If the drinks of winter are a study in the “fine art of going to sleep,” then the drinks of spring are about gently waking up. Just as Mother Nature goes back to her business this season, so too must the Striving Man gird himself and get to work — there are buildings to build, cities to run, lengthening days yet to seize.
The cocktails we’ll be exploring this time are suited to the morning tippler, either by design or by dint of history. They’re perfectly respectable at any other time of day, but their charms are in sharpest relief when the tippler is in need of some relief of his own.
With one exception, you won’t find any of your standard brunch drinks here. Mimosas, Bloody Marys and the like seem almost garish in their festivity, ill-suited to the workaday responsibilities of necessary morning drinks.
In more reasonable and less suspicious times, a morning tipple was hardly worth mentioning, and was not considered indicative of low-life character. John Adams, for example, was widely known to imbibe a tankard of hard cider upon rising. The first mention of the Mint Julep, in 1803, describes “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning.”
Journalist and café society chronicler Lucius Beebe paints an intimate portrait of ante-meridian drinking during the Gilded Age in The Stork Club Bar Book…
“Gentle folk often drank a brandy sling heavily laced with Stoughton’s Bitters, a notable cure-all of the times, before descending to breakfast. Hardier if less elegant souls had a slug of rock and rye while shaving and brushed their teeth in a light Moselle… During the ride downtown the pre-breakfast restorative, no matter how liberally applied, tended to die on the captains of finance and industry and a few of the less sensitive of that valiant generation paused at spas previously ascertained and charted near Canal Street before continuing to the shadow of Grace Church… One skirmish with the stock ticker, however, and a whiff of what Jay Gould was doing in the gold market usually set even the Morgan partners to reaching for their hats and telling the receptionist they were just going across the street to the Subtreasury for a few minutes. They invariably returned… eating a clove.”
The cocktail itself was born as a morning drink. The first documented use of the word in connection with a beverage occurs in a New Hampshire newspaper, the Farmer’s Cabinet, in April of 1803. In a humorous item purporting to be an entry from the diary of a budding slacker, our hero awakes feeling “queer” after a late night “Assembly.”
His morning coffee does little for him, but at 11:00: “Drank a glass of cocktail — excellent for the head… Went to the Col’s… drank a glass of wine, talked about Indians… Called at the Doct’s. [F]ound Burnham — he looked very wise — drank another glass of cocktail.”
What was in his “glass of cocktail”? We’d have to wait until 1806, when The Balance and Columbian Repository printed an editorial listing the liquor expenditures of a defeated candidate for alderman. In a follow-up letter, the editor offers this definition: “Cocktail is a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters — it is vulgarly called a bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering portion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said also to be of great use to a Democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else.”
Only a few drinks in the cocktail canon hew very closely to the proto-cocktail template — the Old Fashioned, when properly made, is one — but for my money, the most genteel way of getting around a slug of whiskey is the Sazerac. Born of New Orleans, and often erroneously called the first cocktail, the Sazerac calls for a very specific brand of bitters for its success. It’s hard to come by in the local market, but Peychaud’s Bitters can be found in the gift shop at buffalotrace.com. They’re cheaper than you’d expect, the shipping is reasonable, and it’s all perfectly legal. (While you’re there, fluff up your order and get a bottle of Regans’ Orange Bitters #6.)
3 ounces whiskey (bourbon is good, rye is better)
4 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters (more or less)
1/2 ounce simple syrup*
Twist of lemon
1 dash absinthe (or absinthe sub- stitute like Pernod, Herbsaint, etc.)
Fill a tumbler with ice to chill. Remove the ice and rinse with absinthe, dumping out the excess. Add all the liquid ingredients to a mixing glass, add ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into the educated tumbler. Twist the lemon over the top and discard.
“The future of American thought, poetry and religion, the future of the American world — is intimately interwoven with whiskey sours,” wrote Delmore Schwartz. Schwartz died alcoholic and insane, but he knew a thing about whiskey sours. In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, but those responsibilities are more easily dealt with when the next morning starts with a sour.
A close cousin to the Whiskey Fix-up (a clue to its morning efficacy), the Whiskey Sour has been reviving tired souls since the mid-1800s. It’s punch on a small plan, and fit nicely into the go-go, full-speed-ahead nature of the Industrial Age.
(I know what you’re thinking: What is the Whiskey Sour, a staple of the fake I.D. set, doing in the Land of Forgotten Cocktails? The answer begins and ends with lemon juice. Remember this: lemon juice comes from a lemon, not a box with a lemon on it, not a plastic thing shaped like a lemon, and never from a hose with buttons. Whiskey Sours made sans squeezing are a sad thing indeed, unfit for drinking at any time of day.)
2 ounces whiskey (bourbon or rye)
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
Put all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker and shake. Serve up or on the rocks. Garnish with a slice of orange, pineapple, or nothing at all.
For some fancy variations, a dash of Curacao or Cointreau on top is nice. For a Chicago innovation that looks spectacular and tastes fantastic, float some red wine on top.
More a genre or category of drinks than a specific recipe, the Corpse Reviver is just that; it has no pretension of being anything but a morning refresher. Perhaps the finest and most persistent version is the Corpse Reviver #2 from the Savoy Cocktail Book of 1930, a passable version of which is on the cocktail menu at the White Heart, on Congress Street.
There are some things to keep in mind ingredient-wise. Lillet (pronounced lee-lay) is a fortified and aromatized wine from Bordeaux similar to (but not interchangeable with) vermouth. It historically contained a good slug of quinine, but that was reduced some time ago. To restore some of that bitter edge, I add two dashes of Regans’ Orange Bitters #6 — the mild orange notes meld well with the wine. The Pernod must be handled with great care — a little goes a long way, and it can easily hijack your cocktail to Licorice Town, wrapped in a rug and stuffed in the trunk.
Corpse Reviver #2
3/4 ounce gin
3/4 ounce Lillet
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce Cointreau
1 dash Pernod (or absinthe or absinthe substitute)
Put all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. (Warning: As Harry Craddock, author of the Savoy Cocktail Book, notes, “Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.”)
The sole “brunch drink” on our menu, the Ramos Gin Fizz, is a thing to behold, and its devotees are legion. Another New Orleans original, the Ramos Brothers created their gin fizz at the Imperial Cabinet Saloon in
the 1880s. A cross between a Collins and a milk punch, it has a few idiosyncrasies.
First, it uses an egg white and cream, two ingredients that require a lot of “persuasion” to play nice with each other. During Mardi Gras at the Imperial Cabinet Saloon, the Ramos Brothers deployed a line of “shaker boys” just for that purpose. And then there’s orange flower water. You can find this in any number of ethnic markets. Use this stuff sparingly: three drops means three drops. Slouch toward excess and your drink will taste like soap.
It seems like a lot to keep in mind and a lot of work for the hour and condition you’re in, but the payoff: You’ll have given your failing constitution some protein, coated your acidulated stomach with cream, and slipped a stick of gin into your system.
Ramos Gin Fizz
2 ounces gin
1 egg white
1 ounce cream
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
3-4 drops orange flower water
Put all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Shake. Shake like you mean it. Keep on shaking. Shake it harder. Take a 10 second break. Shake it again and then shake it some more. Strain into a highball or Collins glass and top with club soda.
On almost every Polynesian-inspired faux-tiki drink menu in countless crappy Chinese restaurants, you’ll find a Suffering Bastard. Juiced to the gills, these Suffering Bastards might have grenadine or pineapple juice (or both), and arrive in a Buddha-shaped glass or a skull mug. The Suffering Bastard is a lost cocktail worth saving if ever there was one, and a damn fine morning tipple that brings us full-circle back to the efficacy of bitters.
There actually was a Suffering Bastard, and his name was Joe Scialom. He was the head bartender at the Shepheard Hotel in Cairo in the ’40s, and like a lot of bartenders, he showed up for work one morning suffering from bottle fatigue. Joe mixed a little of this and a little of that and some more of some other thing, and before he knew it, he felt cured. He called his fixer-upper the Suffering Bar Steward, but at his polyglot hotel bar, it quickly became the Suffering Bastard.
1 ounce gin
1 ounce bourbon
1/2 ounce lime juice
4 dashes Angostura Bitters
Combine all ingredients and pour into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with ginger ale and garnish with mint sprigs. (For an advanced case, increase the lime juice to 1 ounce and top with ginger beer.)
— John Myers