The Drunken Dictionary: etymology of cocktails (part II)

aviation_snug

Back again, with some more cocktail origin stories! This time we’ll be delving into the emergence of gin-based drink names. During my bartending days a common response we gave to underspecified requests for custom cocktails was, “would you like something spirit-forward or citrussy?” If the customer chose the former, we’d mix them a drink with distilled liquids and liqueurs only. If it was the latter, we’d include juice (most often lemon, lime, or grapefruit) and potentially other non-alcoholic mixers (syrups, infusions, sodas). As a little homage to that question, I’m including a balance here – the below exploration has two “spirit-based” elixirs, and two “juicy” ones.

As with the last post, each cocktail has an etymological description and quote of first attested use from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). There’s also a recipe based on those we used at my last bar.

GIN

Gimlet_SethAnderson_Flickr_cropped     Gimlet

The OED states that 1928 was the first print reference for this versatile gin potable. In D. B. Wesson’s I’ll never be Cured:

“The ‘Gimlet’ we were introduced to..at the Golf Club: and it proved to be the well and flavorably known ricky, but described as ‘gin, a spot of lime, and soda’.”

However, the drink, along with its name, almost certainly came to be several decades earlier. There are at least two hypotheses concerning its etymology. Gimlet may derive from a tool of the same name, used for drilling small holes and tapping casks – since the cocktail had similar ‘piercing’ or ‘penetrating’ effects on its drinker.[1] The Dictionary reports that this tool term comes from Old French guimbelet (modern French gibelet). Alternatively, gimlet might be named after British Navy Surgeon Thomas Gimlette, who, starting in the 1870s, was said to have dosed his sailors’ gin with lime cordial to help combat scurvy on extended sea voyages.[2]

Recipe

  • Add to shaker tin:
    • 0.75 oz simple syrup
    • 0.75 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
    • 1.5 oz gin (for dryer, I recommend Plymouth or Aviation; for botanical, St. George Terroir or Uncle Val’s)
      • Use 2 oz gin if you like it a bit stronger
  • Add ice, shake, then double-strain into coupe/cocktail glass
  • Garnish with lime wheel, wedge, or peel

 

Martini_JenConsalvo_Flickr_cropped     Martini

Can you imagine a time before what seems like the most classic of all cocktails? According to the OED, one of the earliest mentions of this spirituous beverage is 1887, in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“Sample the bewildering depths of the ‘Martini cocktail’.”

Oxford English Dictionary reveals that the drink was first called a Martinez, likely taken from the name of a western California city where the libation is thought to have originated. The name twisted into its current form after the arrival of Italian liquor manufacturers Martini e Rossi (who applied for U.S. trademark in 1882); the company’s dry white vermouth was an integral part of this simple cocktail.

Recipe

  • Add to mixing glass then stir with ice:
    • 0.5 oz dry white vermouth (I recommend Lo-Fi Dry, Vya Extra Dry, or Dolin Dry)
    • 2.5 oz gin (for dryer, I recommend Plymouth or Aviation; for botanical, St. George Terroir or Uncle Val’s)
  • Strain into coupe/cocktail glass
  • Garnish with olives or lemon peel, per preference

 

negroni_snug_cropped     Negroni

Another strong but refreshing gin concoction is this vermillion delight. We initially hear about it (per the OED) in 1947, in the Coshocton Tribune (Ohio):

“Orson Welles, working in ‘Cagliostro’ in Rome, writes that he’s discovered a new drink there—Negronis. It’s made of gin, Italian vermouth and Campari bitters. ‘The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.’”

If you hadn’t already guessed, the word stems from Italian. The OED asserts that it was “the name of Count Camillo Negroni, the Italian aristocrat who is believed to have invented the drink in the 1930s.”

Negronis pair well with a Saturday afternoon, a hot sun, and an outdoor café.

Recipe

  • Add to mixing glass then stir with ice:
    • 1 oz dry gin (I recommend Plymouth or Aviation)
    • 1 oz red vermouth (I recommend Punt E Mes or Carpano Antica)
    • 1 oz Campari
  • Strain into coupe/cocktail glass or rocks glass (add ice if desired)
  • Garnish by spritzing orange peel over top of glass to add its oils; add peel to drink

 

Corpse_Reviver_2_Wikimedia_cropped     Corpse Reviver (#2)

Despite its disturbing name, the Corpse Reviver #2 is juicy and tart, with a smidgeon of absinthe adding lip-smacking complexity. The Oxford English Dictionary gives us this quote from the Birmingham Daily Post in 1871:

“And our American refreshment bars, In drinks of all descriptions cut a dash, From corpse revivers down to ‘brandy smash’.”

Wikipedia cites an even earlier reference – a mention in the magazine Punch, or The London Charivari in 1861:

“[…] that ‘officer of the Government’ expectorated twice with a marked gaiety of manner, and after liquoring up a Sling, a Stone Wall, and a Corpse-Reviver, he merrily danced forth into the middle of the room, and sang a pleasant song with an agreeable refrain: –”

Both sources could in fact be writing about the Corpse Reviver #1, a very different recipe (with cognac, calvados, and sweet vermouth) but who knows. No. 2 has been a much more popular request during our modern-day cocktail renaissance. Both 1 and 2 are informally known as hangover remedies, which was probably motivation for the name. Now what’s the etymology for “hair of the dog”?

Recipe

  • Add to shaker tin:
    • 0.75 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
    • 0.75 oz Cointreau
    • 0.75 oz Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano
    • 0.75 oz dry gin (I recommend Plymouth or Aviation)
  • Add ice, shake, then double-strain into coupe/cocktail glass
  • 2 dashes absinthe on top of drink
  • Garnish by spritzing orange peel over top of glass to add its oils; add peel to drink

 

[1] https://www.etymonline.com/word/gimlet
[2] WayBack Machine: Royal Navy

*Photo attributions:
Aviation (post header) and Negroni (actually it’s a Scotch Boulevardier) by Zack Schwab (co-owner of The Snug, along with my good friend Jacob Racusin); Gimlet by Seth Anderson; Martini by Jen Consalvo; Corpse Reviver by Will Shenton.

The Drunken Dictionary: etymology of cocktails (part I)

alembic_backbar

Cocktail culture in the U.S. (and in various countries around the world) has undergone an effervescent revival over the last ten or so years. Bartenders and drinkers in cities across America have become obsessed with rejuvenated classics – recipes from the 1870s through the 1950s – as well as with unique new creations, often featuring local ingredients and unusual spirits/liqueurs/spices/produce.

I took part in this crazy trend, bartending at whisk(e)y[1] and craft cocktail bars in San Francisco for seven years during grad school and after, as I tried to find a paying occupational home in linguistics. So it seems fitting that I write a piece or three blending these interests!

This post details the etymology of names for several popular whisk(e)y-based cocktails. Recipes for the drinks are also included. They’re based on those from my last bar, The Alembic (one of SF’s earliest craft cocktail establishments). A second post will cover gin-based beverages, and a third rum, brandy, vodka, and tequila concoctions.

The first print attestation for each cocktail name is taken from the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED is an incredible resource. Lexicographers have spent years transferring to digital format the Dictionary’s massive amounts of information. Heading the website’s About section: “600,000 words … 3.5 million quotations … over 1000 years of English”. The yearly subscription is expensive, but you may have access if you’re part of an academic (or business) institution. Check out a short version of the OED’s history on their website. And if you want more / are curious about initial creation of the Dictionary, I recommend this fun historical nonfiction book by Simon Winchester: “The Professor and the Madman”.

And now, down the boozy rabbit hole we go…

WHISK(E)Y

rubymanhattan_addisonberry_cropped      Manhattan

The name for this rye and sweet vermouth libation first appears in print in 1882 in Democrat (Olean, N.Y.):

“It is but a short time ago that a mixture of whiskey, vermouth and bitters came into vogue. It went under various names—Manhattan cocktail, Turf Club cocktail, and Jockey Club cocktail.”

Unsurprisingly, origin stories for the drink all point to a bar in New York – probably the Manhattan Club. Details beyond that are fuzzy, as things are wont to get when the brown spirit flows.

As for origins of the borough’s name, the OED shows first attested use in 1659. A “Manhattan” was “a member of a North American Indian people formerly inhabiting Manhattan Island, N.Y.” The word was borrowed from the Dutch Manathans, which in turn was borrowed from a native Munsee (Delaware) expression which meant something like “(where) one gathers bows”.

Recipe

  • Add to mixing glass then stir with ice:
    • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
    • 1 oz sweet vermouth (I recommend Punt e Mes or Carpano Antica)
    • 2 oz rye (I recommend High West Double Rye, Michter’s US*1, or Rittenhouse)
  • Strain into coupe/cocktail glass or rocks glass (add ice if desired)
  • Garnish with brandied cherry (avoid maraschino cherries!)

 

classic+old+fashioned_cropped      Old Fashioned

This delicious, simple drink is made with a bit of sugar, bitters, and bourbon or rye whiskey. It’s served on the rocks, often with a citrus garnish. The OED has an initial citing from 1878 in The Janesville Gazette (Wisconsin):

“I had to set up the wine; but I enjoy a quiet cocktail with a friend much better than all their hollow display. Let’s go down and get an old-fashioned drink all to ourselves.”

OED also has a note about its origin:

“The old-fashioned cocktail is said to have been invented in the late 19th cent. at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. It was probably so named because of its similarity to early whisky cocktails.”

Wikipedia sources give further detail on the above account, saying that by the late 1800s, when liqueurs were being added to cocktails, the basic sans-liqueur recipes were dubbed “old-fashioned”.[2]

Recipe

  • Muddle small turbinado sugar cube with several dashes of water in rocks glass until sugar is mostly melted
  • 3-4 dashes Angostura bitters; swirl glass to mix
  • large cube of ice
  • 2 oz bourbon (I recommend Elijah Craig, Michter’s US*1, or Eagle Rare)
  • Stir several times in glass with bar spoon
  • Garnish by spritzing lemon or orange peel over top of glass to add its oils; add peel to drink

 

sazerac_juliemccalliard_cropped    sazerac_miqueldiscart_cropped      Sazerac

The OED’s first quote containing the term is from 1941, in Louisiana: Guide to State (Federal Writers’ Project):

“The most celebrated of New Orleans cocktails—the Sazerac—is a mixture of whisky, bitters, and sugar, served in a glass mixed with absinthe.”

However, as with the Manhattan, this mixed drink seems to have been created closer to the mid-1800s. Merchants in New Orleans were importing a cognac called Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils; around that time a local bar (which had just been renamed to Sazerac Coffee House) supposedly began selling a beverage made with the imported cognac and bitters from Antoine Amédée Peychaud, a nearby apothecary. The primary spirit switched to rye around 1870, after French vineyards were ruined by the phylloxera epidemic. When the U.S. banned absinthe in 1912, other anise-flavored liqueurs were used instead (Herbsaint being the New Orleans alternative).[3]

Recipe

  • In chilled rocks glass:
    • 4 dashes absinthe; add ice cube and swirl; dump cube
  • Add to mixing glass then stir with ice:
    • 4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
    • 0.25 oz simple syrup
    • 2 oz rye (I recommend High West Double Rye, Michter’s US*1, or Rittenhouse); alternatively, you can use brandy (cognac or armagnac)
  • Strain into chilled, absinthe-rinsed rocks glass
  • Garnish by spritzing lemon peel over top of glass to add its oils; add peel to drink

 

[1] Why “whisk(e)y”? Because Americans (with their bourbons and ryes), Irish, and a few other nationalities spell their products as whiskey with the ‘e’, while the Scots, Canadians, and Japanese spell their spirits whisky.
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Fashioned#cite_note-5
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sazerac#History

*Photo attributions: Manhattan section – “Ruby Manhattan” by Addison Berry; Old Fashioned section – “Classic Old Fashioned Recipe” at Whiskey + Honey; Sazerac section – “Tales of the Cocktail Sazerac workshop” by Julie McGalliard and “NOLA 2018” by Miguel Discart.