Soda jerks

19 Aug

During the dark days of Prohibition, there were two kinds of cocktails you could imbibe: either those mixed illicitly in speakeasies with gut-rotting bathtub gin or those that had gone straight and were now lacking one key ingredient:  alcohol.

Take a look at this dispiriting—indeed utterly spiritless—list of temperance drinks published in the indispensable Thrift Magazine (“the only magazine in the world devoted to thrift”) just before the Volstead Act was passed in October 1919. (Note something called a “rose cocktail”, which bears little resemblance to this.)

The Thrift Magazine, vol 3:9 (September 1919), p. 12.

Out of curiosity, and well before the cocktail hour, I decided to make the Milk Gordon Rouge. I mean, why not? It might make an effective bracer, I reasoned. Oy! Was I wrong: with its aggressive top, middle and base notes of egg-flavoured milk, it’ll be a while before I try it again.

And if, in the Boring Twenties, you wanted to go out on the town for a drink with friends and family? Even before Prohibition, the soda fountain, championed by the temperance movement, had emerged, and was aggressively marketed, as a respectable alternative to the saloon. In 1910 Americans spent $500 million—a sum more than twice the government’s annual budget for the army and navy—on carbonated beverages, which typically cost between five and ten cents. (Anne Cooper Funderburg, Sundae Best: A History of Soda Fountains [Bowling Green, OH: BGSU Popular Press, 2002], p. 101). With the beginning of the Dry Era the soda industry seized its chance to increase its profits. In 1922 The Soda Fountain, a trade magazine, wondered: “In the old days men used to congregate after work and sip cocktails before going home to dinner. This was known as the cocktail hour. […] With cocktails gone, will some of these men turn to sundaes?” (The Soda Fountain, vol. 21:3 [March 1922], p. 73.) The answer, I suppose, was a resounding yes: among legit businesses, only savings banks benefited more from Prohibition (Funderburg, p. 123). And for those lost souls who couldn’t shake the cocktail habit, but were just a little too square to skulk into a blind pig, help was at hand:

Old Names for New Drinks

Prohibition but little dampened the enthusiasm of New Year’s celebrators in New York. The soda dispensers came to the rescue by concocting non-alcoholic beverages tagged with such olden names as gin fizz, champagne cup, Bronx, and Manhattan cocktails, silver and golden fizzes, and some newer names having less suspicious implications.

These drinks supplied atmosphere, by virtue of their names and color, and the only thing missing was the kick.

The Soda Fountain, vol. 21:1 (January 1922), p. 87.

In fact, something called a “Manhattan Cocktail”, if not the other above-named concoctions, had been available in a popular soda form since the 1890s at least. (I’ve also found recipes for non-alcoholic silver and golden fizzes in the July 1904 issue of The Spatula.) If you have the necessary equipment to hand, you can prepare it following this formula:

Cracked ice  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . 3/4 tumblerful

Cognac syrup   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 ounce

Cherry malt phosphate syrup . . . . . 1/4 ounce

Extract of anise . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 dash

Curacoa cordial . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 dashes

Plain soda  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 ounces

— The Pharmaceutical Era, vol. 19 (21 April, 1898), p. 584.

Don’t forget the cherry malt phosphate syrup!

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