Posted on August 14, 2020 at 6:00 am
Recently, The New York Times published an article declaring the return of cocktail hour. I, for one, am celebrating.
Mixed drinks can be enjoyed with or without a buzz. Those who choose to not imbibe alcohol can still find plenty to get shaken and stirred about. I’ve noted books that include non-alcoholic options.
Cocktails take time to make, but the gastronomic joy is worth the effort. Similar to the literary joy of reading classics, there’s an expanding enjoyment in the attention to details. Cocktails can even provide a way to explore literature. So get your jigger and your reading glasses ready for a literary cocktail flight.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, origins of the word “cocktail” have been lost. The word’s current usage is thought to have originated in the U.S.A., however several types of mixed drinks already existed in Europe.
The book Gin Austen: 50 Cocktails to Celebrate the Novels of Jane Austen, by Colleen Mullaney, explains that the parent of all mixed drinks—alcoholic punch—dates back to at least the 1630s. By England’s Georgian period (1714-1830), additional mixed drinks were becoming popular, including the following:
These terms persist in cocktail books from the 19th century all the way to today, and they still form the basis of how many cocktails are categorized.
To peruse historic recipes, visit the EUVS Vintage Cocktail Books Library. Some volumes include stunning printed artwork, for example the 1930 edition of The Savoy Cocktail Book. Just be aware that these publications may reflect race and gender stereotypes of their time.
Amateur mixologists can choose from a dizzying array of library books for cocktail recipes and technique tips, including over 100 on Overdrive, over 200 in Hoopla, and over 60 print titles available for curbside pickup.
As a beginner, I found the following two books especially helpful. Both include guides to bar equipment, glassware, basic techniques, and recipes for homemade syrups and mixers.
How to Cocktail (find it in our catalog), from America’s Test Kitchen, takes the same scientific approach to cocktails that the organization is known for taking with food. Chapters are organized by technique (built, stirred, shaken, muddled, etc.), and individual recipes are accompanied by thoughts on history, variations, and why the recipe works. Especially helpful are the “Top Tips for Transcendent Cocktails” and a handy reference list of drinks by one-bottle, three-ingredient, high-alcohol content, low-alcohol content, and non-alcoholic content.
Day Drinking (find it in our catalog), by Kat Odell, focuses primarily on libations with low-alcohol content (less than 10% alcohol by volume). This helps beginners try their hand at mixing without getting smashed. Odell’s parents immigrated to America from the Czech Republic and England. As a result, she grew up with a European sensibility—drink for the flavors not the intoxicating qualities. I love her simple explanation of when to stir, shake, and “dry shake.” A chapter on mocktails offers teetotalers some options.
The following recipes offer a small sampling of the many literary cocktail pairings ready to be discovered. Some recipes are high-alcohol content, so be aware and mix responsibly.
At the end of Charles Dickens’ 1843 A Christmas Carol (place a hold on the print version), the transformed Ebenezer Scrooge says to employee Mr. Cratchit, “I’ll raise your salary… and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!”
The bishop in question is a type of mulled wine. Wikipedia offers a circa 1845 recipe. Many updated versions can be found online, but most take over 14 hours to prepare due to steeping time. Ironically, a 6.5-hour slow-cooker recipe offers a relatively fast way to get your bishop smoking. Here is another quick modern adaptation:
20 whole cloves
750 ml ruby port
750 ml red wine
1 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Follow these instructions.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby (find it in our catalog) exposes the heavy drinking and over-the-top parties that took place during Prohibition. Yet only two cocktails are mentioned by name, the Mint Julep and the Gin Rickey. Otherwise, all we know is that Jay Gatsby’s bar was “stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.”
The Mint Julep is often considered a Southern drink, but in Fitzgerald’s novel it’s slurped in a sweltering suite at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 oz simple syrup
2 oz bourbon
Mint sprig for garnish
Muddle mint leaves and simple syrup in mixing glass. Add bourbon and ice. Stir until just combined. Double-strain into an old-fashioned glass. Fill with crushed ice and garnish.
Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises (find it in our catalog) takes readers from the cafés of Paris, France, to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. At the Hotel Crillon in Paris, war-wounded protagonist Jake Barnes “… went down to the bar and had a Jack Rose with George the barman.”
Applejack, the main ingredient in a Jack Rose, is a whiskey-like liquor made with apples. Fairly obscure today, Applejack was popular as far back as colonial America. For an update on Paris’s café culture—including non-alcoholic beverages—check out Drinking French (place a hold on the print version), by David Lebovitz. For an update on the Jack Rose, follow this recipe:
2 oz Applejack
1 oz fresh lime or lemon juice
3/4 oz Grenadine
Lime or lemon peel for garnish
Shake ingredients with ice until chilled. Strain into a coupe and garnish.
Raymond Chandler, my favorite noir writer, was known for drinking Gimlets. In his 1953 novel The Long Goodbye (check out the film adaptation), friend Terry Lennox tells gumshoe Philip Marlowe “A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else.”
This version of the drink is how Chandler liked it, although it’s much too sweet for most modern palettes (Rose’s Lime Juice has added sugar). Mixologists today tend to use fresh lime juice and less sweetener. Floral and vegetal variations also abound. Versions I’ve enjoyed include a Cucumber-Elderflower Gimlet and a Celery Gimlet. Here’s an updated basic version.
2 oz gin
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
Lime or cucumber wheel for garnish
Shake ingredients with ice until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish.
Martinis may be the quintessential cocktail, so it’s no surprise they show up in a few novels. One is Ian Fleming’s 1953 Casino Royale (find it in our catalog), in which James Bond requests a Vesper Martini made with “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?”
Martinis also feature in Kurt Vonnegut’s 1973 Breakfast of Champions (place a hold for the print copy). The title refers to waitress Bonnie’s quip each time she serves the drink. Businessman Dwayne Hoover prefers his with House of Lords Gin and a twist of lemon peel. The basic martini has changed over time. A 1/1 ratio of gin to vermouth used to be typical, but modern tastes favor more gin. America’s Test Kitchen recommends a 4/1 ratio.
2 oz London dry gin
1/2 oz dry vermouth
Green olives as garnish
Stir ingredients with ice until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish.
For a cocktail that’s literally out of this world, look no further than Douglas Adams’ 1979 Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (print options). The Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster may be garnished with an olive, but that’s the only ingredient available on planet Earth. Drinking this over-the-top spoof on 1970s cocktails is said to produce the effect of “having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.”If this sounds like something you’d like to explore, click the link below for various terrestrial interpretations.
Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster
1 bottle Ol’ Janx Spirit
1 measure water from the seas of Santraginus V
3 cubes Arcturan mega-gin
4 liters Fallian marsh gas
1 measure Qalactin hypermint extract
1 tooth of an Algolian suntiger
1 sprinkle of Zamphuor
Find instructions in “The Cocktail at the End of the Universe.”
Thirsting for more options? Read on for recipes inspired by authors and their words.
With so much machismo wrapped up in traditional drinking culture, it’s refreshing to peruse Gin Austen: 50 Cocktails to Celebrate the Novels of Jane Austen. The book organizes recipes via Austen’s six novels (find them in our catalog). The signature drink, the Gin Austen, is “possessed of enough sweetness and just the right amount of acidity” to celebrate Austen’s literary talents.
For Harlem-inspired pairings, head to Darker Hue Studio’s “Cheers! For Harlem Unbound.” They recommend toasting a Manhattan to Langston Hughes (print options). As the perfect accompaniment to Zora Neale Hurston (print options), they suggest the Boulevardier because it “comes at you head-on… once you have experienced it, you will keep coming back.”
Another volume inspired by literary greats is Tim Federle’s Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist. The puns may be better than some of the drinks, but this book is still fun to explore. Recipes include “Lime of the Ancient Mariner” (for Samuel Taylor Coleridge), “Love in the Time of Kahlúa” (honoring Gabriel Garcia Marquez) and “Bloody Carrie” (a nod to Stephen King).
Do you have a favorite literary cocktail? If so, share it in the comment section.