The Gorham Cocktail Book


Gorham Cocktail Book

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:

2 thoughts on “The Gorham Cocktail Book

  1. Hi Andrew, Love your work here. I’ve been meaning to send you this citation for a bit now. You may know about it, but it pushes the date even further back for the calling a book “Cocktails”. The item is now sold but I have an image as well if you’d like it.

    “As to rules for fancy cocktails there is no end…”

    Cocktails : How to Make Them. Providence, RI: Livermore & Knight, 1898. Oblong, small duodecimo, 39 pages. First edition. This small recipe book appears to be the first dedicated solely to cocktails, leaving other mixed drinks aside. The anonymous author’s definition of cocktail is “an appetizer or stomach stimulant and differs from other drinks in that it is supposed to contain bitters.” Many of the recipes seem to have been lifted from Kappeler’s American Drinks. Handsomely printed in black and red throughout, with decorated endpapers, and a wallet-style, gilt-titled full black morocco binding. Rare. [OCLC locates just two copies of the first edition, (at Michigan’s Clements Library and at Harvard) and one copy of the 1914 second edition; not in Noling, Beverage Literature].

    1. Hello Don,
      Thank you. I hope to see a copy or facsimile of that book some day. I think that the anonymous author’s definition of the the cocktail is consistent with the tradition. That, plus the short page count [39], to me suggests that the book is probably limited in scope to true cocktails — rather than being a book containing all sorts of drinks under the erroneous gloss of ‘cocktails. I suspect that the case is still that the first books containing all types of drinks that calls them cocktails in the title of the book were not published until around 1920.
      Perhaps someone with access to either of the two libraries mentioned might some day see this and let us know.

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