jared has a rotary evaporator in the kitchen for experimenting with potential new Sipsmith distillations - it was where Sipsmith Summer Cup was born as well as a host of other concoctions that haven't quite made it to market (English mustard gin not being quite stable enough, says Jared). (When they first stashed it under the window passing neighbours assumed it was for making drugs).
"The best place to start is always maritime records," confides Jared. Lists of imports, dates and origins help kick-start most of their projects. Essentially they are diggers, sifting through libraries for hidden gems, requesting catalogue numbers on spec, looking for that chanced nugget of information.
And once they've seized on something, they won't let go. Dale DeGroff found this out to his peril when he claimed the word 'mixology' only emerged in the 20th century. Three months later, probably having forgotten the argument, he received a photo of a page in a book from the 1800s with the word 'mixology' in it. "That's what I do," says Anistatia, sending Jared upstairs to retrieve the book to prove her point again.
Characterising their work and relationship is a constant back-and-forth dialogue/banter that defines their relationship and which can leave the uninitiated somewhat shell-shocked. It can feel as if there are several conversations going on at once as well as a sub-plot or two. More than that, it suggests they were made for each other. "We were talking about marriage two days after meeting," admits Jared. "We were fortunate that our other halves were 100 per cent supportive."
2013 is shaping up to be a big publishing year for the detective agency, which operates under the thinnest of veils as the Mixellany publishing company. The latest edition to their portfolio is a further exposé on the two Harrys: The Deans of Drink: The Amazing Lives & Turbulent Times of Bar Legends Harry Johnson and Harry Craddock as Seen in a New Light will contain a catalogue of myths suitably busted and strange parallels observed. Following that is The Drinker's Almanac, a compilation of all their knowledge so far, and a revised and expanded edition of their very first book Shaken Not Stirred: A Celebration of the Martini.
Their more lasting achievement is to have made the study of drinks and bars a subject of academic worth, often with unpredictable results that are far better than fanciful claims and contrived marketing spiel. Their prodigious workload, encyclopaedic knowledge, thirst for facts and ability to uncover contentious truths others might prefer to ignore leaves us in no doubt that the drinks industry is all the better for this mad-cap duo's presence.