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A martini with something in it — the Ford Cocktail

You’d think I would have written about the Ford Cocktail long ago, if for no other reason than we share a name. I guess it’s taken me awhile to appreciate its subtleties.

My dawdling aside, the Ford is one of the grand old classics. It’s been around since at least 1895, when George Kappeler described it in his Modern American Drinks.

Kappeler offers no clue to the identity of the drink’s namesake. Ted Haigh, in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, speculates that the name may be a reference to athlete and journalist (and Noah Webster’s great-grandson) Malcolm Webster Ford. I’ll accept that — heck, I even share two names with that guy.

More to the point, sports heroes were often inspirations for bartenders and drink inventors in that era, and Malcolm Ford was a particularly well-regarded athlete — if Wikipedia is to be believed, he was a three-time champion “All Around Athlete,” a nineteenth-century ten-sport predecessor to what we now know as the Olympic Decathlon. The betting and sporting crowd of the day loved their athletes, and they loved their cocktails.

The Ford Cocktail, photo © 2020 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Ford Cocktail

The Ford Cocktail

Based on George Kappeler, Modern American Drinks, 1895

  • 1½ oz (45ml) Old Tom gin (Ransom Old Tom)
  • 1½ oz (45ml) dry vermouth (Dolin Dry Vermouth)
  • 3 dashes Bénédictine
  • 3 dashes orange bitters (Regan’s No. 6 Orange Bitters)

Stir with ice until cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail stem. Express  and garnish with orange peel. Serve very cold.

 

I think one of the reasons it took me a long time to warm up to this cocktail is that the first formula I encountered (not Kappeler’s) just called for “gin.” At that time I didn’t know enough to suspect that a gin specification from the Golden Age might well be Old Tom; London Dry was the way I understood gin, so I made the Ford with London Dry. It wasn’t very good, and I set the whole thing aside. I promise you, the slightly sweeter and funkier Old Tom makes all the difference; London Dry is too dry and too ascetic to hold this drink together.

Kappeler’s original calls explicitly for “Tom gin” in equal parts with vermouth, very much in the “martini” model of the time. 

The three dashes of Bénédictine very nearly get lost in the mix. In this drink, the liqueur is in the category of “secret ingredient,” raising the flavors of other elements to a different level. It’s sort of like the little pinch of salt that you add to a sour to take the edge off the acidity and raise the brightness of the fruit. Chefs will recognize the idea, too — a little salt, a little anchovy paste, a little bitters added to the mix, and other flavors start to light up.

(Anyone who has followed Cold Glass for a while knows that Bénédictine isn’t my favorite liqueur, and that there are only a handful of Bénédictine cocktails that have made the cut here, but I have to admit that Bénédictine makes this drink — it is definitely the anchovy paste of the Ford cocktail.)

The drink’s formula looks almost the same as a Martini’s, but the Ford is definitely not a Martini. Where the Martini emphasizes crisp, cold brightness, the Ford is lush and introspective, with the Tom gin’s sweetness and the Bénédictine’s herbality bringing out the complexity of the vermouth and the liqueur. The old-school proportions further emphasize the soft herbality of the vermouth.

The garnish plays an important part in the Ford’s overall flavor. The orange oils expressed across the surface provide the first impression as you raise the drink, and in the sip, a bright balance to the sweetness, herbality, and sense of weight in the other ingredients. The orange bitters finesses that balance.

Such a simple drink, the Ford Cocktail, yet it’s taken me ten years to figure out how to make it properly. Three things fell together to make that happen: more cocktail manuals (particularly Kappeler’s) became freely available for the cost of an internet search, good Tom gins appeared on the market, and I got a little bit smarter about how nineteenth century cocktails might work. As Captain Jack Aubrey said in the movie version of Master and Commander, “What a fascinating modern age we live in.”


Aquavit and the Trident Cocktail

It’s National Aquavit Week, and I just noticed that I have never published an aquavit cocktail here. There’s a reason for that: for the last ten years, I’ve mainly been focused on good cocktails with long histories, and there just aren’t any aquavit cocktails that fit that description.

Aquavit has always been a bit of a prickly customer, with big flavors foreign to the mainstream American drinking palate. But the American palate seems to be changing a bit — again.

Continue reading “Aquavit and the Trident Cocktail”

The Ray Long Cocktail

The Savoy Cocktail Book has been pretty well mined for century-old examples of classic cocktailing, and yet there are still a few attractive wallflowers that don’t get any attention. One of my favorites among these little charmers is the Ray Long Cocktail.

Continue reading “The Ray Long Cocktail”

Home Remedies and the Penicillin Cocktail

My mother had two remedies for colds. One was chicken soup; the other was a mix of lemon and honey.

I never thought to ask her if she really believed these nostrums cured anything, but they certainly had psychological benefits — at least they made us all feel like we were doing something.

Continue reading “Home Remedies and the Penicillin Cocktail”

Repairing the Brooklyn Cocktail, part 2

While I was working through the Brooklyn Cocktail’s evolution and formula for the previous post, my Bride brought home a couple of bottles of Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye whiskey.

One sip of Pennsylvania rye reminded me that in pre-Prohibition New York, the whiskey in your cocktail was likely very different from the Kentucky-style rye we’re most familiar with these days, Continue reading “Repairing the Brooklyn Cocktail, part 2”

In for Repairs: the Brooklyn Cocktail

Many bartenders have invented drinks called the Brooklyn Cocktail. The only version with any staying power, the Brooklyn we most often encounter today, is derived from a formula first published by Jacob Grohusko in his 1908 JACK’S MANUAL.

But we don’t encounter it very often, and therein lies a tale.

Continue reading “In for Repairs: the Brooklyn Cocktail”

The Creole Cocktail Four Ways

Given its name, you’d expect the Creole Cocktail to be from New Orleans. You’d be right—sort of.

Continue reading “The Creole Cocktail Four Ways”

Searching for the Bamboo Cocktail

The Bamboo Cocktail reminds me of the legend of blind men describing an elephant—every bartender’s guide seems to describe this cocktail differently.

There is one thing we do know about it, and it’s the thing that makes the Bamboo important to cocktail history: the Bamboo cocktail is the classic model for combining vermouth and sherry. Continue reading “Searching for the Bamboo Cocktail”

Whiskey and Bar Spoons: the Brainstorm Cocktail

There is a tongue-in-cheek reference to something called a Brainstorm Cocktail in a 1906 issue of a trade magazine called “The Northwest Druggist”:

The “brainstorm” cocktail is the latest. It consists mainly of cracked ice set aside to thaw.

Druggist humor, I guess.

The real Brainstorm Cocktail came along about ten years later; it’s one of Hugo Ensslin’s pre-Prohibition classics, first published in his Recipes for Mixed Drinks (1916).

Continue reading “Whiskey and Bar Spoons: the Brainstorm Cocktail”

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