Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cocktail picks, to pick for the perfect cocktail

So Le Cocktelier has been a little stuffy with the history lately so let's mix things up a big with a few photos of the most innovative cocktail picks and skewers around.

Picks are perfect for garnishing any number of cocktail. They can add a dash of whimsy and fun. The right pick partners nicely to produce a most pleasant  imbibing moment.

Do you have a favorite from below? Do you have a favorite not show? Send in a photo and let us know!

A nice take on the traditional sword
A cocktail pick within a pick!

Customized by personality

Our favoriates
Another take on the cocktail glass with pick motif

Monday, October 10, 2011

Drop by drop - distilling things down

Ancient still
So we've delved into the origins of the term "cocktail" and some early ideas about what construes a proper drink.

But we just may have gotten ahead of ourselves.

Knowing what a cocktail is made of and the many ways one can concoct a cocktail overlook one thing -- where the stuff that we make cocktails with, came from.

Cocktails wouldn't be possible without distilled spirits. 

Europe had a long tradition of creating local varieties of spirits that began long before the cocktail in the moderns sense, was born.

Both the Greeks and Arabs knew the art of distillation, but the earliest written record of alcohol distillation came from the School of Salerno in the 12th century. The production method was written in code, suggesting that it was kept a secret. Fractional distillation was developed by Tadeo Alderotti in the 13th century.

In 1437, burned water (brandy), made from wine, was mentioned in the records of the County of Katzenelnbogen in Germany. Records show that it was served in a tall, narrow glass called a “goderulffe.”

Consumption of distilled beverages rose dramatically in Europe in and after the mid 14th century, when distilled liquors were commonly used as remedies for the Black Death.

Then, around 1400 it was discovered how to distill spirits from wheat, barley, and rye beers, a cheaper option than grapes. This discovery began the "national" drinks of Europe: jenever (Belgium and the Netherlands), gin (England), schnapps (Germany), grappa (Italy), horilka (Ukraine), akvavit/snaps (Scandinavia), vodka (Russia and Poland), rakia (the Balkans), poitín (Ireland).

The actual names only emerged in the 16th century but the drinks were well known prior to that date.

And there we have it, the origins of some of the prime ingredients for cocktails.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The granddaddy of guides - Jeremiah was a Bartender

As the American Civil War was ramping up in 1862, "Professor" Jeremiah "Jerry" Thomas (1830 – 1885) published the first bartenders' guide to include cocktail recipes.
How to Mix Drinks; or,
The Bon Vivant's Companion

Mr. Thomas was the first celebrity bartender. His guide, "How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon Vivant's Companion" was replete recipes for punches, sours, slings, cobblers, shrubs, toddies, and flips.

Given some of those names, I suppose "cocktail" isn't too odd an appellation for a drink. And speaking of cocktails, there were a variety of other types of mixed drinks, including ten recipes for drinks referred to as, OMG, "cocktails."

Interestingly, at that time, a key  ingredient differentiating "cocktails" from other drinks was bitters.  Ironically, most modern cocktail recipes don't include the use of bitters.

The book collected and codified what was then an oral tradition of recipes from the early days of cocktails, including some of his own creations; the guide laid down the principles for formulating mixed drinks of all categories.

He would go on to update it several times in his lifetime to include new drinks that he found or created.

The "Professor" at work
For more on Jerry Thomas, check out the  New York Times article, The Bartender Who Started it All.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Our first recipes! The old fashioned Old Fashioned

As we noted last time, the Old Fashioned is the closest thing to the original cocktail that we know of. But there is much disagreement over the correct way to make one. This won't be the first time we'll talk about disagreements over how to make a drink "correctly."

Modern American Drinks" by George J. Kappeler
One of the earliest recipes, from "Modern American Drinks" by George J. Kappeler, was written in 1895 (a full 89 years after the first publication of a definition of a cocktail). Kappeler instructs us to "Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece ice, a piece lemon-peel, one jigger [1.5 fl oz] whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass."

David Embury's classic book published in 1948 provides a slight variation, also generally accepted among purists:
  • 12 parts American whiskey
  • 1 part simple syrup
  • 1-3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Twist of lemon peel over the top, and serve garnished with the lemon peel and a maraschino cherry
As with any recipe, many, many variations have been developed, and despite the purist insistence to adhere to recipes written as long as a century ago, the "correct" way to make the drink is the way the customer prefers. Most modern cocktail recipe books call for Rye or Bourbon whiskey, and also include topping the drink with soda. A good bartender might ask, "Rye or Bourbon?" and, "top it with soda or water?"

Two additional recipes from the 1900s vary in the precise ingredients, but continue to omit the cherry expected in a modern Old Fashioned, as well as the top off of soda water contested by cocktail purists. Orange bitters were highly popular at this time and, for the second recipe, the Curaçao appears to have been added to increase the orange flavor.

This one is from "Drinks as they are Mixed" by Paul E. Lowe (1904):

Use old-fashioned cocktail glass.
  • Sugar, 1 lump.
  • Seltzer, 1 dash, and crush sugar with muddler
  • Ice, one square piece
  • Orange bitters, 1 dash.
  • Angostura bitters, 1 dash
  • Lemon peel, 1 piece
  • Whiskey, 1 jigger
Stir gently and serve with spoon.

This is from "Jacks Manual" by Jack A. Grohusko (1908):

  • 1 dash Angostura bitters 
  • 1 dash Curaçao 
  • Piece of cut loaf sugar 
  • Dissolve in two spoonfuls of water 100% liquor as desired 
  • 1 piece ice in glass
Stir well and twist a piece of lemon peel on top and serve

These represent three of the earliest Old Fashioned recipes. Literally dozens more have been published and countless more variations concocted. Do you have a favorite Old Fashioned recipe? Let us know!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Imagining the first cocktails

The earliest ingredient list (noted in our previous post) included spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. That matches up very nicely with what we now refer to as an Old Fashioned.

Classic Old Fashioned
The classic Old Fashioned is made by muddling dissolved sugar with bitters then adding alcohol, such as jenever, whiskey, or brandy, and a twist of citrus rind.

The name "Old Fashioned" originated as a term used by late 19th century bar patrons to distinguish cocktails made the “old-fashioned” way from newer, more complex cocktails.

So what we know as an Old Fashioned is quite possibly the closest approximation of the first drink to be called a cocktail.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A sober exploration. How did we come up with the word "cocktail" for a, well, for a cocktail?

Great question. But no one knows. The origin of the word cocktail is a mystery.

What we do know, is that the earliest known printed use of the word in the context of a drink was in The Farmer's Cabinet on April 28, 1803:

The Balance & Columbian Repository
"Drank a glass of cocktail—excellent for the head...Call'd at the Doct's. found Burnham—he looked very wise—drank another glass of cocktail."

Three years later, we find the earliest definition of the word in the May 13, 1806, edition of The Balance and Columbian Repository, a publication in Hudson, New York. A reader posed the question, "What is a cocktail?" The witty answer:

"Cocktail is a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called a bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else."

Clearly, whatever the exact recipe, the effect was very similar to our cocktails today. Huzzah for that.

Monday, September 5, 2011

What is a cocktail?

Aside from being the feathery plumage on the rump of a male chicken, a cocktail is an alcoholic mixed drink that contains two or more ingredients — at least one of the ingredients must be a spirit. 

The dry, albeit stiffly correct, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, defines a cocktail as "an iced drink of wine or distilled liquor mixed with flavoring ingredients."  Clearly, that's an incredibly broad definition, but it does reflect the most modern notion that pretty much any mixed drink is a cocktail

So now days, the word has come to mean almost any mixed drink that has alcohol in it. A cocktail today usually contains one or more kinds of spirit and one or more mixers, such as soda or fruit juice. Additional ingredients can include ice, sugar, honey, milk, cream, liqueurs, fruits, and various herbs.

So for what it's worth, Skol vodka and Kool-Aid could be construed as a cocktail. We here at Imbibing Culture frown on that though.