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.
I wouldn’t normally write about the Blood and Sand Cocktail.
I don’t like it. I’ve never met anyone who likes it. The flavors make no sense to me. Four ingredients, all fighting with each other.
Harry Craddock must have seen something in it when he first published its peculiar formula in his 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. And drinkers with palates different from mine must like it, as evidenced by its continued presence in highly respected bar manuals more than eighty years after its creation.
(And, of course, there’s the theatrical value of that lurid name, riding the coattails of Rudolph Valentino’s 1922 movie. I’ll admit, that’s really good.)
But from my palate’s point of view, the Blood and Sand is really broken. So what makes this cocktail worth writing about?
In abstract terms, you could think of the Sazerac as an Old-Fashioned with a strongly aromatic rinse on the glass. Typically, it’s made with rye whiskey or cognac, but Phil Ward’s Cooper Union cocktail, though it looks like a Sazerac, is all about malt whiskey.
“Always learn from your mistakes.”
So our parents admonished us, and I had plenty of opportunities for learning.
My favorite kind of mistake is the kind where the process of “getting it wrong” leads to something unexpectedly good.
My most recent case in point: the champagne-and-cognac Brut Nature 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”
There have been many drinks bearing the name Automobile Cocktail. Two of them are particularly interesting.
If you’ve been drinking Martinis for any length of time, you’ve likely heard of movie director Alfred Hitchcock’s famous disregard for vermouth. According to the tales, the closest Hitch would come to a bottle of vermouth is to glance toward it from across the room, then toss back his “Hitchcock Martini”—nothing but a chilled glass of gin. It’s the stuff of legend, possibly even true, Continue reading “The Rise of Vermouth and the Pantomime Cocktail”
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”
As the saying goes, “myth and legend are the kudzu of history,” and cocktail history is as much overgrown as any.
Today’s case in point: the pre-Prohibition Ward 8 Cocktail, one of the most famous of classic whiskey sour variations.