From Blossom to BLOSSOM

[For the introduction to this post for David Wondrich, read this first.]

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.

BtB01

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.

BtB02

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.

BtB03

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.

BtB04

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.

What Punch Is

I have been asked what I mean when I say that most so-called ‘craft-cocktails’ are actually punches. This is what I mean:

What Punch Is

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.