Archive | July, 2011

14 Whiskey cocktail (Old-Fashioned)

31 Jul

I said, sorrowfully—”I feel ashamed of myself, Mr Ward.  I know I ought to understand you perfectly well, but you see that treacherous whiskey cocktail has got into my head, and I now I cannot understand the simplest proposition . . .”

— Mark Twain, “First Interview with Artemus Ward”, Sketches New and Old (Hartford, CT, American Publishing, 1893), pp. 286-91 (p. 289).

He and the major fraternised at once, and were soon deep in a learned conversation on the right way to mix a mint julep. From that the conversation naturally passed to the old-fashioned whiskey-cocktail, and so movingly did the major deplore its passing, and so eloquently did he expatiate on its merits, that when the butler brought the martinis, Mr. Corliss waved them away and asked the major to prove his assertions.

— George Horace Lorimer, Jack Spurlock—Prodigal (New York: Doubleday, 1908), p. 298.

The whiskey cocktail, and the gin or brandy cocktail, were the earliest cocktails, in the original, narrow sense of the word (and for an explanation of what distinguished this particular species of mixed drinks from their cousins, see here).  And while the gin and brandy cocktails have long since fallen out of favour, displaced by the martini and the hundreds of other gin-based concoctions, the whiskey cocktail, which already by the late nineteenth century was known as an “old-fashioned (whiskey cocktail)”, is still enjoyed today, even if often resembles a fruit salad manqué.

Why? Because it works. It’s simple, unfussy, and endlessly enjoyable.But don’t just take my word for it:

The modern cocktail has come to be so complex a beverage that people are beginning to desert it. A bartender in one of the most widely known New York establishments for the dispensation of drinks was telling me the other day that there had set in an unmistakable stampeded in favor of old-fashioned cocktails. In the regular line of drinks coming under this name very bartender seems to have established his own private brand, so that people who are in the habit of whetting their appetites by the use of the friendly cocktail never know beforehand what they are going to take into their stomachs as they pass from bar to bar. The old-fashioned cocktail, on the contrary, is everywhere recognized as being made with a little sugar, a little bitters, a lump of ice, a piece of twisted lemon peel, and a good deal of whisky. It has no absinthe, no chartreuse and no other flavoring extract injected into it, and if not poured in too heavily upon an empty stomach it is anything other than unwholesome. It is, therefore, hardly a wonder that people are going back to it, after being surfeited with all kinds of mixtures that the active minds of bartenders can invent.

— “The Cocktail of Today”, Atlanta Constitution, 3 November, 1886, p. 4.

Take the following old-fashioned old-fashioned recipe, from Albert Barnes’ The Complete Bartender: The Art of Mixing Cocktails, Punches, Egg Nogs, Smashes, Sangarees,  Slings, Cobblers, the Fizz, Juleps, Flips, Toddys, Crustas, and all Plain and Fancy Drinks in the Most Approved Style (Philadelpia: Crawford: 1884), published just two years before the article we just quoted. Tellingly, this recipe, similar to that of Jerry Thomas in his Bartender’s Guide, is the very first in the book.

And that’s pretty much that, an unimprovable formula. We just need to bring it up to date slightly (and, as the Gun Club Cook Book suggests, these days the glasses are “stirred  but never strained” [New York: Scribner’s 1930, p. 246]):

2 ½ oz rye whiskey (or bourbon, if you prefer)

1 teaspoon simple syrup

3 dashes Angostura bitters

3 dashes of orange bitters.

Serve with a lemon peel or cocktail cherry, but nothing more than that.

Sore labour’s bath

30 Jul

“A Gordon label covers a multitude of gins.”

— “Life Lines”, Life, vol. 79 (12 January 1922), p. 4

The great battle against the Buns

29 Jul

“Why are people so apathetic about the great wave of Prohibition which is sweeping over the country?” wondered the humourist George S. Chappell in the November 1918 issue of Vanity Fair (in an article entitled “The Great Battle Against the Buns: Details of the Anti-Temperance Offensive in Champagne). “Sahara surrounds us on all sides and we look upon the prospect calmly, even indifferently.” The answer, he decided, was that newspaper reports on the debates between the rival factions were themselves as “dry as the most ardent anti-Saloon Leaguer could wish”, and so the more moderate thinkers and drinkers of the nation failed to grasp quite how grave the situation really was.  The only way to “bring the matter home to the thoughtless and unheeding”, to demonstrate that civilisation once again hung in the balance, was “by borrowing the phraseology of the other great war”—the world war that had concluded that very month. (Too soon? Chappell’s satire is a little tasteless, it has to be said, although he claims to write “with reverence” for the fallen.) Here are his dispatches from the front line.


Allies take Boissons. Latest news of the battle for Prohibtion. By ———‘s (insert your favorite morning paper), special correspondent at the front, James W. Drinkwater.

Somewhere in Champagne. Oct. 24. (By aero-post.) When I walked through the once pleasant streets of Boissons at two A.M. to-day, I could not help wishing that the picture of desolation which presented itself to me could be thrown on the screen of every moving picture palace in America, to bring home, if possible, to our people the vandalism perpetrated by Ober-general DeWett’s retiring forces. Hand-picked troops under General Trinken (they were mostly of the famous Holstein and Hoffbrau divisions) have waged a fierce battle for this little town since last Thursday. The allied forces under General Sec were not, however, to be denied. Their success is a high tribute to the strategy of Maréchal Buvonpas and a supreme vindication of President Wilson’s recently insistence upon a one-man-Top.

The scene about me spoke eloquently of a destructiveness which would have brought the blush of shame to the cheeks of the enemies’ arch-prototype, Attila the Bun.¹ Literally, not one stone was left standing on another. La Rue de Pomard, the main street of the village, which used to run East to West, now points North and South. This will give a faint idea of the terrific pounding which the Buns underwent at the hands of our gunners who, in the later stages of the struggle, fired their gigantic 220 mil. Bill-Bryans point blank at twenty-yard range into the tottering walls of the Ançienne Brasserie de la Galette, which the enemy defined with the utmost perspiration.

Orders taken on captured officers show that the troops were commanded to hold all breweries to the death—and they obeyed. Battered tanks clog the narrow thoroughfares rendering traffic well-nigh impossible. Our troops have not yet occupied the town as, following their usual custom, the enemy has filled every lake, reservoir, spring, well, pump, water bucket and tooth mug with laughing gas. Such efficiency, even in defeat, warns our war-councils of bitter struggles yet to come.

It would seem, however, that the general retrograde movement toward the Rhine provinces has been definitely decided upon. A glance at the map will show the stand made by the Münchener and Budweiser divisions, at Bouchon. It is here that Generals Durstig and Schwiller have, for over a week, held up our advance, the line taking the form of a bottle, with Bouchon at the apex.

Its fall cannot be very long delayed.

The much vaunted Whiffenpoof Line has already been pierced at two points, one East of Rummycourt, menacing the important railway center of Pille and the Canal de Suds, the other, Southeast of Chateau Yquem where our troops, astride the Barelle, have reached the junction of that river with its tributary, the Bière, at Trou-le-Bung.

It was here that special gallantry was displayed by our colored troops who took Ham, with great enthusiasm and appetite, after the repulse of the Jewish volunteers, who fell back on the Bivaux in the face of vastly superior and more numerous forces.

In this connection it should be mentioned that the apparent inactivity of certain of our elements has been due to the fact that they found themselves opposed to Bun shock-troops without the very necessary equipment of shock-absorbers. It is understood, however, that this defect has been remedied. Everywhere the new whippet water-wagons are doing wonderful work. Their effectiveness would have been increased had it not been for the difficulty in securing drivers. Owing to the gentle, rolling motion of the wagons, many of the men entrusted with the task of driving were displaced from their seats during the skirmishes. In one company alone, fifty-six per cent of the drivers failed to keep their places. One young American, more persistent than the rest. Mounted his particular wagon twelve times in one engagement, only to be unseated on every occasion.

The water wagons proved particularly effective in mopping up around Boissons and Rummycourt. After the destruction of the Galette brewery, Major Croton, whose name will be familiar to many residents of New York and Kensico,² was breveted on the field and the entire siphon-and-hose division has been recommended to receive the Congressional Blue Ribbon.

To sum up,— once DeWett’s bottle is broken, a retreat to the old Whiffenpoof Line is inevitable. The question is, will the enemy go further? Will he elect to stand on this line pending a subtle peace-offensive, or will he be forced to his last great strongholds defending the home-land?

In the latter case, which seems more probable, his line would run about due South from Pille through the towns of Tremens, Dizzy and Riot. It is inconceivable that DeWett will ever give up Tremens. It is the last resort of the Buns. To surrender that would be to yield all, and before that happens we may look to see serious proposals which would terminate hostilities.

I am frequently asked when this war will end. Like other war correspondents I am in a position to know,—not vaguely or indefinitely, but with the utmost precision. After mature study of conditions and after reading the accounts of legislation recently enacted at Washington I do not hesitate to state, emphatically, that it will all be over on July 2nd, 1919.

¹ “Bun” was a slang term originating in the late nineteenth century and meaning a “state of drunkenness”; it often appeared in the phrase “to have a bun on”. And, of course, “bun” puns on “Hun”.

² The Croton Falls and Kensico reservoirs in New York were put in service in 1911 and 1915 respectively.

— George S. Chappell, “The Great War Against the Buns”, Vanity Fair, vol. 11:3 (November 1918), p. 43.

When the Twains meet, cocktails

29 Jul

Livy my darling, I want you to be sure & remember to have, in the [bath-room], when I arrive, a bottle of Scotch whisky, a lemon, & some crushed sugar, & a bottle of Angostura bitters. Ever since I have been in London I have taken in a wine-glass what is called a cock-tail (made with those ingredients,) before breakfast, before dinner, & just before going to bed . . . To it I attribute the fact that up to this day my digestion has been wonderful—simply perfect. It remains day after day & week after week as regular as a clock. Now my dear, if you will give the order now, to have those things put in the bath-room & left there till I come, they will be there when I arrive. Will you? I love to write about arriving—it seems as if it were to be tomorrow. And I love to picture myself ringing the bell, at midnight—then a pause of a second or two—then the turning of the bolt, & “Who is it?”—then ever so many kisses—then you & I in the bath-room, I drinking my cock-tail & undressing, & you standing by—then to bed, and— —everything happy & jolly as it should be. I do love & honor you, my darling. Saml.

— Mark Twain, letter to Olivia L. Clemens, 2 January 1874,

Rendering service to the cocktail

29 Jul

Pioneer days in America produced hardened, sturdy physical types. Strong men embraced strong drink, and America became a hard-liquor country. The early settlers took their liquor “straight” as well as hard, and on the whole carried it well. With the changing tempo of development came the cocktail, and with its widespread and rapidly growing appeal it has largely replaced “straight” drinking. The cocktail era will probably pass, in its turn, and make way for a great people to “find” themselves with respect to their drinking, by learning to drink and enjoy wines and malt liquors. Meantime, however, there is no denying that the cocktail’s heyday is here; for the next few years every hour will be the Cocktail Hour, so to speak. Therefore, we must make our bow and render service to the cocktail.

— Harman Burney Burke, Burke’s Complete Cocktail and Drinking Recipes (New York:  Books, Inc., 1936), p. 35.

13. Clover Club cocktail

28 Jul

“So then we went down to the Ratskellar [sic],” Nettie chattered on excitedly, “and Mr. Schwarz asked me what I’d have since I hated beer so much. So I took a Clover Club cocktail because Mr. Schwarz said that in Cleveland they were absolutely all the go.”

— Dawn Powell, Dance Night (Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press, 1999 [1930]), p. 114.

Yet every time she looked at Dottie, sitting in their living room, so serene and conventional in her pearls and dressmaker suit, with white touches, and smart navy-blue sailor, sipping her Clover Club cocktail out of the Russel Wright cup and wiping a moustache of egg white from her long upper lip with a cocktail napkin, she could not picture her in bed with a man.

— Mary McCarthy, The Group (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964), p. 53.

The Clover Club cocktail was created in the early twentieth century in the bar of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. It was there that the eponymous Clover Club, an exclusive society of 35 active members established in January 1882, met on the third Thursday of every month for “Social Enjoyments, the Cultivation of Literary Tastes, and the Encouragement of Hospitable Intercourse” (in the words of Article II of its charter). Prestigious guest speakers were invited to address the brethren at banquets and then gently mocked, ribbed and roasted. (President Grover Cleveland, an honorary member, was the only guest never to be subjected to the indignities of a roasting.)

The Clover Club cocktail, then, was originally associated  with, and celebrated, a certain breed of gentlemen, serious fellows, local machers, who once a month let their hair down and had a bit of fun. Something of the meaning of the Club’s name, as well as that of the drink itself, comes out in this letter written by member Samuel J. Randall, in which he declines an invitation to the First Anniversary Dinner in 1883:

I looked in a “Herbal” to learn something about clover. It was not there, but I found that clover-pink was recommended by old Chaucer and others as a cordial and anti-poison, and in all disorders of the heart and in nervous complaints of whatever kind. For its cordial cephalic virtues it has been more particularly noted. Old Gerard says when it is made into a conserve it is exceedingly cordial, and wonderfully above measure comforts the heart. I sincerely hope that the benign influence of this fragrant flower may pervade your entertainment, and that all poison of brain or heart or body may be removed from your midst. (Quoted in: Mary R. Deacon, The Clover Club of Philadelphia [Philadelphia: Avil, 1897], p. 110.)

The cocktail, like the clubmen, is studiedly frivolous (the club motto was: While we live, we live in clover). How could it not be? It’s pink, for crying out loud! Hard to imagine someone like poet, playwright and sourpuss  W.B. Yeats drinking and enjoying it, but that’s precisely what happened, according to an anecdote told by the journalist and barfly A.S. Crockett in Old Waldorf Bar Days (1931). In 1911Yeats was in New York with a touring company of actors from Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. At a luncheon held in his honour at the Waldorf, the professional Irishman was given “his first lesson in the American art of drinking” when a tray of Clover Club cocktails, which “had just come into vogue” was brought in. Crockett continues:

Yeats eyed the novel pink drink warily. […] Yeats, glancing about, noted in surprise that his table companions handled the concoction in what seemed to him a precipitous and summary fashion. All they did was to lift their glasses, open their mouths, crook the elbow and then set down an empty glass. This was not a poet’s way. Yeats tasted the cocktail, and smacked his lips. Another taste. His eye gleamed and his face lighted up. But, to the surprise of his hosts, he declined to gulp. This thing must be taken slowly. It was filled with a variety of flavors, and it must be tasted all the way down to the bottom of the glass. So he just sat and sipped that Clover Club Cocktail. When wine was brought and proffered him, he waved it away. “Another of the same,” he said, in effect, and he kept sipping Clover Club Cocktails all the way through the meal. (Old Waldorf Bar Days [New York: Aventine, 1931], p. 74).

By the middle of the 1930s the Clover Club cocktail had become somewhat notorious. In 1934 Esquire had named it one of the ten worst cocktails of the previous decade. Charles Browne, author of The Gun Club Cook Book, was not kind either:

A Philadelphia concoction, may be one of the jokes indulged in at the Clover Club. It’s an awful mixture. One jigger gin, juice of ½ lemon, white of 1 egg, 1 teaspoonful pulverized sugar and 2 teaspoonfuls of raspberry syrup or grenadine. This will make three cocktails if there can be found three people who want them. (The Gun Club Cook Book [New York: Scribner’s, 1930], p. 265.)

But if the Clover Club drinker was, as Jack Townsend, president of the Bartenders Union of New York, put it in 1951, “traditionally a gentleman of the pre-Prohibition school” and a “distinguished patron of the oak-paneled lounge”, the cocktail, certainly by the time Townsend was writing, had become to be seen as “something for the girls” (according to the Esquire Handbook for Hosts in 1941). Well, it is pink. Not at all the sort of thing the buttoned-down Organization Man of the 1950s would want to swig. Then again, maybe it had always been a woman’s drink. Take a look at this advert placed on the front page of the New York Times, in the same year that Yeats was entertained at the Waldorf:

New York Times, 4 July 1911

Anyway, my recipe:

2 oz. gin

1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tsp homemade grenadine

The white of half an egg.

If you’re interested, and I don’t see why you wouldn’t be, this is the recipe used by the Waldorf (and thus presumably exactly what Yeats drank):

Juice of half lemon

White of an egg

Half teaspoonful powdered sugar

One drink of Plymouth Gin

One pony Raspberry Syrup

It was served with a mint leaf for garnish, technically making it a “Clover Leaf” cocktail, but there you are.

Sometimes the Clover Club is made with dry vermouth and sometimes with both dry and sweet vermouth. Here’s the recipe of the Hotel Belvedere in Baltimore:

Juice of  lime

Few dashes of Grenadine Syrup

One-sixth Italian vermouth

One-sixth French vermouth

Two-thirds gin

Add white of an egg. Frappe well.

Dress with three mint leaves on edge of glass.

In season use raspberries instead of Grenadine. Mascerate the raspberries with a muddler.

[Both hotel recipes taken from George R. Washburn and Stanley Cromer, Beverages de Luxe (Lexington, KY: Wine and Spirit Bulletin, 1914).]

American alcoholic originalism (again)

28 Jul

Your Britisher may scorn ice in his whisky-sodas, your Indian Colonial may insist on cellar-warm ale, your Frenchman may know all his wines by their maiden names—but remember that the American has invented, and always will invent, more of the world’s good mixed drinks than all the rest of humanity lumped together . . . Just read the pages of history. There they are: juleps, cocktails, cobblers, fizzes, daisys, sours, rickeys, coolers—these and more all originated in America, reached their highest technique here in America . . . Whether the rest of the world cares to admit it or not, we started these drinks in circulation, just as we started the telephone, submarine, phonograph, incandescent light, electric refrigerator, and decent bath tubs. Oddly enough, outside the continental boundaries of the States the best drink mixers are American-trained Chinos, Cubans, Filipinos, Japanese, Swiss, and officers in His Britannic Majesty’s army and navy!—not native English, French, or Italian citizens of their own soil.

— Charles H. Baker, Jr., The Gentleman’s Companion, vol. 2: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker, and Glass (New York: Crown, 1946 [1939]), pp. 5-6.

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