Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The World’s 14 Most Famous Cocktails

Greetings, folks. A touch of upper respiratory crud has me thinking that maybe this is not the moment to try a recipe, but it’s as good a time as any to present for your astonishment a list of popular drinks from 1934 with comments by yours truly. This list is nothing less than the “World’s 14 Most Famous Cocktails” from my copy of Burke’s Complete Cocktail & Drinking Recipes by Barney Burke. It is a wondrous list—at least it leaves me wondering: why 14? And why “famous”? (“Yeah—I know that one but wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.”) And who figured this out?

“On the inside cover is a list of Cocktails that may be considered conventional and reasonably safe. The list represents the consumption of more drinks per annum than all the other mixtures combined.” That seems reassuring if not too well documented. And you can’t help but feel confident in Burke when he notes, “Many of the modern cocktail mixtures are closely akin to gun-cotton, and should be avoided.” So in case there was any doubt, we have the evidence of a professional that people ordered disgusting things in the ’30s too.

But let’s see what was supposed to have been nice.

  1. Martini Cocktail (Dry or Sweet)—OK, I’ll buy that as Number 1. Everybody’s heard of that, even nowadays, though there seems to be some confusion as to what’s in it. But even Burke’s sweet one is a Dry Martini sweetened by the addition of sweet vermouth and not, say, hazelnut liqueur. And he puts orange bitters in the dry one. (In case anybody reading this doesn’t know, when it’s got both vermouths like that, it’s sometimes called a Perfect Martini. Beats me why, though it’s OK as those things go.)
  2. Manhattan Cocktail (Sweet or Dry)—Well, that would be second. Burke’s Manhattans are stirred, by the way, if any of my most recent bartenders are reading this. And his Dry Manhattan is the standard Manhattan recipe, and has 2 dashes Angostura. Curiously, he adds not only twist but olive. We might skip that detail. (His Sweet is a Perfect with gum syrup. So make the Dry Manhattan a Sweet, add dry vermouth, then sweeten. Or is that, hm....)
  3. Bronx Cocktail (Dry or Sweet)—I puzzled out the Bronx Cocktail pretty much completely this time last year and still have no clue why it was third most famous—when you make them as Burke indicates, at any rate.
  4. Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail (Sweet)—Straightforward enough: booze, sugar, bitters, a couple of dashes either curacao or absinthe. But then along with the twist, he drops in a slice of orange and beats it up. Not quite the old Old Fashioned, not quite the new. The mixological equivalent of a transitional fossil. Kinda freaky.
  5. Sidecar Cocktail (Sweet)—Again, this is pretty believable as one of those things everybody’s heard of, whether they know how it’s made or not. (Usually not.) Burke gives the strong-sweet-tart formula at least some of us still expect, and with a sugar rim.
  6. Clover Club Cocktail (Dry)—This is pretty much the same strong-sweet-tart template as the previous cocktail so “Dry” doesn’t help you much there. By the way, when they wanted pomegranate drinks in those days, they used grenadine.
  7. Gin Rickey (Dry)—This is indeed a dry formula: gin, lime, soda. I suspect a lot of people nowadays would wonder what happened to the sugar. Then again, how many of them would know what a rickey is, anyway?
  8. Gin Fizz (Sweet or Dry)—The Dry would be good for those who like the previous number without ice. If you could order with this sort of precision everywhere, wouldn’t life be grand? I wonder how many got it right in 1934.
  9. Bacardi Cocktail (Dry)—See Clover Club.
  10. Alexander Cocktail No. 1 (Sweet)—a drink for people who don’t like liquor but like the effect. Nowadays they’ve stopped numbering the Alexanders and call them Martinis. You try figuring it out.
  11. Rock and Rye (Sweet)—Anybody else spend time in a bar staring at that dusty bottle of who-knows-what sitting next to the crummy sloe gin? Who’da thunk it was based on the twelfth most famous cocktail? OK, here goes: “Rye Whiskey, 1 glass. Rock Candy, 1 piece. Add the juice of 1 Lemon and stir until the candy dissolves. Serve in the same glass.” (Hm—sounds like that might be good for my cold.)
  12. Whiskey Cocktail (Dry)—A-ha! Like the above Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail (Sweet) but with a cherry instead of an orange. Not sure what’s afoot here but at least he didn’t mash the fruit.
  13. Sherry Cocktail (Sweet or Dry)—Sherry, dry vermouth, orange bitters—perfectly nice, graceful wine cocktail. In the dry version, it would be just swell before dinner. Looks well worth reviving. Might be my next post.
  14. Dubonnet Cocktail (Sweet)—Dubonnet and gin. There’s that nifty interzone between the Martini and the Manhattan in which all these old aromatic numbers live. That people broadly used to know about such things and might again one day is the whole point of writing a drink blog.
So there’s the list, such as it is. If it’s an accurate picture of what most people liked at the end of Prohibition, it seems they had pretty good taste on the whole, or at least Barney Burke did. He offers the good with the bad drinks of the day, observing that “liberty must not be restrained” but giving us this list right away.

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