Elemental Alumnus Harry Chin has won a ShakeStir flash contest with his Debbie Reynolds Cocktail (yes, it’s a true cocktail)!
Congratulations, Harry! Keep up the good mixing!
Elemental Alumnus Harry Chin has won a ShakeStir flash contest with his Debbie Reynolds Cocktail (yes, it’s a true cocktail)!
Congratulations, Harry! Keep up the good mixing!
New courses and course dates have been added that might be good for travelers:
It has been said (in a thoroughly modern gloss) that the traditional American drink known as the fix is essentially a sour made fancy with pineapple syrup. That simply isn’t true according to historical sources. What is true according to virtually all pre-1920 fixes is that they are short punches always served with ice in them, where the sour is a a short punch not served with ice. That is the irreducible difference between fixes and sours – traditionally-speaking.
Below is a survey of some recipes for fixes that were published before 1920.
Of the ten recipes above, five are plain – being sweetened only with plain sugar. The other five are fancy – with four being at least partially sweetened with flavored syrup and the other with both flavored syrup and liqueur.
Assuming medium-sized lemons or bartender’s lime (Citrus aurantifolia, a.k.a. the Key lime), the sour juice amount ranges from about ¼ fl-oz. (“¼ lemon” or “1 lime”) all the way to about 1 fl-oz. (“juice of one lemon”). The most common amount for the sour juice is about ½ fl-oz., being either the juice of half a medium lemon or about 3 dashes from a bottle with a standard-sized mouth.
Four of the recipes include a slight amount of water suitable for dissolving sugar with. One includes “enough water” to make the drink fill the glassware. Only one explicitly includes a relatively large amount of water. Four of the recipes have no added water as a measured separate ingredient at all.
All ten of the recipes indicate that the drink will be served with ice in it. Eight of them indicate shaved or finely-crushed ice. One indicates cracked ice, and another indicates just “ice.”
The mixing method for most of the above is to stir the drink in the same ice it will be served in – making many pre-1920 fixes essentially the same as many post-1933 swizzles. The method in the last recipe, from 1914, seems most modern in that the drink is shaken and then strained over fresh ice.
Surveying pre-1920 fixes (including many not shown here) for majority opinion, reduced to a minimal set of features, this author finds that fixes are short punches (being made without added, liquid water as a measured ingredient) that are always served with ice in them. Your last Whiskey Sour might have been more of a Whiskey Fix!
As the nineteenth century drew to a close, punches began being published in recipes with less and less added water as a listed ingredient.
Notice that the earlier sources use a full fluid-ounce of water (half a wine-glass), but that the later ones use just enough to dissolve the sugar with. This development led to standard punches often being essentially the same as fixes. I like to call this historical phenomenon the ‘fixification’ of punches.
Notice that in the above source, the fix and the punch have become very similar, being made with at least ½ fl-oz. of sour juice (3 dashes), without any more water than needed to dissolve sugar with, and served in ice with fruity garniture and straw.
It may be tempting to conclude that the main difference in flavor between the two drinks above is that the punch is sweetened with plain sugar where the fix is sweetened with a fancy syrup (pineapple). But, as shown on the previous page, recipes for fixes were also often completely void of any fancy sweetener. In fact, some historical sources regularly made their fixes plain and their punches fancy.
Before the Volstead Act (prohibition in the U.S.A.), swizzles were thought of as an especially Caribbean, crushed ice version of the American cocktail and did not usually contain any juice. This type of drink was not any more immune to the punchification of drinks, in general, than the true cocktail. After the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933, swizzles appear in books as punches generally (with sour juice) – and especially in an additionally-aromatized twist on the form of the old fix, in crushed ice.
Is a fix any less worthy than a sour? Of course it isn’t! Does a fix need pineapple syrup to be good? Of course it doesn’t. My favorite fixes don’t have it. One of the best fixes ever is the serano-accented rye whiskey fix known as the Future Fix — a drink by my friend, Greg Bryson.
Here are some of the ways I like to make my fixes:
Rosie Schaap recently wrote about the daisy for the New York Times. I like the New York Times and I am sure that Rosie is a lovely person, but her attempt to connect with the historical drink known as the daisy was a failure in two ways. Firstly, daisies were always strained and never served in ice. Secondly, her assertion that a daisy is “essentially a sour enhanced by some agent of effervescence” is simply not supported by the historical sources. Yes, the daisy is a fancy sour, but it is a gloss in the mind of modern readers to assume carbonation is essential. There are many pre-1920 daisy recipes that contain no carbonation at all. Many do contain carbonation. But, one should understand that using squirts or splashes of carbonated water, especially to dissolve sugar with, was simply the state of affairs for mixing drinks in the the late 1800’s. I have seen plenty of recipes from that time that add squirts of soda water to their punches, sours, and even Manhattan Cocktails. Would anyone half-way awake to the traditions of American mixology read a couple of recipes for the Manhattan Cocktail from 1890 that contained squirts of soda water and come to the conclusion that the essence of the Manhattan is that of a Whiskey Cocktail “enhanced by some agent of effervescence”? I should hope not!
Here is what the historical sources actually say about the daisy.
Notice above that the essential difference between Harry Johnson’s sours and his daisies is that his daisies are fancy by way of a modifying liqueur. Notice that both contain just enough carbonated water to dissolve sugar with. Using carbonated water to dissolve sugar with in making any type of drink was fairly common practice at the time — even faddish. The use of a little carbonated water in the daisy above should not be considered in any way definitive to the nature of this drink. Though Johnson’s daisies seem to be earliest published recipes for this type of drink, he was not the only one that made daisies as liqueur-modified sours.
Notice that William Schmidt explicitly states the irreducible nature of the daisy. In his opinion (and that of this book), adding liqueur to whatever your basic sour is creates a daisy. In the late 1800’s, it was very common to dissolve the sugar in any type of drink with carbonated water. The squirts of carbonated water listed in Johnson’s Jamaica Rum Sour on the previous page and Schmidt’s regular Whiskey Sour above are not at all unusual during that period.
Two of the above daisies add carbonated water after straining, but the indicated glassware (3 fl-oz. large cocktail goblet or the small 3 fl-oz. tumbler) of the era would only allow a small amount of fizzy water. By the time of Crockett’s daisy, the fad of using carbonated water in everything had passed, and he uses flat water with which to dissolve the sugar.
As can be seen below, added liquid water (of any type) as a listed recipe ingredient is not central to the identity of the traditional daisy!
Back his Rum Daisy above, Crockett suggests either lime juice or lemon juice. He also indicates either Curaçao liqueur or Chartreuse liqueur. If one were to follow his recipe using lime juice and Curaçao liqueur (each the first-mentioned of the options), and to base the drink on Tequila mezcal instead of rum, the drink would essentially be a well-known drink called the Margarita – which means ‘daisy’ in Spanish!
Here are some of the ways I like my daisies.
Many people are familiar with the traditional cocktail being a bittered sling, and even what slings are. Many people understand that punch is traditionally defined as the balance of the sour, sweet, strong and weak elements. Some people understand why the Brandy Alexander and any flip or eggnog are all possets. It is even very easily explained that since grog was one part rum used to cure three parts ship’s water, the Remsen Cooler and the Rum-and-Coke Highball are along the same lines of majority-weak, fortified-by-liquor, drink — and thus, grogs.
But there are some other less-understood genres of drinks. One of them that even historically began to be called by its own genre name is the blossom. The principles of Elemental Mixology maintain that a blossom is a mixed drink in which the strong element is modified by succulent (not primarily sour) juice. Blossoms are typically shaken and served ‘up’ in a goblet (a stemmed drinking vessel). Such a genre of drinks clearly exists, and for anyone ready to honor the traditional meaning of the word cocktail as referring to a specific type of drink, another name is required for each type of drink. This post will show why there is good cause to identify this specific genre of drinks as blossoms.
Above is the earliest-published recipe that I could find that fits the blossom genre. It has succulent juice and no sour juice. It is no punch. Though I don’t find it to be an exceptionally good one, it is clearly a blossom. [Also note that since the old dash from a full-sized liquor bottle can be standardized as a teaspoon (1/6 fl-oz.) and a ‘drink’ of liquor was a jigger (2 fl-oz.), the above recipe would contain two jiggers (4 fl-oz.) of total liquor for the two drinks it makes – meaning one jigger, total, of liquor per drink.]
But, what of the name “blossom?” In 1906, Louis Muckensturm published the Orange Blossom in the cocktail section of his book Louis’ Mixed Drinks.
The word toddy has meant, among other things, a sling aromatized by citrus zest (usually a twisted strip of it). The cocktail, or bittered sling, is a kindred drink to the todday that is specifically aromatized by bitters. I would call Muckensturm’s drink the Orange Blossom Toddy rather than suggest it is a cocktail, the way Muckensturm does. But, given that Muckensturm wrote more than fifty years after the heyday of the toddy, his mixology can be forgiven for lumping such close siblings together.
All slings are, as is said, liquor-forward. In fact, “liquor-forward” really boils down to a modern gloss for “sling.” In that light, note that there is only a teaspoonful of orange juice in the 1906 Orange Blossom [Toddy] — not so much that it crowds the liquor off center stage. Also note that Muckensturm understood what a lot of speakeasy-era bar-tenders who shook everything did not. Bruising occurs when the ‘velvet’ of liquor is undesirably lost to aeration. The Orange Blossom [Toddy] is stirred, not shaken. Bruising should be avoided in any sling — and that is why James Bond in the movies was wrong.
But, as with the Brandy Crusta, Bronx, Pegu Club, Swan, and many other, cocktails, it seems less-thoughtful hands quickly began adding a lot more juice to the Orange Blossom — and shaking it. [Despite David Wondrich’s rejection, the over-juicing (and consequent) shaking of drinks that entered history as juice-accented cocktails or other slings is a clearly evidenced, and fairly common, phenomenon in the history of mixed drinks.] In the case of this drink, (and of the Bronx during the same period) this transformed the drink’s ingredients into an altogether different drinking experience. Thus was this new genre of drink born — even before ‘prohibition’ began. As much can be seen below.
As for other pre-1920 sources; Drinks by Jacques Straub (1914), Jack’s Manual by Jacob Grohusko (1916), and Recipes for Mixed Drinks by Hugo Ensslin (1917) each give as their Orange Blossom essentially the same drink as the Adirondack above. [One bibliographic note is that the Orange Blossom does not appear in the 1910 edition of Jack’s Manual by Jacob Grohusko. There are several facsimile reprints of the 1916 edition of Jack’s Manual currently available that are incorrectly listed as being the 1910 edition. If, in addition to other added drinks, the Orange Blossom and the Coronation Cocktail (named for the coronation of King George V – in 1911) are in your copy of the book, it is the 1916 edition (or even later).
Before even the dark age of the speakeasy, the blossom was fully evident as a genre of drinks — if only in the glass and not the name. But, the name ‘blossom’ did come to mean more. Notice in the following sources that by the 1930’s the word blossom had begun to be used more as a family name significant of a type of mixed drink in which any sort of liquor was shaken with a lesser-or-equal amount of any sort of succulent (not primarily sour) juice and strained into a goblet.
Someone might object that all of the above are only ‘riffing’ from the Orange Blossom (though not the original one). That may be so — but that’s one of the ways that new things begin.
A huge percentage of blossoms are, in my opinion, lackluster drinks. But some are quite good, such as the Brown Derby [Blossom]. Others, like the Blood-and-Sand [Blossom], are ensconced among the ‘classics.’ This is clearly an extant genre of drinks and a name is needed for them. Thankfully, the tradition gave us just enough published practice of using the word blossom for the type that it is the most fitting name for this genre of mixed drinks.
I walked into a thrift store in Portland on Saturday and found seven Libbey #8475 5.5 fl-oz. sour goblets (not the case pictured above). I bought all of them for $0.99, each! Until about 2010, I used to find those fairly commonly in thrift stores down in big, bad Los Angeles. Unlike then, I am not going to broadcast exactly where I found them here!
Libbey discontinued this wonderful sour goblet in the mid1980’s. They should certainly bring it back!
I have been asked what I mean when I say that most so-called ‘craft-cocktails’ are actually punches. This is what I mean:
Samuel Johnson and John Ash give the most succinct and minimally-correct definitions.
Richard Dolby most explicitly states that balance is important. Think of that next time you hear a ‘craft cocktail’ bar-tender talk about always achieving balance in their ‘cocktails.’ They are surely making more punches than cocktails. [Harmony is important in true cocktails, but balance kills them.]
In the above, notice the general, historical understanding that the nature of punch derived from the combination of specific ingredients: sour, sweet, strong and weak. The fifth element in punches might be spices, citrus zest, or even first brewing tea in the water to be used. The fifth element seems to have become optional in punches by 1700.
None of the above sources make the bowl central to the definition of drink. In fact, they don’t even mention it! To define punch by the bowl is a modern gloss on the word. David Wondrich has suggested, against all historical sources, that the origin of the word was not from the Hindi word for ‘five,’ but rather from the English word ‘paunch.’ Wondrich seems to suggest that it was a reference to the fat shape of punch bowls. This is sheer, revisionist guesswork on the part of Wondrich – seemingly as a result of the typical modern assumption that service in a bowl was a unique part of the identity of punch at its beginning. When punch first enters history around 1600, other types of drinks had been made and served in large bowls for centuries already – even milennia. In fact, it was the default service for any drink for multiple persons – and since that’s the way people mostly drank, the bowl was the default service vessel for most tipples. The notion that around 1600, anyone would think the bowl was a unique part of a specific type of drink betrays an inability to actually understand historical texts in their own terms – and, therefore history, itself.
The modern gloss that punch is any large-batched alcoholic drink served in a bowl (or redefined in such silly words as, “large-format cocktails”) misses the fact that the Whiskey Sour, the Margarita, the Sidecar, and the majority of so-called ‘craft-cocktails’ pretty-much perfectly fit the historical consensus on what punch is. To those that ask where the water is in those drinks: think of the fluid-ounce, or more, that is added when they are shaken.
One might wonder why it is that so many of the truly popular drinks are punches. The answer is that the balance of sour, sweet, strong and weak usually makes for a tipple that almost everyone can enjoy – even those people who rarely find enjoyment in unmixed liquor or true cocktails.
David Wondrich has also stated that he cannot believe punch is originally from India – also against the historical sources. Wondrich is almost onto something here, but draws the wrong conclusion. To be sure, there is no hint of punch being made in India before the British arrived there. But, neither is there any evidence that punch was made anywhere else by the British before they started going to India. I suspect that punch was first made by Englishmen in India around the year 1600. I believe it was a result of the British proclivity (inherited from Greece and Rome) to flavor, dilute and sweeten alcoholic beverages — combined with the wealth of citrus they found to be constantly available in the Asian sub-continent.
Today’s drink of the day is another one of my own creations — the Chocolate Miss Lalla Posset. If you can’t find some proportion below that you like this tipple in, I will be dumbfounded. Just don’t call this drink a cocktail, or my minions will tell me and I will put a curse on your Kold-Draft ice machine!
I consider the Lalla Rookh of the 1890’s to be the oldest-published fully-modern posset.
[For more on what sort of drinks possets are, see this page.]
The Lalla Rookh is in exactly the same sub-genre of possets as the Alexander Posset of about 1910, the Brandy Alexander Posset of about 1930, and the White Russian Posset of the 1970’s. And, I certainly like it better than most of those.
I felt like trying a version of the Lalla Rookh Posset that would also have some chocolate flavor. It seemed so obvious to me that I expect someone to let me know that my drink was actually made long ago.
In making the Chocolate Miss Lalla, you should select the liqueur carefully. Remember that a crème is a lot sweeter than a liqueur — in the French understanding of those terms. That is why I use Joseph Cartron liqueur de cacao instead of a crème de cacao — to better control the sweetness.
Even with a liqueur instead of a crème, this drink may be best suited as an after-dinner cordial. You wouldn’t want to drink a lot of them all afternoon like you might with the Bourbon Cocktail.
Here it is:
David Wondrich has moved on from the correct story (I believe — though he seems not to have understood the mixological reason) of why the American bittered sling was first called “cocktail.” He now prefers shoving ginger up horses’ asses (a trick to make them seem more lively for selling them.
The phenomenon of gingering is not connected to horses being called “cock-tail,” which appears in literature long before gingering does. The Oxford English Dictionary correctly, and simply, indicates that a cock-tail was a horse with its tail both docked (cut-short) and cocked up. This was done to mark a horse as being of mixed breed, even though it might have the qualities of a thoroughbred horse. All the way back in London’s Public Advertiser in 1758, one finds notice of a reward being offered for a missing “cock-tail” horse. Is Wondrich to have us believe that the owner just happened to shove ginger up the ass of a horse that he had no intent to sell the night it went missing? I find that laughable. In that same time frame, horses are described, sometimes for sale, as being “cock-tail” or “cut cock-tail.” If Wondrich were right that horses were called “cock-tail” in connection with gingering, it would mean that advertising a horse for sale in the 1760’s as being a cock-tail would be like telling someone you wanted to sell a car to that it had “sawdust in the transmission” (a trick in older cars to make a bad transmission run more smoothly for a while).
Another story surrounds a bit of confusing text from 1798 London in which a drink seems to be called cocktail. This has been suggested as a link to the better known American bittered sling tradtionally called cocktail. But, the same name for a drink has been applied many times to different drinks that had nothing to do with each other — often neither in essence or inspiration. When admiral Dewey was topical at the end of the Spanish-American way, at least two, totally different drinks where published bearing his name. The creators of each of these drinks were probably completely unaware of the other’s drink. There were actually several drinks called “Cosmopolitan” because of their array of ingredients from around the globe long before the more famous one came along that was named after the women’s magazine. Finding a common (non-genre-associated) word in the name of a drink is no proof that they are related to each other in any way.
In this post, I am dealing with the American cocktail drink, also known as the bittered sling, and why it would have made sense, mixologically-speaking, to an American around 1800 to call it a cocktail. Please read on.]
I usually tell my students that before about 1910, American drink writers never called a drink a cocktail just because it was served ‘up’ in a goblet, or contained a minimum of three ingredients. I also point out that no pre-prohibition American author of drinks ever titled their book a ‘cocktail book.’ That would have seemed like a work on Italian cuisine, in general, being called a Lasagna Book.
It therefore came as a shock to me when I first became aware of a book from 1905 called the Gorham Cocktail Book!
I could not believe that the grasping gloss had set in so early! I remember assuming that the title must be the work of some contemporary re-publisher — such as is the case when the old books are reprinted with silly blurbs like “A Pre-Prohibition Cocktail Book.”
But, no, the original 1905 title was the Gorham Cocktail Book. Le shock! I felt something almost like despair.
But that feeling melted away and became joy as soon as I started reading the book.
There are fifty recipes in this little book. And, actually, not all of them are true cocktails. Two are food items already called cocktails at the time — the so-called Clam Cocktail and the so-called Oyster Cocktail. Three of them are drinks that are decidedly not cocktails, but that had already been called so at the time. They are the so-called Chocolate Cocktail (a flip, really), the so-called Coffee Cocktail (another flip), and the so-called Soda Cocktail (actually a soft-drink).
The other forty-five recipes are for true cocktails. That’s ninety per-cent!
So, yes, there was a book before the Volstead Act that was titled a ‘cocktail book.’ But, it actually is a cocktail book! You won’t find any cobblers, Collinses, coolers, fixes, fizzes, highballs, juleps, punches or sours in it. The majority of today’s so-called ‘craft cocktails’ (most of them actually sours or other short punches) would not have passed muster to get into the Gorham Cocktail Book.
I don’t mean to imply that other types of tipples are unworthy. I simply believe that to really have an understanding of drinks worthy of being called ‘mixology,’ one cannot lump all drinks together as cocktails. Doing so has shifted the emphasis from mixology to memorization — and it fails to fully respect the other great, historically-established, drink genres.
I wonder if the Gorham Company (a silver works) ever meant to publish a punch book.
You can read the Gorham Cocktail Book here: