Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Happy Hour: Cocktails

We're going to go to school this week for Happy Hour. Oh, and we're going to have some cocktails, too. But, what is a cocktail? The handsome illustration above, from Oscar Haimo's Cocktail and Wine Digest, circa 1945, has a trio of libations being served in stemmed glasses that are synonymous with cocktails (albeit that the bowls are more "U" shaped than "V" shaped, as we have come to expect in contemporary times). Oscar Haimo further explains more of his cocktail philosophy in the following page in his book:

Well, you don't have to remark on what a convivial party this scene depicts (complete with accordion player!) to convey what a buoyant atmosphere any cocktail hour gives. But, he notes that his cocktail recipes are each 3 ounces, and then curiously states that "for all other drinks . . ." What does he mean by "all other drinks"? Nowadays, "cocktails" means any kind of mixed drink; or, even, any alcoholic drink at all. Time was, however, when "cocktails" were a very specific kind of drink. Take, for example, this index from our Repeal-era Mohawk Liquor recipe booklet:

The first -- and biggest -- category is the cocktails. But, they have drinks like "collins" and "coolers" and "fizzes" and "flips" and "frappes" and "juleps" and ... well, you get the idea. It was customary to think of drinks as one of several kinds, and by ordering a cocktail, you were ordering a specific kind of drink, with a pretty regular combination of ingredients. Originally, a "cocktail" was a drink involving a spirit and bitters -- and perhaps some sugar and/or a liqueur. A cocktail glass (or what we sometimes call a Martini glass) was the customary glass used for a cocktail (although they could be served on the rocks in a "rocks" or "old fashioned" glass). In other weeks, we're going to cover some of these other drinks they refer to. While we're talking about all these other old-style drinks, consider this index from another of our Repeal-era recipe booklets:

This one has similar, and even additional, categories of drinks. Here's how the Drink Master describes a cocktail:

In reviewing the "cocktails" in the indexes we showed you, many of these drinks stray from the narrow concept of spirits and bitters; in fact, several of them do not include bitters as an ingredient. So, what's different about these "cocktails" and all of the other categories of drinks? They don't have any carbonation (no seltzer or soda water); their garnishments are pretty much limited to twists, olives, and cherries (no sprigs of mint or anything elaborate); and virtually all of them can be served in a cocktail glass. Common examples of "cocktails" that have stood the test of time include the Manhattan, the Martini, and the Old Fashioned, as well as some of our Rogers Park Retro favorites such as the Bronx, the Jack Rose, the Pink Lady, and the Orange Blossom. Please consider yourselves invited to order any of these classic drinks in honor of the vintage drink known as the "cocktail" at Happy Hour this weekend. We'll circle back to the cocktail in the future -- after we've discussed some of these other vintage drink categories -- and compare notes on what we've learned.
But, meanwhile, cheers!

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