In 1930, the United States was still subject to Prohibition (though the more creative, daring, or rebellious may not have felt quite so burdened). More than a few American bartenders, cocktail barmen, and mixologists (yes, this was a word then and even as early as the 1850s!) took off for more inviting locales, including Harry Craddock, who left for England in 1920. He quickly settled at the American Bar in the Savoy Hotel, London. In 1930, he published The Savoy Cocktail Book, filled with original and compiled recipes. (The book also includes an extensive section on wines, but there is enough there for another post!)
There are a lot of things I (archivist/blogger/foodie/amateur cocktail slinger Kira) like about cocktails: the entertainment value, the names (which usually have a whole other explanation), and wondering just how a list of ingredients ends up tasting like what is does (often something quite surprising). Some of them even taste good! The Savoy Cocktail Book has some wonderful examples of all these things.
Example #1, The Entertaining Cocktail: The “Blue Blazer“*
The Blue Blazer was created by famed bartender, Jerry Thomas, somewhere in the mid-1850s. More than “just” a cocktail man, Thomas was an entertainer. He reportedly developed the drink while working at a bar in San Francisco. While the drink itself (scotch, water, a little sugar, and a piece of lemon peel–only one ingredient away from a hot whisky punch) isn’t all that exciting, watching a man virtually juggle blue flame–that’s a show! “If well done, this will have the appearance of a continued stream of liquid fire.
Example #2, The Strange Name: The Scoff-Law Cocktail
In January 1924, while Prohibition was at its height in the US, a Boston newspaper ran a contest: They asked readers to come up a word to describe those malcontents who continued to produce alcohol and imbibe, despite the law. Interestingly enough, two separate individuals submitted the same contest-winning word, beating more than 25, 000 other entries, and sharing the $200 prize. The winning word? “Scofflaw.” Not to be outdone, Harry Craddock, now four years into his London sojourn, invented the Scoff-Law Cocktail, a rather tasty blend of rye, vermouth, lemon juice, grenadine, and orange bitters. And promptly turning the temperance movement’s own word against it.
A few other examples of intriguing, puzzling, and all around hilarious cocktails include: The Rattlesnake (which Craddock notes “will either cure Rattlesnake bite, or kill Rattlesnakes, or make you see them”), the Moonraker (long before James Bond), the Jabberwock (Lewis Carroll-inspired), the Tom and Jerry (reportedly named by Jerry Thomas for his pet mice…which were named after Thomas himself), and Satan’s Whiskers (there are two recipes, one each for “straight” and “curled”). And this is just Craddock’s book!
Example #3, The Unexpected Flavor Dominator: The Monkey Gland
At first glance, this belongs under Example #2 with all the other bizarre names. If you said as much to me, you’d be right. But there’s something else about the Monkey Gland (no, not monkeys!) and that’s the taste. It’s a cocktail that still appears in modern cocktail guides, so someone must still drink them…though who actually orders one in a bar, I don’t know. This is a cocktail with four simple ingredients: gin, orange juice, grenadine, and a splash of absinthe (or a modern substitute). With almost 3 ounces of other flavors, a likely assumption might be sweet orange with a juniper finish. Instead, this is a cocktail dominated by licorice from that sneaky little splash of absinthe. **
The second part of Part I includes recipes for classic early cocktails: interrelated families of fizzes, coolers, rickeys, daisies, fixes, smashes, cobblers, slings, flips, collinses, and sours. The small differences between some of these (whether or not the citrus peel stays in the glass, whether you add club soda or no, and just how much sweet or sour is added) account for the varied names. Several as single serving versions of the punches that were rapidly going out of style (though Craddock has recipes for those, too!) by the 1920s, if not sooner.
That’s probably enough on cocktails at the Savoy for now. We’ll have more on the Prohibition culture and cocktails on both sides of the pond in the future. There are plenty more strangely named drinks yet to be tasted…Cheers!
*Don’t try this drink at home. No, really. Find a professional!
**It really is. I made this on a whim recently, since I had some absenthe (a modern absinthe liquor) on hand. The licorice is far from subtle.