Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: THE Cocktail

The Cocktail

This week's mix drink was in many ways the one that started it all, The Cocktail. I believe I first heard about The Cocktail or Cock Tail from a Four Pounds Flour, the blog of a food historian that I follow. It was also mentioned by our tour guide at the Buffalo Trace distillery. Finally, reading about it on the 12 Bottle Bar made me decide that trying it would be a really good thing to try in order to give a little more structure to our efforts, helping us make sense of the new things we try.

THE Cocktail:

1 lump Brown Sugar
2 dashes Bitters
1 tsp Water
2 oz Spirit

Citrus Peel garnish.
A lump or two of Ice is optional.

Place the sugar cube in the bottom of double glass. Dash the bitters over the sugar and let them absorb. Add the teaspoon of water. Muddle this all together until the sugar is as dissolved as possible. Add the spirit (we used the whiskey we had on hand, but cognac is also recommended). Stir.

Before the invention of The Cocktail, the only mixed drinks were punches or slings. The basic theory behind the recipe for punch is: 1 part sour, 2 parts sweet, 3 parts strong, and 4 parts weak. The sling is kind of like a single serving punch, minus the sour, and stronger. Even though the sling is stronger, it still has half as much water as spirit. The Cocktail cuts down on the water considerably, and it adds the essential ingredients of the bitters. Bitters was the cure-all of its day, just the sort of thing that snake-oil salesmen were hawking. Like the Gin and Tonic, The Cocktail was put together as an enjoyable, alcoholic way to take your medicine. They never realized just how enjoyable it would make the drinks, but the rest is history. After that, other mixed drinks developed

According to the guide at Buffalo Trace, the Cocktail was named after the jigger used to mix it; before it was used for mixing drinks, it was used for measuring eggs, and its original name reflected that, giving its moniker to the drink.

The verdict: The Cocktail is good, and has an interesting complexity. We tried it both with and without ice. I understand why this caught on, especially in the early 1800s, when the quality of American spirits in many places would have benefitted by being part of a mixed drink. The Old Fashioned is a very similar drink, and it is probably an attempt to get a bartender to mix a Cocktail once the work cocktail came to mean generic mixed drink, just like Kleenex, Xerox, or Band-aid. The Cocktail is better than The Old Fashioned, though. I am all for championing the return of the original Cocktail.

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