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Dining Out: New life is coming to old cocktails

In our ever-expanding culture exist things that are timeless. Music, fashion, art, cars, sports and of course drinks. We ascribe feelings and ideas to these things, some consider them from a simpler time, a more archaic time, or a more ideal time. This retro or vintage trend has influenced many things in our lives, but how is it mixing in with what’s to drink at our local bars? Dig set out to see where these new, or rather old, cocktails came from and why they are spicing up the beverage scene.

This resurgence or pseudo-renaissance can be traced to several factors. First the ease and availability of information has contributed greatly to this accelerated return of old style cocktails. The Internet has allowed bartenders to share recipes and for others to find them, something not as easily done in the past.

“What has really happened is that through the Internet and bartenders coming across old recipe books, they were able to share this information [more than] we were able to, say 20 or 30 years ago,” said Scott Gremillion, owner of Olive or Twist. “I have an 1880s Jerry Thomas recipe book, a 1920s Savoy book, and a 1950s book called ‘Bottoms Up.’

“What ends up happening is that bartenders will find [these kind of] recipe books and he or she mines them for really interesting recipes. That’s how The Last Word came about, it was a 1921 drink from Detroit that fell out of favor during the dead period of cocktails. A man in Seattle, Murray Stenson, at the ZigZag Cafe, came across a copy of Bottoms Up, thumbed through it, found the recipe, put it on his menu and the drink re-exploded. Now it’s considered one of the top 10 cocktails in ‘geekdom’ right now.”

Another factor is the ease of access to quality ingredients, which can also be attributed to the Internet thanks to the advent of online stores, providing quality ingredients to bars or restaurants that weren’t able to acquire such amenities to do so.

“You’re seeing an interest in better ingredients because they are available,” said Gremillion. “Sazerac recently brought back Ojen, which is an anise flavored drink that was hugely popular in New Orleans and if you take a look at the history involving it with Martins Wine Cellar it’s a really cool story. I don’t know if we’re having a retro cocktail renaissance as much as we are having a renaissance just in good cocktails. People are moving away from your martinis, your cosmos, your two ingredient cocktails, and those kinds of things because look at how many bourbons, scotches, rums, gins, tequilas and ryes are available today. When you have all of these things at your disposal it opens the door to a lot of different things.”

Due to the plethora of cocktails that can be found, we’ve made a list for some historical cocktails that you can keep your eyes out for when going out and looking for something new.

The Sazerac

No, this isn’t the giant worm in the ground that ate Bobba Fett in Return of the Jedi. This is an old cocktail from our own great state. Hailing from the Big Easy, The Sazerac was, according to the Sazerac company website, conceived in 1838 by a New Orleans apothecary owner by the name of Antoine Amedie Peychaud who mixed in some of his family secret “Peychaud Bitters.” Peychaud fixed up this drink to some friends and it was an instant success. Initially served with a brandy of Peychaud’s own, by 1850 it was a local hit and the recipe was updated to include Sazerac French brandy. Although conceived as a cognac or rye whiskey cocktail, this Cajun classic can be served with bourbon whiskey as a substitute.

The Manhattan

Since we mentioned a cocktail from the Big Easy, why not one from the Big Apple? With a history murkier than the Hudson River as to who started the Manhattan, its origin is very clear to being from the namesake island. Some references of the beverage date back to the 1870s as well as the 1860s. Originally mixed with whiskey, Italian Vermouth and Angostura bitters, several variations had spun off of it such as the Rob Roy, Metropolitan, or the Fourth Regiment cocktails.

The Tom Collins

With a rather debated past, it’s namesake mostly attributed to the Irish political activist from little known fame who died in 1798, with others believing the name of this beverage comes from The Great Tom Collins hoax of 1874. What ever its names influence, the first written evidence of this drink existing was in 1876 when bartender and drink pioneer Jerry Thomas published his first book “Bar-Tender’s Guide” which also was the first ever book on drinking inside the United States. According to O. H. Byron’s book “The Modern Bartender’s Guide,” by 1878 the drink was a hit around New York city and in 1891 the recipe saw a change which involved replacing the original recipes gum syrup with sugar. In 1986 the Tom Collins saw a come back into the bartending recipe world with a modern twist (adding colored cherry and sugar syrup) included in the book by Jenny Ridgwell called “The Book of Cocktails.” So when ordering, be sure to tell your bartender the desired recipe, which can be found online.

The Old Fashioned

Possibly the most muddled of history and clear definition, this cocktail traces it’s origins back to the beginning of cocktails in America at the dawn of the 19th century. Originally described in a letter to the editor in an 1806 edition of “The Balance and Columbian Repository” and the word “cocktail” coined by an editors response, the first cocktails consisted of spirits, bitters, water, sugar and occasionally a mild garnish. As time went on and the popularity for cocktails grew, more flavors and liqueurs were added to these cocktails.

According to an article published in an 1880 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, the old recipes became popular again and bargoers wanted the original, they referred to it as old fashioned cocktails with the most popular ones being made with whiskey. Although a general term, the name wouldn’t be used to a singular recipe until 1881 when a gentleman’s club in Louisville, Kentucky starting serving “Old Fashioned” as an actual named cocktail, according to the 1935 The Old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel which details how the cocktail made it to the New York bar. Due to it’s basic nature, many recipes for an Old Fashioned exist. Each bar may have their own, as through out the years many modifications were made to the recipe to substitute various ingredients. Its structure is simple and thusly timeless.

The Hot Toddy

Last on the list should be considered last for a day for its soothing nature. According to the book Romantic Ireland: From Tone to Gonne, the concoction was invented by an Irish physician by the name of Robert Bentley Todd during the early to mid-1800s. Todd was known for his soothing drink that he would prescribe, and it was eventually dubbed the “Hot Toddy” due to its core ingredient being boiling water. Todd also mixed in brandy, white cinnamon, and sugar syrup, which created a soothing drink best suited for cold or wet weather and before going to bed. Variants of this recipe include various teas, other spirits such as rum or whiskey, herbs and spices.

However this list shouldn’t be considered as a “must have” as tastes vary. Discover what suits your taste buds and ask your bartender for recommendations as there exist many variations and modifications to these and more. If one suits you, just show up with the recipe to your local cocktail bar and tell your friendly bartender.

“Every day people pull up a cocktail on their phone,” said Radio Bar general manager and resident mixologist. “They ask ‘can you make this?’ Of course! Anything you want, we’ll make it. The Shoe Shiner is our take on the Old Fashioned, so it’s still the old recipe with the three sugar and bitters, but we do it with Tennessee whiskey, honest as the sugar, and orange bitters. It’s more of a fresh summer time spin on the Old Fashioned. I’d recommend that for a first timer.”


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