True Cocktails: Modern & Old-fashioned

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What made the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail old-fashioned when it entered the written record in 1883? Whatever happened to the modern Whiskey Cocktail of about 1860?

Back when the specific type of drink called the cocktail (or bittered sling) was new, it was made, mostly, in a way that would later be called ‘old-fashioned.’ About a hundred years later, (circa 1883), the only thing new about the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail was its name – and whiskey was only one of the base spirits made into old-fashioned cocktails.

In fact, there is a very good chance that the first sling to have bitters added, making it the first cocktail, was the Rum Sling. If you want an idea of what that might have tasted like, make an Old-fashioned Rum Cocktail. The use of Smith & Cross traditional pot-still Jamaica rum would probably render the best historic analog. Don’t use sugar syrup in any form – that is relatively modern, not old-fashioned, practice. A lump of old-fashioned sugar (such as La Perruche) will suit historic accuracy. Also, don’t put any ice into the drink at all. For the bitters that you will crush into cocktail water with the sugar, the closest historic analog might just be Angostura aromatic bitters (though they weren’t around yet). If you have well water or water from a natural source that is known to be safe, use it. Otherwise, use bottled, flat mineral water. The drink you make this way will probably be as close to the first true cocktail as you can come. It will definitely be even more old-fashioned (but probably not better) than the drink barbarously called “The Old-Fashioned” in bars today.

Below is a description of what was just called a Gin Cocktail in 1839, but that would surely be called an Old-fashioned Gin Cocktail in the 1880’s – if only it contained some ice.

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Notice that the landlord (the owner) handed the customer a decanter of gin to pour for himself. Also notice the American tradition of really drinking down the cocktail in a short time. Before Prohibition, true cocktails were not effetely nursed and sipped.

So, when did the ice come in as a regular ingredient in a true cocktail? Below is a true cocktail that contains ice, but is still made with dry sugar. By containing ice, this Queue de Chanticleer Cocktail fully satisfies the modern concept of what is old-fashioned in a cocktail.

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But, ice at that time was still a relatively-expensive and mostly-seasonal ingredient.

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As it turned out, iced cocktails in bars replete with ice in August would not remain an unbelievable thing for long. By 1856, ice was being manufactured and was available even in hot climates.

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That only leaves the issue of the sugar. Making sugar syrup out of bottles of relatively-pure, imported water wasn’t financially viable. Adding sugar to water without having a refrigerator to store it in invites quick spoilage. It is not surprising that filtration of municipal water supply and refrigeration were being developed at the same time as the ice machine. Once one could use cheap, pure water to make sugar syrup, and then store that syrup cold, it made sense to do so in American bars.

Technological progress progress had given the American bar gum syrup and plenty of ice. As a result, there was an explosion of innovation in American mixological practice. Jerry Thomas’ career did not father that innovation — it fathered his career. It was the right time for someone to write a book. If he hadn’t done it, someone else would have. By the time that Jerry Thomas’ book was published in 1862, pure water was cheap enough that making sugar syrup (including gum syrup) made financial sense. And so with sugar syrup, and plenty of ice for chilling drinks in before straining them into a goblet, one development was that the American cocktail became fully modern.

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Why Thomas shook his Whiskey Cocktail and bruised the velvet of the liquor with aeration, even though he stirred his Brandy Cocktail, is not something that I can begin to understand. I have often doubted that Jerry Thomas ever really did work as a bar-tender in California during the gold rush. I think he said so in New York to get hired as a bar-tender there. I believe he asked a real bar-tender to tutor him before going off to sell himself. His book never even mentions Pisco brandy in the slightest sidebar — then unknown in New York, but just about San Francisco’s most commonly poured spirit! That, plus his proven proclivity to boldly lie (I invented the Tom & Jerry/Martinez/etc.) and all the nonsensical idiocies in his book (compared to just about every other 19th century book on the subject) smack of him being tutored quickly and often getting his notes wrong.

To be fair to Jerry, it should be pointed out that using plenty of ice to either stir or shake a drink with was still very new practice in 1862. Deep intimacy with the different results between stirring and shaking had probably not developed yet. The clash of techniques between stirring and shaking true cocktails wasn’t actually settled until… it’s still not settled.

A majority (but not all) of my students say they like the modern Whiskey Cocktail better than the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail. If stirred long enough, it will be colder (at least when served). Being served without ice, it never grows more diluted. If consumed in the traditional three-or-four gulps, it doesn’t have time to get warm. The preference I routinely witness for modern cocktails over old-fashioned cocktails leads me to believe that the modern method of making a cocktail probably took over quickly without much complaint. Even though there were undoubtedly many drinkers in 1862 who still remembered the older method, Jerry Thomas didn’t then present a single drink in his section of cocktails that was not made the modern way.

However, within about twenty years of Jerry Thomas’ book, it seems that something caused the older method for mixing the cocktail to come back into vogue. Perhaps it was nothing more than the sentiment of nostalgia. Perhaps, as the following newspaper clipping seems to suggest, some drinkers of true cocktails were willing to have a warmer drink in exchange for one that would be stronger-tasting (if only for a few minutes).

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As can be seen from the plural “cocktails” and “them” — and the reference only to “the liquor” — in the above passage, a single drink called “The Old-fashioned” is not what is being discussed. There certainly never was any ‘invention’ of “The Old-fashioned.” All that happened was an older method for making cocktails became fashionable again. The 1883 source explicitly considers that the true cocktail may be made in either modern or old-fashioned ways. As much can be seen in George Kappeler’s 1895 book. Also established by Kappeler is the fact that there was no single drink here. Any spirit could, and still should, be made into either a modern cocktail or an old-fashioned cocktail.

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Both methods are worthy of enjoyment. Remember, if you use simple syrup, you are making a modern cocktail (even if served on-the-rocks) instead of an old-fashioned cocktail. And whatever you do, don’t ignore English grammar and mistake “old-fashioned” for a noun. It is an adjectival phrase. The noun in both drinks above is ‘cocktail.’ Such silly names as “Scotch Old-fashioned” and “Tequila Old-fashioned” betray not only ignorance of traditional American mixology, but also of English grammar.

And, for Bacchus’ sake, don’t call a cocktail “old-fashioned” if you use simple syrup or gum syrup in it! That voids the very most definitively old-fashioned element in an old-fashioned cocktail — the use of dry sugar and making cocktail water out of it!

So, there they are — old-fashioned cocktails and modern cocktails. Perhaps one day our drink ‘scholars’ will stop searching the scriptures in vain for the name of the man that supposedly ‘invented’ the so-called “Old-fashioned” at the Pendennis – or for the earliest proof of its existence far too late in the nineteenth century.

From Martinez Cocktail to Paul Bunyan: The Martini Cocktail and its Relatives Before Prohibition

Aside from the word ‘cocktail,’ no other word from traditional American mixology has been so mis-appropriated as ‘Martini.’ Here, I will evaluate the history of the Martini Cocktail (a specific tom gin cocktail made fancy by way of vermouth wine), the drinks related to it, and the drinks devolved from it. I will deal only with drinks and their recipes that can be reliably shown to have had some currency under their own, unique names before the onset of prohibition in 1920. I will also give a little bit of historical information and engage in a little hypothesis about the naming of some of the drinks – hopefully without resorting to too much wanton speculation.

Part One:  The Martinez Cocktail (or the Old Martini Cocktail) of the 1880’s

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Assuming that Byron considered that the Martinez Cocktail could be made along the lines of either his drier or sweeter Manhattan Cocktail, there are four recipes for the Martinez Cocktail presented above. Two of the four specify tom gin (named after the old tom-cat associated with this type of gin – the ‘t’ need not be capitalized). Byron’s simple reference just to ‘gin’ may very well have meant tom gin, since dry gin had not quite yet become common in 1884, and would at first always be specifically indicated as “dry gin” in recipes even as it did become common. One of Byron’s recipes and that of Dick and Fitzgerald present a drink in which the gin fortifies the vermouth, while the other two clearly have the gin as the base.

All four recipes use proprietary aromatic bitters instead of orange bitters or some other type. The earliest two of them indicate Angostura aromatic bitters and the latter two indicate Boker’s bitters. Boker’s became defunct. A “Boker’s Bitters” is commercially available at the present time – but it is made according to an old imitation of the lost proprietary formula and there is no way to evaluate how similar it would be to the original, extinct product.

Three of the four recipes are made with sweet (Italian, rosso or rouge) vermouth wine and contain an accent of liqueur. In two of them, the liqueur accent is Curaçao liqueur. In one of them, the liqueur accent is maraschino liqueur.

One of the recipes above contains no added sugar or sugar syrup. One makes the addition of sugar syrup optional, and the other two indicate sugar syrup as a normal part of the recipe. There is plenty of sweetness from other ingredients here, and modern tastes would tend to favor the two recipes that do not contain added sugar or syrup as a matter of course.

All four recipes are frappéed (chilled and diluted with ice) and then strained. The frappé method for three of the four is to stir with the ice. The other recipe’s frappé method is to shake with the ice.

All four are strained into glass cocktail goblets. Two of the drink recipes are garnished with pared lemon zest. The other two recipes mention no garniture at all. Pared lemon zest was (and still is) the default garniture for true cocktails, and in 1884 such garniture may have been assumed for any cocktail where none is mentioned. One of the drink recipes is already called the Martini Cocktail. The shift from the name Martinez to Martini may have been propelled by confusion between the name of the drink and the brand name of Martini and Rossi vermouth wine that may have been in it.

Considering all of this, I would consider the mainstream, pre-prohibition Martinez Cocktail to be based on tom gin, modified with traditional rosso or rouge vermouth wine, accented with Curaçao liqueur, bittered with Angostura aromatic bitters, frappéed by stirring though ice, strained into a cocktail goblet and garnished with pared lemon zest.

Part Two: The Martini Cocktail from 1890 through 1920

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There are eight recipes above. There are other sources for the Martini Cocktail in this period, but they are mostly lay sources that give recipes for the older Martinez Cocktail, even if they call it the Martini Cocktail.

Five of the eight sources above only give one Martini Cocktail. Boothby, Straub and Ensslin each also present recipes for the ‘Dry Martini Cocktail.’ Boothby’s and Ensslin’s ‘Dry Martini Cocktail’ recipes will be dealt with later as the different and separate cocktails they are. Straub’s dry recipe’ omits the bitters. Straub’s so-called ‘Dry Martini Cocktail’ is actually identical to an earlier drink with a previously established name and will also be dealt with later.

Five of the eight recipes above specify tom gin. All eight specify sweet (Italian, rosso or rouge) vermouth wine. Six of the eight recipes above divide the jigger (2 fl-oz., a.k.a. one wineglass) equal parts of gin and vermouth wine, or ‘one-to-one.’ Two of the eight use the more modern proportions of ‘two-to-one’ – that is ⅔ jigger (1⅓ fl-oz.) of gin and ⅓ jigger (⅔ fl-oz.) of vermouth wine.

Seven of the eight use orange bitters. Boothby, who indicated Angostura aromatic bitters in 1891, switched to orange bitters by 1908.

Only one of the eight recipes indicates sugar syrup, and none indicate any liqueur.

All of the sources indicate that the drink should be frappéed and it seems that they all agree the specific method should be stirring.

Seven of the eight strain the drink into what must be assumed to have been the cocktail goblet. Again, Boothby in 1891 is the outlier by indicating that the drink should be strained into a “small bar glass.” He joined majority opinion on this, too, by 1908.

Pared lemon zest was the default garniture for true cocktails in the pre-prohibition period, and three of the Martini Cocktail recipes above explicitly indicate it. Of these three recipes with pared lemon zest, one also indicates a cherry and another mentions a cherry as an optional addition to the lemon zest. One of the above recipes indicates the garniture as an olive. Four of the recipes mention no garniture at all, but lemon zest may be assumed to have been acceptable.

With all of this in mind, I would consider the mainstream, pre-prohibition Martini Cocktail to be based on tom gin, modified with rosso or rouge vermouth wine, bittered with orange bitters, frappéed by stirring though ice, strained into a cocktail goblet and garnished with pared lemon zest.

Part Three: The Dry Siblings of the Martini Cocktail

References to a “dry Martini” cocktail are found as far back as from 1890 – but without recipes. Here is the earliest source I could find that gives a full view of the nature of drink with an explanation of what made it dry – the absence of gum, or simple, syrup:

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Note that the drink described above would have contained rosso or rouge vermouth wine. That is beacause that most-traditional type of vermouth wine is what would be assumed in 1899 by any reference to ‘vermouth’ that did not specify it be of the dry ‘French’ variety.

The earliest full recipe for a drink called a “dry Martini” cocktail that I can find in any major, American drink book in which all of the ingredients are of the ‘dry’ variety is from 1908.

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The Dry Martini Cocktail became famous in a way that the Dry Manhattan Cocktail (Byron’s Manhattan Cocktail, No. 1 from 1884) never did. That is evident by the fact that the Dry Manhattan Cocktail never seemed to have been given another name. On the contrary, the drinks resulting from just about every possible single ingredient alteration away from the Martini Cocktail, including only changing the garniture or the bitters, is documented in print before prohibition as having a different name – a traditional practice that I agree with.

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Note that the un-named cocktail in paragraph seven of the New Things in Tipples article from 1897 is the same as the Marguerite Cocktail in paragraph sixteen. It is not called ‘Martini’ in the source. So, instead of forcing a name on the source material that simply insn’t there, I choose to let the name reamin ‘Marguerite,’ since it is used previously in that ource for what amounts to exactly the same drink. It should be noted that the exact same drink as found in 1897 in the New York Herald called there the Marguerite Cocktail is found elsewhere under another name in the same period. In 1898 newsprint and Richard Taylor’s book (undoubtedly from the same year, but not published until 1931 in Old Waldorf Days by Albert Crockett) the recipe shows up as the Dewey Cocktail. The combination suited the tastes of the time and the drink was surely ‘invented’ many times by bar-tenders unaware it had already been made and named by someone else.

But, what about the variant garnished with an olive? In the same Taylor/Crocket source mentioned above, is found the Good Times Cocktail.

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The Good Times Cocktail is fully ‘dry’ and is garnished with an olive. Crockett indicates that the Good Times Cocktail was named for the horse-drawn ‘Good Times’ coach. The Good Times coach began making regular runs between the Waldorf Hotel and the Woodmansten Inn in April of 1898. The men who helped pay the costs of maintaining the coach and horses and paying the drivers were referred to as ‘cushion subscribers.’ Each of them had use of the Good Times Coach to go from the Waldorf Hotel’s bar to other exclusive drinking locales and back. Since the Good Times Cocktail recipe is found in a Waldorf-related source, the drink may have had currency there as early as 1898.

In the book, Driving, by Francis Ware, published in 1903, the ‘Good Times’ coach is mentioned:

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Alternatively, the drink may have been named at the Waldorf Hotel in honor of the Good Times coach having won first place for road teams at the annual horse show of the National Horse Show Association held at Madison Square Garden in November of 1900.

So, whether it was from 1898, 1900, or even as late as 1902, the Good Times Cocktail seems to be the oldest unique name for a cocktail based on dry gin, modified with dry vermouth, frappéed, strained, and garnished with an olive.

Part Four: The Dry, De-cocktailed Cousin of the Martini Cocktail

It is old news that the earliest definition of the traditional American cocktail also mentions that it is called a ‘bittered sling.’  So, what do you get if you don’t put any bitters in a drink that would otherwise be a cocktail?  The result would just be a sling, of course, or a toddy if it were garnished with citrus zest.  When slings are garnished, it is with nutmeg or other spices.  There are spices in pickling brine, and so if one wanted to get really elemental about pickled green olives, they would have to be thought of as also bearing some amount of spice.  Why do I digress to the spices in the pickling brine of olives?  It is because the Gibson (sling) can have an olive in it.

In 1908, Boothby published the first-ever recipe for the Gibson.  He called it a cocktail, even though deficient in bitters.  In fact, Boothby was explicit about it not containing them.  Looking at Boothby’s recipe, it becomes clear that what distinguishes the Gibson from a Good Times Cocktail (or Dry Martini Cocktail, if you must) is the lack of bitters – not the garniture.

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Here are some other early Gibsons:

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Ensslin doesn’t mention any garniture, so it may be nothing, or pared lemon zest. The Waldorf Hotel bar served its Gibsons as toddies, being citrus-zested.

Crockett inserted his own explanation of the name ‘Gibson’ into Taylor’s material, as can be seen above. The career of boxing promoter, William J. Gibson, flourished after 1910, which makes Crockett’s assignment of namesake simply incorrect.

Whatever the namesake may have been, no source that I have seen ever indicates bitters in the Gibson, and no pre-prohibition source indicates an onion. When someone today calls themself a Martini ‘purist,’ the drink that they are often thinking of is really the pre-prohibition Gibson – but in modern, drier proportions. So, what of the idea that “the Gibson is a Martini with an onion” as I was taught when first tending bar? It was called the Hanford Cocktail before it was ever called a Gibson.

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Part Five: Thoroughbred Dry Gin Frappéd and Garnished with an Olive

So, what of the so-called ‘Martini’ of gin frappéed with ice and served in a cocktail goblet with an olive in it? As it turns out, that drink can be found in the pre-prohibition Waldorf material, too.

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This is just thoroughbred dry gin frappéed (the recipe as we have it doesn’t indicate whether stirring or shaking was preferred) and served cold with an olive in it and a small glass of carbonated water to back it up. This isn’t even a sling. Slings require some dilution and at least a little sweetening in addition to usually being aromatized. The Bunyan contains no sweetening and is just gin with the water added during chilling (when it was frappéed) and seemingly served ‘straight-up’ with an olive in it.

It was astounding to me that the seemingly-modern, so-called “extra-dry Martini” existed before 1920. There do not seem to have been any famous personages with that name buzzing around the old Waldorf bar in the pre-prohibition period. What did happen in that time, though, was that James MacGillivray published the first ever stories about Paul Bunyan in 1906. If the Paul Bunyan stories are the source, the name Paul Bunyan is apt for this drink. The fictional character Paul Bunyan was a big man. The Paul Bunyan drink is favored by many big men – even if they are not big in stature, but in some other measure (perhaps only in their own fiction). Beyond the fiction, Winston Churchill was a big man though he stood only five feet and six inches tall. And even though he called it a ‘Martini,’ Winston Churchill was a Paul Bunyan drinker. So was Richard Nixon, and some equally charming others.

So, there it is – the trail from the Martinez Cocktail to the Paul Bunyan, with stops at the Martini Cocktail, the Marguerite Cocktail, the Good Times Cocktail, the Gibson Sling and the Paul Bunyan. Have we taken enough baby steps out from under the shadow of prohibition that they need not all be called Martinis anymore? I hope so.

You’ve Never Had a Sazerac Cocktail (but you may have had the drink it came from)

You’ve never had a Sazerac Cocktail (in the same way that you have probably never had a Pappy Van Winkle Cocktail).  Unless you have about $17,000 to buy some Cognac Sazerac, all that is left of the Sazerac Cocktail is prologue and epilogue.  You might have had something even older than the Sazerac Cocktail.

On Wednesday morning, the first day of February, 1843, a cocktail was described in the New Orleans newspaper, The Daily Picayune — quoted or paraphrased from another publication, the Sunday Mercury (perhaps from their edition of Sunday, January the twenty-ninth).

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Note that the mention of (surely dry) sugar is evidence that this cocktail was made the old-fashioned way — as would be expected at that date.  Thirty or forty years later, many American bar-tenders might call the drink an Improved Brandy Cocktail if made the modern way using sugar syrup and stirring though ice before straining (requiring more pure water and ice than was affordable before the industrial revolution).

But, based on what seems to have been the local lingo used in ordering the drink, I call it the Queue de Chanticleer Cocktail.  Queue de Chanticleer [“coo de shanticlaire”] means ‘tail of the dominant rooster’ or just ‘cocktail.’

One striking thing about this drink is that if it were to be made with Cognac Sazerac as the brandy it would be virtually indistinguishable from the much more famously-named Sazerac Cocktail as it was when it can be found to have entered history (meaning that which stands written) around 1900.  Here is the earliest known printed recipe for the Sazerac Cocktail:

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Notice that when the Sazerac (and Zazarack) Cocktail began to show up in print, it was by no means always made with Peychaud’s bitters.  That assumption might have been even later.  That’s alright, I make the same assumption.

Cognac Sazerac was a preferred trademark of Cognac brandy that became unavailable in the first half of the twentieth century.  It should not be confused with being any product from the modern, opportunistically named, Sazerac Company.

Cognac Sazerac

As early as Cognac Sazerac can be shown to have been available in New Orleans, it can be assumed to have been used in the Queue de Chanticleer Cocktail at least occasionally – which, as stated earlier, would make it indistinguishable from the later Sazerac Cocktail.

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As can be seen from the advertisement above, Sazerac brandy was already available in New Orleans when the Queue de Chanticleer Cocktail was first described there.

The name Sazerac Cocktail is documented from 1901 onward.  That means that the drink was renamed for the trademarked liquor in it some time between ~1843 and 1901.  I believe that the name came late, closer to 1901.  Otherwise, the omission of the drink in so many sources that should have known it becomes difficult to explain.  That is especially true of Lafcadio Hearns’ 1885 book, La Cuisine Creole, in which recipes for the favorite drinks local to New Orleans are given by the author who lived there for years – but without so much as a mention of anything called ‘Sazerac’ (nor anything called ‘Ramos,’ for that matter).

But, what of that other drink that is similar, but based on whiskey instead of brandy?

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And to further clarify:

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Imagine it — confusion where there is alcohol!

So, there you have it.  The brandy-based Queue de Chanticler Cocktail became the Sazerac Cocktail when made with Cognac Sazerac as the brandy, and then the Sazerac Cocktail became the Zazarack Cocktail (or Zazerac Cocktail) when based on whiskey.  The only one of these that can not be had today is the actual Sazerac Cocktail — because Cognac Sazerac exists no more.   I know that a Sazerac rye whiskey has existed for a little while — but that is shameful, or historically ignorant, labeling.  I happen to prefer the Zazarack Cocktail over the others, anyway – but that is a subjective matter.

Here are the drinks as they are in my own book:

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Enjoy!

1897 “Dry Martini” Recipe in the New York Herald? Not Quite.

It has been claimed that there is a Dry Martini Cocktail recipe in the New York Herald article “New Things in Tipples” from 1897.  Let’s take a look.  Here is paragraph seven of that article.

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The double hotel is the Waldorf-Astoria.  Note that the drink in question that is made of one-half (jigger) of Plymouth dry gin and one-half (jigger) of dry ‘French’ vermouth wine and orange bitters is not actually called the “Dry Martini,” or anything else, in the passage.  It is a Dry Martini Cocktail only in the sense that the drink described in the 1897 source is close enough to what modern types call the Dry Martini, that they don’t bother to notice it isn’t called that in the source.  No explicit name for the drink exists in the 1897 source.  Or, does it?  Here is paragraph sixteen of the same article:

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There is the same drink again!  It is exactly the same drink, made with equal parts Plymouth dry gin and dry ‘French’ vermouth wine with orange bitters!  Oh, this time the source gives it a name — the Marguerite Cocktail.  Sure, the Marguerite is specified as being served at the Hoffman House where the un-named dry cocktail was being served at the Waldorf-Astoria (where Joseph Taylor worked and seems to have called the same drink the “Dewey Cocktail”).  So I wonder why, when an old source gives no name for the drink one seeks in one passage, and another name for it in another passage, why assume that the name you want to call it, but that appears nowhere in the article, is what is being evidenced by the text?  It would have been more accurate to say the 1897 source is the oldest one known to describe dry cocktails made with dry gin and dry vermouth wine and orange bitters, that may have been called Dry Martini, but that surely was called something else.

Drink of the Day — The Southgate Cocktail

Today’s drink of the day is the Southgate Cocktail.  It comes from the book recipes compiled by Joseph Taylor while working at the Waldorf Hotel bar between 1894 and 1920.  Taylor’s collection of recipes was later published by A. S. Crockett.

If we can assume that the drink was named after some notable person in the area of New York City before 1920, we can wonder if that person was Harry Southgate (who famously filed suit against a dinner guest once for “alienation of the affections” of his wife), or if it might have been Helen Southgate (who seems to have either; shot and killed Henry Grosvenor Barbour and then shot herself less-fatally, or was shot and wounded by him before he fatally shot himself).  Perhaps it was named after the Southgate family in a serialized tale of fiction that was appearing in newspapers at the time.

Underberg Boonekamp Bitters

The Southgate Cocktail is nothing more than an Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail with Boonekamp as the bitters.  The drink is tasty, and reason enough to go get some Kuemmerling or Underberg Boonekamp bitters.  Note: both Kuemmerling and Underberg long ago dropped the word ‘Boonekamp’ from their labels, but both are still Boonekamp bitters — in fact the world leaders for the type.  Click on the recipe image below to enlarge it.

Southgate Cocktail

Genuine, Traditional Rock Candy Syrup

Rock Candy

So, you want to make an authentic Rock and Rye, or a Rock and Rum, or a Rock and Rack?  Maybe you want to make some Tiki drink with a more traditional version of a certain syrup than was available when the drink was first created in the middle of the 20th century.  Either way, you will need genuine rock candy syrup.

AJoP 67 1895

The above is from the American Journal of Pharmacy, volume 67, in 1895.  It indicates that rock candy syrup is the left-over syrup from the production of rock candy.  As such, no sugar should be left to crystallize out of the syrup.  In New York State, in 1873, a case was brought to court over an alleged deficiency found in barrels of rock candy syrup.  The plaintiffs made clear that they had desired high quality rock candy syrup “that would not crystallize, or the sugar fall down.”

Around the same time, admonitions can be found advising to obtain “rock candy syrup from a rock candy manufacturer.”

Below is from the Western Druggist, Volume 17 in 1895:

WD17 1895 97

Volume eleven of the Bulletin of Pharmacy in 1897, specifies that when cooking the syrup from which rock candy will be produced, no temperature higher than 112º Fahrenheit should be allowed.

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The 112º Fahrenheit limit is kept to prevent the conversion of sucrose into invert glucose.  Some amount of conversion from sucrose into glucose may be considered acceptable by some people making simple syrup, but it isn’t okay for the production of rock candy.  If you want to produce rock candy, you’d best stick to low temperatures and pure sucrose and pure water — in super-saturation so that rock candy will form.  Once all of the excess sugar has crystallized out, you will have rock candy syrup.

So, rock candy syrup and buttermilk have this in common: they were both traditionally the stuff left-over after the making of the named thing (rock candy or butter), but are now routinely divorced from those processes and are simply compounded independently.

Amoretti RCS

The above ingredients for Amoretti brand so-called ‘rock candy syrup’ show that, though it may be a heavy syrup, it is definitely not traditional rock candy syrup.  Traditional rock candy syrup would not contain dextrose or fructose.  Genuine rock candy syrup carefully contains only sucrose and water.  Why it would need dextrose, fructose and “natural flavor” is a mystery to me!

So, what if you want to have traditional rock candy syrup?  Some old sources state that one of the reasons for the production of so much imitation rock candy syrup is that making the real thing via rock candy production takes time.  Unfortunately, that is true.  But, if you don’t care how much rock candy you make, the time needed can be drastically shortened.

Bring one part (by volume) distilled water to a temperature as close as possible to, but not higher than, 112º Fahrenheit.  An induction cook-top (like this one) that can be set at exactly 110º Fahrenheit could be really useful.  Add three parts (by volume) pure, refined sugar (sucrose).  Stir over the same heat (never exceeding it!) until the sugar is dissolved.  It may take some time.  Pour the syrup into mason jars.  If you want to harvest the rock candy instead of discarding it (stuck to the inside of the jar), suspend a string in the mason jar to which the rock candy will form.  Once no more rock candy forms inside the syrup, pour it from the mason jar into a syrup bottle.  This syrup will contain the highest possible amount of sugar in a stable solution.  It will be the closest thing to genuine and traditional rock candy syrup that you will have ever had.