53. League of Nations cocktail (and Peace cocktail)

8 Mar

Following the squabble over the ratification of the Versailles treaty in the Senate, some Briton remarked that, “the Americans are a strange people. They invented the Treaty of Versailles and refused to sign it. They invented the League of Nations and refused to join it. They invented the cocktail and refused to drink it.” It now appears the Europe is hopeful that, having decided to drink cocktails again (lawfully) this country may recant on its refusal to recognize some of its other children.

— “Cocktails and International Cooperation”, St Petersburg Times, 12 December 1934, p. 4.

Cyril Ray, wine writer for The Observer newspaper in the 1960s, once noted how “all those mixed-up drinks for the mixed-up drinkers of the 1920s . . . ‘Monkey Gland‘ and ‘Mah Jongg‘ among them: ‘Between the Sheets‘ and ‘Bosom Caresser’; ‘Wembley’ and ‘White Cargo’ and even, heaven preserve us, the ‘League of Nations'” have gone the way of those named after the stars of the silent films of the time: Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Will Rogers and the Gish Sisters”. His point, of course, is that cocktail fashions, like the popular culture of which they are part, are ephemeral, changeable and quickly forgotten  (In a Glass Lightly [London: Methuen, 1967],  p. 23). Quite right.  But why precisely should the League of Nations cocktail elicit a request for divine assistance and not, say, the White Cargo (half vanilla ice cream and half gin), a mess described by Anderson Fredericks as “pretty silly but there are those who like it (100 Cocktails [Girard, KS: Haldeman-Julius, n.d.], p. 20)? What was so objectionable about a drink apparently honoring the other Noble Experiment of the 1920s, one that was just as likely to fail as Prohibition, an organisation founded in the aftermath of the Great War “to promote international co-operation and to secure international peace and security” (Preamble to the Constitution of the League of Nations)? (To secure security? Such clumsiness did not augur well.)

Let’s find out. One version of this cocktail is first mentioned in the gossip pages of the New Yorker:

MIXTURES REPORTED: The League of Nations cocktail—four parts gin, one part Italian Vermouth, one part French Vermouth and a dash of Dutch Curaçao.  Add the white of one egg and shake vigorously.
— “The Talk of the Town”, The New Yorker (24 September 1927), pp. 15-19 (p. 19).
Although the guiding principle of the drink is clearly in evidence here—a deliberately cosmopolitan blend of liquors, English, Italian, French, Dutch—this is not a particulary innovative (or offensive) concoction. Plenty of cocktails such as the Bronx, the RAC, or the Perfect combined gin with sweet and dry vermouths. But here’s another recipe, this one by famed Swiss gastronome Harry Schraemli:
1 dash Rigi cherry brandy, 1 dash grenadine, 1 dash Curaçao, 1/6 vodka, 1/6 gin, 1/6 Canadian Club whiskey, 1/6 Italian Vermouth, 1/6 Chartreuse de Tarragone. Serve in a Rhine wine glass.
— Universal Getränkebuch (Lucerne: Fachbuchverlag der Union Helvetia, 1935), p. 185.
I imagine this, or something very like it, was what caused Ray such discomfort: it does look as if Schraemli just threw together whatever he could lay his hands on. It’s gimmicky, sure, and unbalanced,  but to my surprise not completely awful, even if, as always happens when you mix too many colours, you end up with an unappetizing brown. But it has a hell of lot more teeth than the League itself did. (But since Germany had left the League of Nations in 1933, it ought really to be served in a different glass.)
The idea of marrying liquors native to, or associated with, different countries for symbolic effect crops up again and again in the history of cocktails (see also the Roosevelt). The World Disarmament Conference, an early attempt at multilateral arms limitation that took place under the aegis of the League of Nations and whose president, Arthur Henderson, would later win the Nobel Peace Prize, was launched in 1932 with a special toast:

In honor of the president of the Disarmament Conferences, Arthur Henderson, the British ex-Foreign Secretary, a new cocktail has been invented and revealed to the world with mock solemnity in Geneva.

The ingredients are vodka, sherry, gin and French vermouth in equal parts, with a dash of Angostura bitters.

— “New ‘Peace Cocktail’ Devised in Geneva”, Baltimore Sun, 27 March 1932, p. 13.

The failure of those talks, due entirely to the harsh realities of international politics (and specifically the remilitarization of Germany) rather than excessive devotion to an unworkable union of alcoholic ingredients, led, of course, to a second global conflict. And after the armistice that eventually followed, to another libation poured in celebration of Irene. At a state luncheon hosted by French President Félix Gouin in 1946 British foreign secretary Ernest Bevin “tried to link the nations with a ‘peace cocktail’: one-half English gin, one-quarter Russian vodka and one-quarter French vermouth”
(“The Path of Peace”, Time, 6 May 1946). Note the ratio: Britain was milking every last moment in the limelight, before it was demoted to a supporting role on the world stage.
And 15 years later, when the Cold War was really hotting up, so to speak, yet more similarly themed beverages are listed in The Diner’s Club Drink Book. The “Allies cocktail” is a kind of martini, consisting of 1 oz. dry vermouth, 1 oz. dry gin and 1/2 teaspoon kümmel brand (Matty Simmons, The Diners’ Club Drink Book [New York: Regents American Publishing Corp., 1961], p. 30). Less palatable, but much more lethal is the aptly named “Berlin Binge”:
Invented by Jean Gaste at Le Tangage in Paris, and dedicated to the harmonious association of the four great world powers; the Binge consists of Bourbon (American), Gin (English), Cognac (French), and Vodka (Russian), garnished with an olive (preferably a green olive), symbolizing the olive branch of peace. Mix equal parts of the four liquors, symbolizing equality of the four powers (Ibid., p. 42).
It’s not an impossible dream, is it? That a shared cocktail can lead to the concord of nations? Make drinks, not war!

Covert drops

4 Mar

Here’s a nineteenth-century forerunner of The Beerbelly:

A member of the Fifth Regiment has invented an appliance, built on the nursing-bottle plan, by the use of which he and his friends regale themselves with cocktails while on parade without exciting the suspicion of their officers. The invention consists of a belt something like a small life-preserver, which, instead of being inflated with air, is filled with a mixture of gin, bitters, sugar and water, and then fastened around the wearer’s waist inside his vest. From this belt is a small rubber tube, long enough to reach to a man on each side the travelling bar and to the two men behind or in front of him. In this way give men are enabled to obtain a suck from the improvised gin-mill, and it is said to be very curious how often the captain of the company has to get behind certain privates and adjust their cartridge-boxes.

— “A Perambulating Bar-Room”, Boston Daily Globe, 19 July 1885, p. 4.

Some unfortunate phrasing in that last clause.

52. Leap year cocktail

29 Feb

In a paper setting an examination in general knowledge, British schoolboys were asked to explain the origin or meaning of the word “bissextile”. One hasty youth in the Fourth Form, with a genius for improvisation, gave as his answer: “Leap-year is called a bisexual year because women are obliged to propose to men on the extra day in February.”

— “Topics of the Times”, New York Times, 14 March 1932.

2012 is a leap year. And so to celebrate the spuriously venerable tradition of “ladies’ privilege”, according to which women may during the intercalary year propose marriage without waiting for a man to make the first move for fear of being branded a harlot, a tradition supposedly enshrined in English common law, but not really, and now hopefully obsolete (except as the lazy premise of flop romantic comedies), let’s sip a cocktail designed by Harry Craddock.

The Leap Year Cocktail, which was created, Mr Craddock informs us, “for the Leap Year celebrations at the Savoy Hotel, London, on February 29th, 1928”, was allegedly responsible “for more proposals than any other cocktail that has ever been mixed”. Whether it was meant to stiffen feminine resolve or cause a chap to go weak at the knees is uncertain; probably both, as was claimed of a clutch of identically named cocktails a generation later:

Arthur Flynn, tap-room proprietor, is featuring two “Leap Year” cocktails which he says are unbeatable for getting the job done.

A gin-and-orange juice concoction is advertised as making a girl “irresistible”. A Scotch and vermouth on ice, says Flynn, will render a fellow “immovable”.

Thus far, no fellow and girl have come in at the same time to try their respectively recommended cocktails.

— “‘Leap Year’ Cocktails to Help Out Cupid”, Hartford Courant, 30 July 1956, p. 6.

Here’s how to prepare Craddock’s drink, which today celebrates its 21st birthday:

1 Dash Lemon Juice.

2/3 Gin.

1/6 Grand Marnier.

1/6 Italian Vermouth.

Shake well and serve in cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon peel on top.

Now, it’s clear from a new item printed in the New York Times in December 1928 that some men who entered into a bissextile marriage had an altogether erroneous idea of what such a union entailed:

The one redeeming feature of being a “leap year husband” has been dissipated for Herman Matten. Sued for non-support, Matten told Judge Edgar Jones in Domestic Relations Court that following his marriage last April he quit his job because he was a “leap year husband”. Judge Jonas [sic] was not impressed. He told Matten, who is 45 years old, to pay his wife, Ida, $10 a week.

— “Leap Year Husband Must Support Wife”, New York Times, 30 December 1928.

That fellow’s dickishness, it turns out, is far from unusual. The same paper’s earlier editorial assertion that leap year was a “humbug”, that all it had to boast about was 29 February, a day that usually came and went without anyone noticing, and that the “inferiority of the male sex on that day is not accounted more conspicuous than on the other days” (“Leap Year”, New York Times, 2 January 1912), is generally correct. Leap year seems with depressing regularity—quadrennially, in fact—to have been used as an excuse for ungentlemanly behaviour. How about a few more examples?

In 1884 a “charming young widow of 33”, Elizabeth Wittmer, received a visit from a John Coch, who “placed her wedding ring on his finger and took it away with him, under the pretense that he could not get it off.” His defence? “Mr Coch told Justice Murray that Mrs Wittmer took advantage of leap year and gave him the ring as a token of their engagement. He was held” (“Taking Advantage of Leap Year”, New York Times, 3 April, 1884). A similar story was rehearsed some years later by Walter Hettrick, the “candy kid” of West Brighton, Staten Island, after his arraignment on a charge of grand larceny: “The whole trouble was that she wanted me to marry her,” he explained. “Just because it is a leap year she thought she could make me do it, I guess. But I didn’t want to marry her, so I came home.” The supposed seductress was fifteen-year-old Bella Clark, whom Hettrick, older by two years, accused of having eloped with him. “Bella shook her pretty head in indignation when it was suggested that she had taken advantage of the prerogative of leap year,” but otherwise there was no dispute as to what had happened. After falling for “the dapper Walter” three weeks earlier, and her head full of romantic notions, Bella snatched $95 from her father’s pocket and bought tickets to Buffalo. But by the time they reached Albany, the pair got cold feet and turned back. Meanwhile, though, “Bella’s father, failing to see the romance in the affair, had sworn out a warrant for the arrest of the youngsters, and when they returned they were locked up. Walter is held in $1000 bail for examination, and Bella was left with the Children’s Society to mourn her shattered romance” (“Says Girl Made Him Elope”, Chicago Tribune, 2 March 1908, p. 5).

But this last tale, despite its ostensibly “happy” ending, is the pick of the bunch:

Declaring in an affidavit filed yesterday morning that he is a leap-year husband and was forced to marry at the point of a gun in the lady’s hands, Robert G. Arthur . . .  sued to have his marriage of Thursday afternoon to Miss Mary P. Reese of Hutchinson, Kas., annulled on the ground of duress.

Last night as he folded his pretty bride in his arms in the garage where he is employed . . . Mr McArthur [sic] declared the filing of the suit was all a mistake and stated the action had been taken at the behest of friends who wished to meddle in the affair. He says he will have the annulment suit stopped at once and will do all he can to make up for the suffering he has caused his bride. […]

In the suit which Mr Arthur filed yesterday, he alleged that Miss Reese called him up Wednesday night about 10 o’clock and demanded that he call at her apartments at No. 225 West Twenty-Fifth Street immediately.

He went, wondering. Immediately after he greeted Miss Reese, he said, she closed and locked the door and kept him imprisoned for fourteen hours. What occurred in that room is not stated, but briefly the complaint states that Miss Reese threatened Mr Arthur with a weapon. He says he was menaced that night, and in the morning, under the influence of the weapon, he accompanied her to the marriage license bureau and took out a license. Still under the fear of disaster if he backed out, they were married, he said.

The story that developed last night, however, at the time of the reconciliation varies considerably from this. […] The two had known each other more than a year and had frequently discussed matrimony. […] Prior to their wedding, at the Alhambra apartments, Mr Arthur went alone to purchase a ring and later left his bride-to-be at a picture show while he had the ring made smaller. According to witnesses Mr Arthur’s ardor did not cool until Friday morning when he left his bride without telling her of his change of heart. Mrs Arthur says she is willing to let bygones be bygones and has taken her husband, who towers right inches above her, and weighs almost 200 pounds, back to her heart.

Mr Arthur states he is 24. His bride is 29.

— “Leap Year is Over-Blamed”, Los Angeles Times, 9 January 1916, p. 12.

7.4 Electric current fizz

21 Feb

I sing the Body electric . . .

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1867).

The electric current fizz, the recipe for which can be found in George J. Kappeler’s Modern American Drinks, is basically a silver fizz with extra pizzazz. To wit:

Make a silver fizz; save the yoke of the egg and serve it in the half-shell, with a little pepper, salt, and vinegar, with the fizz.

— Kappeler, Modern American Drinks (Akron, OH: Saalfield Publishing, 1900), p. 58.

We’ve made a silver fizz before, but we may as well follow Kappeler’s own recipe this time around:

A mixing-glass half-full fine ice, the juice of half a lemon, half a tablespoonful fine sugar, the white of one egg, one jigger Tom gin; shake well, strain into a fizz-glass, fill with siphon seltzer (p. 60).

I guess the idea is to suck down the seasoned yolk like an oyster, then take a swig of the fizz. The condiments + lemon juice + efferverscent water produce a warm, tingly feeling, as if a weak electric current were passing through your body. It’s certainly shocking.

At the time of Kappeler’s writing, electrification was changing the world forever (the world of the city dweller, at least—not until the 1930s, when the federal government finally intervened, did electricity come to the American countryside). But it was also changing the way scientists thought of the human body: the organism was a battery sustained by and charged with “nerve force”, a vital power identical to, and just as mysterious as, electrical current. Illnesses, both mental and physical,  were supposedly caused, or at any rate exacerbated, by our batteries running down, by a deficiency of nerve force in other words. The obvious remedy, then, was to recharge our inner voltaic piles—and so electrotherapy in one form or another became the faddish and frequently quackish medical innovation of the second half of the nineteenth century.  (A typical example of mountebankery: J.S. Paine’s “galvanic spectacles”, which carried an “uninterrupted flow of electricity” in the silver and zinc frame; by “touching the tongue on the nose-piece, an unmistakable sensation is produced” that was allegedly conducive to the reinvigoration of the eyes and, one presumes, to the death of the wearer [Western Lancet, vol. 8:3 (September 1848), p. 179].)

So the application of electricity worked just like the medicinal cocktail: it delivered pep, vim, vigor and zip to those whose stocks of those commodities were low. With his recipe Kappeler is wittily combining the two (and, what’s more, the fizz in all its various manifestations was generally held to be the most rejuvenating of all mixed drinks). Here’s a different take, one supplied by Sir Thomas Barlow, Bart., President of the Royal College of Physicians and Royal Physician to George V (as he had been to the previous two monarchs), in an address at a conference devoted to the subject of “Alcohol and the Young Man in Business”.  Under pressure? Feeling stressed? Don’t turn to the bottle, Sir Thomas cautioned: “When you meet a friend don’t offer him alcoholic stimulants; treat him to an electric cocktail . . . You do not get, after electric stimulation, the injurious reaction that always follows a dose of alcohol . . . A battery can be carried easily and comfortably, I believe, and there is no reason why they should not come into general use.” And what exactly did the good doctor have in mind? The New York Times picked up the story:

According to a scientific expert, the best “electric cocktail” is a battery fitted at one end with a sponge, to be passed across the face when the current is set going. It is the only certain cure for nervous headaches.

“You can buy for $2.50,” he said, “a battery 3 inches by 4 inches by 6 inches, which can be carried in the pocket. It will last you a month if you use it an hour per day. That is for ‘long drinks’. Your cocktail only lasts about three minutes, but as a renewer of energy there is no drink like it, as it is drier than champagne or even ginger ale.”

— “Praises Electric Cocktail”, New York Times, 25 February 1912.

From: Popular Science Monthly, vol. 96 (June 1920), p. 76.

51. Golden Dawn cocktail

19 Feb

Drink! Drink of the dawn through thy every pore! / Drink! Drink of the hour to thy being’s core! […] Thy invention, science and tale and rhyme / Shall come like the souls from a higher clime. / They shall promenade in the golden dawn / Or like children sport on the dewy lawn.

— David C. Nimmo, Nature Songs (Detroit: Times Printing Co., 1915), p. 123.

The recipe for this light, fruity number is drawn from Bill Tarling’s Café Royal Cocktail Book:

¼ Orange Juice.

¼ Apricot Brandy.

¼ Calvados (Trou Normand).

¼ Gin (Booth’s Dry).

A dash of Grenadine to be added after the cocktail is poured out.

What Mr. Tarling neglects to tell his readers, though, is that this is no ordinary cocktail. As the winner of the inaugural international competition devoted to the mixological arts, which took place in London in 1930, the Golden Dawn not only made history but was also recognized as the best new cocktail of that year. From across the Atlantic, where prohibition still gripped the parched throats of Americans, the New York Times looked on enviously:

The world’s finest cocktail, compounded at the first international cocktail competition, held here this week was voted by jury connoisseurs to be the “Golden Dawn”, concocted by Tom Buttery, who presides over the fashionable cocktail bar at the Berkley and who, like some other celebrated mixers, is himself teetotaler.

This delectable drink consists of one part of orange juice, two of Calvados gin and one of apricot brandy, with a dash of grenadine, which provides the ruddy glow from which its name is derived. The competition was judged by a series of juries, each sampling only five drinks in order that their taste might not become jaded. Each jury consisted of six members—two representing the public, one trade representative, one maître d’hotel, one wine paiter [sic] and one representative of the press.

— “‘Golden Dawn’ Winner in Cocktail Contest”, New York Times, 21 September 1930, p. E3.

Clearly, the name of the drink is a nod to a poetic cliché, one that has adorned countless lines of uninspired verse since Homer (and generally rhymed with “morn”). Perhaps, too, it’s meant to convey a sense of grenadine-coloured optimism at the beginning of a new decade and at the bottom of the Great Depression (although that hopefulness would prove to be misplaced: the 1930s were not humanity’s finest hour). But there are several other instances in which the name “Golden Dawn” made the news around the time of the cocktail’s creation, and it’s possible that these too might have influenced Buttery’s decision, even if subconsciously.

In 1926 the Aga Khan bought the 61 ½ carat Golden Dawn diamond at an auction in London for £4950. A few hours later his wife died in a Parisian nursing home. Immediately, stories began circulating that the jewel was cursed: not only had its former owner, Captain Lucas, failed to find a buyer willing to pay a price close to the estimated value of the diamond (£75,000), and this after declining an offer of £40,000 some time before, but, ominously, 13 years had passed since the gem’s discovery in 1913 (“Golden Dawn Diamond is Seen as Unlucky, New York Times, 3 December 1926, p. 7).

One year later, in 1927, Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach wrote a little-remembered operetta entitled Golden Dawn, which in 1930 was made into an entirely forgotten Warner Brothers movie starring Vivienne Segal and Noah Beery. The story is set during British East Africa during the Great War: German and British colonists must unite against a common foe: the indigenous population, who are threatening to rise up against imperial rule. A young Englishman falls in love with an African girl, Dawn, who later turns out to be white (or at least of “golden” complexion): despite the machinations of the villain of the piece, “a cross between an ape and a nightmare”, according to the New York Times review, said Englishman not only conquers her heart but also reconquers her people’s territory. The film was shot in Technicolor—appropriately, I suppose, since skin pigmentation plays such a big role in the plot—but its attempted chromatic realism was undermined by “fickle color lenses” and a lack of attention to detail. That was most clearly visible in the performance of Beery, the bad guy, for whom the Times reserves most of its ire and “who chants in a deep bass voice and frightens the children into rapid retirement by simply putting in an appearance, speaks his lines with a Southern darkey accent, probably utterly foreign to East Africa. The direction of his part is crude and slipshod and in a close-up . . . the spectator is allowed to see where the brown paint, that otherwise makes him a native, has rubbed off and left his white skin exposed” (“Golden Dawn in Colors: Musical Talkie at Strand Features Vivienne Segal and East Africa”, New York Times, 26 July, 1930).

But who(m) am I kidding?  The cocktail is named for the sun-washed, rose-flecked auroral sky—and, like the break of the new day, it fills you with unalloyed good cheer and the quiet conviction that the best is yet to come.

Postscript. Ted Saucier’s Bottom’s Up lists two other cocktails called “Golden Dawn”. The first is by Walter A Madigan, the Beverage Editor of The Hotel Gazette, and which was runner-up in the International Cocktail Contest in London, 1939: 2 parts gin, 1 part orange juice, 1 part apricot brandy, dash of grenadine. In other words, it’s very, very similar to Buttery’s. The second comes courtesy of the New Hotel Jefferson in St Louis: 1/2 jigger lime juice, 1 jigger orange juice, 1/2 jigger Jamaica rum, 1 jigger bourbon, 1 teaspoon sugar; place in electric mixer and then strain into a glass with grenadine at the bottom (Bottoms Up [New York: Greystone Press, 1951], p. 113).

Olympic spirits

17 Feb

I don’t think this noble dream was ever realised; but it’s something the London Games ought seriously to consider:

What is planned to be the world’s biggest bar is to be erected in Berlin, and a congress of cocktail mixers from all parts of the world will be held simultaneously with the 1935 Olympiad [sic], if the German authorities approve. A competition for the best cocktail, with a gold cup for the winner, will be the principal event of the congress.

— “Cocktails at Olympiad”, New York Times, 13 January, 1935.

Faster, higher, stronger: that motto applies to drinks as well as to athletic endeavour.

When firewater splashes a paleface

15 Feb

Professor Jerry Thomas’ signature drink was the Blue Blazer, a fiery blend of whiskey, water and sugar, not unlike the concoction to which Vyacheslav Molotov unwittingly gave his name, and which the pioneering mixologist flamboyantly flung from one mug to another before his rapt patrons. Now, the danger inherent in combining alcohol, sucrose and a naked flame ought to be fairly clear. I think we can all agree that the  subject of this nineteenth-century news item learned a valuable lesson:

A number of congenial spirits were recently discussing the merit of fancy drinks in a Canton restaurant when a lively Frenchman offered to mix some French punch, a drink which he declared to be “fit for the gods”.

He put a quart of old rye in a saucepan and added several spoonfuls of sugar and the juice of a lemon. The saucepan was then put over a fire and allowed to simmer.

The potation did not simmer quick enough for the Frenchman, and with a view of hastening the operation he threw a number of lighted matches into the pan. These ignited the mixture and in an instant a sheet of blue flame burst from the pan and set fire to the Frenchman’s whiskers and hair. The moustache and imperial, of which he was so proud, were burned off, as were also his eyebrows.

While all present sympathized with the Frenchman, everybody voted his punch excellent.

— “Lost His Imperial”, Baltimore Sun, 2 February, 1895, p. 10.

Andrew Sexton, Self-Portrait (2006).


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