Archive | August, 2011

British barmaids and American bars

31 Aug

Under the head of European disillusionments I would rate, along with the vin ordinaire of the French vineyard and inkworks, the barmaid of Britain. From what you have heard on this subject you confidently expect the British barmaid to be buxom, blond, blooming, billowy, buoyant—but especially blond. On the contrary she is generally brunette, frequently middle-aged, in appearance often fair-to-middling- homely, and in manner nearly always abounding with a stiffness and hauteur that would do credit to a belted earl, if the belting had just taken place and the earl was still groggy from the effects of it. Also, she has the notion of personal adornment that is common in more than one social stratum in England. If she has a large, firm, solid mound of false hair overhanging her brow like an impending landslide, and at least three jingly bracelets on each wrist, she considers herself well dressed, no matter what else she may or may not be wearing.

Often this lady is found presiding over an American bar, which is an institution now commonly met with in all parts of London. The American bar of London differs from the ordinary English bar of London in two respects, namely—there is an American flag draped over the mirror, and it is a place where they sell all the English drinks and are just out of all the American ones. If you ask for a Bronx the barmaid tells you they do not carry seafood in stock and advises you to apply at the fishmongers’—second turning to the right, sir, and then over the way, sir—just before you come to the bottom of the road, sir. If you ask for a Mamie Taylor she gets it confused in her mind with a Sally Lunn and sends out for yeastcake and a cookbook; and while you are waiting she will give you a genuine Yankee drink, such as a brandy and soda—or she will suggest that you smoke something and take a look at the evening paper. […]

Likewise beware of the alleged American cocktail occasionally dispensed, with an air of pride and accomplished triumph, by the British barmaid of an American bar. If for purposes of experiment and research you feel that you must take one, order with it, instead of the customary olive or cherry, a nice boiled vegetable marrow. The advantage to be derived from this is that the vegetable marrow takes away the taste of anything else and does not have any taste of its own.

— Irvin S. Cobb, Europe Revised (New York: Doran, 1914), pp. 161-63.

Liquid breakfast of champions

31 Aug

A short extract from the Belfast-born actor Thomas Louden’s Broadway hit The Champion, which was made into a silent film (The World’s Champion) starring Wallace Reid in 1922:

WILLIAM. And now, gentlemen—I want to introduce you to an American cocktail.

BARON. I’ve had the pleasure before.

WILLIAM. Hope you don’t dislike them.

BARON. Best thing about the States.

WILLIAM. Perhaps not quite that but as an American invention it ranks with the telephone and the sewing machine.

MOONEY. (Crosses to c. Taking one cocktail shaker from WILLIAM) Allow me, Mr Burroughs—this is more in my line. I’m going to introduce these to the Blue Cow. (MOONEY and WILLIAM fill all the cocktail glasses around the table.)

(MARQUIS starts to sing “A Wee Doch and Doris”—the rest all join in and sing two verses. When it is finished EARL rises.)

EARL. And now, gentlemen, to England! (Everybody rises and drinks cocktail.)

ALL. To England!

MARQUIS. (Smacking his lips) It has a message. (Everybody sits except EARL and WILLIAM.)

EARL. I say, how do you make them?

WILLIAM. One-third pep—two-thirds pluck—and a dash of generosity.

EARL. Do you mean to tell me that the American people have legislated these things out of existence?

WILLIAM. They have.

EARL. My God! They don’t deserve their freedom.

— Thomas Louden, The Champion (New York: French, 1922), p. 78.

Origins of the mint julep

30 Aug

No one knows for sure how the ancient mint julep came into being. I strongly suspect that, even if the personal diary of its inventor miraculously turned up, having been stored for years next to the Ark of the Covenant in a faceless US government warehouse, the tale it told would not be especially interesting: one day some guy hit on the idea of adding mint to liquor. Here, then, are three more fanciful origin stories for the mint julep.


[1] The Mint-Julep

‘Tis said that the gods, on Olympus of old,
(And who, the bright legend profanes with a doubt,)
One night, ’mid their revels, by Bacchus were told
That his last butt of nectar had somehow run out!

But determined to send round the goblet once more,
They sued to the fairer immortals for aid
In composing a draught, which, till drinking were o’er,
Should cast every wine ever drank in the shade.

Grave Ceres herself blithely yielded her corn,
And the spirit that lives in each amber-hued grain,
And which first had its birth from the dew of the morn,
Was taught to steal out in bright dew drops again.

Pomona, whose choicest of fruits on the board
Were scatter’d profusely in every one’s reach,
When call’d on a tribute to cull from the hoard,
Express’d the mild juice of the delicate peach.

The liquids were mingled while Venus look’d on
With glances so fraught with sweet-magical power,
That the honey of Hybla, e’en when they were gone,
Has never been miss’d in the draught from that hour.

Flora, then, from her bosom of fragrance shook,
And with roseate fingers pressed down in the bowl,
As dripping and fresh as it came from the brook,
The herb whose aroma should flavor the whole.

The draught was delicious, each god did exclaim,
Though something seem’d wanting for all to bewail,
But juleps the drink of immortals became,
When Jove himself added a handful of hail.

— Charles Fenno Hoffman, Love’s Calendar: Lays of the Hudson and other Poems (New York: Appleton, 1848), pp. 137-8.


The following anecdote was passed around a number of newspapers in the autumn of 1890.

[2] Birth of the Mint Julep

[…] Some years ago when passing a farm in the State of Kentucky a traveler stopped at the farmer’s house on the roadside, and, getting off his horse, asked the smiling old lord of the big estate if he could have a glass of water.

“Why, yes,” was the reply, “and maybe you would not object to a little of the good old stuff in it.”

“Not a bit, my friend,” answered the traveller, and the old man went to supply the wants of the weary rider. While on his mission of charity the traveler’s nasal organ came in contact with the sweet odor that emanated from a large bed of mint in an adjoining kitchen garden, and on being given a glass of clear spring water with a bumper of “genuine old grog” thrown in, asked his benefactor if he would not kindly give him a bunch of the mint. He got it, and dipped it into his glass several times until nicely flavored and then drank.

The old gentleman was surprised and asked what in the name of Heaven he had done that for, to which the thankful traveler replied by asking if he would permit him to mix one for him. The farmer consented, and after drinking smacked his lips and said, “Grand.” The traveler continued his way after thanking his host for the hospitality shown him, having mixed the first mint julep heard of.

Four years later he passed the same way again and stopped at the same old farmer’s house for a glass of water. Instead of his old friend he was met at the door by an old lady wearing a nicely bordered cap. “May I have a glass of water, ma’am?” asked the traveler. “Certainly,” was the kind reply. “But where is your husband?” asked the stranger as he drank a glass of plain water. “Well, you see, sir, about four years ago a stranger passed this way and taught my poor husband how to drink his whisky with grass in it. He never drank his whisky after that without grass in it, and when the grass gave out he died.”

Chicago Tribune, 29 August, 1890, p. 7.


Our final, rather rambling account, which first appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal, does two things: it tells a shaggy dog story about the birth of the julep and allows spokesmen for the rival Virginian and Kentuckian styles to have their say.

[3] The Seductive Mint Julep

Do you crush the mint, or don’t you?

So far as can be discovered this is the rock from which the concocters of the seductive julep stagger apart. Ask an old Virginian and watch him bristle.

“D——n it, man, don’t talk folly. Of course you don’t. The mint is meant to smell. Do you think I eat grass like a horse?”

Then propound your question to a member of the advanced school. He will smile blandly upon you and smack his lips.

“Of course, those old fellows are all right, but we move quickly now. They are to be honored for the discovery, but we have improved upon it. You crush it to get the taste, then put some choice sprigs in the top.”

These are the two beliefs, and since that first time in the long ago when a schoolboy discovered the properties of the now famous mint, this controversy has been waged.

Many are the stories of the discovery, but the only authentic one is vouched for by half a dozen old Southerners who know whereof they speak.

Near an old school house in Virginia was a famous spring. No one knew just why the water was cooler, more pleasant and altogether more satisfying than the water of other springs about. The fact, though, was generally admitted.

The name of the school was “hare and hound”. When the youngsters would come in hot and tired they always rushed for the cool spring. The last ones there, of course, had to wait until the others were through drinking. There was one youngster, not so fast as the rest, but with a better head.  He always went leisurely to another spring, not so good, but where he could drink undisturbed.

Finally the teacher noticed the lad’s action and asked:

“Tom, why is it you go to that spring right out in the open where the water is hot, instead of to the cool one under the willows?”

“It all tastes the same to me,” answered the boy.

“That is impossible,” said the teacher.

The lad flushed up. “Well, I reckon I drink it,” he said. “I oughter know. I jest get some grass from around that spring under the trees and eat it and then the water out in the sun tastes just as cool as that in the shade. If you don’t believe it, just you try.”

His teacher did try and found what the lad said was true. And that was the discovery of the mint, for such was the “grass” about the shaded spring. The teacher figured that by putting some of the cool weed in his whisky and water the decoction would be cool. The smell of the plant was also pleasant to his nostrils.

That teacher is said to have been Col. Abe Carter, one of the famous Virginia Carters, and to him properly belongs the honor of having discovered, by accident, the mint julep. The name of the boy to whom the credit really belongs has been lost in oblivion.

A reporter athirst for information started to make the rounds in an endeavor to discover for himself just what constitutes the perfect julep. First he sought the old Virginia colonel. With that courtliness which cannot now be duplicated, the old cavalier welcomed his guest. “Come right in, my son. A julep, you say? Of course.” Raising his voice, he called: “Caesar”. The old body servant appeared. “Caesar, some mint and cracked ice.”

“Now, now, my boy, don’t say you wanted to know how. That is impossible. Watch, drink and be wise.”

“Watch,” said the Colonel.

Into the glass he poured a measure of water, just an ounce, no more, no less. Then he refilled the measure with whisky, guaranteed to be 20 years old.

“Just smell that, my boy,” he said, lovingly. “Not a headache in the barrel.”

He poured the ounce of whisky upon the ounce of water, and they mingled. From the mint on the water there floated that indescribable odor that the old Colonel believes slipped out one day through the narrow gate of Paradise when St Peter had his backed turned. Now the old cavalier measured out just a dram of pure syrup and poured it into the whisky and water. Next he dropped in the cracked ice, and then he put in the mint so that not a leaf was bruised. Swiftly he held it toward his guest.

“Quick, quick, my boy: drink it before the ice melting spoils the proportions of the mixture.”

The reporter buried his nose in that bunch of mint—and it was very, very good. When the glass came down there was one young man who felt that life was not all in vain.

“That’s the secret,” said the Colonel. “It must be drank, not sipped. Five minutes, even three minutes, ruins it. Fresh mint, old whisky, pure syrup and pure water, then drink it right away.”

“I remember,” he went on, “when the G.A.R. [Grand Army of the Republic] was here, an old friend brought half a dozen of them up to see me. You know, I was never a very ardent G.A.R. man, so I did not know what to do with them. I proposed a mint julep. They had never heard of one. I did not know how they would like it, but I trusted to the mint. They drank around, and then one fellow asked, hesitatingly, if it would be within the laws of courtesy, he would like to try another. You should have seen their faces when I said yes.”

The Colonel paused.

“How did it end?” asked the reporter.

“Well, said the colonel, “when they went away some of them wanted to run me for President, and their old Colonel took me aside to tell me in confidence that if the Confederates had brought mint juleps against them instead of guns the whole ‘d——d Union army would have surrendered on the spot for a taste.’

“It’s a natural taste, one a fellow can’t get away from. I wish, though, some fellow would invent a double cup, the outside one to hold the ice. Then a gentleman could sip his julep.

“Some people, you know, won’t give a beginner more than one julep. That’s wrong, for it’s a natural taste, and the more you give them the better they like it. But, my boy, remember the mint must be fresh.”

The seeker for julep knowledge next hunted up a disciple of the more modern school. This gentleman, an ex-Rough Rider, was found in his flat with a frosted silver mug beside him. He said not a word in greeting, but arose, beaming silently, and got another mug.

The reporter took observations.

“I’m of the new school,” said the ex-Rough Rider, so “watch me. A Kentucky girl visiting her brother, an army officer in Arizona, taught me, and her way beats those old Virginians all to pieces. They never taste the mint. I do.”

While he was talking he had slipped to the ice box and brought out a handful of mint.

“Half an hour from the bed,” he said. Then quickly he crushed several stalks and put them in the bottom of the mug. He put in about an ounce of water, one teaspoonful of powdered sugar, ice to fill the mug nearly to the top, then about three fingers of whisky, so mellow, rich and oily that one hated to see it hidden in the silver mug. A crowning glory of mint was added to the top, and by that time frost had completely whitened the silver mug.

“Rye straw?” asked the reporter?

“Straw be d——d,” replied his host. “Drink.”  The guest took the mug and the Elysian Field drifted down to less than half a square away.

“Did you taste the delicate flavor of the mint? Don’t that beat any Virginia style drink you ever tasted?” demanded the host, as his guest, with a deep sigh, relinquished the cup.

“I’m undecided. I—I can’t tell exactly,” stammered the reporter.

The other laughed cheerfully. “All right, we’ll convince you,” he said, and straightaway began another julep.

This time Venus walked right down off her throne out into the midst of the Elysian Fields and she and the scribe sat down to drink nectar together. As he came back to earth he could hear his host murmuring in the far distance: “The mint must be fresh.” And really that seems to be the secret of it all.

Baltimore Sun, 4 January 1902, p. 9.

22. Mint julep

29 Aug

Jupiter, you know, broke the jug that contained the nectar of the gods when some fellow had given him a sip of a julep.

— Opie Read, A Kentucky Colonel (Chicago: Laird & Lee, 1890), p. 20.

“What are you Rebels fighting for, anyway?” . . . “We are fighting to protect our mint-beds.”

— Alexander Hunter, Johnny Reb and Billy Yank (New York: Neale, 1905), p. 194.

Mint julep! Mint Julep! thou  maketh me glad, / To find I can’t get thee it driveth me mad. / Mint Julep! Mint Julep! thou joy of my land, / Thy flavor is pungent, delicious and grand!

— H. Antoine D’Arcy, “Mint Julep”, The Face Upon the Floor, and other ballads (New York: The Author, Green Room Club, 1918), pp. 56-7 (p. 56).

The mint julep, once invariably apostrophized as the “nectar of the gods”, is one of the most venerable and iconic of all American mixed drinks. This summer cooler,  “with the thermometer at 100°, one of the most delightful and insinuating potations that ever was invented”, as the British traveller Frederick Marryat excitedly wrote in 1839, has been around since at least the eighteenth century and maybe even longer [Frederick Maryat, A Diary in America, with remarks on its institutions. Part second (London: Longman, 1839), vol. 1, pp. 117-18]. Its origins are, in the words of the poet Clichy, lost in the mists of time; but over a hundred years ago the Baltimore Sun did some digging and turned up the memoirs of one John Lane (Salem, 1649), where reference is made to a drink compounded of “mint herb and heating spirits, which is grateful to the palate when cooled in a stone jug at the spring”. The same report also pointed to a local item in the Boston Gazette of 17 August, 1697, in which a “drowneded [sic] man was known to have drunk several goblets of a mixture composed of Hollands flavored with mint before he fell off the wharf” and ought thereby to serve as “an example to those who have lately formed the habit of imbibing with too much frequency what the publikans [sic] and tavernkeepers call mint dewlip” [Baltimore Sun, 11 September, 1899, p. 9].

Although the mint julep was known throughout the south, and even, as we’ve just seen, in New England, it appears to have been born in Virginia. At any rate, it was closely identified with the Old Dominion. Another early British tourist to the recently lost American colonies, John Davis, observed with interest the local alcoholic habits and explained that a julep was “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning” [John Davis, Travels of Four and a Half Years in the United States of America, London: Edwards, 1803), p. 379]. In his travelogue the New York poet Charles Fenno Hoffman has a bartender say that “we Virginians think there is nothing between a long ride and a late breakfast like a julep” [A Winter in the West, vol. 2 (New York: Harper, 1835), p. 262]. And Marryat, again, passed on this worldly wisdom: “They say that you may always know the grave of a Virginian; as from the quantity of juleps he has drunk, mint invariably springs up where he has been buried” [Marryat, p. 126].

The nineteenth-century (Virginian) mint julep was a very different drink than the version known today: it was made with rum and/or brandy or rye whiskey. Marryat, for example, reports that the “real” mint julep was composed of equal parts “peach and common brandy”.  Then there’s this jokey little news item, which ran in the Baltimore Sun in 1838: “Important to lovers of mint juleps. The Delaware State Journal says that the Brandywine was frozen over on Monday night” [2 February, 1838, p. 1]. Sixty years later, however, we’re treated to a detailed prescription for the Virginian thirst-quencher in the promisingly titled novel Juleps and Clover (1898).  As the story opens, Howard Lee finds himself just inside North Carolina and resolves to cross a wild river because just beyond it “lives a Virginia lady who can make the finest julep in the South” [M. Vaughan Wilde, Juleps and Clover (New York: Fenno, 1898), p. 5]. And how does a Southern lady make a julep? We find out soon enough: “First off, you know, she takes a long thing glass, in her pretty hands, and while she’s looking around for the sugar bowl, she bruises a sprig of mint in the glass carefully throwing out the crushed leaves afterward. Then with her great-grandmother’s silver spoon, she stirs half a tablespoonful of fine sugar, with just enough water to melt it. Two sprigs of mint next go against either side of the glass, stems down, and to hold them in place, she fills the glass two-thirds of crushed ice. After that, comes half a jigger  of your best brandy. Next, the same quantity of fine old Jamaica or St. Croix rum. Now drop into this nectar of the gods, a strawberry or two—wild ones if possible, their odor is finer than the tame—a bit of pineapple, half a slice of orange with the peel left on; then take two long white oat straws, and while you consume it slowly, return thanks to the Giver of all Good” [pp. 42-3].

How about one more example? This one involves rye:

The Mint Julep of Old Virginia

“Virginia may be dry in spots, but this is not one of them,” said the old-fashioned Virginia host, sniffing the mint he had just brought in from his garden.

“Sit there and I’ll show you how to make a genuine old time Virginia mint julep, like father used to make.

“First, you see, I pound my ice. I always steal one of my wife’s best dinner napkins to pound it in. It gives it a flavor that beats this shaving concern they use for ice nowadays.

“Well, sir, having pounded your ice, fill a tall thin glass full of it and put it into the refrigerator. What for? I’ll show you later. Now, in another glass I mix my whiskey—smell the bouquet of that, sir. Fine, isn’t it? My mint which I crush—yes, sir, crush is the word I used—and a little sugar. Water? What do you want with water in a mint julep? This is the old-fashioned way I’m showing you.

“Now, then, I pour the mixture into the tall glass; it melts the ice a little, you see; that’s all the water you need. Then I fill it up with more ice, dash it with the best old French brandy, trim it with a little sheaf of mint on the side—like the what-you-call-‘ems on the new hats, insert one strawberry or a cherry to give it color—and, taste that, sir. Isn’t that the nectar of the gods? A straw? Upon my word! Do you think you are at a soda fountain? What do you want with a straw when you can bury your nose in mint like that? Fragrance and flavor, that’s what.

“How do I get the frost on the glass? Well, partly by chilling it in the ice box and partly by pouring into the chilled glass the warm mixture. I thought you would say it was the best you ever had. Try another, for old time’s sake.”

New York Times, 20 June, 1909.

That report strikes a slightly nostalgic note; the mixer, is, after all, explicitly described as “old-fashioned”. Indeed, by the turn of the twentieth century, according to the Richmond Dispatch, the mint julep was beginning to fall out of favour in Virginia. As the “flower and expression of a way of life that has passed”, it went the same way as the Virginian gentleman with his garden and patch of mint [“Mint Juleps”, Casual Essays in The Sun (New York: Cooke, 1905), pp. 360-3 (p. 360)]. In the meantime, another mint julep from another state had, as it were, taken the laurels. Today, of course, the mint julep is most readily associated not with Virginia but with Kentucky and Kentucky bourbon (although the whiskey made in Bourbon County wasn’t officially known as such until 1840). Despite the antiquity of the mint julep, and the long, older Virginian tradition, the Kentucky claim, persistently pursued, won through and eventually displaced the older julep from the booze-addled American cultural memory.  “There is but one bonafide mint julep,” wrote Lawrence S. Thompson in the 1950s, “and it is as indigenous to the Bluegrass as gin and bitters is to the diet of a London charwoman” [Kentucky Tradition (Hamden, CT: Shoe String Press, 1956), p. 31]. Gerald Carson, the historian of bourbon, agreed. “Of all the compatibles man has discovered in the world of food and drink,” he pronounced, “none excels the harmony with which mint blends into a silver goblet filled with ice, a dusting of sugar and several ounces of mellow bourbon” [The Social History of Bourbon (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2010 [1963]), p.  214].

If the true home of the mint julep was (at one time) a matter for keen debate, the question of how “correctly” to prepare the drink was, and still is, even more controversial. These arguments prefigured all the tedious debates about the perfect martini. Strange that both tipples, for all that they are emblematic of America, or of different sides of America (one northern and metropolitan, the other southern and rural), are so variable from person to person . The editor of the Medical Mirror, who rejoiced in the improbable name of I. N. Love, used a column in his weekly to expound upon the virtues of our refresher in the purple prose that the julep seems to inspire like no other drink. He fantasized about a “mint julep made, not by a gin-slinging, cocktail-brewing, high-ball-rolling, beer-jerking, time-serving hireling, but by an artist to the manner born, capable of putting soul and feeling into the work, who knows by inheritance, or intuition, ‘how to do it’ and is not dependent upon any common vulgar printed recipe, many of which are of such a character as to make angels weep, particularly those born south of Mason and Dixon’s line.” The trouble was, not enough people possessed the necessary savoir faire. Love gleefully quotes a letter written by Dorothy Dix to the editor of the New York Journal in response to some feature on the julep:

DEAR SIR: In common with many others of the Southern colony I read with surprise and horror the recipe given by you in your paper last Sunday, for making a genuine Southern mint julep—that nectar of the gods, sir, that paints fresh bloom on the roses of Paradise, turns old maids into blushing maidens and makes millionaires of us all.

Many a time and oft, sir, has the fair name of the South been aspersed, but never before have such ruthless hands been laid upon one of her sacred traditions as in the brew described by your correspondent. It is a slander upon the artistic taste of the South that every true Southerner will resent. A man might, indeed, offer a gentleman such a drink and escape with his life (for, alas, times are not what they once were), but with his reputation—never!

I beg to call your attention to the formula for the hybrid compound to which your correspondent has sacreligiously [sic] attached the name of “mint julep”.

“Take two sprigs of mint.” Two sprigs of mint! There are things in life which must be done without counting the cost, or else left undone, and making a mint julep is one of them. Any one who would apportion two sprigs of mint to a julep would halve a kiss or take the temperature of love, or carry an accident policy on bliss.

“Bruise the mint.” Heresy, sir! Rank heresy! Mint juleps are not for the utilitarian who must get the most out of things. As well murder a butterfly for its brains or rob a lily of the gold in its heart as to bruise mint for its flavor. A julep is no vulgar decoction of an aromatic plant steeped in whiskey, like an old woman’s herb tea. Its charms is its elusiveness—its suggestion of the poetry of Springtime or silver brooks rippling between green banks of mint, or of shady corners in old fashioned gardens where the mint bed offered up perennial incense to the Giver of All Good.

“Then take a jigger of rum and one of brandy.” Shades of the old Virginia gentleman, the Kentuckey colonel, the Tennessee judge and the Mississippi planter preserve us! Rum and brandy—the liquor of the swashbuckler, the sailor, the brawler, the rowdy—in a mint julep! As well try to mate poetry and prose, fire and water, May and December. No, sir! The only liquor of which a genuine mint julep can be made is old Bourbon. Anything else is not a julep. It is an anachronism.

Finally, sir—and this is the crowning offence—your correspondent puts orange peel, strawberries and pineapple in a mint julep, thus degrading it to the level of a fruit salad. The lack of imagination displayed in this is truly pitiable. The perfect julep is perfect in itself, and to weigh it down with the coarse, vulgar, tropical flavor of the pineapple and the pungent oil of the orange peel or the tart impertinence of the strawberry, is to exchange the delicacy of a watercolor painted by an artist for the brazen coarseness of a chromo made by machinery in Germany.

Sir, there is but one way to make julep. Take a long crystal glass, or, better still, a silver loving cup on which the dew will rise as pure as the tears of childhood and as untouched by sorrow. Line it with mint taken with a generous hand, but a hand nicely discriminating, for one sprig too little is not enough, and one too many is too much. Fill the cup almost full of crushed ice on which is a generous spoon of sugar. Add ten drops of water, no more, no less. Then pour over it old Bourbon that holds in its amber the memory of moonlight nights and the woman you toast, the poetry and the romance of waving fields of grain, and singing birds, and all that made the delight of living when the heart was young.

Measure the whiskey in order that you may not get too little, for a julep should be as soft and caressing as love, and as strong as death. Watch the liquid as it trickles slowly over the ice, turning its crystal into gold; then, through a long oat straw, slowly, as befits a libation, quaff, and give thanks to heaven that you are still alive, and that the art of making mint juleps—in spite of false prophets who would lead the ignorant astray—is not a lost art down in Dixie.

— I.N. Love, “Flotsam and Jetsam—By the Editor”, Medical Mirror, vol. 13:9 (September 1902), pp. 484-86 (pp. 485-86).

Clearly, the sort of people who are exercised by such alleged acts of vulgarity are precisely the sort of people who feel compelled to write to newspapers.  Overcome by rising tides of indignation whilst reading a feature in the New York Times, a reader signing himself “Viniaus” squeezed a pen into his clenched fist and wrote: “Isn’t there a mistake in your editorial article concerning the julep? I was always taught it should contain only whisky—good Bourbon—as the liquid addition, and that it should be slowly poured in over the mint and ice and without bruising or crushing the mint with a spoon, or in any other way. But brandy—never” [New York Times, 18 July  1911]. A week later he found a comrade-in-arms, a fellow reader called “Middle Tennessee”:

Viniaus is right about the mint julep. in the first place, none but a barbarian or a New York bartender, which is almost the same thing, would bruise mint with a spoon, ice, lump sugar masher, or anything else in making a julep. A lump of sugar, a spoonful or water to soften it, some ice, then the mint, and atop of that the whisky slowly poured—trickled, almost. But corn, straight corn liquor rather than Bourbon, which is usually about 80 percent corn mash. Brandy? Well, he who would brandy a mint julep is the sort who would bruise the mint. [ New York Times, 24 July, 1911]

So we should tread carefully here, I suppose. Anyway, it’s about time I got round to telling you how I made my julep. I muddled around ten mint leaves in 1/2 oz of freshly made simple syrup, pressing them against the sides of the glass. Next, I packed the glass with crushed ice until it was 2/3 full, poured in 3 oz. of bourbon, followed by another 1/2 oz of simple syrup, stirred, topped off the glass with more ice, and, finally, garnished with a sprig of mint.

Postscript. After skirting the various contentious issues surrounding the mint julep, and setting out the recipe for the house julep, Lucius Beebe, in his Stork Club Bar Book, discloses his own lethal preference: “four ounces of Jack Daniel’s proof bourbon with a float of two ounces of Hines’ Triumph Cognac on top. Officer, please back the patrol wagon nearer the curb; the step is too high for my mother” (Stork Club Bar Book [New York: Little & Ives, 1946], p. 106).

Cottoning on to the right kind of gin

27 Aug

Northern readers of a new publication, Forward Atlanta, were shocked to read the following business item:

“The Murray Gin Co., who have operated a large factory in Atlanta for a number of years, but have sold their output from headquarters in the past, have now made Atlanta distribution city for the Southeast. . . .”

Southern friends had to explain that there are, in the South, two kinds of gin:

a) A colorless alcoholic liquor (40% to 60%) used for cocktails, Tom Collinses, silver fizzes, etc., illegal now and said to have contributed to the downfall of many an honest man.

b) A machine for picking the seeds out of cotton, first invented by Eli Whitney at Savannah, Ga., in 1793, said to have been the largest single factor in the South’s success.

— “Georgia Gin”, Time, 1 October, 1928.

Hair of the frog

26 Aug

Josephine Clofullia (1827-1875)


Cigarets and Cocktails Blamed

PARIS, Aug. 21.—Beards and mustaches are increasing alarmingly among women annually, the doctors blaming cigaret smoking and alcohol drinking principally for this phenomenon.

Statistics at the hospitals show 11 per cent of the women inmates have an abnormal growth of hair on the upper lips and chins and 27 per cent of the women inmates in the insane asylums are bearded or have mustaches.

Paris society, which has taken up intensive cigaret smoking since the armistice, when Turkish scented tobacco became available once more, and has contracted the American cocktail habit from the A.E.F. [American Expeditionary Forces], is aghast at the statements of leading Paris savants that tobacco and alcohol are conducive to unsightly hair.

Leading doctors assert a big percentage of their clientele continually are under treatment, the hair roots being electrically burned out or otherwise eradicated.

Recently it was announced a new treatment, applying an ointment to the  skin which ate away the hair, had proven extremely dangerous to the skin, ruining the complexions of hundreds of women who used it a while. These now are having their outer epidermis removed, hoping to regain a fresh clear skin.

“One of the principal reasons why the new fad of yellow ocher face powder was adopted so quickly is because so many women are afflicted with little mustaches,” said Felix, leading Rue de la Paix beauty specialist.

— Henry Wales in the Chicago Tribune, 22 August, 1921, p. 1.

21. Horse’s neck

26 Aug

Going up to a man at the iced drinks counter, I ventured to ask: “Do you think I could possibly get a hansom cab?” He looked at me, and, seizing a tumbler in his hand: “No, ma’am,” he said, “but I can mix you a horse’s neck.” He thought I was mad, and I thought he was rude; but after all it was nothing, for one of the soft drinks in America is called a “horse’s neck”, and, as I subsequently found, is extremely good. It is composed of ginger-ale with the entire rind of a lemon, and well iced;  and as the man thought my “hansom cab” was drink, he imagined a “horse’s neck” would do quite as well.

— Mrs. Alec Tweedie, America as I Saw It, or America Revisited (London: Hutchinson, 1913), pp. 317-18.

In olden times, Christmas was celebrated by the wassail bout, which was a variety of the three-pints-for-five schooner. Nowadays the holiday is observed by the consumption of the horse’s neck and the martini . . .

— Stuart B. Stone, The Nonsensical USA (New York: Caldwell, 1912), p. 148.

No, it’s supposed to be a big winding curl. Give me a knife . . . I’ll show you how to do it. It’s got to look like a horse’s neck.

— Harry Kurnitz, Reclining Figure (New York: Random House, 1955), p. 19.

A “horse’s neck” was originally a soft drink; or, in Tim Daly’s words, “a temperance drink which is refreshing and has an appetizing and inviting appearance (Daly’s Bartender’s Encylopedia [Worcester, MA: Daly, 1903], p. 46).  In its most basic form (for example, in Daly’s recipe) it was simply a glass of iced ginger-ale decorated with a lemon peel that evoked a stylized collo equi. Other authorities might call for a dash or two of Angostura bitters or the juice of a half a grapefruit to jazz things up, but it remained a beverage that even a Carrie Nation would be content to swig. At some point, however, whiskey began to be added to the mix, refreshingly reversing the usual process whereby cocktails were travestied and reinvented as boozeless soda syrups. The entry for “horse’s neck” in the Standard Encylopedia of the Alcohol Problem reads: “A slang term used in America for a drink compounded of ginger-ale and lemon-peel with or without whisky, the peel being usually served hanging over the side of the glass” (Ernest Hurst Cherrington (ed.), Standard Encylopedia of the Alcohol Problem, 6 vols [Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing Co., 1925-1930], vol. 3 (1926), p. 1250).

One of the earliest recipes (that I am aware of) for a whiskey and ginger ale cooler was published by Thomas Stuart in 1904.¹ Immediately after listing the ingredients for the well-known and alcohol-free “horse’s neck”, he describes something called a “horse’s collar”, which is the “same as Horse’s Neck, using a drink of rye whiskey” (Stuart’s Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them [New York: Excelsior, 1904], p. 134). Confusingly, the Baltimore Sun, which claimed the horse’s neck was an “Atlantic City commodity”, invented by a bartender just as he was about to be fired, but who was then redeemed when his invention proved popular, also insisted that it was made of whisky and ginger ale and that a horse’s collar “is similar, only brandy is used instead of whisky” (“Mysteries of Mixed Drinks”, Baltimore Sun, 14 August 1900, p. 10). There were still other combinations of spirits and ginger ale trading under the name. For example, Tom Bullock  has a drink called “Polo Player’s Delight—Horse’s Neck”, made very specifically of 1 jigger each of Sir Robert Burnette’s Old Tom Gin and Cantrell & Cochran’s Ginger Ale (The Ideal Bartender [St Louis: Buxton & Skinner, 1917], p. 45). And James C. Maloney advises flavoring the ginger ale with “any kind of rum the customer desires” (The 20th Century Guide for Mixing Fancy Drinks [Chicago: no publisher, 1900], p. 31).

I followed roughly the measurements laid down in the post-Prohibition booklet Merry Mixer: 1/3 Golden Wedding whiskey and 2/3 ginger ale and a slice of lemon, which constituents one must then “joggle a bit” (William Guyer, The Merry Mixer [New York: Finch, 1933], p. 43).

The key to a good horse’s neck is the ginger ale: none of that miserable Canada Dry dreck, if you please. I unreservedly recommend Atlanta’s dark and peppery Red Rock.

2 oz. Bulleit bourbon whiskey

5 oz. Red Rock ginger ale

Garnish with a long strip of lemon peel curled around a bar spoon

Plenty of ice

Serve in a tall glass.

A related drink was the Mamie Taylor.  To Scotch whiskey and ginger ale was added the juice of half a lime. Tim Daly describes the drink as “a pleasing form for persons to partake of whiskey without feeling the harsh effect that plain whiskey would have, and imparts the same stimulating effect” (Bartender’s Encyclopedia [Worcester, MA: Daly, 1903], p. 113).

JIM. Come up to my room and have a Mamie Taylor.

MAN. I thought this was a temperance hotel.

JIM. (Laughs.) It is. They serve their Mamie Taylors in teacups.

— Walter Ben Hare, And Home Came Ted: A Comedy of Mystery in Three Acts (Chicago: Denison, 1917), p. 28.

A horse’s neck with brandy, all the rage in 1904, “was introduced at the Hoffman House a few nights ago by a politician well known on the race tracks”. He called it the “Flora Zabelle“, after the “black-eyed little actress in The Yankee Consul“, a Broadway musical comedy later made into a film. (“Spring Fashions in Drinks”, New York Times, 8 May 1904).


¹ Although a year earlier we find this brief news item in The Wine and Spirit Bulletin:

The “ginger ale jounce” is the name of a new drink, said to have been invented by Senator Hale of Maine. It is composed of Scotch whisky, ginger ale and lemons. Maine is a prohibition state, and it is surprising to learn that its officials invent drinks. But then it is believed by many than prohibition does not prohibit.  The drink may not be a new one, either. Something very much like it is called “horse’s neck” in this part of the world. “Ginger ale jounce” may make it go easier in Maine. Perhaps Senator Hale only invented the name.

— Wine and Spirit Bulletin, vol. 17: 8 (1 August, 1903), p. 21.

%d bloggers like this: