Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Origins of the cocktail [with recipe]

Jerry Thomas' "The Bar Tender's Guide: How to mix drinks, The Bon Vivant's Companion" was the first drink book ever published in the United States. Originally published in 1862.

Punch, a drink sometimes associated with cheap high school school prom drinks was actually a precursor to the creation of the modern cocktail. The word derives from the Persian and Hindi word, “panj” or "paanch" respectively, meaning 5—for the five ingredients used in punch: spirit, citrus, sugar, spice and a dilution or water. Dating back to the 1650’s in Europe and India when punch was in its prime, the original cocktail was not served as individual drinks but in a communal bowl as the centre of every party. In those days of the original mixologists, the good ones were famous and were often invited to all the parties to make their proprietary punch recipes.

Punch eventually fell out of favor during the Victorian era as it was unseemly and considered excessive.  But the drinking didn’t cease necessarily, it instead led to individual servings rather than bowls. They even drank during breakfast…mainly because the water was unsafe for consumption, so people mixed spirits in to kill the germs.

Back in October, Jamey Merkel, the Brand Ambassador for Beam Global Asia created a punch cocktail for Appetite Magazine’s November issue (“Spice Journeys”).  That issue was actually focused on spices, but as I learned that day from him, spices too played a big role in the cocktail evolution.

So in those morning drinks, spices were typically included in the form of bitters.  After the punch popularity quieted down, individual cocktails were typically taken after waking up, with their primary purpose also being for medicinal reasons.  If someone had indigestion, a couple dashes of bitter mixed with water was often the doctor’s solution. (as a side note, this is the same reason spices play such a big role in various Indian cuisines)


Bitters were at the forefront until Prohibition in the 1850s, which Jamey otherwise described to me as the “Cocktail Dark Ages”.  Today, people often mistake Prohibition and the idea of Speakeasy's as the golden age of cocktails in the United States.  Prohibition stifled standards and creativity, and Speakeasy's created fast and easy drinks, so you could gulp and leave without getting caught. (The real golden age of cocktails was just before Prohibition)

The era of over-sweetened fruity drinks followed Prohibition in the ‘70s: Sex on the Beach cocktails and other “disco drinks.”  The idea of using fresh citrus, fresh juices and classic cocktails continued to be forgotten… until the late ‘80s when New York City’s Rainbow Room resurrected forgotten classics. Rainbow Room’s Dale DeGroff, the man often credited for this resurgence, heavily researched into the long-forgotten vintage cocktails when drinks were made with fresh juices, herbs and spices (bitters) without any shortcuts.

The punch recipe still stands as the forefront of mixology as the basic principle of balancing sweet and sour with dilution: 1 of sour, 2 of sweet, 3 of strong, 4 of weak.

 “If you look at certain bars in Europe, San Francisco, New York and other beacons of modern mixology, you notice they have really been bringing back the punch,” says Jamey on the historical significance of punch.

In honour of the punch’s significant contribution to the history of mixed drinks, Jamey creates a punch-inspired cocktail recipe for Appetite. Using less typical combinations of spice and ingredients, he selected the Indian spices of cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, and black pepper for a touch of heat. Spices, Jamey says, adds a depth to the cocktails, whether they are whole, ground or come in the form of bitters. He then combines his spice mix with the heavy flavor of Makers Mark Bourbon and the tang of fresh grapefruit, pineapple and sugar for balance. “In today’s time, we actually want to taste what we’re drinking in your glass. It needs to balance with the other ingredients,” explains Jamey. “We’re leaving the ‘disco drinks’ era like Sex on the Beach and are starting to come around full circle. It's not new, but it has been rediscovered.”

Bourbon Pineapple Punch
recipe by Jamey Merkel, created for Appetite Magazine

30 ml Makers Mark Bourbon
15 Bols Triple sec
30 ml Fresh pressed pineapple juice
15 ml Fresh squeezed pink grapefruit juice
10 ml sugar syrup
5 ml homemade spice tincure*

*Homemade Spice Tincure
500 ml neutral spirit (e.g. vodka)
20-30 green cardamom pods
2-3 tbls clove
4 cinnamon sticks
2 tbls cracked ground black pepper

1. Macerate in neutral spirit for 1 week. Taste it every few days to add spices to
taste.
2. Filter through tea strainer or cheese cloth.
3. Bottle it. It will last 2-3 months.

Shake and strain all ingredients over ice and strain over crushed ice. Garnish with grapefruit spiral and pineapple leaf.


[My edited variation of this piece can be found in Appetite's November 2010 issue]

5 comments:

  1. I thought it came from the Hindi word, "paanch," which also means "five." Learn something new every day!

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  2. It's all related, I should think! There was plenty of trade and influences between India and Persia, so I'm sure there's a tie there somewhere in history.

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  3. it came from the Hindi word, "paunch and which also means "five." Learn something new every day...........

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  4. It's great that you're writing about this stuff, but there are a number of misses in the material above. For example: The 1850's are considered the first "Golden Age" of cocktails (we are in the second right now) -- they were most definitely not "Cocktail Dark Ages". The cocktail Dark Age runs roughly from late Prohibition until the eminent Mr. DeGroff and his bar progeny resurrected this lost art in New York in the 1990's, chiefly by being inspired by Jerry Thomas and the first Golden Age of the 1850's. Prohibition, and by that we're talking about the U.S. Prohibition, ran from 1919 to 1933, if I recall correctly. You should check out some books -- this is a really fun area to learn about! You can get most of the great books at Kinokuniya. I suggest you start with Wondrich's Imbibe! or Meehan's PDT book. Not trying to disrespect you with my comment, but people look to bloggers like you as authorities, so you need to get this stuff right. Just trying to be helpful. From one F&B obsessed person to another.

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  5. Great post, what you said is really helpful to me. I can’t agree with you anymore. I have been talking with my friend about, he though it is really interesting as well

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