Cross-posted from the Alton Brown thread, a link to an Old-Fashioned video tutorial:
Why Ed, I believe you are correct. In the oft viewed Bootleggers, Rumrunners and Moonshiners show I believe it was Gary Regan who pointed out that a lot of the spirits consumed during prohibition were likened to enbalming fluid and in order to make them semi-palatable, fruit juices and other masking agents were concocted to make consumption a bit less traumatic.
I don't drink to excess. But I'll drink to most anything else.
That drink on Youtube.com looks more like a car wreck than an Old Fashioned IMO.
Each to their own I guess but I believe the constant stirring over ice as you build the drink, is what makes the Old Fashioned sooooo good!
I guess good whiskey really does tickle my pickle!
The fashion for cocktails predates the Prohibition era by about 100 years. In that time (early 1800's), little booze was long-aged and so cocktails were used to soften and help make the liquor go down easier. However in time cocktails became an art unto themselves. In my view good liquor (within reason) makes cocktails better, and that is why they are still popular.
Check out www.theartofdrink.com. This interesting site (good report on Danfield's Private Reserve from February) incorporates a reprint of the famous 1862 text on cocktails by Jerry Thomas, "How To Mix Drinks". Unfortunately whiskey is not discussed beyond (sometimes) whether it is "Bourbon" or "Rye whiskey" or "Monongahela", so clearly these types were in standard commerce as early as the Civil War years. Usually the cocktails and punches just call for "whiskey" but sometimes one of the types mentioned is specified, or Irish or Scotch whisky. Of Scotch, for one recipe he advises to use "Glenlivet or Islay". Not much has changed, I almost expected him to refer to bourbon (cask) malt whisky.
Many of the drinks have hardly changed, e.g. the Manhattan is pretty much what we make today except rye fans will be pleased to note he calls for rye whiskey in a Manhattan.
He offers many notes and tips but none on what age or brand of "whiskey" to use. He never talks (that I read) about the age or colour of whiskey. He states in notes on ice that "whiskey" should be "kept on ice", while cognac should be kept at a "moderate" temperature so it does not lose its "'velvet'". From this I infer that most bourbon and rye was quite young, either white spirits or light yellow since, say, 6 year old bourbon might be viewed as analagous to old cognac. It is possible though people drank brown bourbon iced, just as some people today keep it in the freezer (when I first heard that I thought it was some obscure regional or family habit; now I see it has an old pedigree as do a lot of practices that seem unusual at first blush).
Many of the punches combine many kinds of liquors (as punches famously do) but so do many of the cocktail recipes. E.g. Mississippi punch combines rum, bourbon and brandy with sugar and is served on ice and decorated with fruits of the season. Sounds good Jerry. The Bronx cocktail served by Lenell at the recent Gazebo (this was in their room, to those who passed by) would be familiar to Thomas, while I didn't see the drink under that name he offers many drinks which are very similar and employ Maraschino as that Bronx did. One could experiment and reproduce many recipes found in Thomas' book, it is a fascinating artifact. And it proves that cocktails have always entailed complex mixtures. In his introduction he states that fashion drives the creation of new cocktails. "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose".
Last edited by Gillman; 05-17-2006 at 12:42.
Just to bring things Thomassian up to date (not necessarily that hard to do despite the age of the book), look at Thomas' recipe for a Brandy Sangaree. (He offers many variations on the Sangaree, some with port, ale, sherry etc.). He says, fill a glass 1/3rd with shaved ice and pour in brandy and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. (Today most brands of cognac and brandy are lightly sweetened and therefore the sugar can probably be omitted). Shake it up and pour into a wine glass and, he adds, float a dash of port on it. For most of his cocktails, he offers variations made to the same formula but using another spirit. In this particular case he does not mention a bourbon or whiskey sangaree but it is evident from reading the book as a whole that this would be a natural application of his method. And so I propose a Thomassian 1862 variant on the sangaree by making it with bourbon (I propose Early Times whiskey as sold in the U.S.). Wasn't there an expensive bourbon sold some years ago that had a port addition or was aged in a port cask? The WT Sherry Signature is the same idea.
As I've often said, there is nothing new under the sun. Tonight I'll build a bourbon sangaree in honor of Jerry. Hey Tim you might do the same and use that amazing 1933 Madeira. It was made closer to the date of Thomas' book than has elapsed since then!
Last edited by Gillman; 05-17-2006 at 15:45.
Correction to my first post on Thomas' book: he does mention occasionally brand names. E.g. when advising the use of Irish whiskey in one recipe he suggests the use of "Jamieson's" and mentions another name, unfamiliar to me, but everyone knows Jameson's!. In another part of the book when advising the use of Scotch whisky, he says, use "Glenlivet" or "May" whisky. I must confess in some 30 years of reading about whiskey and other spirits I was stumped by the reference to May whisky. Any ideas..?
I'm gonna say that "Glenlivet" in this sense is not a brand name but more a reference to an area...several whiskies are made in the area that is known as Glenlivet, but only one is The Glenlivet. I'm guessing along that line of thought that May would also be a region, maybe one long lost to the annals of history or just called that by locals. I would hazard a guess that it would be a lowland, as so little whisky is made there currently that any subregions are no longer recognized.
Just my guess
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In a recent discussion I had with a well-known specialist on cocktails and their history it was pointed out to me that Jerry Thomas' book on mixing drinks came out in two editions. The extracts from the book at www.theartofdrinks.com seem clearly to be from the second edition, released in the 1880's, not the first edition, released in 1862. Therefore, some of the recipes (e.g. Manhattan) mentioned in the extract gain additional interest in that they are not in the first edition (which suggests these and other drinks in that category may have been devised in the interim). I mention this because in the area of cocktails, many are as interested in their history and origins as in the drinks themselves, or more so. Certainly however if I get the chance to offer a cocktail again at a Gazebo, I would consider amongst other options one of the whiskey punches or other interesting mixtures in the book. Ed's idea to use tea as a base for a bourbon drink is a good one too and maybe that can happen first.