C IS FOR COCKTAIL
By Matthew Latkiewicz
C is for cocktail. The greatest thing that America has given the world, except for maybe blue jeans, Mister Rogers, and Erykah Badu.
The origins of the cocktail are a bit shrouded in mystery. But the first cocktail book was definitely penned by Jerry Thomas. He, of the glorious Blue Blazer, a cocktail of such showy arrogance it could only be American. At the time of Jerry Thomas, his Bartender’s Guide came out in 1862, America was a new nation trying to distance itself culturally from the British. And this included how we drank. The British mostly drank their spirits straight or in the form of these extravagant punches, which came by the bowl and required a serious amount of drinking resources to finish. It took people like Jerry Thomas to start mixing different spirits together like a chef, attempting to balance flavors.
It also helped that ice became easier to come by. Thanks to Frederic “Ice King” Tudor. Ice became more readily available across the states during the early part of the 19th century contributing to the cocktail explosion. Ice makes most cocktails possible. I mean, imagine ordering a room temperature martini? It’s gross.
In the beginning, a lot of cocktail recipes weren’t spirit dependent. A Sour was water, sugar, half a lemon
and the spirit of your choice. Whiskey Sour, Brandy Sour, Rum Sour, same with a Smash, a Flip, and in fact, a Cocktail.
Originally, the Cocktail was a specific recipe. Not the name for all mixed drinks. Ordering a Cocktail meant the spirit of your choice, bitters, sugar and water. Discerning cocktail nerds would recognize that recipe as an Old Fashioned, which is exactly what it is. The Old Fashioned cocktail. Before we fancied it up with all those crazy liqueurs and syrups and garnishes. Apparently, people started calling it The Old Fashioned in the 1880s. Now, of course, a cocktail can be just about anything including an Old Fashioned.
And for that, I raise my glass to Jerry Thomas and to the writer who introduced me to him, David Wondrich whose book, Imbibe!, is the single best book about drinking and cocktails out there.
C is for cocktail.