The Land of Forgotten Cocktails

photos/The Fuge

Drink Early, Vote Often

My fellow Americans, our long nightmare is over. We can all go back to sleeping once again on the cool, dry side of the national pillow. The Perpetual Campaign has finally shut down — inasmuch as it ever does — until the next batch of knuckleheaded hopefuls and revitalized also-rans start cropping up at bean suppers and barn raisings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

We should raise our glasses to the silence and fortify ourselves against the inevitable voters remorse to come. 

We are an Alcoholic Republic, in the words of historian W.J. Rorabaugh, and the marriage of booze and our politics runs deeper than you might think. George Washington may have fueled the first cries for campaign finance reform when he bought 160 gallons of cider, rum and beer on Election Day to rouse the vote for his run at Virginia’s House of Burgesses. A great expenditure by anyone’s measure, but consider this: there were only 391 qualified voters!

Most historically significant for the political bibber, however, is the campaign of an unnamed and unknown candidate in far Claverack, New York in 1806. “Rum! Rum! Rum!” crowed the Balance and Columbian Repository in its May 6th edition:

It is conjectured, that the price of this precious liquor will soon rise at Claverack since a certain candidate has placed in his account of Loss and Gain, the following items: —

720 rum-grogs
17 brandy [grogs]
32 gin slings
411 glasses bitters
25 [glasses] cock-tail
My Election


In the May 13th edition, the publisher printed the letter to the editor and response from the editor below. The exchange is now famous among the cocktailian crowd because it contains the first known printed definition of the word cocktail. It’s usually cited in truncated form, with all but the essentials stripped out. I give you an expanded version (though not the full) mainly because the wit is so witty and the sarcasm so sarcastic, but in a deeper sense, the polygamous marriage of voter, politician, journalist and the lubricating effect of booze is right there on the surface…

“I observe in your paper of the 6th instant, in the account of a democratic candidate for a seat in the legislature, marked under the head of Loss, 25 [glasses] cock-tail. Will you be so obliging as to inform me what is meant by this species of refreshment? Though a stranger to you, I believe, from your general character, you will not suppose this request to be impertinent.

“I have heard of a forum, of phlegm-cutter and fog driver, of wetting the whistle, of moistening the clay, of a fillip, a spur in the head, quenching a spark in the throat, of flip [etc], but never in my life, though I have lived a good many years, did I hear of cock-tail before. Is it peculiar to a part of this country? Or is it a late invention? Is the name expressive of the effect which the drink has on a particular part of the body? Or does it signify that the democrats who take the potion are turned topsycurvy, and have their heads where their tails should be? I should think the latter to be the real solution; but am unwilling to determine finally until I receive all the information in my power…

“I hope you will construe nothing that I have said as disrespectful. I read your paper with great pleasure and wish it the most extensive circulation. Whether you answer my inquiry or not, I shall still remain,

The response: 

“As I make it a point, never to publish anything (under my editorial head) but which I can explain, I shall not hesitate to gratify the curiosity of my inquisitive correspondent: Cock tail, then 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 potion 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 any thing else.” 


The editor wasn’t merely boasting. He was none other than Harry Croswell, upon whose back American libel law was built. You see, Croswell published a piece about Jefferson financing a pamphlet that all but slandered George Washington and John Adams, costing Adams the election of 1801. In 1803 Jefferson’s henchmen brought charges of seditious libel against Croswell and his only defense — a good one, if ultimately unpersuasive — was that Jefferson had in fact given $100 to James Callendar to publish the pamphlet. Alexander Hamilton himself argued Croswell’s appeal, but after an impassioned, six-hour stem-winder, Hamilton also came up empty. The New York Legislature, however, agreed with Hamilton and enacted a reform to the libel laws, making the truth a trump to libel. 

In other words, it’s libelous for me to suggest a candidate is a hypocritical moneygrubber with questionable associates unless she is a hypocritical moneygrubber with questionable associates.

To paraphrase the great and soggy W.C. Fields: It was a politician that drove me to drink, and I never even stopped to vote. 

But rather than allow politics to drive our drinking, perhaps we should shoe the other foot and allow the drinks to suggest the politicians.

The Ward 8 may be the most overtly political of the classic cocktails. It was created in Boston, at the venerable Locke-Ober, in 1898 to commemorate Martin Lomasney’s election to the Massachusetts General Court. As the boss of the Eighth Ward, Lomasney’s power was such that the victory party was held the day before the polls opened. He later went Dry and joined the cause of prohibition, so if you taste a hint of irony in this one, don’t be alarmed.

Lomasney contributed one of the most enduring political axioms: Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink. Elliot Spitzer would later add: never put it in e-mail. Which brings us neatly to…

Between the Sheets. This cocktail calls to mind any number of politicians, and it would be a crime against paper to list them all, but I can’t help but mention a few that come to mind: Chellie Pingree. This is a cocktail that runs on a strange platform: rum and brandy are featured in equal parts like two wings of a fractious party. It serves to remind us that politics makes strange bedfellows who soon get accustomed to the same bunk.

The Alaska Cocktail was almost included in last month’s installment on Chartreuse, but it properly calls for Yellow Chartreuse. The yellow version is verboten in Maine, but the green version makes an almost accurate but compromised version of the true article. If that doesn’t suggest politicians, I’m not sure what does. If offered this version, just say “You betcha!” rather than worry “it wouldn’t be prudent.”

At first blush, you might think the Double Standard Sour speaks to the political class’ seemingly innate insincerity and hypocrisy. If it did, you could bet I’d insert another Chellie Pingree joke here. But it doesn’t, so I won’t. 

No, the “double standard” in this cocktail refers to a monetary policy that ties the value of silver to the value of gold. Or maybe it’s the other way around. To be honest, I’ve tried to understand how it works, and why Britain and France used it and why we did for a while and now don’t. All I got was a headache — a headache and Ron Paul’s voice stuck in my head.

Ward 8

1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. sugar
1.5 oz. bourbon or rye
.25 oz. grenadine*

Shake in an iced shaker until well chilled. Strain into an ice-filled highball or Collins glass. Garnish with a cherry and a twist of orange.


Between the Sheets

1 oz. brandy
1 oz. Cointreau (or other orange liqueur, like triple sec or Gran Gala)
1 oz. rum
.25 oz. fresh lemon juice

Shake in an iced shaker until well chilled. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with an orange twist.



1.5 oz. gin
.75 oz. Chartreuse
2 dashes orange bitters

Shake in an iced shaker until well chilled. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a twist of orange or lemon.


Double Standard Sour

.75 oz. rye whiskey
.75 oz. gin
.75 oz. grenadine*
.5 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. fresh lemon juice

Shake in an iced shaker until well chilled. Strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a cherry and orange slice.



Like most everything you buy in the bar mixer section of the store, what’s sold as grenadine is crap. Homemade grenadine is a must for drinks that call for it and its flavor will make your cocktails transcendent. It’s not much harder than making simple syrup. Pomegranate juice, though widely available, comes in varying levels of quality. If it says “from concentrate” on the label, it’s not a deal breaker, just make sure it’s pure juice — no apple or grape juice to “stretch” it. POM Wonderful is good. but spendy, and you have to be careful to get the one that’s 100% pomegranate juice. Here’s the easiest recipe that I use…

2 parts pomegranate juice
1 part sugar

Simmer together on the stove while stirring until the sugar is dissolved (5-10 minutes). Bottle it and refrigerate. 

Note: Some folks, particularly in Boston, add a drop or two of orange flower water (available at most ethnic markets). Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Do so at your peril: the stuff is potent, and if you slouch toward excess, everything it touches will taste like soap. (And not the good kind of soap, but the kind in a china bowl in your old aunt’s guest bathroom wrapped in tissue paper and shaped like a seashell or something.)

— John Myers


%d bloggers like this: