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A New Cocktail Era at Cole's

A New Cocktail Era at Cole's

There haven’t been so many fashionable folk lining up at Cole’s French Dip since the early days of the iconic downtown LA eatery. It is tiny and dimly lit with a small stand-up piano at one end, intimate booths on the other and a bar the length of the room to the side.

You can order anything in this bar, save for anything mixed with Red Bull. Despite what you may feel about the word “mixology,” that’s what they do here. Go up to the bar and ask for something “not too sweet, not too spicy, and I like gin,” and you’re nearly guaranteed to discover your new favorite drink. The bartenders savor the chance to surprise you and the fact that the space is so small and the seats are so coveted drives the point home — you’re drinking to indulge in tons of different flavors and nuances, not just drinking to drink.

Added bonus: if you bring out of town friends here, you will automatically be cool in their book. At least for the night.


Through the Decades: A Brief History of Iconic Cocktails

With even the diviest of Hell’s Kitchen bars stocking the ingredients and recipes to serve each customer a different drink, a copious number of options has become the standard.

But due to the seemingly endless vault of drinks up the sleeves of today’s bartenders, not everyone realizes that there wasn’t always such an array of spirits for their choosing. In fact, it took many years to build the liquor cabinet of today’s bars, and it wasn’t a smooth ride.

“Spirits have all had their ups and downs, bar aficionado and consultant Jesse Anholt, told the Observer over coffee (If he hadn’t needed to nix the booze due to a flu antibiotic regimen, he would’ve talked my ear off in the bar next door).

Mr. Anholt, who is a mixologist at the East Village’s Bar Virage as well as an instructor at The New York Bartending School, explained that it took years of concocting drinks around foul tasting liquors to get to this point. Step by step, changes in economics, pop culture and other societal aspects brought us the drinks we know and love today. Along the way, there have been a number of iconic cocktails, each decade with it’s own shining star.

Old Fashioned (Photo: Sam Howzit)

Early 1900’s — Old Fashioned

-2 oz bourbon
-1 splash club soda
-4 dashes bitters
-1 tsp sugar
-Ice

The liquor was terrible and people were scrounging to make whatever they could, but the people of the early 1900’s were fed up. They began throwing sugar and bitters in with their whiskey to improve the taste. Little did they know this act of desperation would actually give birth to one of the first popularized cocktails and an entirely new era of drinking.

Singapore Sling (Photo: Danae Pollack)

1920’s — Singapore Sling

-2 oz gin
-1 tsp grenadine
-1/2 oz fresh lime juice
-Club soda or water
-Ice
-Garnish with a lemon wedge and maraschino cherry

It was another attempt for something tasty. This cocktail has an infinite number of recipes because “sling” simply refers to the mix of alcohol, flavor and water — even the original mixture is unknown. It was simple so it could be inexpensive during a time when people didn’t have much to spend on alcohol, if they could afford to drink at all.

Bloody Mary (Photo: Aurimas)

1930’s — Bloody Mary

-2 oz tomato juice
-1 1/2 oz vodka
-1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
-3/4 teaspoon freshly grated horseradish
-3 dashes Tabasco sauce
-1 pinch salt
-1 dash freshly ground black pepper
-1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
-1 stalk celery
-Ice
– Garnish with lemon wedge

There’s more than one theory, but the drink — originally just half vodka, half tomato juice — is believed to have been born out of New York’s 21 club. Pre-pre Starbucks, it was the morning pick me up that people needed. Today, this classic has evolved into something more intricate, but it remains a brunch must.

1940’s — Daiquiri

1 1/2 oz light rum
3/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz simple syrup

While wartime rations made most spirits hard to come by in the 1940’s, rum was still plentiful. President Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy encouraged trade with Latin America, Cuba and the Caribbean, which allowed the rum to keep flowing. What is frozen and strawberry-flavored today, was a simple, lime delight during WWII.

Martini (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

1950’s — Martini

3 oz vodka
1 oz dry vermouth
3 olives

The ease of gin manufacturing led to the popularity of the drink during prohibition, but it took on both a new class and a new spirit during the 1950’s. During this time, the U.S. began importing vodka from Russia which led to a new, popular martini and opened the door for an assortment of future vodka-based cocktails.

Mai Tai (PHOTO: cocktail Marler/WikiCommons)

1960’s — Mai Thai

1 1/2 oz spiced rum
1 1/2 oz coconut rum
1 tsp grenadine
3 oz pineapple juice
2 oz orange juice
Ice

The late 1960’s brought about a change that carried into the next decade as well. Drinkers started to care as much about taste as they did about function and began adding extras to spirits to make them taste good instead of just not horrible. To combat more bad liquor, Americans in Vietnam would take whatever they could get their hands on and add a variety of juices — a practice that to broke us into our world of fruity drinks.

Harvey Wallbanger (Photo: Wikipedia)

1970’s — Harvey Wallbanger

1 1/2 oz vodka
4 oz orange juice
1/2 oz Galliano
Garnish with orange wedge

Prior to this, it was just gin, rum, vodka or tequila with some juice. But this cocktail became a delicious manifestation of our search for more delicious and exotic flavors. As this drink grew in popularity and Galliano, an Italian liquer, became more known, people began branching out and looking into more liquers and flavors from other countries.

Piña Colada (Photo: Randy Robertson)

1980’s — Piña Colada

1 oz aged rum
1 oz coconut rum
1 1/2 oz coconut cream
1 1/2 oz pineapple juice
Garnish with pineapple wedge

As cocktail culture grew, it inevitably became more mainstream, and in the 1980’s, pop culture began to shape opinions and popularize drinks. It started with the Piña Colada which skyrocketed to fame with Miami Vice only shortly after making its musical debut in Escape’s “Do You Like Piña Coladas?”

Long Island Iced Tea (Photo: Ville Säävuori)


1990’s — Long Island Iced Tea

1/2 oz light rum
1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz vodka
1/2 oz tequila
1/2 triple sec
1 oz sour mix
Top off with Cola
Garnish with lemon wedge

It was created in — you guessed it — Long Island years earlier, but took off in the 1990’s for those who wanted a fun and tasty drink that packed a punch. By this time, we had the flavors and variety we desired and the mission to disguise bad tastes was over. With those issues in order, it became possible to prioritize the amount of alcohol a cocktail contained.

Cosmopolitan (Photo: Ralph Daily)

2000’s – Cosmopolitan

2 oz vodka
1/2 oz triple sec
3/4 oz cranberry juice
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
Garnish with orange twist

The fact that the popularity of this drink can be attributed to one of the sexiest TV shows set in Manhattan is no secret. In fact, the Sex and the City induced Cosmo craze is perhaps the greatest example of pop culture’s influence on cocktails to date. A few Cosmos for Carrie Bradshaw, a decade of them for the rest of us.

Old Fashioned (Photo: Sam Howzit)

Today – Old Fashioned, revisited

With a new, fruity twist:
2 1/2 oz bourbon
1/2 oz simple syrup
5 dashes bitters
Splash sparkling water
1 peach slice
2 black berries

A little more than a century later, the cardinal cocktail has made a comeback. Thankfully, we have Mad Men — not awful spirits — to thank for its resurgence. We’re sure those looking to channel their inner Don Draper prefer classically prepared Old Fashioneds, but a ample number of variations have enlivened this cocktail for many.

The Manhattan

2 oz rye whiskey
1/2 oz sweet red vermouth
2-3 dash bitters
Garnish with maraschino cherry

Named for the borough and bar where it was created, this classic is believed to have been concocted by Dr. Iain Marshall for a banquet held at the Manhattan Club to honor the city’s 25th mayor, Samuel J. Tilden, who was running for president at the time. It will always be iconic. at least in Manhattan.


Do Cubans Drink Cocktails?

I’ve spent nearly 6 months in Havana. Yet I had to go out of my way to find many of the Cuban cocktails on this list.

That’s because…well I’m hanging out with Cubans.

And while I can attest to the men drinking even just a bit of rum every day I almost never see someone drinking a Cuban cocktail.

In fact, I’ve never seen one order a Cuba Libre, although I have seen a lot of yumas drinking them.

My friends seem to like mojitos every now and then. But the truth is more often than not at a club we’re buying a bottle of rum and drinking it with a tiny bit of Red Bull.

And at home on hot days they’ll ask me for an ice cube with their straight rum.


Meet the New Martini

“If a restaurant can only make one good cocktail, it should be a Martini,” says Will Elliott, bar director for Sauvage, a newly opened restaurant in Brooklyn from the Maison Premiere team.

Indeed, every bar (and restaurant) offers a Martini. But lately, the classic cocktail seems to have taken a sharp left turn.

'Tini 2.0

Sauvage Martini

The F.A.F. Martini

Gulf Coast Martini

Consider Sauvage’s house Martini: made with Mahon Xoriguer, a soft, pine-y gin from Menorca in Spain, and a generous pour of quinine-infused Luli Moscato Chinato (think a far more concentrated, aromatic and bitter version of bianco vermouth). It’s pre-batched, bottled and stashed in the freezer, where it develops a viscous texture. When ordered, there’s no stirring or shaking—it’s simply poured into the glass. Garnish is DIY: An ice-filled sidecar offers a lemon twist, sprigs of juniper with berries attached, a peppery-sweet nasturtium blossom and a fat caperberry.

Elliott isn’t the only one taking aim at the moving target that is the Martini. Lately, it’s become something of a sport to redefine the drink, pushing as far as possible without quite destroying the DNA of the original.

But first, what exactly is the original? Gin and vermouth, sure, but beyond that there’s no real consensus among experts as to the first Martini some say it evolved from the sweeter Martinez, but there’s no firm agreement on that either. In the new cocktail guide, Drink Like A Man, cocktail historian Dave Wondrich posits that the 1800s-era Martini was relatively wet: Two parts (or even one part) gin to one part sweet vermouth with an extra dash of simple syrup and a hit of bitters, garnished with a lemon peel.

“The dry martini—dry vermouth, dash of orange bitters, and no syrup—was a critter of the Gilded Age, coming in around 1895,” writes Wondrich. Even so, “proportions were still seldom more aggressive than two-to-one.” Post-Prohibition, it was common to see five parts gin to one part vermouth. By the 1950s and early ‘60s, the Martini had become as dry as could be: “The ‘see-through’ went something like eight parts gin to no parts vermouth, with an olive.” (Wondrich sagely adds that the “see-through” is merely iced gin, “which is how, if that’s what you want, you should have the courage to order it.” Amen to that, brother.)

Beyond tinkering with presentation and gin-to-vermouth ratios and selections, bartenders are adding small amounts of ingredients outside the traditional Martini canon. Those infinitesimal additions can add up to big variations in flavor.

For example, at London’s White Lyan, Ryan Chetiyawardana’s Bone Dry Martini is made with extract from organic roasted chicken bones to add minerality and texture to the vodka-based cocktail. Meanwhile at Bar Goto on New York’s Lower East Side, Kenta Goto has created the delicate sake-and-gin-based Sakura Martini, garnished with a salted cherry blossom. And at Dallas-based Midnight Rambler, Chad Solomon adds high-alkaline mineral water and a drop of saline tincture for a weighty, pleasingly viscous Martini.

“So many classic variations are more delicious than the classics, because they are more complex,” Elliott says.

He’s had some practice with Martini variations—he’s also behind the Old King Cole Martini at Maison Premiere (where he is bar director, too), a mix of spicy, saffron-infused Old Raj gin, Dolin dry vermouth and orange bitters, presented via silver platter in an elaborate tableside service. There, the sidecar of garnishes includes buttery Castelvetrano olives and a “manicured” lemon peel cut into an elongated rhomboid shape for guests to customize their drink.

Some bars have even gone so far as to devote entire sections of drink menus to the Martini—almost to the point of evoking those infamous “Martini menus” of the 1990s (Appletini, anyone?). At Slowly Shirley, the Deco-style speakeasy located below NYC’s The Happiest Hour, the list of Martinis includes ten drinks ranging from the classic (the Martinez the Yellow Chartreuse-tinged Alaska) to the contemporary (the Sentimental Journey, with chardonnay and cinnamon the Julia Childs, with fino sherry and celery bitters) to the outrageous (the F.A.F.—“Fancy As Fuck” Martini, which showcases a premium, barrel-aged gin).

“I think the simplicity of the cocktail makes it an easy jumping-off point to come up with other variations fairly easily,” surmises Jim Kearns, partner and head bartender at The Happiest Hour and Slowly Shirley. “If you add to it or change it even slightly, you’ve pretty much created a new drink.”

Sometimes, those new drinks seem to willfully paint outside the Martini’s once clearly-defined lines. For example, at Tales of the Cocktail last month, a “Gulf Coast Martini” served at a Martini-and-oyster pairing event at Seaworthy mingled Guinness stout reduction with Cocchi Americano and Ford’s gin, garnished with a crisp round of radish for a robust, bittersweet drink that seemed to edge into Martinez territory, but still felt like a Martini.

Which brings us back to that pre-batched, straw-hued Martini at Sauvage. “If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Martini drinker, it might not be for you,” Elliott acknowledges. “The drink in the glass is my palate.” He’s quick to add that every palate is deserving of a similarly customized Martini, but you have to be able to talk about what you want. “An inherent conversation has to happen when you approach a Martini,” Elliott insists. “’How would you like it?’ Just as you would ask regarding a beautiful cut of beef.”

What to make of a drink that, in Kearns’s words, “seems to offer a template for nearly infinite variations” thanks to its sheer simplicity? Oddly, the world’s most simple drink has historically been the world’s most overwrought. And while it may sound like heresy, the last time we saw so many Martini variations was the 󈨞s. But this time around, it’s Pineau des Charentes, and not Pucker, that threatens to make its way into your Martini.


Plague Water-Inspired Cocktail

From Tattersall Distilling and the Minneapolis Institute of Art

• 1 ounce Green Chartreuse (substitute for Plague Water)
• ½ ounce Becherovka (substitute for Aqua Mirabilis)
• ½ ounce pineapple juice
• ¼ ounce honey sage syrup
• ¼ ounce lemon juice

Honey Sage Syrup: In a saucepan, add 1 cup honey, 1 cup water, and 1 tablespoon fresh sage roughly chopped. Cook on medium, stirring until simmering. Reduce heat and simmer five minutes. Cool and strain.

Combine Honey Sage Syrup and remaining ingredients with ice. Shake. Strain. Pour in coupe glass. Garnish with lime wheel.

You can see the MIA and Tattersall’s full selection of historical recipes online at Alcohol’s Empire, and more historical recipes at the Wangensteen Historical Library. Public service providers in Minnesota can request Tattersall hand sanitizer through the All Hands site.

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The Last Word consists of equal amounts of gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and freshly pressed lime juice, which are combined in a shaker with ice. After shaking, the mix is poured through a cocktail strainer (sieve) into the glass so that the cocktail contains no ice and is served "straight up". [1]

The cocktail has a pale greenish color, primarily due to the Chartreuse. Audrey Saunders of the Pegu Bar in New York City considers it one of her bar's best cocktails and describes its taste as follows:

I love the sharp, pungent drinks, and this has a good bite. It's a great palate cleanser. And it's perfectly balanced: A little sour, a little sweet, a little pungent.

The taste may also vary slightly depending on the brand of gin being used. The original cocktail at the Detroit Athletic Club during the prohibition era used bathtub gin, and even today the club is using its own recreation of "prohibition era bathtub gin" (vodka, spices, herbs, citrus) for it. [3] Some variations of the cocktail have sprung up, which usually replace the gin with another base liquor and sometimes switch the limes for lemons. A particularly well-known variation is the Final Ward, created by the New York bartender Phil Ward, who replaced the gin with rye whiskey and the lime juice with lemon juice. [2]

The first publication in which the Last Word appeared was Ted Saucier's 1951 cocktail book Bottoms Up!. In it, Saucier states that the cocktail was first served around 30 years earlier at the Detroit Athletic Club and later introduced in New York by Frank Fogarty. [2] [3] [4] Since this dates the creation of the drink to the first years of the prohibition (1919-1933), it is usually considered a prohibition era drink. A research in the archives of the Detroit Athletic Club by John Frizell revealed later that the drink was slightly older predating the prohibition era by a few years. It was already offered on the club's 1916 menu for a price of 35 cents (about $8.22 in 2019 currency) making it the club's most expensive cocktail at the time. [5]

Fogarty himself was no bartender but one of the best known vaudevillian monologists (roughly comparable to today's stand-up comedians) of his time. Some assume that this occupation gave rise to the cocktail's name. Nicknamed the "Dublin minstrel" Fogarty often opened his performance with a song and ended it with a serious heartthrob recitation. In 1912 he won the New York Morning Telegraph contest for the best vaudeville artist and in 1914 he was elected president of The White Rats (vaudeville actors union). [3] [6] [7] Around the time the cocktail was presumably created, Fogarty performed at the Temple theater in Detroit. [5]

The cocktail however fell into oblivion sometime after World War II until it was rediscovered by Murray Stenson in 2004. Stenson was looking for a new cocktail for the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle, when he came across an old 1952 copy of Saucier's book. Soon after being offered at the Zig Zag Cafe it became somewhat of cult hit in the Seattle and Portland areas and spread to cocktail bars in major cities worldwide. It also spawned several variations with The Final Ward probably being the best known among them. [2] [3] [6] In addition its recipe reappeared in newer cocktail guides including the 2009 edition of the Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide. [1]

On May 20, 2011 Rachel Maddow demonstrated the preparation of the cocktail in her show on MSNBC and called it the "last word for the end of the world". This was meant as an ironic comment on the rapture and end of world prediction of the Christian radio host Harold Camping and in reference to the MSBNC news program The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, which covered Camping's predictions extensively. [8] [9]


Home Plates: Retro cocktail meatballs

The party can start now — the meatballs are here.

For a good number of you, it’s just not a party or a gathering without your grape-jelly meatballs. And as for the rest of you, who think anyone who’d make cocktail meatballs with a grape jelly sauce must be certifiable, well, you’ve probably enjoyed the meatballs a time or two. We just didn’t let you in on the secret ingredient.

Meatballs in grape jelly sauce are scrumptious little morsels, so tasty that even some pretty highfalutin’ cooks still make this vintage appetizer. This recipe is such an odd mix of homemade and store-bought that it has to have originated in the 󈨀s or sometime in mid-20th century America.

After Delphine Wishart and friend Rosemary Dominguez asked about the meatballs (and cocktail sausages), you flooded my in-box with responses offering your version of the recipe and plenty of stories to boot.

At its most basic, the recipe can be nothing more than a bag of frozen meatballs heated with a sauce consisting of a jar of Welch’s grape jelly and a bottle of Heinz chili sauce. You need the chili sauce to add zip or zing — or even zang, as my good friend Barb Fuhs puts it — and to cut the impossible sweetness of the jelly. Alternatively, you can use a package of cute little cocktail wieners, instead of meatballs.

But while no one blinks at making a sauce with grape jelly, many of you balk at using frozen meatballs. “I always make my own from scratch and cook them in the sauce,” Barb says.

I’ve included Jerry Michaels’ sister-in-law’s homemade meatball recipe, but you can zip, zing or zang ’em up to suit yourself. Carol Shuey of Concord adds ¼ teaspoon of allspice to hers, while Micki Gibson of Milpitas adds ½ cup of grated Parmesan. Other recipes call for pepper flakes or paprika. Even with the chili sauce, the sauce can be pretty sweet, so I like the idea of balancing the flavor with a little heat.

Almost always, I find I need a little more complexity in sauces from this era. That’s why I’ve included Jennifer Schaefer’s version of the grape jelly sauce. If you just want to combine the chili sauce and grape jelly, no worries. But Schaefer makes a sauce with a bit more depth. Jennifer Pyron of Lathrop adds some curry paste, and hot sauce would work as well.

You have several alternatives when it comes to preparing the meatballs. My friend Barb simply melts the jelly in a skillet, adds the chili sauce and some lemon juice and drops in the uncooked meatballs, simmering until the meatballs cook through. Some of you brown the meatballs first before simmering in the sauce. You can also bake the meatballs in the oven. And several of you simmer the meatballs in a slow cooker, which is a great way to keep them warm for parties.

What I hadn’t realized is that there were other versions of jelly cocktail sauces. Debbie Cole remembers her mom, Valdena, making a sauce using French’s yellow mustard and red currant jelly. That’s the sauce Maria Camareno remembers as well. Longtime Plates reader Jan Bosseto of Hayward has a tangy cocktail wiener recipe that uses, incredibly, brown gravy mix, water, apple jelly and ketchup.

Accompanying this column is a recipe for sweet and sour chicken wings or drumsticks from Sandy Clark. Her recipe uses the grape jelly/chili sauce base, but also includes a jar of junior baby food peaches. By the way, chicken wing drumsticks are simply chicken wings with all the meat pushed up to form a drumstick shape. It’s fine to use regular chicken wings if you don’t want to make the drumstick or can’t find them in the supermarket.


Jeez Louise

What’s the blueprint for one of the most successful cocktail formulas ever? According to bartender Chris McMillian, the answer starts with the Brandy Crusta, which mixes brandy with lemon, curaçao, maraschino liqueur and Angostura bitters. Switch to cognac for a Sidecar or gin for a White Lady. Juice limes and add a healthy pour of tequila for the perfect Margarita, or shake it with vodka, cranberry and lime for a pink-hued Cosmopolitan—being perhaps the single most successful cocktail of the modern era.

“That’s the beauty of these drinks, which are ‘Mr. Potato Head bartending,’” says McMillian, the owner of Revel Cafe & Bar in New Orleans. “As long as you’re only changing one element, it still works. Not every combo will be brilliant, but your drink won’t suck, and every now and again, you get lucky.” Their common element is orange liqueur as a modifying sweetening agent.

So just what would the next iteration look like? At first, McMillian, who is also the founder of The Museum of the American Cocktail, half-jokingly said it should be made with amaro as the base. He then realized it made perfect sense in the current cocktail climate.

“The embrace of the bitter is about 10 years old,” says McMillian. “This element of flavor is now mainstream as opposed to experimental.” He had initially been resistant to amaro drinks and was late to the party in adopting them. But when he read that renowned bartender Audrey Saunders and cocktail expert Robert Hess substituted Branca Menta for crème de menthe in the Grasshopper, it gave him permission to flout the rules.

McMillian started his modern sour with Averna but found it just wasn’t quite bitter enough. Adding a splash of Cynar, the Italian liqueur made with artichoke and 12 other herbs and plants, was the intense solution. Cointreau lends the signature orange flavor, and lime juice keeps it tart. He serves it in a Collins glass over ice with a splash of soda, garnished with half an orange wheel for color and flavor. The drink is called the Jeez Louise, that less blasphemous exclamation of exasperation.

It’s a classic libation that reintroduces itself in every era depending on what base spirit is on trend. McMillian likens it to a conversation he had with his teenage son, who told him excitedly that he had just heard “the greatest song by Sublime called ‘Summertime.’” McMillian reminded him that it was even better the first time around when Cole Porter performed it.

“These drinks transcend generations every generation exposed to them finds them compelling,” says McMillian. “Dinah Washington to Diana Krall, each generation interprets [these drinks] through the filter of what’s fashionable and popular. It’s a nifty little drink.”


A Survival Guide To Colonial Cocktails (So You Don't Die Drinking Them)

Drinking was a big part of life in Colonial America. It also required some experimentation and creativity on the part of colonists looking to create cocktails with new and unfamiliar ingredients. Reverend Michael Alan /Courtesy of Abrams Image hide caption

Drinking was a big part of life in Colonial America. It also required some experimentation and creativity on the part of colonists looking to create cocktails with new and unfamiliar ingredients.

Reverend Michael Alan /Courtesy of Abrams Image

When spirits entrepreneur Steven Grasse considered writing a book about early American cocktails, he already knew it was a subject that had been, in his own words, "done to death."

Ultimately, the book he did write, Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History, tells the story of a time when water was full of deadly bacteria, making alcohol the safest liquid to consume. As Grasse says, "this book is about survival."

Colonists, transplanted to a New World, were faced with the task of re-creating old recipes, often with unfamiliar new ingredients. Alcohol was a godsend in the Old World, sipped by adults and children alike. In the New World, imbibing called for experimentation. There was plenty of trial and error, and, in Grasse's view, an unexpected recipe for democracy.

"Before democracy, there were spirits, and from spirits we created taverns," writes Grasse in the book, "and it was in those taverns that we laid out the blueprint for a new kind of country. . In other words, we got drunk and invented America."

In Colonial Spirits, author Steven Grasse presents a history of and guide to drinking in Colonial America. Reverend Michael Alan /Courtesy of Abrams Image hide caption

With witty illustrations by Reverend Michael Alan — think Pennsylvania Dutch folk art crossed with Edward Gorey — Colonial Spirits thumbs its nose, ever so slightly, at the American obsession with mixology and fussily precise 12-ingredient cocktails. It does so by providing just one simple premise outlined on Page 3: "In relating these recipes to you, and updating them for modern times, it was of the utmost importance to us that you — yes, you — would not die or even be hospitalized should you choose to make or imbibe them."

In all honesty, some of this stuff could kill you. In fact, on Page 154, you'll find out that, yes, some home distillers were desperate enough to try making alcohol from sawdust — which Grasse reminds us would actually be methanol. So, yes, you'd die if you imbibed it, which is exactly why you won't find a recipe for it in Colonial Spirits.

What you will find, however, is Ass's Milk, Cock Ale, and Lambswool (only one of them does not actually involve farm animals), with a tongue-in-cheek history of each concoction in question and modernized versions that sound, actually quite palatable.

"I wanted to make this like a Betty Crocker kind of book," says Grasse. "This is not a book for snooty mixologists. These are culinary folktales."

The Salt

The Golden Age Of Cocktails: When Americans Learned To Love Mixed Drinks

While many of those mixologists tend to laud the recipes by Jerry Thomas, the bartender generally credited with popularizing mixed drinks beginning in the 1850s, Grasse's view is that cocktails existed well before Thomas was behind the bar.

"Cocktailing, as we know it," says Grasse, "was a result of industrialization and the rise of leisure time. But punch was clearly a cocktail, just served in a communal bowl."

Temperance was a hot-button issue for Puritans, even though they weren't opposed to a cider "multiple times daily," says Grasse. The cartoon known as "Drunkard's Progress" warned people about the dangers of imbibing, with the morning dram leading to debauchery and death. Reverend Michael Alan /Courtesy of Abrams Image hide caption

Sharing and crafting history is a hallmark of Grasse's career, which has included creating Hendrick's gin, Sailor Jerry's rum and Art in the Age craft spirits. A team of 65 employees in Grasse's Philadelphia-based company, Quaker City Mercantile, did copious amounts of historical research into the alcoholic recipes of early America. They dug through 17th, 18th and 19th century manuscripts detailing the booze preferences of Gen. Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys, a failed attempt during the 1500s to establish a vineyard in what is now Jacksonville, Fla., and how rum was considered to be a cure for syphilis, malaria and even death.

Many of the recipes are unfailingly simple: Spruce Ale starts with spruce essence made from Douglas fir tips (be sure to pluck those tips from actual spruce trees instead of some possibly poisonous lookalike, the book cautions, so you don't, you know, die), which is added to chilled ale. The Everlasting Syllabub ended up being a favorite of illustrator and recipe tester Alan, who says, "It's essentially a big bowl of whipped cream that you incorporate a little bit of alcohol into. There's really nothing bad about that."

The Salt

Drinking Whiskey In The Spirit Of George Washington

During the process of recipe testing for the book, Grasse's unique position as a distillery owner also gave him the opportunity to make a small-batch production of one of the recipes, Martha Washington's Cherry Bounce, a classic blend of brandy, cherries and sugar, typically enjoyed during winter as a fresh taste of summer. The updated version, made at Grasse's Tamworth Distilling in New Hampshire, incorporates rye whiskey and smoked cardamom for a modern twist on a Colonial favorite, while also tipping a hat at George Washington, who was one of America's largest whiskey producers.

"When I look at cocktail books, I don't really get a context," says Grasse. "So my goal was to present the historical context behind these recipes, while making it relatable to the modern reader. I like to retell these stories in a way that people can digest."

He pauses. "We're inspired by history, but not slaves to it," he says. "At the end of the day, the point is to have fun and maybe learn something at the same time."


This Official Hamilton Cocktail Recipe Is the Next Best Thing to Scoring Tickets

“I’ve always wanted to try one of those lobby cocktails but I’ve always had a show to do,” tweeted the creator and former star of the Broadway show.

But on July 11—when Miranda watched Javier Muñoz take the stage as the new Alexander Hamilton—he got a chance to taste the official cocktail titled the Founder’s Fizz.

The Hamilton bar manager at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, Michael Anthony, tells PEOPLE the cocktail got its name because “it’s a twist on a classic Gin Fizz.”

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“It’s made with gin, lime juice, sugar and seltzer,” adds Anthony. “Simple ingredients, however, we infuse it with one secret element: the Hamilton ground-breaking, world-changing, earth-shaking spirit. Everything tastes better at Hamilton!”

While you’ll likely have to shell out the big bucks to get your hands on the commemorative cup it comes in (and, you know, to see the show), you can still get a taste of history with the official drink recipe below.

Hamilton’s Founder’s Fizz
Serves: 1

Combine 1.5 oz. gin, 1 oz. simple syrup, a splash of lime juice and ice in a cocktail shaker. Cover and shake vigorously. Strain into highball glass filled with ice and fill with seltzer.


How to Make a Vodka Gimlet

It's a bracing, icy-cold cocktail when you make it with vodka instead of gin.

  1. Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice.
  2. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lime wheel.

A Gimlet is a bright jewel of a drink&mdashsour and bracing, but buffed to a palatable shine with some sugar and served ice cold. And broadly speaking, you've got two Gimlets to choose from: gin or vodka. Now, this choice does not simply come down to being a gin gal or a vodka guy. There is (perhaps surprisingly, as the Gimlet is pretty damn simple), more at play.

When we make a Gin Gimlet, we use Rose's lime cordial, as is tradition. That oozing sweetness is easily countered by the herbal complexity of gin. But when we make a Vodka Gimlet, we don't touch the Rose's it'd devour this less structural spirit. We use lime juice (fresh, naturally) and simple syrup. That makes a Vodka Gimlet a bit fairer. It's still mostly sour and a bit sweet, and it's still bracing, in the way that vodka's burn is bracing at the tail end of a sip. All together, nice. A vodka drink that tastes like vodka, but not too much like vodka.

A Little Background

The Gin Gimlet is the classic version of this cocktail, and it is said to have been invented in Britain in the late 19th Century aboard a navy ship. Mix sailors' gin rations with Rose's lime concentrate, and you got a preventative measure against scurvy that no one would complain about taking. When vodka soared in popularity in the States after WWII, it makes sense that bartenders started serving the Vodka Gimlet as an alternative to the gin. Though it's not exactly a historical document, in the first season of Mad Men, Betty Draper orders rounds of Vodka Gimlets from the bar.

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If You Like This, Try These

Your first stop after the Vodka Gimlet might as well be the Gin Gimlet. You know, to compare and contrast. A Mezcal Gimlet will broaden the scope of your research. Outside the realm of gimlets, the traditional rum Daiquiri is similarly sour, as is a Margarita.

What You Need

Here&rsquos what you need to do a Vodka Gimlet justice, beyond what you might be able to dig out of the fridge or cupboard.


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