The cocktail culture of today, has its roots in the 19th century. I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the whiskey cocktails of the 1880s to see how they compare to today’s whiskey cocktails. I have in my archive, copies of two old cocktail books from the 1880s. The oldest is titled New and improved Illustrated Bartender’s Manual or How to Mix Drinks of the Present Style, by Harry Johnson, printed in 1882. The second is titled The Bartender’s Guide or How to Mix All Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks, by Jerry Thomas and printed in 1887. I thought I would look at some of the Whiskey cocktails in these books and share some interesting historical recipes.
I will start with the Harry Johnson book since it is the older of the two. The first recipe is the Manhattan which is a familiar cocktail to everyone today, and then look at a few other recipes of the day. I have also included Johnson’s comments on the drink.
Manhattan Cocktail: Fill up the glass with ice; 2 or 3 dashes of gum syrup; 1 or 2 dashes of bitters; (Boker’s Genuine only); 1 dash of Curacao (or Absinthe if required); ½ wine glass of whiskey; ½ wine glass of Vermouth; stirrup well, strain into a fancy cocktail glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel on the top, and serve; leave it to the customer to decide whether to use Absinthe or not. This drink is very popular at the present day.
Whiskey Daisy: ½ tablespoon of sugar; 2 or 3 dashes of lemon juice; 1 dash of lime juice; 1 squirt of Syphon Seltzer, dissolve with the lemon and lime juice; ¾ of the glass filled with fine shaved ice; 1 wine glass of fine whiskey; Fill the glass with shaved ice; ½ pony glass Chartreuse (yellow); stir up well with a spoon, then take a fancy glass Have it dressed up with fruit and strain the mixture into it, and serve. This drink is very palatable and will taste good to most anybody.
Whiskey Crusta: Take a nice clean lemon, the same size as your wine glass, cut off both ends and peel it the same way you would an apple, put the lemon peel in the wine glass so that it will line the entire inside of the glass, then dip the edge of the glass and lemon peel in pulverized sugar. The mixture is as follows: ½ pony glass of Orchard syrup; 1 or 2 dashes of bitters (Boker’s genuine only); 1 dash of lemon juice; 2 dashes of Maraschino; ½ glass shaved ice; ¾ wine glass of whiskey; mix well with a spoon, strain it into the wine glass containing the lemon peel, ornament it with a little fruit, and serve.
Golden Fizz: ¾ tablespoon of sugar; 2 or 3 dashes lemon juice; 1 glass of Whiskey or Old Tom Gin (if the customer desires Tom Gin); 1 egg (the yolk only); ¾ glass shaved ice; Shake up well in a shaker, strain it into a good-sized fizz glass, fill up the glass with Syphon Vichy or Seltzer waters; mix well with a spoon and serve. This drink will suit Old Harry and is very delicious in the hot season. It must be drunk as soon as it is mixed, or it will lose its flavor.
Whiskey Cobbler: ½ tablespoon sugar; 1 ½ teaspoons of Pineapple syrup; ½ wine glass of Water or Seltzer, dissolve well with a spoon; Fill up the glass with fine ice; 1 wine glass of whiskey; stir up well with a spoon, and ornament on the top with grapes, oranges, pineapple and berries in season, and serve with a straw.
Now I will look at some of Jerry Thomas’s offerings. I will start with the Manhattan as well as some other of his Whiskey cocktails.
Manhattan Cocktail: Take 2 dashes of Curacao or Maraschino, 1 pony of rye whiskey, 1 wine glass of Vermouth, 3 dashes of Boker’s bitters, 2 small lumps of ice. Shake up well, and strain into a claret glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass and serve. If the customer prefers it very sweet use also two dashes of gum syrup.
Whiskey Cocktail: Take 3 or 4 dashes of gum syrup, 2 dashes of bitters (Boker’s), 1 wine glass of whiskey. Fill one-third full of ice: shake and strain in a fancy red wine glass. Put in a piece of twisted lemon peel in the glass and serve.
Whiskey Daisy: Take 3 dashes gum syrup, The juice of half a small lemon, 1 wine glass of Bourbon or rye whiskey, Fill the glass one-third full of shaved ice. Shake well, strain into a large cocktail glass, and fill up with Seltzer or Apollinaris water.
Whiskey Fix: Take 1 large teaspoonful of powdered white sugar, dissolved in a little water, The juice of half a lemon, 1 wine glass of Bourbon or rye whiskey. Fill up the glass about two-thirds full of shaved ice, stir well, and ornament the top with half a slice of orange and a small piece of pineapple.
Whiskey Sour: Take 1 large teaspoonful of powdered white sugar, dissolved in a little Seltzer or Apollinaris water. The juice of half a lemon, 1 wine glass of Bourbon or rye whiskey. Fill the glass full of shaved ice, shake up well and strain into a claret glass. Ornament with berries.
From looking at these recipes, the whiskey cocktails of the 1880s were very similar to what can be found in a bar today, yet a little different in some ways. I think that the presentation of the drink was just as important then as it is today. I like these books as they describe how to set up a bar and Johnson talks about training people for the bar – staff training was important even back in the 19th century. Whiskey cocktails were an important part of the cocktail culture of the 19th century.
Images from the archives of Michael Veach