Tag Archives: the bartender’s guide

Cocktail of the hour — the Tom Collins

photo (3)Over the past two weeks, the weather in Alabama has ranged from snowy and cold to severe thunderstorms and highs in the 70s. Since we’re quite confused about whether to turn on the heat or air conditioning, I thought it would be a great time to feature a cocktail named for a troublemaker — the Tom Collins.

Cocktail historians will tell you that this drink was named for a 19th century bartender, a prank that shares his name or both. The prank was pretty simple: a mischievous chap would pick a target and convince him that a fellow named Tom Collins was either looking for him or had been taking full advantage of him. It was such a popular gag that the height of its popularity has been dubbed the Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874.

Some commerce-minded bartender proceeded to name a drink after the hoax. After that point, unsuspecting victims who barged into pubs clamoring for Tom Collins would find themselves served a rather delicious beverage. Credit for the drink’s creation is where the story gets murky. Many sources give this honor to John Collins, a waiter from London’s Limmer’s Old House. If the drink originally bore his name, it’s likely that the change came from substituting Old Tom gin for another style.

Though its exact origin may be unclear, the Tom Collins first appeared in Jerry Thomas’s 1876 The Bartender’s Guide. Since then, it’s become one of the most iconic and refreshing summer cocktails. Like the French 75, its light, fizzy, citrusy deliciousness is built around a potent base spirit that packs a wallop. As the Girl Scouts say, be prepared.

Recipe

1 oz simple syrup
1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 oz gin (preferably Old Tom gin)

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake for 12-15 seconds or until cold. Strain into a chilled Collins glass over ice. Top with club soda or sparkling water to taste.

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Cocktails, food and more cocktails

photo (13)Before you get worried, let me clarify: the title describes my reading list, not my nightly routine. Currently, I’ve got a foot-high stack of cocktail history books on my coffee table and a couple more in my bag. As both a craft bartender and food/drink writer, deep dives into cocktail history and lore have sharpened my skills and deepened my interest in the subject.

I’m also lucky to have friends and loved ones who loan me books. Since the craft cocktail movement is still building here in Birmingham, it is also relatively new to public understanding. As a result, local libraries don’t have much related material. My coworkers and friends have been invaluable in pointing me towards the best history and reference books in the field. Here are a few books that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed:

  • Jim Meehan’s The PDT Cocktail Book This funky, modern cocktail book breaks down every part of the bar experience into interesting and manageable segments. All pieces of drink-making and preparation are explained, including infusions and syrups specific to each recipe. Though some home bartenders may have to rebalance a few recipes to please their own palates, it’s a wonderfully accessible primer on all things bar-related.
  • Jerry Thomas’s How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion or The Bartender’s Guide Thomas’s historical cocktail guide is delightfully Victorian without being prudish. Widely considered the great-great-great grandfather of modern mixology, Thomas is responsible for much of the flair and technique that made the American Cock-Tail into what it’s become today. However, many of the recipes are written in measurements vague enough to kill even the best constructed drink. Luckily, modern cocktail historian David Wondrich has written a fantastic biography of Jerry Thomas called Imbibe! that translates and, in some cases, slightly rebalances these cocktails for the modern palate.
  • Wondrich also crafted a fantastic history of punch in Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl. At once sassy and informative, this guide traces the drink’s origins, takes a stab at its exact date of birth, goes on to give historical recipes with translated, user friendly modern equivalents.
  • David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks is an unintentionally hilarious, overtly sexist and absolutely curmudgeonly take on bartending. Embury himself never worked a bar shift, but had such strong ideas of how drinks should be made that he taught seminars on the matter after Prohibition. I’m only a few chapters in, but have laughed out loud multiple times.
  • Brad Thomas Parsons’s Bitters is both historical and practical for the home bartender. If you’ve ever been curious on what exactly bitters are or how they’re made, pick up a copy and enjoy. (Disclaimer: I’ve only read the introduction).
  • Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails is a delightful romp through pre- and post-Prohibition cocktails. Home bartenders beware: some of the recipes aren’t balanced for modern tastes. Some drinks might not be to your taste.

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Cocktail of the Hour: the Improved Whiskey Cocktail

photo (8)I’m not much for the idea that the certain spirits should only be drunk during certain times of the year. If I waited for cold weather in Alabama to drink red wine or whiskey, I would still have a long time to wait. Luckily, even a spirituous* cocktail can revive a thirsty soul and cool him or her down.

One such beverage is the Improved Whiskey Cocktail. With recipes dating back to the 1876 edition of Jerry Thomas’s How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion or The Bartender’s Guide, this cocktail sprang from a source similar to the Old Fashioned. In the days of yore, few drinks had defined names. Simply enough, patrons wanting any sort of mixture of whiskey, water and sugar would order a Whiskey Cocktail.

As maraschino liqueur, absinthe and other spirits came on the scene, their introduction into this family of beverage spawned a new creation — the Fancy Whiskey Cocktail. About fourteen years later, the Improved Whiskey Cocktail joined its fancy counterpart in Thomas’s book. Since that time, both of the cocktails have been reformulated to fit more modern standards of measurement by David Wondrich in Imbibe! which was later picked up by The PDT Cocktail Book. This recipe is the one below.

Currently, the PDT recipe is my favorite riff on this particular cocktail. It’s a simple drink with sweet and bitter notes that balance and soften the edges of the rye whiskey. As they say, rye whiskey makes the band sound better, makes your baby cuter, makes itself taste sweeter, oh boy!

Recipe:

2 dashes Angostura bitters

1 dash absinthe (or rinse the glass with absinthe)

.25 oz simple syrup

.25 oz maraschino liqueur

2 oz overproof rye whiskey

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and drop in a handful of crushed ice. Put a few whole cubes on top and stir til the drink is diluted to your taste or about 13-17 seconds. Garnish with a lemon peel.

*spirituous: A drink that contains (almost) all liquor and no citrus.

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