Good Times Down on the Mississippi

…from overseas to the U.S.A., 

New York, Los Angeles, oh how I yearned for you, 

Detroit, Chicago, Chattanooga, Ba-ton Rouge!

– Back In The U.S.A., Chuck Berry

If I’ve shown nothing else these last few days, it’s that the U.S. cocktail has English roots. Not so tenacious they were, as by the mid-1800s even the English thought the compounded drink was American, but whiskey studies have shown in recent years the English were at the bottom of gin cocktail and all the other kinds. It’s yet another of the world’s ethanolic compounds for which they are responsible directly or indirectly.

It shouldn’t be a surprise: America was founded by the British, certainly as a polity, errant as it was, but to a great degree socially and culturally as well. From laws to language, foodways to literature, the Anglo-Saxon influence is deep and enduring. To be sure, it is not the only influence. The country is famously a melding of many peoples and cultures, but to ignore the dominating influence that was Albion’s is bootless (that’s bootless, not bootlegging).

One of the parts of the country which demonstrated different influences is Louisiana. The Spanish and French were there, of course native Americans and African-Americans. It all shows in the food, architecture, mores, music.

West Baton Rouge (now Port Allen) in 1860 was still partly French but, as New Orleans 70 miles to the southeast, increasingly under Anglo-Saxon influence. The Civil War was starting, and Louisiana made fateful choices which marked its destiny in part to this day.

But our purpose here is to show the side that was, let the good times roll. The side that was, and not so to speak, laissez faire. You see it below in an extract from the Sugar Planter of February 11, 1860, a newspaper in West Baton Rouge. The first part reprises the meme of cocktail “cocking your tail”. We’ve seen it in England, Australia, now America. Whether at the bottom of the cocktail mystery or not, it is noteworthy that it pops up in old Louisiane.

A NEW BEVERAGE. – Simon, whose “shingle” is a Rainbow on high to the thirsty, has been presented with a recipe by a distinguished politician of the State for the making of a beverage which surpasses all other concoctions yet invented. Call and try one, be sure and ask for one of the new drinks, the Otherwise Cocktails! – if it don’t cock your tail, or otherwise, we are greatly mistaken.

BRANDY AND WATER by Degrees. – Brandy and water. Branwater. Bramwater. Bramwarra. Bramwar. Bremwar. Bamwr-wrr-wr. Berr-eughph! – Sugar Planter.

We’ve seen our contemporary in all the degrees – not excepting the last. His description is vivid. – Advocate.

It affords us much pleasure to meet the approbation of our worthy tutor, whose lessons it has ever been our pride to commit faithfully to memory, and to practice.

The Otherwise Cocktails – a good example of Stateside drollery, and not a little marketing savvy. Americans were always the best marketers.

The part on brandy is worthy of a Foster Brooks routine.

It’s laughs a minute, vous le savez, cause we’re down south in old French and Spanish country. The Protestant reserve that was always the un-boon companion to the alcohol tolerance had less scope there. In much of the country, certainly by 1860, a newspaper wouldn’t dare celebrate the joys of cocktails or have a laugh on the cloth-tongue that accompanies too much liquor. In Louisiana, the attitude was, vous ferez mieux de vous calmer.

It was le calme avant la tempête, in more ways than one…