by Andrew Willett
Part One: The Shortening and Souring of the Short Punches
Most types of punches are ‘long’ drinks in that they are diluted to the point of being considerably voluminous. The earliest recipe for punch from around the year 1700 uses the proportions of: one part sour, one part sweet, two parts strong and two parts weak.
Fixes and sours apparently began their history over a century later as ‘long’ as any other type of punch might be, but less sour and more sweet. Over the past century-and-a-half, they have generally become both shorter and more sour. Considering all fix recipes from 1862 through the onset of prohibition in 1920, the irreducible features that they all have is that they are punches becoming ever shorter and always served with ice in them. Aside from Thomas’s sour, the similarly irreducible features of sours from the same period would be of punches becoming ever shorter and served without ice in them.
Jerry Thomas published the earliest known recipes for both fixes and sours. If his recipes were to be considered representative of wider practice in his time, it would be assumed that fixes and sours were at first as diluted as any normal punch might be, but considerably less sour. There is a half-wineglass of water added to his fixes (not counting that from ice). There is also only a quarter-lemon in the entire drink. Jerry Thomas’ fixes and sours are in the proportions of: one part sour, two parts sweet, eight parts strong and four parts weak.
Note that of all pre-prohibition sources, Jerry Thomas is alone is serving his sours with ice in them.
The above book was published after Jerry Thomas had died. It was published by Dick and Fitzgerald, who had been Jerry Thomas’ publishers. The book gives the Library of Congress entry as being made by them. The passage at the start of page 110 begins with, “We give the following…” The evidence is that Dick and Fitzgerald compiled and revised the book partly from Jerry Thomas’ work, partly from other sources, and partly of their own additions. When compared to Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book, the Dick and Fitzgerald source indicates a lot less water (only “a little” to dissolve with), and twice the amount of lemon juice.
As can be seen above, William Boothby’s fixes and sours in 1891 contained twice as much lemon juice as the spurious Jerry Thomas book, and four times as much as the original Jerry Thomas book. Boothby’s fix is something of a throwback if it contained a considerable amount of water – something we could only be sure of if we knew the volume of his “punch glass.” In Boothby’s sour, however, he uses just a squirt of charged water to dissolve with.
Kappeler’s 1895 Apple Brandy Sour is modern in the sense that he uses sugar syrup and no added water (not counting ice). But it is a throwback in that he uses only a quarter-lemon – as did Thomas in 1862. Aside from the ice, Herrick and Harland’s Whiskey Fix from 1905 is almost water-less. It is made with only “a little water” for dissolving the sugar with.
Grohusko’s 1910 Whiskey Fix contains no water (other than ice) and is an example of a fix having become fully ‘short’ in the pre-prohibition era. The only thing not fully modern about the above fix is that it is built-and-stirred in the service vessel instead of being separately shaken with method ice and strained over fresh service ice in the tumbler.
It is evident that the trend in fixes and sours was that before prohibition they were becoming fully soured (as any other type of punch might be) and fully ‘short’ (unlike other types of punch).
Part Two: The Fancifying of the Short Punches
All of the sours and fixes presented in the previous part of this article are plain – in the sense that that they are sweetened by plain sugar or plain sugar syrup. Most types of drinks have been plain in their earliest examples, and then fancier versions of them emerge that are sweetened by nectars, flavored syrups, liqueurs, fortified wines, aromatized wines, etc. Such is the case with fixes and sours. Shortly after the first, plain recipes for both fixes and sours, fancier versions appeared.
Both of the above fixes are made fancy by being at least partially sweetened with flavored syrup. A fair number of pre-prohibition drink authors made all of their fixes fancy. That has caused some looking back at their books to jump to the conclusion that fancy sweeteners were the defining feature of pre-prohibition fixes. Some modern sources even specifically assume pineapple syrup. The multitude of plain fixes from throughout the pre-prohibition era presented in the previous section of this article should put that notion to rest. As mentioned before, the one feature that they all have in common is that they are served with ice in the drink (as opposed to sours, which are not).
Kappeler’s Apple Brandy Fix is fancy, but with Curaçao liqueur rather than pineapple syrup. Note that Kappeler still watered this fix as others did in his time. It would still be fifteen years before the first fix recipe I know of would be published with no water other than ice (see Grohusko’s fix above from 1910). Other pre-prohibition fixes were fancy of Chartreuse liqueur – but plenty were completely plain. No special terminology seems to have ever emerged to describe fancy fixes.
The sours are a different story. Several special terms emerged to describe sours of different varieties of fanciness. The first that I shall deal with is the daisy.
Note that the only real difference in ingredients between the sour and daisy presented above is that the daisy also contains liqueur where the sour does not.
In the above source, we have an explicit statement that the daisy is the same as a sour, except that it is made fancier by the inclusion of liqueur.
Notice that both Johnson and Schmidt routinely use charged water to dissolve sugar with in both their sours and their daisies. Previously, the water would have been flat. By the 1880’s man-made charged water had become common and inexpensive, and bartenders in the 1880’s and 1890’s seem to have been in the fad of using it for general purposes. After then, majority practice slowly returned to the use of flat water for dissolving sugar with in those drinks where sugar syrup was not used and where the alcoholic ingredients were also flat. But, many bartenders today still add unduly-large amounts of charged water to drinks that would be better without it. This is probably an echo of the old fad of charged water combined with thinking in terms of steps performed rather than more conscious awareness of the nature of ingredients, proportions, and the variety of types of mixed drinks and their unique qualities. For example, a little water is needed to dissolve the sugar and bitters together into cocktail-water for old-fashioned style cocktails. This adding of water causes some bartenders to automatically fill with as much soda water as will fit in the glassware, ruining the cocktail-nature of the drink. The same sort of phenomenon might have been at work in causing some other pre-prohibition drink sources to fill their daisies with soda water after they were otherwise complete. Some pre-prohibition sources even fill their sours with charged water before serving them. Even the normally sensible George Kappeler made his daisies virtually the same as his fizzes. He served them in the “fizz glass” and with the same amount of charged water as in his fizzes. Both Johnson and Schmidt seem to have had more sense than that when it came to sours and daisies.
In Crockett’s 1935 recipe for the Rum Daisy, the return to the use of flat water as the general-purpose sugar dissolvent is evident. The recipe contains no charged water at all. This puts the period on the point that charged water was never a defining feature in daisies. Yes – pre-prohibition bar-tending books do nearly all add some charged water to their daisies. But, anyone can see that they were also doing the same with their sours, and that the purpose was often just that of dissolving the sugar – using the faddish waters of the day, soda or seltzer.
In his daisy, Crockett suggests either lime juice or lemon juice. He also indicates either Curaçao liqueur or yellow Chartreuse™ liqueur. If you were to follow the above recipe using lime juice and Curaçao liqueur (each the first-mentioned of the options) and base the drink on Tequila mezcal instead of Jamaica rum, you would essentially have a well-known daisy called the Margarita – which means ‘daisy’ in Spanish. Since its birth as a drink served ‘up’ and without ice (as all true sours are), the Margarita Daisy has been joined by its more common sibling served ‘down’ and on-the-rocks, the Margarita Fix.
There are a large number of drinks called ‘cocktails’ that are actually daisies.
Many daisies today (especially the ones called ‘cocktails’) let the liqueur do all the work of sweetening and have no added sugar at all. This means that no added water is required as a dissolvent. Such a daisy is the Sidecar – even though it came late enough (the early 1920’s) to have been born into cocktail-drag (the glassware) and bearing the cocktail moniker. Note the very title of the book above. Calling ‘cocktails’ virtually all drinks served ‘up’ was a big fad in the 1920’s. Before then, virtually no drink book contained the word ‘cocktail’ in its title – because the cocktail was known to be just one of the many types of drinks contained therein. Suddenly, with the onset of prohibition, a large number of books appeared containing the word ‘cocktail’ in their titles. This fad finally faded – only to come back with renewed vigor in our own times. This is true even of re-publications of old drink books that would be more faithful as facsimiles were it not for blurbs such as “pre-prohibition cocktails” added to their covers.
Note that in the above recipe, the amount for each of the ingredients is ⅙ of a gill. A gill is half a cup, or 4 fl-oz. That makes ⅙ of a gill equivalent to ⅔ fl-oz. This is an excellent example of one of the causes of the fall of the jigger from a traditional amount (and the basic portion of liquor) to just a bar tool. In pre-prohibition times, most drinks based on liquor were made with a jigger or wine-glass (2 fl-oz., either way) of total liquor. The traditional cocktail goblet was designed to hold a cocktail – being 2 fl-oz. of liquor (total, whether one liquor or more) with a slight amount of bitters, the amount of water that would be added while frappéing with ice, and sugar if the liquor itself contained no sweetness. The above drink could have been made with a full jigger of total liquor and a pony of lemon juice by using 1 fl-oz. of each of the liquid ingredients. But, after shaking with ice, it would have over-flown the traditional cocktail goblet. A sour goblet would have been more appropriate, because of its greater volume and because it presents a smaller surface area (thus allowing less warming of the drink). Cocktails need a larger surface area to better release the aroma of the bitters to the olfactory glands, blocking the sensation of the fumatic harshness of the liquor. Obviously, serving the Sidecar in a cocktail goblet and hazarding its warming was more important in the 1920’s than sticking to the old standard of using a jigger of total liquor. So, the author of the above recipe reduced the amount of liquor so that the total volume of the pre-shaken drink, including the lemon juice, was 2 fl-oz. (⅔ + ⅔ + ⅔ = 2). That meant that even though the drink only contained 1-⅓ fl-oz. of liquor, it would fit the cocktail goblet after shaking with ice. Nowadays, ridiculously large versions of the conical version of the cocktail goblet are available so that drinks of any volume can be served in them. But this is not progress.
Maybe one day sheer image will have receded a bit, and we might see sours such as those named Sidecar, Margarita and Cosmopolitan served in the sour goblet that they cry out for. If only glassware manufacturers would provide them in the range of about 5-½ fl-oz. of capacity, as they used to do. I brush off the currently faddish coupe goblet by pointing out that it also allows a large surface area. What’s worse is that it is even shallower than most cocktail goblets and actually allows faster warming.
In my opinion, the coupe goblet bandwagon is being driven by retro-esque image and understandable aversion to the over-used, over-sized version of the cocktail goblet. But the selection of the coupe goblet for mixed drinks is just as mindlessly image-driven as the over-use of the cocktail goblet once was.
I will add one more note on the daisies. There are a number of pre-prohibition sources that present daisies with flavored syrup instead of, or in addition to, liqueur. Others, like Kappeler, seem to add just as much charged water to them as in their fizzes. Each one of these variants, or any combination of them, leads to a type of punch that was already established with its own family name in the pre-prohibition era. Because of this, I consider such so-called ‘dasies’ to belong to those other types (such as fizzes, roses, lions, etc.) instead of cramming them all into the identity of the daisy, otherwise so simply expressed by Schmidt in 1892 as a sour with liqueur.
Where daisies are liqueuredly-fancy sours, roses are saccharously-fancy sours (being at least partially sweetened with flavored syrup), and in their case the saccharous fanciness is specifically from either grenadine syrup or raspberry syrup. This should give them the color of a rose.
The 1912 source above was apparently written as hoax that it was from the year 1784. As part of the hoax, it was written using characters to appear to be that old. Using modern spelling, the Irish Rose recipe would read: “For each person, use a large beaker and fill it with cracked ice. Squeeze into it the juice of one lime and add a sweet, golden-brown syrup known as grenadine in quantities to suit the taste of the guest, usually about one pony. Then add one jigger of Irish whiskey, shake the concoction well together till it be thoroughly chilled, serve with straws and sip it slowly.”
The Irish Rose above is an early example of a rose. So is the Jack Rose.
In the above source, both the alternate name ‘Jacque Rose’ and the hypothesis about the meaning of the name were added by Crockett in the 1931 book and should not be considered part of Taylor’s original pre-prohibition bar book. It is included here simply for amusement. It is humorous to read such speculation in books and online about which person or thing the Jack Rose may have been named after. The name of the drink has a much simpler explanation. Straub’s Jack Rose of 1914 is clearly a rose in the same sense that the Irish Rose is. It is simply a ‘jack’ version of the rose, based on applejack (American apple brandy). Hence the name Jack Rose.
Note that the above recipe indicates either lime juice or lemon juice. Today, roses are made as commonly with lemon juice as they are with lime juice.
I have searched for any intimation of typological names for sours that are sweetened with flavored syrups other than grenadine syrup or raspberry syrup. None ever seem to have emerged. Likewise is the case for sours sweetened with nectars. So, while the so-called “Bacardi Cocktail” could be better described as a Daiquiri Rose, there simply is no elegant, traditional family name for the Honey Daiquiri Sour. Perhaps it would be nice to call it the Daiquiri Suckle, from the word honeysuckle. Such a term is not used, but the Bourbon Suckle, Irish Suckle, Gin Suckle, Rum Suckle (different from the Daiquiri Suckle by virtue of lemon juice in place of lime), Cognac Suckle, Scotch Suckle, and so on, might be a lot of fun. Elementally, such a family of sours would be very worthy, even if it yet has no name.
Likewise worthy would be family names for sours sweetened with agave nectar, maple syrup, cinnamon syrup, orgeat syrup, and so on. The name-blight of calling nearly all drinks ‘cocktails’ that set in around the time of prohibition prevented further such developments.
So far, it can be established that a sour made fancy with liqueur is a daisy, and that one made fancy with grenadine syrup or raspberry syrup is a rose. There is also a name that seems to have at least partially emerged for sours that are both liqueuredly-and-saccharously-fancy. Such a sour can be called a lion.
Note that Jerry Thomas’ 1862 White Lion could be described as a fix, since it is served with ice in it. But in the 1887 book with Jerry Thomas’ name attached to it, the White Lion could be described as a sour, since it is strained and served in a goblet without ice.
Embury considered these drinks to be cocktails, which is probably why he minimizes the sour and sweet elements in them. But, since he did consider them cocktails, it is to taken as understood that he meant they should be strained into a goblet after shaking. Embury even adds the Red Lion, which provides just enough currency to consider the lion a type of sour unto itself. Even better than the Red Lion is a similar drink based on either a good French brandy or Cognac brandy instead of gin. I call that one the French Red Lion. I also like the Shy Lion, which I make with dry gin, maraschino liqueur, freshly-pressed Eureka lemon juice and some custom-made flower-petal syrup.
Of all the drinks erroneously called ‘cocktails’ that are being served in better bars today, it is safe to assume that more of them are short punches than any other single type. The bittered sling (a.k.a. the true cocktail) may be the stuff of greatest legend and lore in American mixology, but the short punches are the drinks most sure to show up whenever people order drinks. Set aside the silliness of calling them cocktails. They are supreme crowd-pleasers and deserve to be understood in their own right.