The Sage of Baltimore Eulogizes German Bock

Author and journalist, Henry L. Mencken (1880-1956) is of interest to many on account of his scintillating style, one never equalled since. It’s of cinematic scale, an unlikely combination of stately Victorian and American razzmatazz. Another way to put it: Dickens meets the Jazz Age.

Mencken was Baltimore-born and raised, and was considered a star at Baltimore’s The Sun for the first third of the 1900s. He also had a noted career in New York as literary critic, especially his work on the The Smart Set and The American Mercury.

Mencken’s social and political ideas are, deservedly, much less remembered, or if they are, it is frequently with derision. He was an inconsistent thinker, one of those who claim to see no difference between the factions and despise them all even though in civilizational contests, things are never that simple. (Plus ça change…).

Probably due to his German-American roots, he opposed American entry in WW I. He deprecated the “Anglomaniacs” who wanted to help Britain – America’s cultural taproot – exit the morass of 1917. This was seen as rooting for the Kaiser. He repeated this obstinacy, digging himself in deeper, for WW II. This ensured permanent exile to the political wilds, and his undoing as a pundit.

In 1938, he wrote a case for Japan’s hegemony in the far east. He said virtually nothing about Hitler’s persecution of the Jews, which broke relations with many Americans, Jewish and other, he had worked or socialized with in the inter-war years. The publisher Knopf stood by him, but on rather flimsy grounds from what I can see.

Mencken claimed to be the ultimate libertarian but the limits of that philosophy were tested by forces he never really understood. At all events, pressroom cynicism and c. 1900 social Darwinism worked (maybe) on the American stage in the William James and Taft era: it didn’t suit the lethal fascisms of 1914-1945. But he couldn’t muster the intellect or will to rise to the new challenge.

Still, his literary talent endures; that no one can question.

Mencken was a fervent opponent of National Prohibition, and wrote frequently on beverage alcohol. He was an avid homebrewer, for example, through Volstead. But even in beeriana his inconsistency shows. In a late 1940s radio interview you can hear on youtube, when asked about his reputation as a beerman, he downplays it, saying he favoured the “wine of the country” and if it was beer he drank that.

The extract below, from Europe After 8:15 (1914), authored by Mencken with two others, shows rather a different picture. So do other writings of Mencken on the topic of the malt.

The Technicolor description of the bock beer experience, indeed the chapter it is part of, are some of the best things in Menckeniana (when you know Mencken well, it is obvious he wrote the Munich section alone). The chapter should be read in full by connoisseurs of bibulous social history, since it consists in good part of a romp through the city’s beer halls and gardens; meanwhile, savour the taste note on Munich bock. Its grandeur may stand alone in the annals of beer appreciation.

N.B. Not surprisingly, Michael Jackson was a fan of Mencken’s talent with language. One time I browsed a Cincinnati bookstore with him, spotted a vintage volume of Mencken’s The American Language, and made a gift of it to Michael on the spot. It was followed by a dinner in a German-American restaurant. Cincinnati after 8:15, you might say.

 

 

Note re images: The first image is available on numerous Internet pages and is believed in the public domain. The second three, from the book mentioned, was sourced via HathiTrust, here.  All intellectual property therein or thereto belong solely to their lawful owners or authorized users. Use believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 


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…

 

 


The Cocktail’s Origin, the Racecourse, the Ginger, Part II

David Wondrich, in comments made on Twitter yesterday regarding Part I of my postings on the cocktail, directed my attention to this part of the 2016 Saveur article I discussed:

Confirmation that feaguing and “cock-tail” are indeed related is provided by a little piece of political satire printed in 1790 in a provincial English newspaper, in which the writer, deploying the term in (I hope) the figurative sense, claims that a certain clergyman “hath been guilty of monopolizing all the ginger and pepper in the neighbourhood, to make the asses who vote for Sir Gerald Vanneck cock their tails.” That’s also how “cock-tail” seems to be deployed in The Prelateiad, an almost impenetrably obscure Dublin verse satire from 1789, which refers to cayenne pepper’s “cock-tail virtue.”

He points to these as further support for the ginger-figging theory of cocktail origin.

Initially I found these references obscure, which David allows in part for the second one. The first seemed possibly an aphrodisiacal allusion – and may still be a play on words. But I think I see now what he means. The election of Vanneck to public office was assisted by a supporter buying drinks for voters in which ginger or cayenne figured.

This would be consistent with the 1798, and John Badcock’s 1825, cocktail = ginger statements discussed earlier.

The term asses perhaps was meant to make the connection to gingered horses more clear.

(Cayenne is mentioned because it was sometimes used in the 1700s for beer and other drinks instead of ginger).

David points out too that gin and bitters cost more than a penny at the Axe and Gate and the lower price of the “cock-tail (vulgarly called ginger)” suggests it may not have included alcohol. I think some ginger of the time had to though, but it doesn’t really matter as I mentioned yesterday.

I do see that these references lend further support to his horse gingering theory of origin. Still, the matter isn’t free from doubt. The word cocktail was used for a horse as early as 1786 in Racing Calendar: A Full Account of the Plates, Matches, Etc. by James Weatherby, Vol. 14, 1786. A horse in competition was called Cocktail Goat.*

That is 12 years before the first citation for a drink in 1798, and the term had to be in use for some time before 1786.

Even in 1790, people might have given a cast to cocktail the drink that its true origin couldn’t sustain. This is especially given the suggestiveness of both cock and tail in the word.

For example, the Australian news story from 1930 I mentioned yesterday suggested cocktail for the horse came from the similarity of its docked tail to a rooster’s (cock’s) tail. If a rooster tail is at the origin of the horse name, which it could well be, a “ginger cocks the tail” explanation would not fit. Whereas, the mixture theory of origin (Låftman, 1946) sits well with this way to look at it, provided one accepts early ginger/cocktail was itself a mixture, which I think it was, typically.

Also, some cocktail horses had a tail which carried well naturally, the 1849 American Farmer’s Magazine reference I gave yesterday makes that point. This was in distinction to pure breeds whose tail almost always falls low naturally. The cocktail term may have originated as an observation of this trait of many mixed horses – no nicking of the tail, no gingering needed. Again this leaves room for full play of Låftman’s theory.

Still, David may well be right, as I said yesterday.

I want to turn now to an examination of what I think is some post-1798 history of the John Bull cocktail aka ginger.

It’s now 1842, and an issue of the Comic Almanack is released, a multi-year series of comic stories, anecdotes and poems, illustrated by the famed artist George Cruikshank. One of the stories, Up Hill And Down Dalecombines humour and fantasy to recount a strenuous winter climb of Primrose Hill, London, portraying it as part of an alpine quest to mount a series of London’s snowy peaks. In real life, Primrose Hill is a decorous low bump at the north end of Regent Park, London.

The context is entirely English, nothing to do with America. The writers were a group of well-known English writers including star-names like William Makepeace Thackeray and the Mayhew Brothers, but the specific stories were not credited.

The narrator explains that he meets a “child of the mountain”, who proffers him a “ginger cocktail”. No description is given, the climbers buy some and carry on.

Why is, not just cocktail, but a ginger cocktail, referred to in England in 1842, a period when observers were dazzled by the supposed American original? Because, IMO, the writer was remarking on a Georgian oddity, one older readers would have recognized but as something old-fashioned. Mountain people are famous everywhere for holding to practices long abandoned in more up-to-date locales.

Thackeray may have written the piece, and he did visit America – in 1852, 10 years after this story was written. Is it possible the writer nonetheless knew of the American cocktail and inserted it as a fantasy element? Yes, but even so, the only way readers could understand the reference is if the drink had some English signification.

I don’t think this particular cocktail had alcohol. It was something simply to warm the alpine climbers, as ginger is known as a heating and warming agent.

The citation, too, is only 14 years after the 1828 citation of John Badcock –  it’s not that long a time since the drink had some currency. This is like me visiting a small town in Canada and someone saying to me, “a barley sandwich would be neato, eh?.

Consider now this 1861 citation, relating to Australian (Victoria) mining country, from The Ovens and Murray Advertiser, a newpaper in Beechworth, Victoria. The gold rush had started in 1851. A barkeep in the British Hotel makes a gin cocktail in response to the visitors’ request. These visitors appear to be Britannic, there is no reference to Americans.

She says to them, “there is the gin”, “there is the cocktail things”. Clearly the bitters or some ginger extract, and probably sugar, were the “cocktail things”. She exhorts the gentlemen to make their own drink and “cock their tails”. This is a reprise of the 1790 Gerard Vanneck story with the same implications…

The Australian Gold Rush did include some American miners. California’s gold rush was a few years earlier than Australia’s, and some miners from the States came to Australia to lend their expertise.

Could the gin cocktails have been requested, and available, due to their influence? Maybe, but it is also possible a separate continuation of Albion’s cocktail is documented. This would be 33 years after the last English mention (1828). People in their 50s in 1861 would have remembered the cocktail of 1828 if they knew it to start with. That “the cocktail things” did not extend to the gin accords too with John Badcock saying cocktail was added to gin or beer. Only later was the resultant drink itself called cocktail.

This is a natural linguistic shift, the beef chile dish is a good example, it’s usually called just chile.

In America in 1874, a reference to “ginger cocktail” appeared in a kind of homily entitled “Unhappy Thoughts”. It was widely circulated, you can read its publication here a newspaper in Opelousas, LA. The line reads:

“That men will drink gin cocktail when they can get ginger cocktail”.

It can’t be clearer that this ginger cocktail had no alcohol. I believe this ginger cocktail is in a direct line of descent from the British original cocktail, not all of which were alcoholic, and containing the old ginger element.

Numerous stories in Australian and American papers, into the 1900s, refer to or give a recipe for “ginger cocktail” and make no reference to the usual, alcohol cocktail. Here is one from Molong, in Australia, 1902, “green ginger cocktail”. It appears in a list of ales and other mostly British-type alcohols. I doubt it is American-influenced, for one thing, I can’t recall a ginger cocktail in Jerry Thomas, or that it was typical of the American cocktail repertoire.

1931, Sydney, ginger cocktail is ginger syrup, lemon, orange, a little salt, water or soda (Sydney Mail, July 22, 1931).

These recipes often combine ginger, sugar, lemon, orange or other fruits. I did see one like these, Australian 1930s, in which gin was advised. Again, these descend IMO from the pre-American British cocktail which favoured ginger.

Of course too, there are many 1800s recipes for ginger cordial, or ginger conjoined with another name, usually a mix as above but with alcohol of some kind, maybe brandy, or sherry. Here is one, also pictured above. It’s from Stuart’s Fancy Drinks (1904), and is followed by a ginger gin which may well descend from Badcock’s 1828 gin-and-cocktail.

“Jamaica Ginger Cocktail” was a common, alcohol-based flavouring, late-1800s-early 1900s. It was often mixed with lemonade to walk around prohibition rules. We see one discussed in this 1917 Philadelphia press account (Evening Ledger, July 18, 1917).

1700s recipes for ginger often combined alcohol, lemon or orange again, loaf sugar, and sometimes spices, and seem quite related to many 1800s examples of ginger-based flavourings and extracts. My point is to show that, occasionally descendants popped up in distant places of English settlement or influence and sometimes under the name ginger cocktail, which IMO is ineluctably linked to the 1798 and John Badcock’s cocktail, Gerard Vanneck’s too (1790).

The 1700s recipes are typically mixtures, often with alcohol of some kind. I do allow that John Badcock’s 1828 “scratch” of ginger may have been the root itself. An item of 1800s commerce was “scraped ginger” which was the white root exposed and shaved. Some Asian cuisines use that type to this day of course. Non-scraped ginger looked more like the original knobby root and wasn’t as aromatic. Maybe the scraped shavings were dipped in beer or spirits, as a lemon zest can be, that is possible.

Still, too many ginger compounds of the 1700s-1800s were mixtures of numerous ingredients for me to doubt that some British cocktail aka ginger was of this type. In the 1808 Publican and Spirit Dealers Daily Companion, a “ginger wine is blended of ginger, sugar, lemon and raisins. This recipe, which reprises similar formulations from the 1700s, is very similar to numerous 1930s recipes that appear in the Australian press, excepted fermented.

Many 1700s recipes are expressed as remedies or medicine – including for horses. But clearly by the end of the century ginger was consumed in various kinds of drinks taken for pleasure. This early 1700s nostrum against the plague advises to use canary wine as the base and blends numerous flavourings including ginger. However, it suggests that use just of one flavouring is sometimes better, and mentions ginger specifically. The 1904 Stuart’s Fancy Drinks recipe for ginger cordial uses sherry as the base, broadly similar to the old Canary of the first recipe (strong white wine from the Canary Islands). Stuart’s version is clearly a descendant of the first one.

I project that the ginger cocktail of the 1790s represented a mid-point. The contemporary ginger wine is not so far off except sugar was used to produce the alcohol through fermentation.

Finally, the former British colonies in the U.S. and Canada continue the old British cocktail in another way, in numerous food contexts: tomato juice cocktail, canned fruit cocktail, and oyster cocktail, the spicy tomato base used to dip oysters or clams.

Why would a childrens’ food like fruit cocktail, or white picket fence tomato juice, be named after the quintessential adult American drink? The answer is, it’s not.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

*In fact, cocktail for horse has been dated to 1761, see this discussion by Andrew Willett in his informative Elemental Mixology, 2 ed., 2016. The 1761 reference states the horse was “cut cock-tail”, which is an interesting formulation. To me, it could suggest the tail was cut to look like a rooster’s tail. If so, as I said in the text, that would rule out any connection to ginger. The fact that a mixed blood horse could have a tail altered with surgery vs. ginger application, or even have the look naturally as some did, inclines me once again to view favourably the mixture theory (mixed blood horse likened to mixed-origins drink), and Willett appears to favour that too. But still, Wondrich could be right, as I’ve said a number of times. Ginger does seem to be a link between the c. 1800 cocktail drinks and one way often used to make a horse look lively. Anyway having read all the other theories, including H. L. Mencken’s enumeration, it comes down I think either to the Låftman mixed blood idea or Wondrich’s gingered horse/cock-your-tail one. One has to be correct, I think. The rest of the explanations are more or less fantasy or so-called heroic explanations that have no reasonable foundation including the Bordeaux coquetel one, the Mexican princess one, Elizabeth Flanagan, etc.

 

 

 

 


The Cocktail’s Origin, The Racecourse, The Ginger, Part I

Seven years ago, English-based drinks historians Jared Brown and Anastasia Miller made a landmark discovery: a 1798 citation for “cock-tail” in a London newspaper. Brown recounts the finding in this Telegraph article from 2012.

In Brown’s words:

Until recently, the earliest-known use of the word “cocktail” in print that referenced drink was from 1806 in an upstate New York newspaper. Then, in 2005, it was discovered in a Vermont newspaper from 1803. In 2010 we found the word used in the March 20, 1798, edition of The Morning Post and Gazetteer, a long-defunct London newspaper. The paper had reported on March 16 that the landlord of the Axe & Gate tavern at the corner of Downing and Whitehall, on winning a share of a lottery, returned to his establishment and erased his regulars’ tabs with a mop “in a transport of joy”. Four days later the paper ran a satirical article listing who owed for what drinks in the heart of British politics. A certain Mr Rose (while writing letters upon the reform of public offices) owed for “gin and bitters”. Another owed for 35 nips of “glue”, “commonly called Burton ale, to make the members of the neutrality stick together”. Toward the bottom, William Pitt the younger owed for “L’huile de Venus”, “perfait [sic] amour”, and a less French drink: “‘cock-tail’ (vulgarly called ginger).”

L’huile de Venus (oil of Venus) was a compounded and distilled drink of brandy and many flavourings, a form of (per Wikipedia) ratafia. Parfait Amour was and is an intense, aromatic liqueur, generally of purple hue. It may be noted that the three drinks can be read with a sexual sub-text and I think it’s fairly certain, given the satirical intent, that the bar tab and lottery award were literary creations.

William Pitt the Younger was then Prime Minister. Numerous sources confirm the existence in 1798 of the Axe and Gate tavern, in fact it was on Downing Street. But why would Pitt, albeit known to like drinking, have had three drinks with an amatory theme?

Pitt’s sexuality was the butt of speculation and ribald humour during his career, he never married and the drinks ascribed to him can be seen as alluding to that fact.

The references to the sticky Burton Ale, and gin and bitters tipple of reformer/agitator “Mr. Rose”, also point to invention for polemical reasons.

But the 1798 find is no less a landmark for that as the drinks had to exist in society, otherwise the readership would not see the play on words; this is the point for present purposes.

The 1806 reference, known for over a century, was in The Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson, NY, reproduced above.

David Wondrich, the American cocktails historian, found the 1803 reference mentioned by Brown, in a Vermont paper. That reference doesn’t mention alcohol, but probably it did connote an alcohol drink given the context – the drinker was taking it to assuage seemingly a hangover. Wondrich explains it all in this informative article last year in Saveur magazine. The article gives good general background to the etymology issue, and summarizes well the current state of knowledge.

The drinks context is important because “cocktail”, or cock-tail in earlier spellings, was also a term known in the early 1800s, and probably before, in a different connection. It meant a non-thoroughbred horse, one of mixed breed. English sporting writer John Badcock made a number of references to this equine cocktail in his writings of the 1820s. He was one of numerous writers to use the term, and American horsing circles also used it in the 1800s.

As Wondrich explains in his book Imbibe, in 1825 Badcock also wrote, seemingly of the drink, “cocktail is ginger”. In 1828, he wrote that a “scratch or two of cocktail” was added by sporting enthusiasts to beer, gin or a mixture of both. The ginger equation is thus the same as the 1798 citation which states ginger was a popular synonym for cocktail. So, cocktail was a drink of some kind, involving the ginger root.

The tails of non-thoroughbred horses were sometimes shortened or “nicked” to distinguish them from pure breeds, see this 1800s explanation, whence the illustration here is taken. This meant the tails were turned upward, which gave the animals a lively, jaunty look. So, perhaps because a cocktail horse had that look, it occurred to drinkers to call a ginger-based drink a cocktail, for its effect on the drinker. The World’s News in Sydney picked up the idea in a story in November, 1930, which was probably current for some time. (The reference to 1809 can be read as earlier knowledge on the dating issue). In its words:

 

Cocktail Chatter
The recent International Cocktail Competition, held in London, and which resulted in a win for “Golden Dawn,” the British mixture, serves as a reminder that the word “cocktail” goes back to 1809, when it was used by the American writer Washington Irving, in a sense very like the modern, though it appears that sugar was a common ingredient in the cocktail of that day. The Oxford Dictionary says that the origin of the word is lost; but it gives an older word “cocktail,” meaning a horse whose tail, being docked, sticks up like the tail of a cock. Since drinkers of cocktails believe them to be exhilarating, the recently popular song, “Horsey, keep your tail up,” may, perhaps, hint at a possible connection between the two senses of “cocktail.”

Performances of the song mentioned can be viewed on youtube, a hokey old country tune. It does show that a horse which carried its tail well was well-viewed by the public, but not much more.

The Axe and Gate cocktail seems to have been consumed “straight”, or probably with water or soda. The 1828 one, presumably the same ginger, was added to another drink, beer or gin, but one can see there must have been a practice to use brandy, whisky, rum.

Numerous drinks function taken straight or as an additive today, think of Campari, you can drink it with soda or water and ice, or add it to gin and vermouth, say, to form the Negroni.

Wondrich makes the point that the price for the 1798 cocktail was three quarters of a penny, much less than for the alcohol drinks listed, hence it is doubtful it had alcohol. But gin was sold for a penny a glass into the mid-1800s, as I mentioned recently in connection with George Augustus Sala’s profile of a Victorian gin house. As well, alcohol was often used, at least in the 1800s, to extract ginger’s flavour (I’ll return to this in Part II).

But it doesn’t matter in my view whether the British cocktail had alcohol or not because its key role, alone or with other drinks, was clearly as a zesty tonic, of which ginger was the key. Ginger seems to have been very similar to bitters, also known in England in the 1700s, similar functionally that is. Both are aromatic, sharp, a good foil for alcohol and sweet tastes.

Early U.S. terms like brandy cocktail, gin cocktail, whisky cocktail, and the Hudson, NY 1806 citation, show that cocktail in the U.S. was any spirit, sugar,  water (this may have depended on strength of the spirit), and … not ginger finally but bitters. Bitters, made from the bark of a tree or shrub and featuring many kinds of flavours, became characteristic of the American cocktail. As Wondrich speculates, maybe bitters was simply more available and durable in America than the ginger compounds used in England.

But anyway, it seems obvious now that Britain’s cocktail is the ancestor of the American one. A drink that is British ended up in America in somewhat altered form, via the movement of people surely from Britain to the New World. As the old expression goes, “it came on the Mayflower”. It is impossible in other words that the New England and New York cocktail of the early 1800s is unrelated to the English one. The English settled large parts of these areas after all.

It is true that British visitors to America in the 1800s famously expressed wonder and surprise at its cocktails, from Maryatt to Dickens and Trollope. How could they not know it was British originally?

Frequently, terms, especially of certain trades or limited to certain social circles, fall into disuse rapidly. It was probably a small circle in London who knew the drink meaning of cocktail. After 1800, the term became forgotten but took root in a far-away land, preserved in amber as it were. It’s an old pattern in Anglo-American socio-cultural history. How many millennials know what a barley sandwich is, for example, or a Calgary red eye?

But to return to it, why was an English tavern drink called a cocktail?

Wondrich offers the idea that the term is connected to equine circles but not in the sense of a compounded drink seen as analagous to a mixed blood horse. Rather, he refers to the practice of “gingering” or “figging”, which is applying ginger to a horse’s nether region to make it more lively or showy so to speak, to hold its tail erect. It’s still sometimes done in a modified way today but is generally banned by racing organizations.

So the idea is, a shot of a ginger-based drink enlivens the drinker for a time, just as gingering or “figging” the cocktail horse did. Gingering was in fact viewed as an alternative to shortening the tails, and cocktail horses (mixed blood) seem to have been the focus of these treatments, which lends weight to Wondrich’s point. See this American discussion c. 1849 on these practices, from American Farmer’s Magazine.

I should add too that Brown and Miller have pointed out that ginger was fed to horses in different nostrums, to maintain them, or cure them from illness. However, not just cocktail horses were fed these. Also, even though figging may have been advised for mixed blood horses, there can be no doubt thoroughbreds were sometimes figged, numerous sources refer to this.

It is a good theory and Wondrich may be right, but I have my doubts. To me, it gives too much credit to race-goers looking for a drink for invention. The simplest answer, still connected to the equine, is that the name was borrowed from the track term cocktail since both horse and drink typically were mixtures. This theory appears to originate with a Swedish researcher called Låftman in 1946, see the discussion and references in Wikipedia, here.

In light of all the above, the horse explanation has three limbs (!): i) perky horse due to the shortened tail, perky drinker due to effect of the drink (no necessary connection to ginger); ii) cocktail horses were sometimes gingered, short tail or no, and a drink with ginger perked up the drinker (so ginger a necessary part); iii) cocktail horse has mixed bloodline, so do mixed drinks figuratively, hence horse term was applied to drink (no necessary connection to ginger).

I find no. iii) most persuasive, since bitters too ended being the zesty additive to the cocktail, not ginger, and bitters was also known in England in the 1700s, indeed was developed there in commerce (as patented by Stoughton for example). I’d guess some British “cocktail” used bitters in fact, not ginger although no documentation exists to support it.

In my next post, I will focus more on the ginger aspect of the matter.

(Part II follows).

 


Corporal Smith, NTF

In April, 1946, a Brigadier Brimblecombe wrote a letter to The News in Adelaide complaining that soldiers during the war drank too much beer and risked becoming enslaved to alcohol.

The press carried stories through the war of occasional disturbances in Darwin and elsewhere in the country, inevitably connected to alcohol. The public could be forgiven for thinking drink played too large a role in military life, and the Brigadier’s letter would have reinforced that perception.

Meet well-spoken ex-Corporal Hedley R. Smith who had served with the Northern Territory Force. He wrote a dry replique which set the record straight for probably the great majority of those who served.

I had read Smith’s letter before the Brigadier’s (not reproduced here) and was surprised even a former non-commissioned soldier would speak to a serving officer in this way, i.e., polite, but a little sarcastic.

When I read the Brigadier’s letter, the answer came clear: the officer was in the Salvation Army. Nonetheless it is clear Smith had no animosity as such to Sally Ann, but simply felt that Brimblecombe’s fulmination was ill-informed and doctrinaire.

The exchange does show too, that alcohol in Australia was never given a completely free pass. A large segment of society, to this day, considered its use unexceptionable and nothing to apologize for, but that doesn’t mean there was no organized opposition to it. There was, in numerous quarters, the Salvation Army was just one.

Below is a substantial part of the ex-corporal’s letter. Bear in mind that in Australia, corporals are given a form of command responsibility by leading a section of up to a dozen soldiers of private (the lowest) rank. Smith’s letter shows he was well-trained and surely an exemplary leader.

It is easy to see that Brigadier Brimblecombe (“News” 2/4/46) had little or no experience of the Northern Territory during war years. Concerning the noted religious leader who returned from Darwin with a story of blight and demoralisation directly caused by strong drink, all I can say is that he must have had a very vague idea of what actually took place. Does he realise that the official ration in the early part of the war was one bottle per man, per week, perhaps . . . with the emphasis on the “perhaps”? Up to last August the ration over the latter 18 months had been increased to two bottles per man per week, while on convoy the ration was one-third bottle per man per day, and what is more, the non drinkers could not augment their quota to their mates, as the queue system was in operation and one opened bottle was handed out to every third man . . . money in advance. As for the troops becoming alcoholic slaves, it reflects even more on the brigadier’s ignorance of the potency of beer, if he honestly believes that a man, after travelling about 200 miles, packed 21 to a truck, with a slice of bully beef and half a pear for dinner, follows it up at the end of the day’s journey with the terrific amount of one-third bottle of beer, and thus becomes an alcoholic slave. Maybe Brigadier Brimblecombe should ask for some first-hand information from his Darwin representatives, Majors Walters and Jones, who night after night openly stated what a fine bunch of lads they were in contact with in the north.

The Manhattan, and a New Bitters

The Manhattan 

Rather than look at origin, I’ll talk about the drink itself, but still some history will be needed.

A Manhattan is typically American or Canadian whisky, red vermouth, bitters. It’s either shaken or stirred and “up”, or on the rocks. Cherry optional, or lemon twist. Variations include a dry version, with white vermouth instead of red, or the “perfect” Manhattan, with red and white vermouths mixed (not quite the right taste, IMO, but many like them).

The history is important when you look at American whiskey in the 1800s. At the time, matured bourbon or straight rye was often combined with new or aged grain spirits, and maybe flavouring, to form blended whiskey. The blends satisfied the public taste and came at the right price.

Good straight whiskey “uncut” was hard to find, and expensive. Young straight whiskey was available, aged 1-3 years, but the flavour couldn’t compare to 4-8 year old whiskey.

I think the Manhattan developed as a way to make young or blended whiskey resemble matured straight bourbon or rye. Matured whiskey can be sweetish, fruity, and rich, just like a Manhattan. The exotic herbal and winy notes in vermouth probably emulated that.

Also, current lore holds that the Manhattan dates from 1860s wartime New York, when the Civil War impeded the flow of matured whiskey to the northeast. Maybe the Manhattan was devised as a reasonable substitute.

The Kind of Whiskey To Use

It is nonetheless the case that whiskey too old doesn’t suit the cocktail. Your finest 12-20 year old bourbon or rye is less good than, say, Four Roses Yellow Label, Wild Turkey, or Woodford Reserve. The extra wood in the old whiskey clashes with the vermouth and other flavourings, or such is my experience. Whiskey from 4-8 years old is ideal.

In the converse, vermouth is not at its best with young straight whiskey, and can overpower the blended form. I like a combination of whiskeys: two or three bourbons or ryes, maybe the regular kind of Canadian (not too much), and a straight-type Canadian like Lot 40, Masterson’s, or a good craft whiskey. I used Toronto Distillery’s First Barrels in such a base recently with excellent results.

If using one whisky in a Manhattan, I like Dark Horse, which is heavy enough but not too woody. Also, Wiser’s Legacy, or Canadian Club Single Rye Grain (the green label).

The Vermouth

In this area I am less fussy than the whiskey. I’ll use any available brand, but I blend different (red) vermouths, too.

The vermouth contributes its wine, brandy (vermouth is partly brandy), and flavourings. The whiskeys give their cereal notes and barrel character. Why does a wine-based drink match well with grain-based American whiskey? I don’t know, it just does. The combination is uniquely appealing, one of those non-intuitive but undeniable gastronomic successes. It’s like a hot dog and mustard, or bagel and cream cheese.

Trying a New Bitters

The bitters are vital. Typically I use Angostura or a Fees brand.

Recently, I was given a sample of Toronto-based Promise Bitters’ “No. 1 Smoke and Ash”, a cocktail bittersI’m told it is currently incorporated into a popular drink at the chic Canoe Restaurant downtown. This black-hued bitters has been available mostly to Toronto’s mixologists but can be purchased at Lavish and Squalor, 253 Queen Street West, Toronto, a gifts and apparel shop. Instagram, here, has more information, and a website is planned.

Smoke and Ash is smoky, musky, perfumed, and lends an intriguing note to a Manhattan. I see it going well in a Dark and Stormy, and many other drinks. It is a welcome addition to the lively bitters scene.

Note re first image: attribution for the first image above: By Paramount – source, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27453670. It was sourced from the Wikipedia entry for the 1928 film of the same name. Intellectual property to or in the image belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized user. Image believed available for educational or historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 


The Darwinian Thirst

Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory was, maybe still is, its quintessential frontier city. Settled later than the rest of the young country, it has always been romantic, edgy, devil-may-care. Cities attended regularly by trauma –  the cyclones, Japanese bombs in WW II – can be like that.

The pristine and varied natural surroundings, including scented warm seas and the scarlet-tinted gorges of Litchfield Park, also contribute.

As a tropical outpost on the Timor Sea, and before the AC era, beer-drinking suited the place perfectly, albeit if necessary people drank the stuff warm. Port Darwin always had a reputation for an outsized beer thirst. The famed Darwin Stubby, a 2-litre bottle now in apparent retirement, gave symbolic form to this reality, probably in a self-deprecating way – or so it became over time.

The beer was made locally by Swan, which became part of CUB, and later was brewed in Victoria. Darwin Stubby or no, and even though Australian per capita consumption – beer, not alcohol – is not what it was in the 1970s, a visitor to Darwin will find no shortage of beer.

The craft scene has been slow to develop but it’s started, see this informative report from Bert Spinks of the The Crafty Pint. Spinks also relates some interesting history on the origins of the Darwin stubby.

Through the 20th century, press stories abound of Darwin’s capacity for the malt. They are usually delivered with a slightly apologetic tone, which, considering the bluff attitude to alcohol in the country, is probably saying something.

This story in the New South Wales press from October, 1941 is a good example. In this period, Darwin, much like Halifax in Canada, was stretched to the limit by wartime exigencies. Sometimes beer was scarce, sometimes there were “disorders” in the hotels. But generally the balm poured on and probably a good thing considering the stresses of war and need for soldiers and civvies to chill out occasionally.

An extract:

 

George Johnston, writing in the Molong “Express,” gives these highly interesting sidelights on the Darwinian capacity for beer: For cosmopolitan colour and for wild, uproarious, incredibly noisy life Darwin stands alone. By contrast, Sydney — once regarded as Australia’s “brightest” city — has the atmosphere of chilly coldness. The national pastime in Darwin is drinking beer. Perhaps the population is still savouring the novelty of getting cold beer regularly. A couple of years ago the pubs charged 2/- a bottle for warm beer, 3/- for cold. Now it is all two “bob” and all cold. Whatever the reason, the three pubs do a roaring trade from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.- Consumption is officially 480,000 bottles a month! That works out to the best part of 6,000,000 bottles a year, and that represents a lot of steady drinking. You have only to see the vast dumps of “empties!” Freight alone costs £48,000 a year. …. There is one pub that extends an entire block and is packed to the wide-open doors and overflowing to the gutters until the inevitable— and punctual— cry of “Time, please, gentlemen.” Round the corner is another pub identical with the “saloons” you have seen in every Wild West film Hollywood has ever turned out — swing doors, “bouncers,” and a roaring crowd.

The fact that the bars looked “western” from a southern standpoint shows how far the country progressed from the 1800s, when the hotel bars in all the states looked pretty much as Darwin’s still did. But being a frontier town where the pace of change is slower, you still had the old-time bars in Darwin.

One of them was the Victoria, which somehow ducked Tojo’s bombs. It still stands but is no longer operating. You see it pictured below in an early period.

Soon, the Japanese bombings were to start, and the city suffered great trauma with much damage and hundreds killed.

Note re images: the first image is from this ABC story on the demise of the Darwin stubby. The second is from the Wikipedia entry for the Victoria Hotel, here. All intellectual property in or to the images belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized user. Images believed available for historical and educational purposes. All feedback welcomed.


A Victorian Meets London Porter

“For The Amusement and Instruction of Amateurs in Beer…”

George Augustus Sala, 1828-1895, was an English journalist and writer, the son of Italian immigrants. He had a vivid manner of description, intensely visual and sensory. It’s a style less encountered today, especially for journalism and topical writing, due to the sophistication of colour photography and imaging. He is remembered as a master of “ephemeral journalism” and the extract below typifies his talent.

Of the many subjects he broached, pubs and beer were not exempt. I have seen most of his writing in this area, but his comments on porter below had escaped me, probably because he doesn’t use the term porter as such. The extract is from his full-length work Gaslight and Daylight, With Some London Scenes They Shine Upon (1859) (via HathiTrust).

It was almost mandatory in “ephemeral” discussions of London’s beer to allude to the possibility it was doctored: it was a Victorian preoccupation. In truth, little of it probably was, at least by brewers. Brewing was a regulated business and most of the porter in London was brewed by sizeable concerns. They had a lot to lose from a prosecution for adulteration. In contrast, publicans sometimes added salt or water to beer, or sugar of some kind, to enlarge their profit margins.

It is unclear from Sala’s remarks whether the gin mill profiled really fooled with its beer. The key part of the description, “half-sweet and half-acrid”, could apply to many porters and stouts today. And Sala’s reference to fining shows the limits of his knowledge, as fining was not and is not adulteration, but merely a clarification of beer – a benign, if not salutary, practice.

In other parts of the book he refers to porter as “mild” or “treacly”. I infer from the term half-sweet that the gin mill’s porter was mild, too. Aged, or stocked, porter would be dry and wine-like in comparison. Most porter consumed in town then was mild.

“Acrid” is consistent with astringent, bitter, sour, smoky, or burned. Porter, especially at that time, certainly could be one or more of those. Could the beer have been doctored? Yes, or maybe it wasn’t.  Clearly he didn’t like it, but that doesn’t mean it was bad. Still, his description is of some assistance, even the brown-tinged foam part, which once again can characterise beer today.

Sala may well have drank something rather like Tenfidy Imperial Stout, or, more pertinent to London, one of The Kernel’s impy stouts. Maybe he needed another 10 years to accustom. When writing the words subjoined, he was a mere 31, and perhaps a “mild ale” man.

 

 


Early Days of Ale in Australia

Some Good Oil, There Was

This 1844 review of Tooth`s in Sydney is one of many tours journalists wrote of the brewery that century and in the one following. Australian journalists showed little of the reserve of American and English ones when it came to beer and brewing. They wrote about it straight as it were, without self-consciousness or apologetics.

This continued into the 20th century and was consistent with the fact that no state ever approved Prohibition, nor was it approved to my knowledge by local option. Canberra did for a time stop liquor sales, consistent perhaps with the planned and novel nature of the capital area, but a vote ended that by the 1930s.

Now, in 1844, we are in the classic period where the Australian stuff was supposed to be bad. Terms like swipes, swill, and other unattractive names were attached to local ales and porters. Even 40 years later, brewing author J.C. MacCartie, an Australian who had brewed for six years in Dunedin, critiqued Aussie beer, pre-lager that is.

Yet the 1844 story, written nine years after brewing commenced, praises Tooth`s all-malt beer and claims much local beer was sold as English and no one knew the difference. I cited sources earlier which argued (1860s) that Australian brewing was certainly up to the task, but social snobbery resulted in the product being viewed as second-class.

Where did the truth lie then … maybe somewhere in the middle. Trying the beer at the brewery versus the usual trade sources would have meant for a better experience, almost always. Then too, boosterism surely came into it, and also simple manners: as today, no one wants to excoriate a host.

I wish someone would brew beer today as described in the article: use a mix of old-variety Australian, and California hops (Cluster, I`d suggest), use half Australian malt and half English, and ferment it at a high temperature to finish the primary in under 48 hours. Let it settle out, fine it, and see what it`s like. How bad could it be, I wonder… By today`s standards of appreciating artisan brews, it might be sensational. Or even just very nice.

Tooth`s stopped brewing in Sydney in 2005. KB lager is brewed in other states now.

In fact, Tooth`s (CUB) did brew a recreation of its old pale ale in 2015, and the brew is still sold. The Grain Bar, Sydney, carries it, whence the historical image shown. We hope it is good, if anyone knows, let us know.

 

 


Doesticks Does the Lager Saloon

Meet Q.K. Philander Doesticks, P.B.

Mortimer Thomson was an American humorist, journalist, and author who died in 1875 at only 43.  One account states he was wounded in the Civil War where he covered the fighting in the first half of the war.

He wrote a number of full-length books and, acting undercover in Georgia, wrote an anti-slavery expose which is still remembered.

Thomson is catalogued by historians of humour. Comedy famously varies with the times, and even at his death his style was largely passé and the author forgotten. Yet, anthologies of humour sometimes include him, and he has been the subject of a number of academic studies.

He was born in the western part of New York State, in Riga, Monroe County. He has associations with University of Michigan and its student newspaper but left before graduating.

He became nationally famous in 1855 with the publication of Doesticks: What He Saysa collection of his humorous letters. In late 1858, the Sydney press printed this piece of Q.K. Philander Doesticks, P.B., Thomson’s nom de plume and his alter ego. It may be from the book, or one of the letters separately published in New York newspapers when Thomson was working there as a journalist.

He was a regular at Pfaff’s, a famous early lager beer house that was also a literary hangout. The letter, despite its elements of fantasy and fable, offers good vignettes of the New York German saloon, down to the foods served, the waitresses, decor such as it was, and the beer. The letter states his beer was sour, like a watered, sour strong beer (ale); he was not the first to be unimpressed with New York’s new drinking sensation.

Lager was still quite new in the city then, yet all the stock elements one associates with the German beer hall, down to the house band, were in evidence.

One can see elements in Thomson that later appeared in W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Robin Williams, and today in Stephen Colbert and Sarah Silverman (also the guy who did Borat). There is a zany quality in particular, and the stream of consciousness style.

The letter is satire, including that lager was far from innocent despite the public perception to the contrary, and enough would make anyone drunk. Another observation was the incredible amount of smoking that went on in the German saloons. In this period, pipes were the main agent, to be shadowed soon by cigars, and finally cigarettes.

The old Dutch pipes some people used – long, thin, white – are collected – hundreds of them – in Keens Steak House in New York, a 19th century survivor. Musty ale would come on strong soon in Keens and similar restaurants, but these were Anglophile holdouts in a city where lager soon became an indomitable force.

Here is the opening paragraph but read the full piece to capture the riotous tone and full spirit.

Lager Bier is a kindly liquid, and a moral agent; it is pleasant to the taste, and withal, is not intoxicating, so people say. Lager has taken out his papers and become naturalised, and is now as thoroughly American as before he was peculiarly German. Lager is a capital fellow to know, and I have just formed his acquaintance. I never drink inebriating compounds for several reasons; one of which is, I can’t afford the money it costs to get drunk, or the time it takes to get sober. I have, therefore, renounced my former friends. Brandy Cocktail and Whisky Punch, who are slippery fellows. B. C. left me in a station-house, with my head the size of a peach basket, and W. P. on one occasion led me into the company of some gentlemanly looking individuals, who picked my pocket of all my money, and then blacked my eyes because I didn’t get a bigger salary. But the other night I went with Damphool to drink some Lager Bier because I am convinced it does not contain half as much alcohol as distillery milk, and there is no more danger of a man getting drunk upon lager than on sweet cream.!
 (Distillery milk was milk from cattle fed on the spent grains of distilleries and breweries. Its quality was questioned on this account and colleagues of Thomson would have written exposes).
 Note re image: the image above was sourced at www.flashbak.com, and is identified therein as a Getty image. All intellectual property in or to the image belongs solely to its lawful owner or authorized user. Image believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.