The Sazerac Cocktail’s Missing Birth Certificate

Unlike the president, the Sazerac Cocktail is missing its birth certificate – at least from the time it is assumed to have been born, the 1850’s.  For anyone assuming that it had been born in the 1850’s, the fact that no American drinks-or-bartending book includes it until 1908 (and then virtually every one after that does) should be a problem.  Also, doing advanced Google Books searches for the exact phrase “sazerac cocktail” from any time before 1908 yields no results for either books or newspapers and periodicals (at least that upon investigation were actually published before then).  If one does the same search, but for the time period of after 1908, there are many results – including in newspapers and periodicals.  As of now, we cannot say that the drink existed before 1908, and that the period directly following 1908 is when people first seem to have been a-buzz about it.

I am afraid that until new evidence or early-and-verifiable documentation from before 1908 is found, the only conclusion about the birth of the Sazerac Cocktail that can be reached is one that will surely hurt the feelings and assumptions of this drink’s myth-makers – especially those in New Orleans.  We can only conservatively assume that the Sazerac Cocktail was born in the first decade of the twentieth century – not any time in the nineteenth.

So, if anyone knows of any early textual reference for the Sazerac Cocktail, I would be very excited to read it.  Early references for Sazerac Cognac or the Sazerac House in New Orleans (which was so-named because it was the importer for that brand of Cognac brandy) can not be seriously considered references to the Sazerac Cocktail – neither can early references for Peychaud’s bitters (which are not even indicated in the 1908 recipe for the Sazerac Cocktail).

Someone please find something for me earlier than 1908 that will stand up to conservative textual analysis – preferably with a recipe.

Harry Johnson’s 1882 Manhattan Cocktail Recipe Missing

I have read from many sources that Harry Johnson published the first known full recipe for the Manhattan cocktail in his 1882 book, Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Bartender’s Manual.  The problem I had with listing that as the first source in my own book was that I had never seen a copy or facsimile of that work.  So, the earliest source I could cite for a full recipe for the Manhattan Cocktail was O.H. Byron’s 1884 book, The Modern Bartenders’ Guide.  Humorously, various online sources (such as the Webtender Wiki) give Byron’s text as the earliest recipe, but mistakenly cite it as from a non-existent 1884 book by none other than Harry Johnson.  Harry Johnson published no book in 1884.

After his 1882 book, Harry Johnson next published Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Illustrated Bartender’s Manual in 1888.  This is the text that I received when I ordered what purported to be the 1882 book from Amazon.  I was frustrated at the sloppy (or fraudulent) labeling of the book as being from 1882, when the title page and the illustration dates all showed that it was from 1888.  Here is the Library of Congress entry for the 1882 book.  Notice that there is no secondary entry for 1888 below it, as appears in all currently-available editions falsely suggesting that they are 1882 reprints.

The Manhattan Cocktail recipe is in Harry Johnson’s 1888 book, and so I was always tempted to assume that the 1888 book was simply a new edition of the 1882 book, only altered to include illustrations.

Since then, I have obtained a facsimile of the original 1882 book.  I must report that the 1882 book and the 1888 book are notably different from each other and that the 1888 book is useless as any sort of clue as to which drinks were in the 1882 book.

No recipe for the Manhattan Cocktail appears in Harry Johnson’s 1882 book.  Neither does the Martinez or  Martini Cocktail (nor any daisies – another matter altogether).

Here are the images of the index/table of contents for Harry Johnson’s actual 1882 book (the drink recipes begin with entry number 32):

This means that O.H. Byron’s 1884 book should still be considered as the earliest source for the full recipe for the Manhattan Cocktail.  The next major source for the drink would be the 1887 book, Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders’ Manual (published after Jerry Thomas had died and actually listed in the Library of Congress entry as being by Dick and Fitzgerald).  That makes Harry Johnson’s Manhattan Cocktail recipe from 1888 the third major source, at best.

P.S.  If anyone sees a drink listed in the above table of contents from the actual 1882 book that they would like to know more about, I would be happy to post an image of the recipe.

Old Tom Gin (and the Martini Cocktail and the Tom Collins)

Tom gin, or old tom gin, was once the common type of gin used in the English-speaking world.  Its ancestors are wacholderbeerengeist and genever.  Walcholderbeerengeist (juniper berry spirit) is better known as ‘Steinhäger’ (from Steinhagen, Germany) or just ‘German gin.’  It was reportedly distilled as far back as the twelfth century – making the oldest ancestor of gin.  It is different from modern gins by being distilled from only macerated juniper berries.

Steinhagen is in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which borders the Netherlands.  In the sixteenth century, genever began to be distilled in the Netherlands.  Unlike wacholderbeerengeist or Steinhäger, genever is typically distilled from macerated juniper berries and other botanical ingredients.  Inspired by genever, English gins began being distilled in the eighteenth century.  Then, about a hundred years ago, the success of English gins caused a new type of genever to be made in the Netherlands – jonge genever.  Jonge genever is the new-styled gin from the Netherlands and is basically the same in type as London dry gin.  For the original type of genever, always be sure to select oude genever – the old-fashioned type.

English gin from London was originally slightly sweetened to cover the less-than-ideal quality of the water used in it.  This slightly sweet type of gin also was famously sold using the image of a tom cat.  Some say that a wooden tom cat from which tom gin was dispensed was the world’s first street-level vending-apparatus.  Once technological advances led to relatively good, pure water being widely available, gin could be manufactured in London without needing any added sweetness.  This became known as ‘London dry gin.’  To distinctly mark the older, sweetened type of gin from London, the tom cat associated with its vending became part of its name – tom gin, or old tom gin.

As can be seen from the image at the top of this post, the labeling tradition for tom gin includes the graphic depiction of a tom cat.  The fact that this type of gin is named for a tom cat and not a man named ‘Tom’ is why the ‘t’ in ‘tom gin’ need not be capitalized (unless it stands at the beginning of a sentence).

The two most famous mixed drinks based on tom gin are the Martini Cocktail and the Tom Collins.

Note that the above drink is not what many consider the ‘classic Martini.’  They simply do not know that changing any of the ingredients (including the garniture) from the above original Martini Cocktail yields a drink that had its own unique name published in the pre-prohibition era. For example, changing the tom gin for dry gin, but leaving everything else the same, yields the pre-prohibition drink published as the Lone Tree Cocktail.  Changing the garniture of the Lone Tree Cocktail from lemon zest to a pickled green olive creates the pre-prohibition drink published as the Down Cocktail.  Changing the vermouth wine in the Down Cocktail from sweet to dry creates the pre-prohibition drink published as the Good Times Cocktail.  Omitting the orange bitters from the Good Times Cocktail yields the drink first published in 1908 as the Gibson (yes, with an olive).  There was also the Dewey Cocktail of 1903, which would be a Lone Tree Cocktail with dry vermouth wine instead of sweet vermouth wine (or it could be thought of as a Good Times Cocktail with lemon zest instead of the pickled green olive).  In this light, it is humorous to hear so-called ‘Martini purists’ call all of these drinks ‘Martinis.’

The richness of unique names for similar-but-specially-different drinks was ended by prohibition, when masses of amateurish drinkers (and not the type of people who had much gone to saloons or bars before) were attracted to the hip, illicit nature of the speakeasy – where they were served drinks by another mass of amateurish bar-tenders.  No matter how much modern bartenders may join in the fad of denigrating prohibition, if they over-use the words ‘cocktail’ and ‘Martini,’ they are expressing themselves in a way that is a direct product of it.  Set all of that aside and make the original Martini Cocktail and drink it.  You will discover what caused the name ‘Martini’ to become so popular and misappropriated.

A little bit of scholarship on the subject suggests that bar-tender John Collins was the first to famously proportion the recipe for a full-sized charged punch – the Limmer Hotel Punch – into single-portion preparations when the punch bowl ran dry.  The Limmer Hotel Punch was a charged punch based on genever.  When made by individual portions, the name of the bar-tender doing so stuck to the drink – the John Collins.  This seemingly occurred in the early part of the 1800’s and the success of the drink meant that new bases would soon be used in it.  The variant based on tom gin became the famous Tom Collins.  When one orders a Tom Collins in most bars today, the drink will tend to be based on the dry type of London-style gin.  But make yourself one with tom gin and bask in the the joy of historical-correctness and good-drinking meeting in one, tall glass tumbler.

Death’s Door (London-style Dry) Gin

I must admit that the class-grasping, fakely-elegant “Crafted with wild juniper berries” kept me from reviewing this gin earlier.  To market something as being ‘crafted’ or ‘hand-crafted’ smacks of pretense and status-insecurity.  In addition to this is the silliness of the “wild juniper berries” bit on the label.  The great majority of all juniper berries harvested anywhere in the world are wild.

Let me set the mis-leading and class-grasping aspects of the label aside and try the gin.

This is obviously a London-style dry gin and it is good.  It has full flavor without any harshness.

To consider the value of any liquor, I mitigate its cost with its quality.  In this case, the quality is good, but the cost is on the high side of things for gin.  It is just about twice the cost of Beefeater.  Sadly, in my opinion, it is nowhere near twice the quality of Beefeater.

So, I will enjoy the rest of this bottle of Death’s Door gin, but I will probably replace it with another gin that I enjoy even more.

Hand-crafted Cocktails

Paul Fussell, in his book, Class – A Guide Through the American Status System, noted that aristocrats and others in the hereditary-upper-classes will say, “Let’s have a drink and talk about it” where those of the middle-class cannot resist saying, “Let’s discuss it over cocktails.”  It has been noticed by many that the status-security of someone from the aristocratic-class or hereditary-upper-class tends to result in their speaking simply and directly, while someone from the middle-class or high-proletarian-class (that is, the working class with money) tends to fear being revealed as inferior and therefore often over-dresses their speech.

Fussell humorously states that airline menus “constitute a veritable exhibition palace of the fake elegant” – but noticed that one such menu card he encountered did “forget itself and slip once, calling beverages ‘drinks’ in a thoroughly upper-class way.”

Also in Paul Fussell’s book one reads, “If a woman does a lot of knitting for family and friends, chances are she’s upper-middle-class.  But if when she finishes a sweater she sews in a little label reading ‘Handmade by Gertrude Willis’ she’s middle-class.  If the label reads ‘Hand-crafted by Gertrude Willis’ she’s high-prole.”

Are you ready?  Here it comes:

Hand-crafted Cocktails

No, this does not mean to contrast the bar that uses the above phrase with other bars where the drinks are made by robots, or by bartenders using their feet.

I know that bars feel they must compete for the dollars of the high-proletarian-class.  Some surely consider dumbed-down marketing appeals such as “hand-crafted cocktails” a necessary evil.  Yet, I am humored at the ever-present spectacle of the ‘fake elegant’ when it comes to promoting anything alcoholic.  It’s time for me to go have a drink and a chuckle.

The Sazerac Cocktail (1908) and the Zazarack Cocktail (1910)

By Andrew “the Alchemist” Willett

Sazerac was a brand of brandywine from Cognac, France.  At its barest, a Sazerac Cocktail would be a true cocktail (a bittered sling) made of Sazerac brandy.  It would be much like saying “Hennessy Cocktail” or “Raynal Cocktail.”

The Sazerac House in New Orleans imported Cognac Sazerac, after which the house itself was named.  A cocktail based on Cognac Sazerac may have been first made at the Sazerac House, but maybe not.  The true cocktail was a very popular and common type of drink all throughout the United States in the nineteenth century.  There is a small chain of bars called Hennessey’s, and they serve Hennessy Cognac.  But to assume that a Hennessy Sidecar must have been first made at Hennessey’s tavern would probably be an error.  As of yet, there is no proof that a Sazerac Cocktail, absinthe-accented or not, was first made at the Sazerac House.  It would not surprise me if it were, but it is a matter of speculation.

In the article, Remembrances of the Mississippi by T.B. Thorpe published in Harper’s Magazine in December 1855, we meet the character Bob Lawton.  With his left hand “occupied with a delicate bouquet of mint, confined in a crystal goblet, and nourished by some Boston ice, refined sugar, and the most excellent dark-colored brandy,” Bob speaks of the yellow fever in Louisiana:

“It don’t take the acclimated nor the ‘old uns;’ but let it catch hold of a crowd of ‘Johnny-come-latelys,’ and it plants them at once.  Them’s the boys that turn saffron-colored about the gills, and go off as easy as ‘sazerac’ in an election crowd.”

Some might be tempted to consider this an early reference to what is thought of today as the Sazerac Cocktail.  But, the Sazerac that Bob makes metaphor-of as being given out to an election crowd is most simply to be understood as Sazerac brandy itself, rather than a mixed drink.  It would be just as wrong to take the lone word “Sazerac” in a nineteenth century source and assume that “Sazerac Cocktail” was meant as it would be to take the lone word “Sherry” in the same source and assume that “Sherry Cobbler” was meant.

The earliest recipe for a Sazerac Cocktail that I could find is in William Boothby’s book, The World’s Drinks and How To Mix Them – published in 1908.

The oldest recipe for the whiskey-based Zazarack Cocktail (or Zazerac Cocktail) that I could find is in the book Jack’s Manual on the Vintage and Production, Care and Handling of Wines, Liquors, Etc. by Jacob Grohusko from the year 1910.  In that source it is called the Zazarack Cocktail.

So, the 1908 Sazerac Cocktail is based upon brandy and the 1910 Zazarack Cocktail is based upon whiskey.

Another early source presents the Zazarack Cocktail (called in the source the “Sazerac Cocktail” even though it contains no Sazerac brandy) as being based upon rye whiskey instead of Bourbon.  It is the book Beverages de Luxe, edited by George R. Washburne and Stanley Bronner, and published in 1914.  It is given as being a specialty of the Saint Charles Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Though some sources would persist in indicating Bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey has become standard in the Zazarack Cocktail, even when confused for the Sazerac Cocktail.  As to the confusion, Frank Meier in his 1934 book, The Artistry of Mixing Drinks, states that:

“Note. – there is much confusion between the ‘Sazerac’ brandy cocktail and the ‘Zazerac’ cocktail originally made in New Orleans.”

By the 1930’s, both the Sazerac Cocktail and the Zazarack Cocktail were being made with pastis liqueur (such as that by Pernod) as a substitute for the absinthe that had been banned in many parts of the drinking world.

So, there you have it – the de-mythified history of both the Sazerac Cocktail and its sibling, the Zazarack Cocktail.  Set all the wistful bar-lore aside and enjoy both of these drinks.  Use a good Cognac brandy for the Sazerac Cocktail and a good straight rye whiskey for the Zazarack Cocktail.  I also recommend using absinthe instead of pastis liqueur.  Enjoy!

Oxidization of Vermouth Wine

Oxidization ruins wine.  Does refrigeration stop oxidization?  No – it only slows it down, and that only because cooler molecules move more slowly.  Does prolonged storage of wine at temperatures found in most refrigerators permanently degrade the quality of most wine.  Yes – I firmly believe that it does.

Use some wine-preservative gas to better preserve your fortified wines and aromatized wines (vermouth or quina).  It is heavier than oxygen.  It has virtually the same make-up as the gas that was in the head-space of the bottle of vermouth wine and kept it fresh until you opened it.

Get some wine-preservative gas from a wine shop or online.  Use it to reseal the bottle free of oxygen.  Store the bottle protected from sunlight and removed from any source of heat.

Stop being a barbarian and get your vermouth wine out of the refrigerator!