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.

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.

Why Was the Bittered Sling Called Cocktail?

Traditional Cocktail

There are some silly legends about how the cocktail drink was named involving the French word coquetier, an Aztec princess named Xochitl, a plucked rooster’s feather ending up in a drink, or the ridiculous explanation of shoving ginger up horses’ asses. But, the legends ignore the fact that in the historic record, it meant something else before it meant a drink. The following is from the Oxford English Dictionary:

cock-tailedadj.

1. Of horses: Having the tail docked, so that the short stump left sticks up like a cock’s tail. Common in the case of hunters, stage-coach horses, etc., during the

latter part of the 18th c. and first part of the 19th.

1769  Dublin Mercury 28–31 Oct. 1/3  A pair of beautiful black cock-tailed Geldings.

1789  H. L. Thrale Observ. Journey France I. 290  They got an English cock-tailed nag, and set him to the business.

2. Having the tail (or hinder part) cocked up.

cocktailn. and adj.

1. n. 1. a. A cock-tailed horse.

1. n. 1. b. ‘Any horse of racing stamp and qualities, but decidedly not thorough-bred, from a known stain in his parentage’ (Dict. Rural Sports 1870, §926).

1. n. 1. c. In extended use: a person assuming the position of a gentleman, but deficient in thorough gentlemanly breeding.

1. n. 2. (More fully cocktail beetle): A brachelytrous beetle which ‘cocks up’ the posterior part of the body when irritated; the Devil’s Coach-horse

1. n. 3. [A slang name, of which the real origin appears to be lost.] A drink, consisting of spirit mixed with a small quantity of bitters, some sugar, etc. orig. U.S.

As can be seen above, the first meaning of the word cocktail, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is the cock-tailed horse. That a horse with a cocked tail would be called a cocktail is directly understandable and self-explanatory in a way that using the word for a type of drink never has been. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the cock-tailed horse entered the historic record before the cocktail drink did. The shortening of “cock-tailed horse” to “cocktail horse” or just “cocktail” is completely natural in English. It would be surprising for it not have occurred in much the same way that Cognac brandy, Scotch whisky, Tequila mezcal and Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail have all been shortened to Cognac, Scotch, Tequila and Old-fashioned [sic], respectively. The O.E.D. states that the origin of the use of the word cocktail for the type of drink is lost. But, with a clear understanding of the type of drink that was called a cocktail, we can make a very well-informed hypothesis.

Why was the bittered sling so much like a cocktail horse?

In his 1908 book, World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them, William Boothby wrote: “The idea of making any liquor into a cocktail was conceived only for the purpose of removing the sharp, raw taste peculiar to all plain liquors. Therefore it is not necessary to use a combination of cordials, essences or lemon juice as some ‘bar creatures’ do, but by adhering strictly to the herein contained directions you will be enabled to serve these famous American decoctions in as fine style as the highest salaried mixologist in the land.”

In his passage above, Boothby is referring to the fact that the bitters in a cocktail will mitigate the sensation of the fumatic harshness of alcohol, and that the desired nature of a true cocktail is that it should strike the palate as little more than a tamed version of the alcoholic product(s) it is made from.

The traditional definitions of the word, taken with Boothby’s description and admonition against adding cordials or juice, strongly suggest that the type of drink should be little more than a slightly modified and tamed version of the liquor it is made of. It is tamed through the bitters, which mitigate the sensation of the fumatic harshness of alcohol. The most common true cocktail still served is the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail. In that drink, the main character is that of the whiskey. It is very much like whiskey, but undeniably mixed – or, like ‘cocktail’ definition 1.. n. 1. b. above, “of racing stamp and qualities, but decidedly not thorough-bred.” Or, put another way, the bittered sling is like the cock-tail horse in that both seem to have the character of the unmixed items they compare to – thoroughbred horses or neat spirits.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives two definitions of the word cocktail that are clearly extensions or adaptations of the original, horse-related meaning. One is a person that assumes the status of a gentleman, as in coming from an aristocratic family, but who was not born as such. The logic of calling such a person after a cocktail horse should need no explanation, but it obviously works from the sense of a cocktail being a mixed-breed horse of that exhibits the quality of a pure, thoroughbred horse. The other is the beetle that sticks up its hind-parts and that the O.E.D. indicates is also called the devil’s coach-horse. As the O.E.D. states, cocktail horses were widely used as coach-horses. Like a cocktail horse’s tail, the beetle’s hind-part would be cocked.

The above extensions or adaptations of the meaning of the word cocktail from its horse-related meaning came in the same era that the bittered sling came to be called a cocktail. I argue that around the year 1800, the word cocktail would first bring to mind a supposedly good-quality horse that was, however, not thoroughbred. I think that any other use of the word at that time would be to indicate some sort of resemblance to a cocktail horse.

As a type of drink, a cocktail seems mostly like the thoroughbred liquor it is made of, but is, however, obviously mixed. This is what I believe was in the mind of the first person that called a bittered sling a cocktail.

Folly

One writer, in an interview published by Grub Street in April of 2015, said the following: “And I actually know where ‘cocktail’ came from, pretty solidly. It’s in the book. Ginger was used in the horse trade to make a horse stick its tail up. They’d put it in its ass. If you had an old horse you were trying to sell, you would put some ginger up its butt, and it would cock its tail up and be frisky. That was known as ‘cock-tail.’ It comes from that. It became this morning thing. Something to cock your tail up, like an eye-opener. I’m almost positive that’s where it’s from.”

The writer was altogether wrong in suggesting that the meaning of the word ‘cock-tail’ (before it referred to a type of drink) had anything to do with inserting ginger up horses’ asses. He would probably point out the word ‘feague’ in a single dictionary [Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose (1785 & 1796)]. In that one book, to feague is defined as putting ginger, or an eel, up a horse’s ‘fundament’ in order to make it more lively. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb ‘feague’ as ‘to beat’ or ‘to whip.’ ‘Bumfeague’ is quoted from 1589 as meaning to whip or thrash on the bum or ass. The Oxford English Dictionary does mention that there are jocular applications of the word – meaning less-than-serious, joke definitions. It quotes Francis Grose’s definition as an example of a jocular meaning suggests that it comes from the Netherlands word feak (‘fake’), and is actually a separate word. Francis Grose may have believed the jocular definition was in earnest and presented it as such in his dictionary – or maybe he was intentionally furthering the joke. The joke may or may not have been on Grose, but it surely was on the writer repeating it in 2015. If shoving ginger up a horse’s ass was an actual practice, it was not widely called feaguing – and it was certainly not the equestrian meaning of the word ‘cock’tail.’ Let us look back to the first definition of the word according to the Oxford English Dictionary to be sure.

“1. Of horses: Having the tail docked, so that the short stump left sticks up like a cock’s tail. Common in the case of hunters, stage-coach horses, etc., during the latter part of the 18th c. and first part of the 19th.”

The tail is docked – meaning cut short (like a person’s paycheck might be docked for missing work). The Oxford English Dictionary is the most respected authority on words in the English language. Its definitions need not be supported. But, in this case, I will render support, nonetheless. Dear Oxford, I apologize!

The revisionist redefinition of the equestrian word cocktail or cock-tail cannot be supported. It would make nonsense of the use of the words “cut cock-tail” in the 1761 source above. The use of those words does make perfect sense in the light of the Oxford English Dictionary definition. That alone would be a major blow to the revisionist guesswork – but let us press the point further. How would the person who reported the 1761 crime know that one of the criminals’ horses had ginger in its ass?
As for the 1792 source; would the the revisionist writer have us believe that James Canolle was in the habit of having his horses spend the night in the stable with ginger in their asses? Canolle clearly meant to retain the horse. Does gingered liveliness help the horse get a good night’s sleep? Pre-dawn defecation would prevent making use of gingered liveliness in the morning – so there would simply be no conceivable advantage to stabling horses for the night with ginger in their asses.
This is all laughable. the revisionist writer is simply wrong. To be fair, that any contemporary person would miss the point that the bittered sling is like the cock-tail horse in that both seem to have the character of the unmixed items they compare to – thoroughbred horses or neat spirits – should not be very surprising.

A Jigger of Good Sense

Jiggers and Good Sense 01

Until the Volstead act, and for some time after, the standard serving of liquor per order was the jigger, or two fluid-ounces.  If the liquor were to be made into a mixed drink, it was still made of a jigger of liquor.  If there were more than one liquor in the drink, the total would still be a jigger.  That meant that the cocktail goblet below would hold both the Brandy Cocktail and the Dundorado Cocktail (or Manhattan, Martini, etc.) to virtually the same fill point — the volume of which it was designed for.

Libbey 3770

Other types of drinks require other types of glassware, but can be found in standardized volume per type of drink.  Maintaining the jigger as total lets any individual drink within the same type fit the appropriate vessel.

The jigger is why American bar-tenders of yore never bothered with trying to remember sets of willy-nilly amounts for liquor in drinks.  They spent more mental energy on everything else going on in a drink.  This is why they were more aware of what to do with two fluid-ounces of liquor to get the desired character for any particular type of drink.

If splitting the jigger into two equal parts (of one fluid-ounce each) did not satisfy the taste of the customer, other splits of the jigger could be used.

Jiggers and Good Sense 02

Anyone who can’t find a satisfying multiple-liquor proportion within two fluid-ounces [60 ml.] is just being dull-witted.

Why not teach bar-tenders the tradition that a drink shall contain two fluid-ounces of total liquor, and that they should proportion multiple liquors according to the type of drink and the presence of other types of ingredients, rather than hand them a couple of dozen recipes and ask them to memorize them?  The total amount of whiskey and vermouth wine in a Manhattan Cocktail should be two-fluid-ounces , and where within the jigger one draws that line is like done-ness in steak — a matter of preference.

Why not encourage bar-tenders to become intimate with actual mixology?  The traditional approach of a jigger of total liquor per drink makes that a lot easier to focus on different types of drinks rather than memorizing their recipes.

Why give me a large Manhattan Cocktail for $17 with so much liquor in it that it strains the work of the bitters?  Why give me a large Manhattan Cocktail for $17 that will get warm before I can finish it?  Why not give me a traditionally-sized Manhattan Cocktail for $10 that will stay cold long enough for me to finish it — and leave me willing and able to try more drinks per visit?

Is everyone so hidebound to post-prohibition practices that they cannot see the good business sense in this?

Come on — get the right glassware, make drinks the traditional way, let your bar-tenders learn the old drink intimacy, and make more money by selling more drinks per customer visit.

P.S.  Below are all the measures anyone would ever need to split the jigger all the way down to twelfths, or more.  In addition to the exact-tool splits below, many others can be achieved.  For example, to get a 7:1 split, measure 1/4 pony of a modifying liquor using the 3:1 split pony and pour it from that into the full-sized jigger, and then fill the rest of the jigger with a base liquor.  The possibilities are almost endless.

Measures

Let’s Have a Drink and Talk About It

Traditional Cocktail

In his passage above, Boothby is referring to the fact that the bitters in a cocktail will mitigate the sensation of the fumatic harshness of alcohol, and that the desired nature of a true cocktail is that it should strike the palate as little more than a tamed version of the alcoholic product(s) it is made from.  This is actual mixology in a way that memorizing a few dozen recipes for so-called ‘classic cocktails’ never will be.  The true cocktail was just one type of the many types of mixed drinks intimately understood by American bar-tenders and drinkers of yore.

Boothby probably had no inkling that people would ever mis-read cocktail for mixed drink in his passage, but, the word has gathered a lot of cultural baggage since then.

Fussell Drink 001

Fussell Drink 002

Fussell Drink 003

We can see that, like the TWA menu he encountered, even Fussell was prone to forget himself.  He suggests that the impulse toward fake elegance would cause the middle class to say, “Let’s discuss it over drinks.”  He seems to have failed to think fully in the fake-elegant way of the middle-class and has forgotten to abandon drink in favor of cocktail – even though that is exactly the conversion he suggests in the first passage.  The more completely fake-elegant saying would be: “Let’s discuss it over cocktails.”

Fussell Drink 004

Think of this when, after pointing out that a drink is not a cocktail according to traditional mixology, you are told by some bar creature: “Cocktails have changed.”

True cocktails still exist in the original mixological sense.  They include the Old-fashioned Whiskey Cocktail, the Sazerac (or Zazarack) Cocktail, and, since there is sugar in vermouth wine, the Camparinete (a.k.a. Negroni) Cocktail or the Manhattan Cocktail.

It’s not that cocktails have changed so much as that fake elegance has taken up the word cocktail – and has made it almost meaningless.

If julep had been the drink-word taken up by middle-class fake elegance, we would today have julep napkins, julep dresses, julep waitresses,  julep specialists, julep books, julep parties, Tales of the Julep, craft juleps, julep bars, julep culture, the julep renaissance and the Museum of the American Julep.  Yes, that is how ridiculous all of those phrases sound to me with the word cocktail in them instead.

Several years ago, in an online forum, someone indicated to me that, while he understood the original mixological meaning of the word cocktail, he saw no problem with using it to mean mixed drink.  He then added, “But, Martini is a whole nuther thing [sic].”  To that, my good friend and bar-tender Greg Bryson exclaimed, “It’s exactly the same thing!”

The bar creature on the forum probably didn’t realize that he was only making a distinction in the lexicon of fake elegance rather than in mixology.  In some circles, it seems that the word cocktail can be used with empty, fake elegance, but not the word Martini.

It really can’t be denied that a bar-tender who knows better but still clings to the willy-nilly use of the word cocktail for drinks such as the Whiskey Sour, the Sidecar and endless others (as well as everything related to mixed drinks) is doing nothing more than maintaining fake elegance — and the vocabulary thereof.

The People Who Taught Me

I am sometimes asked by a student which bars I worked in taught me to think of drinks with typological intimacy (instead of memorizing individual recipes).

The truth is that I have never worked for anyone else at any type of bar where anyone else was thinking about that.

Others did teach me, though.  The people who taught me the most were all long dead before I encountered their books.  Here is a list of them, the titles and publication years of their books — with notes on what I found most useful and what I found to be most troubling.  I will list them in order of how valuable, instructive, and important to my own education and work they have been.

#1 – George Kappeler – Modern American Drinks (1895).  Like most pre-prohibition sources, George Kappeler never explains his mixology in his book.  I suspect that it was thought to be commonly understood.  By carefully reading the Kappeler’s drinks and their family names, one can begin to understand the mind and mixology of the author.  Interesting specifics of Kappeler’s book are the clear the difference between the julep and the smash, regular ‘soft’ slings and cocktails versus old-fashioned ones, and fancy versus plain drinks.  Like all other pre-1914 sources that give the drink, Kappeler calls it the New Orleans Fizz and shows no awareness that it was called “Ramos.”  Kappeler’s one weakness, in my opinion, was that he seems to have joined the crowd that ignored that fact that soda water in earlier daisies was only a small amount used to dissolve a little sugar.  His daisies all seem to consider the soda water to be the defining feature, and dump way too much of it in.  One of the only things that Kappeler explains outside of the recipes in his book is that the jigger is two fluid-ounces, being the total amount of liquor in liquor-based mixed drinks.  Reading the recipes of any bar-book of Kappeler’s era will lead to the same conclusion, but it is nice to have it stated explicitly.  If all drinks contain a jigger of total liquor, the cocktail goblet that holds the Whiskey Cocktail will equally-well hold the Manhattan Cocktail.  That aspect of traditional American mixology left bar-tenders’ minds free to focus on what to do with a jigger of liquor to turn it onto any type of drink, rather than just memorizing sets of measurements.

#2 – William Boothby – American Bar-tender (1891) and The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them (1908).  William Boothby is one of the trinity of pre-prohibition sources on American drinks that I find to be most instructive.  His 1891 book is of general interest.  Comparing it with his 1908 book, one can trace not only his own continuing refinement, but also which types of drinks waxed or waned between 1891 and 1908.  His 1908 book is a masterpiece of mixology and includes the oldest-known recipes for the Sazerac, Gibson and Bronx.  Each of those recipes are also startlingly strong evidence that they did not begin as the drinks that most bar-tenders assume.  By setting aside modern assumptions about the history of those drinks, one can actually learn things that are not normally learned about traditional American mixology.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, Boothby implies that soda water is the defining feature in daisies.  Never mind the 1934 book that was published by the “Boothby World Drinks Company” a few years after Boothby’s death.  I believe that he left his estate in debt and that his ‘trademark’ became the property of his debtors.  The 1934 book might have had little more than that to do with William Boothby.

#3 – Joseph Taylor.  Joseph Taylor seems to have worked at the Waldorf Hotel bar from 1894 until the Volstead Act went into effect in January of 1920.  During that time he compiled a book of drinks used there.  The great sadness of this source is that Albert Crockett was the one that transcribed and published the drinks in two different books, Old Waldorf Days (1931) and The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book (1935).  Crockett describes finding all the “cocktails” [sic]  split into different categories that did not make much sense to him, or anyone else he asked.  He jammed them all together alphabetically.  Crockett was to what might have otherwise been the most complete record of traditional American mixology what Heinrich Schliemann was to the archaeological site of Troy.  Obviously having learned about drinks in speakeasies, Crockett clearly did not understand the older tradition, the material, or even Taylor’s handwriting.  He routinely mis-transcribed “dash of gum” (meaning gum syrup) for “dash of gin.”  I am sure that he also failed to notice that the two upright strokes in the ‘n’ in Columbia Skin were connected and became the only book ever (at his time) to list a drink called “Columbia Skill.”  Likewise is probable with the “Bishop Potter” becoming the alleged “Bishop Poker.”  I also find Crockett’s attempts to connect the drink names to important and notable people to be annoying and obviously incorrect in may cases.  What’s possibly even more disturbing is the amount of editing and redaction that is obvious when comparing Taylor’s drinks in Crockett’s 1931 and 1935 books.  It proves that Crockett was very willing to re-phrase or omit any of Taylor’s words that did not make sense to him.  But, underneath Crockett’s vandalism, strong traces of pre-prohibition mixology come through, and with a fuller repertoire of individual drinks than any other pre-prohibition source.  There are interesting drinks in this material.  For example, there seems to have been a gin sour made with fresh lime juice before the name Gimlet was applied to it — the Saint Peter Sour.  Also, stirring dry gin (with no vermouth or bitters) through ice, straining it into a cocktail goblet and garnishing it with an olive creates a drink that existed long before anyone felt the need to call it some sort of super-dry ‘Martini.’  Alcoholics like Richard Nixon and Winston Churchill may have called their vermouth-less drink the ‘Martini,’ but it was called the Paul Bunyan in the Waldorf bar before prohibition.  As expected, there is no Ramos Gin Fizz in Taylor’s recipes, but there is a New Orleans Fizz that is the same drink.  The fact that Taylor never meant to publish his book is strong evidence that the New Orleans Fizz was not an alternate name meant to keep Henry Ramos from filing lawsuit.  I really do believe that at some time after 1910, Henry Ramos invented the story that he invented the drink.  Taylor’s book, even through Crockett’s distortions, is valuable.  I recommend that everyone should read and understand Kappeler and Boothby first, before reading the Taylor/Crockett material.  Once the foundation of understanding of traditional American mixology is laid, Crockett’s distortions become obvious — and what Taylor’s original handwriting and intent probably were.

#4 – Harry Johnson – The New and Improved Bartender’s Manual (1882) and The New and Improved Illustrated Bartender’s Manual (1888).  Johnson’s books each present the drinks without any apparent order at all, but valuable information can be gained by patiently reading and making the connections.  Johnson gave the oldest-known recipes for daisies, and they are all sours made fancy with liqueur (just like the old Margarita served ‘up,’ the name of which means ‘daisy’ in Spanish).  Daisies like the Margarita, Sidecar, Cosmopolitan, and many others, are so important to the current bar that this factor alone makes Johnson important.

#5 – William Schmidt – The Flowing Bowl (1892).   Schmidt’s book is strange in some ways.  He gives many recipes for drinks that seem to exist nowhere else in the literature of the day.  Many of them are over-wrought with so many ingredients that they fail, in my opinion.  However, he did explicitly state that a daisy is the same as a sour, but with the addition of liqueur.  That alone would make his book valuable.  He also gives the earliest recipe I have ever found for what I call a blossom – a succulant where the succulent (not sour) juice modifies the alcoholic base, is shaken, strained and served ‘up’ in a goblet.

#6 – Richard Cook – Oxford Night Caps (1827).  Richard Cook taught me about things about sherbet, milk punches and possets.  I was especially satisfied to read in his book that egg possets were also called flips.  I had already come to consider the flip an egg version of the posset, but it was nice to find such an explicit, historic precedent for it.  Richard Cook also documents early British, wine-based cups.

#7 – Jerry Thomas – How to Mix Drinks (1862).  I would really like to have left Jerry Thomas out of this list.  He did write the first American book on mixing drinks.  In that, Jerry Thomas illustrated that the first is not always the best.  To me, his mixology seems flawed when compared to later giants like George Kappeler, William Boothby and Joseph Taylor.  Thomas also strikes me as having been quite a ‘bar creature’ (the old bar-tender’s epithet for someone who covers their weaknesses or ignorance behind the bar with flair, arrogance and bluster).  But, Jerry Thomas did at least provide a document for the existence of certain drinks by the year 1862.  His book is much better for that than for actually understanding and making great drinks.  Jerry Thomas’ intellectual property seems to have become the property of Dick & Fitzgerald after his death.  They published the Jerry Thomas’ Bar-tender’s Guide in 1887, and it seems that they greatly improved his original book.  At one point the text reads “We…” in explanation of recipes.  They did not repeat Thomas’ ridiculous explanation of the smash as a “julep on a small plan.”  They also seem to have understood the essence of the word ‘fancy’ in American mixology much better than Thomas.  They published the first recipe for a fancy cocktail that was not garnished in a fancy way at all — instead being only fancy in composition by using liqueur to both sweeten and add extra flavor.  In some ways the Dick & Fitzgerald book with Jerry Thomas’ name in the title (but not in any author credit) is the book that Thomas might have written if his grasp of American mixology had been a little stronger.