By Jared Brown & Anistatia Miller
Do you know the traditional names of the three common styles of bar spoon? Bar spoon, mazagran, and sucket? All were born before the advent of the modern bar. This is not surprising since the spoon is the oldest of humankind’s dedicated eating utensils.
The spoon is an ancient invention, used since Paleolithic times. It’s likely that early man used shells or bits of wood then began improving on nature’s designs hand crafting and perfecting his implements. In fact, the ancient Greek and Latin words for spoon comes from the word “cochlea”, a spiral shaped snail shell. Ancient Egyptian spoons have been unearthed in the tombs of the Pharaohs. Some of the earliest examples are made of painted wood. Later finds are made from a variety of materials including stone and ivory. Similarly, the spoon appears in the early Asian historical records spanning from China to India to Turkey.
Spoons were only embraced by the masses throughout Europe as recently as the Middle Ages. The earliest British mention of spoons appeared in a legal document dating to 1279. It’s around this time that one style of bar spoon emerged in Germany. Now commonly known as a sucket spoon, this particular style sports a fork on one end and a spoon on the other (thus it is also sometimes called a sucket fork). It began its career as an efficient multi-purpose dining tool, often fashioned with a swirl in the shaft just like a modern bar spoon. In those days, it was not uncommon for people to own and carry a personal set of tableware for daily use. A multi-purpose tool was very convenient, just as it is for camping—and bartending—today.
After it arrived in England with the Normans, the sucket spoon took its name from a British dessert. Sucket is made of preserved fruits and served either wet or dry. Dry sucket is similar to marmalade, cooked until it can be served in chunks. Wet sucket is simply fruit cooked and served in syrup. This favourite dish of Queen Elizabeth I is politely eaten with the sucket spoon so that the morsels of fruit can be forked out of the syrup.
By the mid- to late-1800s, the sucket spoon was sold to and used in American bars, placed in mixed drinks containing fruit. This allowed patrons to stir their drinks with the spoon and eat the fruit with the fork.
The familiar bar spoon with a muddler on one end can be traced to the French apothecary spoon—the cuillère medicament—which was popularised during the 1700s. (However, there are spoons with heavy ornaments that might have served the same purpose date back to ancient Greece. But there is no historical record as to their purpose.)
The muddler on these French apothecary spoons was used to break up crystallised and coarsely powdered medicines so they could be dissolved easily in liquids. The bowl of the spoon was also carefully designed to hold a precise amount of liquid. Its shape allowed the pharmacist to use a flat knife to scrape across the top of the spoon and measure a level spoonful of powder.
This spoon appears in catalogues printed by London wine and spirits merchants Farrow & Jackson. Shown next to a plain long spoon with a twisted handle labelled a “bar spoon” in its 1898 catalogue, the company sold it as a French mazagran spoon. These two styles appeared again in Charlie Paul’s 1902 book Recipes of American and Other Iced Drinks published by the same company. By then the apothecary spoon had indeed already become popular in France for social use as evidenced in Louis Fouquet’s book from the same period Bariana: Receuil Pratique de Toutes Boissons Américaines et Anglaises.
A coffee drink called mazagran is said to be named for an 1840 French military victory near the Algerian town of Mazagran on the outskirts of Mostaghanem. Although it was little more than a skirmish, when it appeared in the French press the number of enemy combatants had risen twenty-fold to over 20,000. A model of the fort defended by the French was built in the Champs Elysées. Many souvenirs were sold. A Parisian street was named after the event. The captain who led the battle received the coveted Legion of Honour. Funds that were raised for the battle’s widows and orphans were returned when it was eventually revealed there were no French casualties. And the eponymously-named drink became a fashion trend nationwide: espresso in a tall glass, two or three lumps of French beet sugar crushed with a muddling spoon, topped with cold water (because the troops in the battle had no milk or brandy). By the First World War, American troops discovered it as a muddled drink fortified with a pony of Cognac.
Today, the mazagran spoon is the most common of the bar spoons found behind the bar, though the proper name was lost a century ago. No layered drink, no Pousse Café can be made easily without its twisted shafted and muddler end.
The sucket spoon is also making a revival as bartenders find new uses for its shape. However, its original purpose, allowing customers to fish the fruit from their drinks, seems to be lost at the moment.
The plain bar spoon, simply a long slender spoon, often with a twisted stem to facilitate stirring, was once the most common of implements. However, with no fork or muddler to add a second purpose and a touch of flourish to its existence, it seems to be fading away.
Jared Brown is Master Distiller of Sipsmith and made his first spirit when he was 10 years old. As an adult, after achieving his Hospitality Degree at NYU and working for five years in Essex House Hotel and as a bartender, he became historian and co-autor of more than 30 books about spirits with his wife Anistatia Miller, including Spiritous Journey: A History of Drink tracing alcoholic beverages from 7000BC to the 20th Century. Brown is collaborating as well with some magazines about mixology from all over the world and is co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail.