Sunday, September 12, 2010

Exhibit #40: 2nd String Cocktails of the 19th Century

Sept 12th and 19th, 9pm-close, at the bar

Tonight we consider some early cocktails, most being variations on archetypes like the Old-Fashioned, Manhattan and Martini. The Old-Fashioned, or Cocktail, is a blueprint for understanding the essence of drink: spirit, bitters, sweetening agent, and some dilution. The following cocktails began expanding those parameters by tinkering at the edges - replacing sugar with cordials for instance, using new varieties of bitters, or adding trace amounts of other new-at-the-time exotics like maraschino or absinthe.

East India Cocktail $8
Brandy (Martell VSOP), a bit of pineapple and Grand Marnier, Angostura bitters and a whisper of nutty Maraschino, up. The East India recipe was first published by Harry Johnson in 1882, and like the Pegu Club is another one of those tipples favored and propagated by British officers. Although the exact location of its creation is unknown, it's generally accepted that it was indeed born on the other side of the globe in an officers' club, many of which were staffed by American barmen.

Fancy Brandy or Whiskey Cocktail $7
Here we have some early updates on that basic cocktail blueprint - the Fancy Cocktail is served up and adds an accent of Grand Marnier to the spirit, bitters, sugar paradigm. This drink was also commonly concocted with Hollands or oude genever gin - not currently available in Missouri.

The Gibson $6.50
Equal parts Plymouth gin and dry vermouth, no garnish, up. The Gibson is one of the most misunderstood and mangled drinks in the canon. Today it's assumed to be a Martini garnished with a cocktail onion instead of an olive, but this was not at all the original intent. Early on, the Martini included orange bitters and was garnished with a lemon twist, whereas the Gibson had no bitters and no garnish, with that latter point stated explicitly in early recipes. The drink hails from late 19th century San Francisco and was most likely named for the prominent American artist Charles Dana Gibson. Fast forward a few decades and some recipes call for a pickled hazelnut as garnish - this became the later standard but since most bars didn't have the requisite nuts, the onion crept into its place. Given that the Martini lost its bitters after Repeal, the real distinction was lost, leaving us with just that little onion that was never meant to be there in the first place.

Improved Brandy or Whiskey Cocktail $7
Like the Fancy Cocktail, the Improved Cocktail tinkers around the edges of the cocktail template - in this case adding a little maraschino and a dash of absinthe. Served up.

Japanese Cocktail $8
Pictured. Most likely created in 1860 by Jerry Thomas to commemorate the visit of the first Japanese ambassadors to the US. Martell VSOP, orgeat syrup and a hefty dose of bitters, on the rocks. May also be served up, as it was in later years. This drink enjoyed a fair amount of currency up until Prohibition.

Metropole Cocktail $7.50
Essentially a brandy Martini: cognac, dry vermouth, syrup, with Peychaud's and orange bitters, up. Along with the Saratoga (an early Manhattan riff that employed both rye and cognac with red vermouth), these two vied briefly with their ancestors but eventually fell off, especially after Prohibition.

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