1902: Cocktail Opinions by City, the Coupe Called “Objectionable” and Excellent Instructions for Making the Cocktail

In The United Service, a 1902 book by Lewis Hamersly & Company, is recorded a U.S. Navy captain’s opinion of the true American cocktail (a very specific type of mixed drink) as he had encountered it in the U.S.A. and around the world.  It is worth reading, but rather drawn out.  Here are some passages that I found to be noteworthy:

“… mixed drinks.  I don’t know any of them except cocktails.”

“For my own part I have hygienic reasons for drinking and have always done so in moderation, and the cocktail is my potation.  This fact has led me to observe it carefully and to make some generalizations upon it.”

“There is only one place in Europe that I know where a decent cocktail may be had.  That is Nice.  It is the favorite rendezvous of our [U.S.] ships of war and has been for years.”

“The American bars in Paris and London are a disgrace to their name..”

“I have tried but one cocktail at Monte Carlo.  It was enough.”

“I reckon the Washington cocktail taken full and by is the best in the world.”

“If you want a bad cocktail, it can be had at Kansas City.”

Saint Louis cocktails are gloomy.  They use a kind of stem glass there, a small saucer on a crystal stick [the coupe] that is very objectionable.”

“The Chicago cocktail requires watching and is, well, sloppy.”

New Orleans is a very foreign city and nothing is more foreign to it than a good cocktail.  You have to get as far north in the Mississippi as Cincinnati to get a good one.”

“As I have said, Washington excels in the matter of cocktails…”

“The Philadelphia product is quiet and genial and next to Washington in excellence.”

Boston does not drink many cocktails, but they seem to be carefully compounded.”

“Without attempting any nice distinction, the New York article is likely to trip its victim up.”

The naval officer was asked how to make a cocktail to perfection.  He obliged with the following instructions:

“A large glass filled three-quarters full of cracked ice half the size of a filbert; never use shaved ice or large lumps; dash on this half a teaspoonful [one barspoonful] of syrup made from the best white sugar; add in the same way as the syrup half its quantity [one scruplespoonful or a quarter-teaspoonful] of Stoughton bitters and pour in two tots [one gill or two jiggers or four fluid-ounces] of good straight rye whiskey.  It needn’t be old, but it must be straight; no blends out of case bottles will serve.  Stir with a long bar spoon, revolving it under the thumb if you can perform that feat, or turn the glass around while you stir until the outside of the glass is cooled enough to precipitate the moisture of the air in small drops; drain [strain] into two dry cocktail glasses [the traditional, stemmed, cocktail goblet – not the coupe!]; twist a shred of rind from a fresh lemon over each glass and let it fall in.  If you can perform this apparently simple feat just right your perfect cocktail is ready.  It should be evenly translucent, its color tinted slightly with red, a trifle lighter than the ray of a pigeon-blood ruby seen in daylight.  If gin is used it should be a warm straw color, but with no stronger tinge of yellow…  It should be drank promptly, or if the glass is only partly emptied at the first draught it should not be left to stand for more than a few minutes.  The enticing cherry has no place in a cocktail.  It doesn’t help cherry or cocktail.  Pineapple and orange should never be permitted to enter.  Let that cocktail remain untasted which is brought to you with any fruit in it further than a little lemon rind.”

If this man were not so obviously intimate with the glory of the true American cocktail, how it should be made and how simply and quickly it should be drank, I would be more skeptical of his opinion of the drink as found, or not, in the various locations he mentions.  But I am inclined to believe him simply because of how well he made true cocktails.  I also love that he spurns the coupe and comes from a time before New Orleans reinvented itself as some sort of cocktail Mecca.

10 thoughts on “1902: Cocktail Opinions by City, the Coupe Called “Objectionable” and Excellent Instructions for Making the Cocktail

  1. Nice read. Interesting to know that DC was the best place to get a cocktail back in 1902. The only “cocktail lore” I can think of off the top of my head relating to DC is that the Rickey was invented there.

    1. I’ve heard that, too – Joseph Rickey. But the Rickey is certainly not a cocktail. There is the Washington Cocktail, which is quite nice.

  2. As much as he knew how to make (and drink) a simple cocktail, I’d argue the guy was out of touch. If in 1902 you defend a cocktail as being what was already considered ‘old-fashioned’ in the 1880’s, you’re bound to be disappointed by what you’re finding. There were excellent American Bars in Paris in 1902. Just try a few of Louis Fouquet’s or Frank Newman’s recipes. Why did the guy think they were ‘a disgrace to their name’? Well, maybe because French bartenders were adding to their whiskey cocktails dashes of noyaux and dashes of curaçao. Too fancy to be a cocktail, surely, for our Navy captain.

    1. I found his opinions to be entertaining, and sometimes correct. Fouquet gives acceptable recipes for true cocktails, but unfortunately follows the British corruption of the American sling into a punch. Tisk, tisk, tisk.
      Our navy man was not the only American drinker that found the so-called “American Bar” of London or Paris in the period before prohibition to be a complete let-down and to write about it. Perhaps I will do another post of a collection of those accounts. None of us alive today drank in any so-called “American Bar” in Europe, circa 1880 – 1910. We don’t really know how true to American drinks the drinks in those places were. But, there is quite a lot of written opinion that indicates the mark was mostly missed.
      Also, the cocktail our navy man makes is not an Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail, it is just a Whiskey Cocktail. For clarification of what I am referring to here, see George Kappeler’s excellent 1895 book, Modern American Drinks. It will teach anyone the old difference between the Whiskey Cocktail and the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail — and likewise for the Brandy Cocktail vs. the Old-fashioned Brandy Cocktail, the Holland Gin Cocktail vs. the Old-fashioned Holland Gin Cocktail, etc.
      Furthermore, Jerry Thomas’ 1862 book shows that adding dashes of liqueur to true cocktails was already in American practice long before Fouquet did the same in France.

      1. I’d love to see more of the writings by American imbibers you’re mentioning. But there’s also a lot of good reports about cocktails in, say, New Orleans, and yet our friend is not taken by them either.
        I do think you missed my point, though. I’m not saying Fouquet was the first or that Jerry Thomas didn’t or whatever. I’m not entering the Old Fashioned discussion either (although I fail to see what you mean re Kappeler — maybe I’m tired). What I’m saying is that our man’s recipe and his attitude would indicate that, in 1902, his take on what the cocktail is and should be is at cross-purposes with what bartenders in the States and abroad were actually making. He strikes me as someone who attends the 1913 Rites of Spring première and then argues that, you know, that’s not real ballet — real ballet is Minkus’ La Bayadère, a fifty years old masterwork. It might be entertaining, it might be correct to a certain extent but what it tells me is that’s the man’s not really to be trusted when he judges contemporary composers.
        What would our navy captain say about what passes for cocktails today?

    2. Here is what I meant by referring to Kappeler. As you will see from the image, our navy man is definitely not giving the recipe for the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail. What changed between a cocktail made the old-fashioned way and one made later was the industrial revolution making possible enough purified water at a low price that simple syrup (or gum syrup) made sense, financially, and that machinery existed to freeze purified water into plenty of cheap ice for stirring with and straining from. The so-called “Old-fashioned” (with its missing noun of “cocktail” was not created in the 1880’s or 1890’s, it was a throwback to the normal way of making a cocktail from before about 1850. See these recipes for various Brandy Cocktails from Kappeler:

      1. Of course, the Old Fashioned is a throwback to the ‘normal way of making a cocktail’. I’ve made the same point in print and online on various occasions. Where I wouldn’t agree with you is that, while it may be justified to say “look, it’s a stirred and strained cocktail made with syrup while the other is made with lump sugar directly in the glass”, essentially, we’re still talking about the same drink. But again, this has nothing to do with the point I was trying to make re this very article, so I’ll leave it at that.

  3. It’s funny to see that there actually is some historical precedence to cocktails being served in coupes. Not a very favorable one, but one nonetheless 🙂

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