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gin cocktails

… including London Dry, New Western, Old Tom and Genever

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.”

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”

Chasing the Gibson Cocktail

Steward: “Cocktail before dinner?”

Thornhill: “Yes, I’ll have a Gibson.”

So begins one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most amusing scenes, the famous club car seduction scene between Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill and Eva Marie Saint’s Eve Kendall in North by Northwest. Seduction isn’t really the right word; it’s more of a pickup scene between two people who don’t seem to be in the habit of resisting. Grant’s Thornhill seems the type to always have his motor running; clearly, it’s Eve who’s shifting the gears. Continue reading “Chasing the Gibson Cocktail”

Tall and Cool: the Gin Rickey

It’s summer of 1883 in Washington DC. The air shines and wavers; you can see it, and you can smell it—the horses, the pavement, the flats of the Potomac River. A few blocks from the White House, on a section of E Street known as “Rum Row,” the dive bars are filling up with journalists, lobbyists, and any legislators who haven’t left town. At Shoomaker’s Bar, sometimes described as the “third room of Congress”, George Williamson is mixing drinks. On the other side of his bar stands Joe Rickey—“Colonel” Joe Rickey of Missouri—who is about to become that rarest of all things, a man with an entire category of drinks named after him.

Continue reading “Tall and Cool: the Gin Rickey”

The Tale of the Tuxedo Cocktail

The mystery of the Tuxedo Cocktail is trying figure out just which Tuxedo we’re talking about. The Tuxedo is more a spectrum of recipes, rather than a single formula. Continue reading “The Tale of the Tuxedo Cocktail”

The Automobile Cocktail, Two Ways

There have been many drinks bearing the name Automobile Cocktail. Two of them are particularly interesting.

Continue reading “The Automobile Cocktail, Two Ways”

The X-15, Saturn, and the Finer Points of Bad Behavior

My father introduced me to model airplane kits, and I was hooked. I always enjoyed the fun of learning about the airplanes, selecting the “next one,” working through the pieces of the kit, adding paint and decals, getting my fingers glued together, and finally adding each finished airplane to the growing collection on the shelves above my desk.

One of the last kits I assembled, and the strangest of the lot, was the X-15 rocket plane, Continue reading “The X-15, Saturn, and the Finer Points of Bad Behavior”

Two Nights at the Opera

One of the old-school cocktails that made a comeback in the last fifteen years is the Opera Cocktail.

The Opera is a blend of gin, Dubonnet, and liqueur—and that’s where the story gets interesting.
Continue reading “Two Nights at the Opera”

A Martini with Something In It — The Merry Widow Cocktail

The best description I can think of for the Merry Widow cocktail is that it’s a fancy, vermouth-heavy martini with a touch of herbs and spice.

Continue reading “A Martini with Something In It — The Merry Widow Cocktail”

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