The first cocktails, those of early 19th century America, started out as fairly simple affairs: not much more than liquor, sugar, water and bitters. A hallmark of efficiency and efficacy, the cocktail was the perfect liquid companion for a nation on the move. It was quickly concocted, rapidly drunk and, in the end, it did something. If you were bent on seizing the day, or a patch of real estate, or mining rights, or a railroad, you couldn’t dawdle at the old colonial punch bowl. The cocktail — with its early-rising, strutting Rooster-ness embedded in its name — provided some of the up-and-at-’em, get-up-and-go and vim-and-vigor required of the American project.
But come the cold months, the striving man’s gaze turns inward, to hearth, to home. Warmth and succor are the watchwords when evening descends ever earlier, when it’s dark when it should be dawn. And so too the drinks of the season are cast from a different template, an older paradigm whose Old Country roots are unmistakable. These winter drinks are still in the efficacious mode — they do something —but what they do is tell our inner man to sit down. Relax. The railroad can wait ’til spring. The drinks we’ll explore in this debut edition of The Land of Forgotten Cocktails are the mashed potatoes or mac ‘n’ cheese of the bibber’s art — pure, soothing comfort.
We’re going to deploy some eggs in some of these drinks, and raw ones at that, so perhaps a few notes are in order. First, don’t be squeamish. We eat raw eggs all the time — raw yolks give mayonnaise its luster and raw egg whites make fluffy meringue. Secondly — and I only mention this because everything fun seems to have a disclaimer attached to it these days — while there is a wee, tiny, remote and statistically rare health risk associated with the consumption of raw eggs, it’s rare, tiny and remote, indeed. Besides, there is some solid evidence that the alcohol in these drinks has a prophylactic effect against any ill side effects. If you’re still a bit unsettled, pasteurized egg products are easy enough to come by, or you can have a companion make the simplest of toasts: “To your health!”
Nothing evokes the Christmas season for me more than this drink. A whiff of glühwein warming on a stovetop provokes a reaction somewhere between Pavlov and Proust. While memories of the German Christmas markets of my youth play out on my brain’s Cineplex 2000, I’m feverishly hunting for a mug and a ladle. Glühwein is also known as mulled wine, or, in Scandinavia, glögg.
1 bottle of cheap but robust wine
1 cup sugar
Peel from 1 orange studded with cloves
2-4 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
4 allspice berries or 1/2 tsp powdered
1/2 cup brandy or rum
Add all the ingredients into a pot, except for the cognac. Over medium heat, with the lid on, bring just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce heat to low and let steep for 10 minutes. Add brandy and serve.
Note: Glühwein can be made in advance if you remove the spices after no more than a half hour of steeping (they can turn bitter). Store it in the fridge and reheat in the microwave in individual servings, or put it back on the stove for a group. Keep in mind that if it boils, you lose alcohol. Glühwein is perfect for holiday parties — you can serve it from a crock-pot set to medium heat. Added Bonus: It makes the house smell good, like potpourri you can drink!
Homemade eggnog is a lost art, a forgotten ritual, and that’s a sad thing. It’s not hard or time-consuming to make — a batch can be whipped up in the time it takes you to go to Hannaford and buy the commercial crap. It ages extremely well and turns into an even lusher, richer quaff after one-to-three weeks.
Why the funny name? The most reasonable conjecture is that noggin was an old English word for a small wooden cup in which this eggy punch was served. One of the more fanciful theories holds that it’s short for “egg and grog in a noggin.” This eggnog recipe is adapted from one by the “King of Cocktails,” Dale DeGroff, whose Uncle Angelo won a contest with it.
6 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 quart milk
2 cups heavy cream
6 ounces bourbon
6 ounces spiced or dark rum
Nutmeg — ground is fine, but a whole nut, freshly grated, is far better
6 dashes Angostura bitters
Beat the yolks with 1/2 cup of sugar and the orange zest until lemon-colored. Add the booze, cream and milk, and mix well. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites with the remaining sugar until soft peaks are formed. Fold the whites into the mixture. Dust with nutmeg and dash the bitters onto the fluffy clouds that should be floating on top.
Tom and Jerry
What’s this? A drink named after a mischievous cartoon cat-and-mouse duo? Not really, but kinda.
In the 1820s, a scribe named Pierce Egan began a monthly journal called, simply, “Life in London,” in which he chronicled the comings and goings of the young bucks of the Regency period and their assorted shenanigans. Later collected into the book Life in London, or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq. and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom, the term “Tom and Jerry” entered the lexicon as an expression connoting drinking, fighting and carousing. Thus the drink, thus the cartoon.
The Tom and Jerry was a fixture in taverns and saloons from the last half of the 19th century until Prohibition removed it to the home, where it was a staple of any hostess worth her salt. The Tom and Jerry Belt, if we can call it that, ran from upstate New York through most of New England, where many tableware and pottery factories churned out various and sundry sets of bowls and mugs, unadorned save for the words “Tom and Jerry” around the rim. The drink is all but forgotten, but eBay is littered with the remains of all that pottery.
In 1953’s The American Drink Book, S.S. Field proclaimed, “Unless you have once leaned against an old-fashioned New England blizzard, the kind that can blow two feet of snow through the keyhole in a night, you have yet to fully appreciate the heroic nature of the Tom and Jerry… [and] may still count among your still unnumbered blessings man’s finest achievement in the art of going to sleep.”
I offer you Field’s recipe in its entirety, drafty trousers and all…
“Work into the beaten yolk of one egg a teaspoon of maple sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of Allspice, 1 jigger of white or gold Rum, beating until smooth and thick. Beat separately the egg white to a stiff froth and add to the above mixture, stirring well as 1/2 jigger of brandy is poured in. Put this mixture into a preheated Tom and Jerry mug, fill with hot milk or boiling water and dust with nutmeg.
“In the entire roster of civilized man’s achievements, there is nothing to surpass this for internal consumption when ye wither winds do howl up ye pantaloon leg.”
The colonial-era flip was a peculiar contraption made with beer, eggs, sugar and spices. But what truly made it strange was that a red-hot poker was inserted into the mug to make it a steaming, frothy mess. Thankfully, that odd duck went the way of the dodo and the cocktail evolved into a more streamlined affair. It’s still a rare bird, though, and difficult to find in the wild, but it’s easily domesticated.
Rye whiskey was the American whiskey until Prohibition handed that mantle to King Bourbon. Nearly forgotten for decades, he’s making something of a comeback now, and the state of Maine gives us three to choose from: Jim Beam, Old Overholt, and Sazerac. Work with your friendly neighborhood liquor trader and try to get some of the Sazerac, though the others will do.
And I don’t care what your father told you: Canadian whiskey is not rye. Sure, there might be some rye in it, but eating Amato’s won’t turn you into a “Real Italian,” either.
2 ounces rye whiskey
1 teaspoon maple syrup (or sugar)
1 whole egg
Shake the first three ingredients with ice. Shake it like you mean it — you’re trying to wake it up, not put it to sleep. Strain into a glass and dust with nutmeg.
— John Myers