Classic Cocktails In History: Suffering Bastard

photo by Edsel Little via Flickr

photo by Edsel Little via Flickr

Anyone who has visited a Trader Vic’s has spotted a cocktail on the menu called the Suffering Bastard. Normally served in a Mai Tai Joe mug this Tiki drink is made with multiple rums, Trader Vic’s Mai Tai mix, lime juice, with a cucumber peel garnish. The cocktail in reality is an amped up Mai Tai, but the iconic Mai Tai Joe mug captured my imagination and made me want to explore and learn the history of the cocktail. The first thing I discovered was this tiki version of the Suffering Bastard Cocktail bore no resemblance to the original creation at all!  As I dug deeper I actually discovered a much more interesting history not only about the cocktail but its creator, and that it's made with bourbon, not rum.

The Suffering Bastard was invented by Joe Scialom at the Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo in 1942.  A trained Chemist, he discovered making drinks was much more enjoyable and began working as a bartender.  During World War II the Shepheard’s Hotel was a favored watering hole for British officers and the press corps. Joe earned their respect and attention and became the subject of many articles, being an Egyptian-Jew who spoke multiple languages that was great at remembering names, faces, and the drinks they preferred. One day, after hearing British officers complain about their hangover, Joe was inspired to create a hangover cure. He gathered ingredients that could be acquired locally and created the Suffering Bastard.  Some versions of the recipe call for brandy or bourbon, but over time it appears the bourbon version won out in popularity because the spirits flavor worked well with the other ingredients.

Joe remained at the Shepheard’s Hotel until it was destroyed in 1952 during a riot. While others fled during those trying years, Joe remained in Egypt until he was imprisoned on suspicions of espionage and eventually exiled from Egypt by President Nasser after the Suez Canal crisis.  Conrad Hilton, learning of his troubles, hired him to open a new property in San Juan, Puerto Rico then moved him to Cuba to open a bar in Havana. Castro’s Revolution led to him leaving Cuba and he spent most of his remaining career opening bars for Conrad Hilton all over the world.

photo by Paul Senft

photo by Paul Senft

For a brief time, the cocktail was known as the "Suffering Bar Steward" when customers complained about the vulgarity of the name. However, as life’s adventure took Mr. Scialom around the world, the original name was returned along with two other hangover cure cocktails respectively known as the Dying Bastard and Dead Bastard that he created during his travels.

The Suffering Bastard

from Esquire Drinks: An Opinionated & Irreverent Guide to Drinking, by David Wondrich, 2002.

  • 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. Garnish with mint sprig and an orange wedge.