Anyone who's ever been to Trader Vic's might have seen a Suffering Bastard on the menu. However, this tiki cocktail doesn't have much in common with the original drink invented by bartender Joe Scialom.
In 1942, the bartender of Shepheard's Hotel bar invented the Suffering Bastard cocktail. To cure the British troops fighting in the Battle of El Alamein from bad hangovers, Scialom developed a hangover remedy consisting of gin, brandy, bitters, lime, and ginger beer.
The full history of the Suffering Bastard and its inventor is a truly fascinating one. It not only helped to fight the German forces around Lieutenant Rommel during the Second World War but also became a classic cocktail recipe that's still popular today.
Origin of the Suffering Bastard
Historians agree that the drink was invented sometime in 1942 at Shepheard's Hotel bar in Cairo, Egypt. Due to the mentioned liquor shortage, Scialom had to improvise and came up with a concoction of Gin, Brandy, bitters, lime, and ginger beer. This refreshing cocktail tasted good and helped prevent severe hangovers.
The drink quickly became very popular amongst British soldiers. It was so popular that troops started telegramming the hotel to order more supplies. By the end of the battles, gallons of Suffering Bastards had been delivered right to the front lines.
The Complete History of the Suffering Bastard Cocktail
The history of the Suffering Bastard is closely tied to its inventor, bartender Joe Scialom. Scialom is an Egyptian Jew with an Italian background. Born in 1910 in Cairo and raised in Egypt, he soon discovered his love for chemistry. As a trained chemist, he even went to Sudan for work. 
Eventually, he began using his theoretical chemistry skills for mixology and worked as a barman.
In 1937, during World War II, he started bartending at Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo, Egypt. At that time, British troops fought Erwin Rommel's troops and tried to push them back into Tunisia. 
Alcohol was a constant companion in times of war. At the same time, however, the supply of alcohol is a problem, as it was in Egypt during World War II. Consequently, the British soldiers soon struggled with bad hangover symptoms caused by consuming inferior liquor.
In 1942, to help with what he could do best, Scialom developed a recipe that was supposed to act as a hangover cure for the Allied troops that fought in the Battle of El Alamein. -And he succeeded.
Also, in 1957, he was expelled from Egypt for unknown reasons. No one knows if this happened because he helped the British army during the war or due to another incident. 
After leaving Egypt, Scialom got a job with Conrad Hilton. He moved to Puerto Rico and became the bar manager at Caribe Hilton Hotel. He enjoyed using Caribbean rum and fruit in his drinks and spent most of his career working for Hilton, training staff and creating lots of drinks for their hotels.
Is a Suffering Bastard Made with Bourbon or Brandy?
Brandy is the original ingredient of the Suffering Bastard cocktail. Bourbon was used later as a substitute for brandy in the cocktail recipe.
The evidence for this statement comes from Joe Scialom's daughter herself. Jeff "Beachbum" Berry held a lecture called: “The Suffering Bastard: Joe Scialom, International Barman of Mystery.” For this, he tracked down Collette, the daughter of Joe Scialom, and interviewed her to learn more about her famous father. 
According to his research, the original recipe of the cocktail included some highly dubious components:
- Black market Gin from South Africa
- Stolen Brandy from the British Army
- Lime cordial
- Homemade bitters, bought from a pharmacist across the street.
Thus, Brandy was part of the original recipe, and bourbon was introduced as a substitute at a later point in time.
Further proof comes from various reports and newspaper articles. Forces.net cites a report from the New York Times from 1959 that lists the ingredients for the drink and confirms the Brandy base:
“He combined equal parts gin and brandy with a dash of Angostura bitters, a teaspoon of Rose's lime juice, and English ginger ale.”
Another article published on the 5th of July, 1972 in Winnipeg Free Press underlines the Brandy base:
"I decided to seek a cure, and I finally dreamed up a drink that I named The Suffering Bar Steward. It consisted of gin we borrowed from the South African post exchange, brandy from Cyprus, and bitters made by a chemist across the street from the hotel. To this, we added lime juice made in Cairo and a local ginger ale provided by a Greek merchant of dubious character."
Popular Riffs on the Suffering Bastard Recipe
The most popular riffs on the cocktail are the Dying Bastard and Dead Bastard. Berry pointed out that -occasionally- the Brandy part was substituted with bourbon when available. Scialom himself also experimented with bourbon and named the creation Brandy, Gin, and Bourbon the Dying Bastard.
The other popular riff from him even added Rum as a fourth spirit to the recipe. This highly potent concoction was named a Dead Bastard.
How does Trader Vic's version fit in historically?
The first written reference to Trader Vic's version of the drink dates back to 1968. His "Trader Vic's Pacific Island Cookbook" contained a tiki drink recipe asking for light and dark Rum, lime juice, Curaçao, orgeat syrup, and rock candy syrup.
The recipe from the book is similar yet not quite the same as this handwritten note from a bartender at the Trader Vic’s Bar in the Palmer House in Chicago.
This tiki version also stood out because it came in a signature mug called Suffering Bastard (like the drink) or Mai Tai Joe. It displays a person suffering from a hangover holding their head in pain.
The Suffering Bastard recipe was invented during World War II to help cure the hangovers of British soldiers. The drink was a huge success and the main reason Scialom became one of the most famous bartenders in the 1900s.
It is a recipe that offers many possibilities for riffs and tweaks, the most famous of which Scialom developed himself.
- Dying Bastard cocktail recipe - A tasty riff on the Suffering Bastard
- Dead Bastard recipe - Another twist on the classic recipe by Joe Scialom
- Hennessy Pure White Cognac - A review of this unique Hennessy expression
- 1 Jigger
- 1 Cocktail Shaker
- 1 Hawthorne Strainer
- 1 oz Cognac
- 1 oz Dry Gin or London Dry Gin
- 0.5 oz Lime cordial
- 0.5 oz Fresh lime juice
- 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
- 3 oz Ginger beer
- 1 Mint sprig
- Add Cognac, Gin, lime cordial, lime juice, and Angostura bitters into your cocktail shaker together with plenty of ice.1 oz Cognac, 1 oz Dry Gin or London Dry Gin, 0.5 oz Lime cordial, 0.5 oz Fresh lime juice, 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
- Shake until the drink is well-chilled.
- Strain into a Tiki mug or Collins glass and top with ginger beer.3 oz Ginger beer
- Garnish with a sprig of mint.1 Mint sprig