I recently spent a day in Burlington City that climbed all the way to the top of the perfect scale: the company of my favorite person, lattes from Evermore Coffee Roasters, a late lunch at the Union House, and a marathon browse session at the Burlington Antiques Emporium. As you can imagine, I am always on the hunt for really cool glassware, dishes, or other accompaniments for my cocktail photos. As I meandered past a booth packed with old vinyl, there was a stack of 45s, or singles, depending on which terminology you prefer, that stopped me in my tracks. I was immediately taken over by my 11-year-old self and transported back to the record department of Woolworths in 1972, trying to decide which recent radio hit deserved my hard earned three dollars. Unfortunately, and much to my chagrin, it was probably the decidedly awful Alone Again (Naturally) by Gilbert O’Sullivan that ended up being the winner. But this was how we purchased 45s back then. We were focused only on the hit songs and rarely paid attention to what we’d hear if we flipped the record over. It didn’t matter. For the most part, we fell right in line with the record companies’ intentions. We were pulled in by the A-side, or the one that received the most airtime on the radio and thus generated the most sales, and we never gave much thought to anything else. The B-side was usually a song that was not expected to ever be a hit for a multitude of reasons, most having nothing to do with quality, and there are many examples of those that became exceptions. One of the most notable is God Only Knows by the Beach Boys, which just happens to be the B-side that surpassed Wouldn’t It Be Nice? in popularity. As time went on, vinyl fell out of fashion and was replaced by CDs, which had no B-sides, of course, and eventually the term became more about the rarity of particular songs rather than where they were placed on a record. In fact, many artists began releasing entire albums that were filled with new or unusual material. In this way, B-sides allowed us to discover fresh music from our favorite bands, even the ones that weren’t playing together anymore, and they attained a new level of music geek coolness.
While I find this history and etymology of the word B-side to be very exciting, what thrills me even more is the idea of exploring the possibility of applying this term to aspects of our lives that go beyond listening to music. The concepts are easy enough to understand, and they are certainly relatable. The A-side is the mainstream choice we make, or the thing that we think checks all the boxes and has the staying power, but this isn’t always necessarily true. Look at all of those 45s that ended up at the Antiques Emporium. The B-side, on the other hand, is a totally different beast. We’re going to have to give it a lot of thought and listen very carefully, but if we do, we may find that it resonates with us even more. Consider the example of a career that begins on Wall Street in the pressure cooker world of high finance. We went to school for this. It’s what everyone said we were made for, and we’re good at it. We love the money, and we love the rush, but everyday we feel a certain emptiness. It turns out that we’d rather be teaching high school math where we are most definitely poorer, but far more fulfilled. Or we have a degree in Communications and Marketing, but Shakespeare and Chaucer whisper in our ears every night before we fall asleep, no matter how tightly we wrap the pillow around our heads. Am I suggesting that making these kinds of career moves is an easy thing to do? Absolutely not, but I am saying that such changes are possible, and they certainly illustrate a type of A-side / B-side comparison. I also think that it’s important to note that there were many times in the history of music when the A-side and the B-side both became hits, with the variance between the two depending more upon personal preferences or where an individual was in life. Perhaps our A-side career was something we spent thirty years doing, and we worried about what would happen when we retired, only to find ourselves blissfully immersed in a B-side pursuit that is equally gratifying.
What if we attempt to apply this same idea to relationships? I have no trouble seeing it with friends; after all, who among us hasn’t experienced moments in life when we wanted to run with the A-side crowd. Maybe we belonged there, or maybe we were just wannabes, but either way the appeal is a unmistakeable thing. Can true friendship be found with an A-sider? Of course it can in certain instances, but in others we begin to wonder why we ever liked this particular record in the first place. I can tell you with great confidence that while I started out thinking my A-side friends were fierce and fabulous, I quickly learned that my B-siders were the ones who would always come through for me. It becomes all about adjusting expectations. Is it possible to go in the same direction with romantic relationships? I think so, but we have to tread very carefully here because this area is not quite as open to A vs. B interpretation. One possible scenario that does fit is that maybe we are the kind of person that has always sought out a significant other that met certain requirements. Maybe we did this because of our own ideas, or maybe it was something ingrained in us by our parents or our family. Meet somebody who’s tall, or has a good job, who’s beautiful, or has lots of money in the bank. This perfect person may become the A-sider we seek, sometimes with disastrous results that teach us that checking off boxes isn’t always synonymous with finding love, until the B-sider comes along and changes all of that. In that moment we find a rarity, and we are so smitten that we actually look this person in the eye and, in our most romantic voice, we deliver our best Tom Cruise to Renée Zellweger kind of line. “You,” we say, “YOU are my B-side…” And then we get ready to do some serious explaining.
For today’s cocktail, I will tell you that I knew exactly what ingredients I wanted to use the moment that the idea for this post came into my head. Years ago at Cooper River Distillers, Ben Donia, who is still my co-worker at Recklesstown, made the infamous Ben Gin, the aroma of which was so amazing that it made those of us behind the bar at CRD absolutely swoon. It wasn’t the kind of thing we could actually market and sell because it was never intended to be a production offering. It began its life as a beer whiskey, to which Ben added juniper and other botanicals to turn it into what is called a compound gin, as opposed to a distilled gin. It was a rarity for sure, and I still have a bottle that I was very excited to use as the base spirit in this cocktail. For my secondary spirit I added Cynar, the B-side to Campari and Aperol that often gets overlooked because of its obscurity and because it has an artichoke on its label! It’s a bittersweet apertivo just like its number one hit cousins, but it has a deeper and richer flavor that is truly wonderful. I chose an herbal simple syrup made from rosemary, sage, thyme, and mint because, as Ben reminded me, herbs are often B-side ingredients for so many people who forget the very vital role they play in cooking. I rounded the cocktail out with lime juice and served it tall in a very retro Collins glass that I found at the Antiques Emporium on that recent perfect Sunday. The 45 in the photo shows the B-side to Pat Benatar’s We Belong, a song called Suburban King that I’d never heard before. If you listen to it on Spotify, it’s very different for her, which is exactly what we’d expect. Cheers everyone! Happy Friday. Thank you so much for reading!
B-sides and Rarities
2 oz of your wildest gin
.5 oz Cynar
1 oz herbal simple
1 oz lime juice
Shake for 20 seconds with ice.
Strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice.
Garnish with a fancy lime peel and a thyme sprig.