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The Dawn of Drinks Writing

On August 22, 1873, the New York Sun published the first extensive article on American fancy drinks (not yet all called “cocktails” as an umbrella term), and the article went on to be reproduced (often in edited form) in many other newspapers around the country. Below is a complete reconstruction of the entire article from the available sources.

Historian David Wondrich has identified this piece as the beginning of drinks writing as a subject in the popular press. Although what, today, we broadly call cocktails had already existed for many years, and had been a subject of professional literature, such as Jerry Thomas’ 1862 How to Mix Drinks, this New York Sun article represents the point where the growing popularity of these fancy drinks tipped over into the mainstream.

David Wondrich has also identified the probable interview subject, whose surname sneaks in at the beginning of the Fashion in Drinks section. Wondrich explains, “It looks like the bartender involved might be Thomas Green, who seems to have been affiliated with Rudolph’s saloon (owned by Rudolph and Edward Orcutt) at 162 Broadway. The E. F. Barry mentioned is Edward F. Barry, who first came to prominence in the 1850s as head bartender at Edward Windust’s popular Shakespeare House, at 11 Park Row. He took over the place in 1858, after which it became known as Barry’s. In 1873, however, he was at the Everett House at 17th St and Union Square.”

In the course of the interviews, the unnamed Sun reporter mis-transcribes several drink names. Some are recognizable while others remain unidentified.

You can download our reconstruction as a PDF (110kb) to print at home, or you can read the full text, below.

American Fancy Drinks.

Information for both Europeans and Americans.

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The Mysteries of Barkeeping in New York City—The Wonderful Compounds that are Poured over our Fashionable Bars—The Science of Mixing Things.

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A Sun reporter, on account of the sudden importance of American drinks abroad, especially at the Vienna Exposition, and in the belief that information concerning them would be of interest to the Sun’s readers, was started out recently with his mouth full of bibular questions. He was told of a barkeeper by whom the alluring alamgamation of liquors with various sweets and sours has been reduced to a science. The reporter found him in a celebrated saloon in lower Broadway, with a glass gracefully posed in one hand and a spoon in the other. He threw some sugar into the glass with the spoon, and for an instant it lay there as spotlessly white as a new tombstone. Then he saturated the sugar with water sufficiently to dissolve it. Next he took a little piece each of lemon, pineapple, and orange, and dropped them into the wet sugar. The man for whom he was doing this sighed wistfully, and his lips moistened with the pleasures of hope, as he leaned over the bar and watched the processs of manufacture. But the barkeeper was perfectly cool and collected, notwithstanding his lively gymnastic movements. His arms flew about so fast that they looked like the spokes of a wheel, with a glass tire, and a face for a hub. Bringing up some fine bits of ice from the mysterious cavern beneath the counter, he threw them into the glass. Then he seized a decanter and filled the glass nearly full. The red fluid brought the blush of the rose to the compound, and turned the bits of ice to rubies. The man for whom he was doing it shifted to his other foot and sighed again, as the bartender pushed a funnel shaped tin down over the glass, and shook the two until the contents gurgled and rattled noisily. When the glass and the funnel were parted, the fluid was left in the glass, which it now filled to the brim. Its surface, which was a miniature polar sea, with little icebergs in it, and a real sunset glowing over it, was ornamented with two or three berries. Two straws were inserted, and it was pushed toward the man of sighs. He was of a convenient height for drinking. The apex of the straw was level with his mouth as the glass stood before him on the counter. He encircled the glass caressingly with one hand, took the straw gently between the forefinger and thumb of the other, closed his eyes blissfully, and the fluid disappeared like dew before a morning sun.

Seeking Bibular Information

“What do you call that drink?” asked the reporter.

The barkeeper smiled pityingly yet kindly.

“Why, that’s a claret punch,” he said, “and a great favorite in hot weather.”

“I thought it was a cobbler,” said the reporter.

“If it was a cobbler it would very likely have sherry in it,” and again the barkeeper encouraged ignorance with a smile, “and if it was sherry it wouldn’t be red.”

“O, yes, of course,” said the reporter, “all cobblers are sherry cobblers. I might have known—.”

“Not a bit of it,” interrupted the bartender, squaring himself for the imparting of information: “sherry is generally put into cobblers, though Catawba, Rhine wine, and other liquors or wines are sometimes used. Of course we put in whatever is called for. Punches and cobblers are a good deal alike, though. The difference is that all punches, except milk and wine punches, have lemon juice in them. You first put in the sugar, then a spoonful or so of water, and then squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. Put in the rum or brandy next, or whatever liquor is wanted—a wineglass and a half or two of it—and the ice. I usually cool by stirring briskly with a spoon, but some shake it—that’s only a matter of taste, of course. Sometimes a customer says he wants his punch shaken. A cobbler has no lemon juice in it. When I’ve put in the sugar I take a piece of lemon peel and rub it in the glass. The sugar extracts the essence of the lemon peel. Then I ice and stir it like a punch, and ornament it with fruit. In a milk punch rum is used unless some other liquor is specially mentioned. I use Santa Cruz, with just a dash of brandy. First the sugar goes in, then the liquor, and then the milk. I usually shake a milk punch, and ornament the foam on the top with a sprinkle of nutmeg. But some won’t have the nutmeg. Egg nogg is about the same as a milk punch, with an egg in it. The egg goes in first and sugar after it. Jamaica rum and brandy are generally used in egg noggs; but here too the difference in appetites come in. Some cultivate a taste for one kind of liquor, and some for another; and when they once get set on any one kind they want it in everything. It’s a wonder they don’t have it in their coffee. Then sometimes they suddenly sicken of it, and change to something else for a few months.”

The Great American Drink

“They may talk all they please about fancy drinks,” continued the barkeeper, in answer to another query, “but the great American drink is a cocktail. More of them are sold to cultivated drinkers than all other drinks together. They are made of every imaginable liquor, from gin to champagne, and so hit every stomach. They are made of gum, bitters, and whatever liquor is called for. First, you squirt in the bitters, then the gum for sweetening, and then the broken ice in a tumbler. Next put in the liquor, stir it up with a spoon to cool it, strain it into a cocktail glass, and drop in a bit of lemon peel. Some drinkers want one variation, and some another. A trifle of absinthe is often put in, whether called for or not. Uptown bars, especially, have a great run on cocktails. They are a great morning drink—a great ante-breakfast straightener-up. Sours are the same as cocktails, with the addition of lime or lemon juice, and they are made hot in cold weather. Sours and cocktails supply in first-class bars the place of plain liquors. A gin or rum straight isn’t often drank by gentleman—brandy oftener, and whiskey to some extent. Some prefer to drink a sour or a cocktail from the ice, without having it strained out into a small glass, and then it is called a “cooler.” Santa Cruz coolers are sold occasionally. A ‘fix’ is any liquor with only sugar and water, leaving out the bitters and lemon peel. Sometimes a man will call for gin or bourbon, with a little lemon juice in it, or with bitters only; such drinks are classed as cocktails. A Jersey man’s call is often for ‘gin, gum and bitters.’

Another favorite.

“Mint juleps,” added the expert, “are a great American drink in summer, and the showiest of them all. The American bartenders in Vienna write that it has had the greatest sale there. A julep is really about the same as a punch, excepting the mint. First you put in the sugar, and then two or three sprigs of mint macerated with a spoon; next the liquor and the ice, decorating with pieces of fruit and another sprig of mint. Brandy is the liquor supposed to be used, but sometimes rye whiskey is mixed. I use brandy with a dash of rum, or peach brandy if we have it. Here, as in other mixed drinks, come in the tastes of the drinkers, and gin is sometimes called for in juleps. More skill is required to make a perfect mint julep than almost any other mixed drink. Too much mint spoils it—too little makes it lose its distinctive flavor. I think it better to cool it by stirring the ice than to shake it in the tin cooler, but that may be only a fancy of mine. Every barkeeper has his own notions about those things. A julep made right is my idea of a perfect hot weather drink. But it is very deceptive. The brandy makes it a stiffer drink than it tastes, because the mint hides it, and it doesn’t take many of them to lay a man out. A good many lovers of juleps very likely don’t know that brandy is the liquor used. Others are smart enough to have them made weak, or of rum, and only a little brandy.”

Fashion in Drinks

“Do drinks go out of fashion?” asked the reporter.

“Certainly,” replied Mr. Green; “there are fashions in drinks as well as in clothing. A few years ago all sorts of cordials had a rage, but they didn’t last long. They came from France, and solid American drinkers didn’t take to them. They are never called for now. New drinks are constantly being invented by somebody, and slight variations of old drinks get new names. A man tries an experiment on some combination, and likes it. He tells his friends about it, and they try it. If it strikes their taste they give it some kind of a name, and sometimes it gets a great run. Barkeepers must keep all the new-fangled drinks in their heads, for some men like to puzzle them by calling for something they don’t know how to make. A good many drinks are invented in club houses. The New York club has a peculiar cocktail. It is made of the best brandy and several different kinds of bitters, and they always want it shaken in ice, not stirred. The Amaranth Club has a cocktail made with seltzer, and the Manhattan Club has invented another. Barkeepers in the big saloons invent specialties and keep the ingredients and proportions secret. Some of them, too, strike the right proportions for some popular drink, and get something of a reputation on it. The fame of it spreads among the patrons of the bar, and by keeping the method to himself, he has a monopoly. Then others watch him and try to get the process in that way. I knew a fellow who spent a good many dollars, and got drunk a good many times, trying to find out the peculiarity of a certain barkeeper’s cocktails; but the secret lay in some kind of bitters that the barkeeper put in, and it couldn’t be got at.”

Spiritous Nomenclature

“How do these various drinks get their names?” asked the reporter.

“Well, by chance, I suppose,” replied the barkeeper. “A new drink is called John Collins. It is made of old Tom gin, plain soda and lemon juice. ’Frisco punch, made of rum, brandy, and soda, got its name from the place where it originated. The latest is hari-kari, which is something like an ordinary cocktail, with the juice of a whole lime in it. It was invented by a man who wanted something that would take hold. ‘It’s enough to cut a man’s stomach into shoestrings,’ said a friend who tried it. ‘Then,’ replied its inventor, ‘we’ll call it hari-kari,’ and so they did. I make four or five every day, but it is too sharp to come into general favor. Punches, too, get more names than there are kinds. A chunk of pineapple, a mixture of two kinds of wine, or any little thing like that furnishing the pretext for a new name. Stone fence is brandy and cider mixed, and it’s as hard as its name.”

An Endless Variety.

“How many different drinks can be had at a first-class American bar?’ asked the reporter.

“Well, I suppose more than a hundred,” was the answer. “It would take a dictionary to hold the names and how they are made. Those that may be regarded as standard American fancy drinks are cocktails and punches, but the combinations of liquors, names, and proportions puzzle even a barkeeper to keep in his head. Why, just take brandy alone. It goes into toddies, sours, fixes, cocktails, smashes, cobblers, flips, juleps, punches, egg-noggs, milk punches, crustas, champarelles, and splits. Then, too, it is drank with soda, ginger ale, bitters, gum, cider, ginger, peppermint, and all kinds of mineral waters. Now rum, gin, and whiskey, and some of the wines are just as open to variations. So, when you come to give the same drink two or three names, you see what a variety it makes. Among the odd drinks enough in vogue to be occasionally called for, are Roman punch, cream soda punch, morning glory, brandy tea, orgeat punch, vermouth cocktail, Cape Holland, punch royal, seringue [sangaree], St. Louis squirt, white lion, lemon punch, dry punch, claret cup, albino punch, sea breeze, goldfinch, St. Croix tip [flip], Baltimore egg-nogg, claret sangaree, eye-opener, Knickerbocker, Metropolitan punch, pectoral, porteree, phlegm-cutter, and Saratoga shanghai.

Something New and Nice.

“What is the newest thing in drinks?” asked the reporter.

“Well, besides hari-kari, there is what we call crescent. It isn’t much called for, because few know anything about it yet. But it is a tearing good drink. You set the glass like this,” and he placed it on the counter in front of him, “and crack an egg on the edge of it. This takes some skill and a steady hand. You mustn’t break the egg entirely, just crack the shell on one side. Then you hold it over the glass, and let the yolk drain into it. Then put in your sugar, about three-fourths of a wine glass of Santa Cruz, some sherry, and fill up with milk. A little touch of brandy won’t hurt it. Shake it up in ice, or stir it, and there you are. It wouldn’t make a bad hot drink, either, and it may get a run next winter. Eggs make a rich drink anyhow. An egg in a glass of sherry, sweetened and strained into a wine glass, with a sprinkling of nutmeg, makes a flip. But eggs go more into winter drinks, such as Tom-and-Jerries, hot egg noggs, and some kinds of toddies. Ginger ale is coming into use now, and a lot of new drinks will be the consequence. As the new ones come in the old ones go out. There seems to be room for only about so many, and notional drinkers are always ready to take to new-fangled drinks. Some of the discarded drinks, once fashionable, are auction punch, mystery punch, muffler, flummery, Philadelphia split, gin chocolate, set-up, cider egg-nogg, soda egg nogg, Dutch morning glory, Scotch champagne, and knickerbine [knickerbein]. We get a call for some of them once in a while, and then nothing else will do. The customer, though, as likely as not, don’t know whether he gets it or not, so long as the drink tastes new to him.

Drinks That Kick Like A Horse.

“Can you give me any idea of the relative intoxicating qualities of American drinks?”

“Nothing definite. you see a good deal depends on the capacity of the drinker. Hot brandy drinks, made very stiff, kick some men over like a horse. Mint juleps, as I said, are mighty deceptive, and go to some men’s heads before they know it. Mixing drinks, as the saying is, is bad policy. Mixed drinks knock a man all of a sudden. But I always caution a man when I think he’s getting too much and doesn’t know it. And then, too, most barkeepers weaken the drinks as the drinker weakens. Why, I have actually given a man nothing but gum and bitters in a cocktail, with about a teaspoonful of liquor to flavor it, and he didn’t know the difference. When he gets too drunk I refuse to sell him any more. Then he goes to a cheap bar, where the fancy drinks are all ice, and the little liquor in them is bad—where the bartender squeezes the lemons with dirty fingers, or an old, sour, wooden squeezer—where the straws are all fly-specked and stained inside from having been used before—where the sugar is full of ants and the tin cooler is too much dented to fit the tumbler—and where the clumsy bartender wipes up the sugar and liquor he has spilled with a dirty cloth.”

At the Vienna Exposition.

“Do you know anything about the quality of the American drinks sold in Vienna?”

“Nothing but what I’ve heard. The bars there have all been closed, you know, and the bartenders are on their way home now. Jack Kelley and George Hall are expected in a few days. I have heard that the drinks sold over there were a libel on America—that the poorest of liquors were used. The charges were pretty high, but so were the expenses—inluding the money paid to the commissioners. Cocktails cost about fifty cents, cobblers and punches sixty cents, and plain liquors from thirty to seventy cents.

Fashionable Hotel Drinks.

An expert bartender in an up-town hotel furnished interesting information as to high-toned drinks. The most seductive drink, he said was one compounded by Prof. Mapes and Mr. E. F. Barry, the artistic julep compiler at the Everett House. It is called the “Moral Suasion,” and is made by placing a teaspoonful of sugar in a tumbler moistened with a little lemon juice, a wineglass of peach brandy, a little Curacoa, a tablespoonful of Benedictine, a tumbler of shaved ice, a dash of cognac, seasoned and ornamented with strawberries and slices of orange, lemon and pineapple.

Mr. Barry makes his John Collins morning soother by mixing a tablespoonful of powdered sugar, the juice of half a lemon, a wine glass of Old Tom gin, a bottle of plain soda, stirred with ice, and a slice of lemon peel. Some educated drinkists substitute brandy for the gin.

Royal Beverages.

At the time of Alexis’ [Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia] visit Mr. Barry compounded what is called the Grand Duke’s nectar. Alexis was fond of quaffing this nectar. It is made by moistening a teaspoonful of sugar with lemon juice, pouring in a wine glass of brandy, a little chartreuse, a tablespoonful of cold black tea, half a wine glass of Jamaica rum, a pony of champagne, shaken in a tumbler of fine ice, ornamented with slices of orange and lemon.

The Prince Regent punch is composed of a wine glass of brandy, half a wine glass of Jamiaca rum, a teaspoonful of raspberry syrup, a tablespoonful of cold green tea, the same quantity of peach brandy, a tumbler of fine ice, well stirred and strained, with a small slice of orange on top.

The Rob Roy cocktail is made with a little gum syrup, two dashes of Angostura, a few drops of oychette cordial [orgeat], in a tumbler filled with fine ice, strained.

Research by David Wondrich. Designed by Martin Doudoroff.