A Gin Cocktail Odyssey, Act I: The Classics
What makes a classic a classic? In general, not just any old thing is considered a classic (I’m looking at you, Uncle Gary) but often this word gets applied to any old vintage cocktail, even if it was only rediscovered yesterday. A true classic, though, has proven itself through its staying power. Especially in America, where Prohibition killed so much of the way we drank and what we drank, it’s incredible for a cocktail from before it to have survived and to have had a lasting popularity until today. In some cases it’s because of a real intrinsic quality that it survives, in other cases the drink may have simply been in the right place at the right time. Often it is a combination of both, as some great drinks were sadly lost until curious bartenders dug them back up in the last ten or so years.
Whatever it is that decides a classic, Gin is used in more classic cocktails than any other spirit. This is partly because of its prevalence in drinking capitals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, yes, but it’s diversity, lightness, and versatile herbal complexity also make it inherently a great team player in mixed drinks. We already talked a lot about the most famous of gin cocktails, the Martini, in a previous feature, but we wanted to highlight some of our other favorite classics that have stood the test of time and keep us coming back for more to this very day. Cheers!
The Gimlet, a simple concoction of just gin, lime, and sugar, came to us drinking folk courtesy of the British Royal Navy. For about 200 years, starting in the 18th century, all of the Navy’s ships were stocked with Plymouth Navy Strength Gin. Gin stored on these ships had to be at a strength of at least 57% ABV, a high enough proof that if it would spill on gunpowder, which it was often stored near on the ships, the gunpowder could still ignite. So the officers were well fortified with good, strong gin. At some point in the mid-18th century, it was discovered that citrus was beneficial in warding off scurvy, caused by the lack of vitamin C. Initially, the navy kept Sicilian lemons, and would mix their juice with sugar to make it more palatable for the sailors. Eventually the lemons were replaced with the more acidic West Indian limes, and the mixture was bottled as Rose’s Lime Cordial. Before too long, the crafty sailors figured out that they could mix their beloved Navy Strength Gin with Rose’s Lime Cordial to make a most delightful and invigorating potion. The Gimlet was born, and as the traditional story goes was eventually given its name as a tribute to Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette, who is said to have first mixed the drink, although the veracity of that claim is considered dubious at best.
Nowadays, a lower proof gin is often used, and the pre-mixed cordial is put aside in favor of fresh juice and sugar.
2 oz Fords Gin ( or Four Pillars Navy Strength if you’re feeling particularly seaworthy)
1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain over a large ice cube in an old fashioned glass. Garnish with lime wheel.
Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s David, The operas of Verdi and Puccini, Fellini’s 8 1/2. The Negroni stands beside these cultural treasures as Italy’s living, liquid masterpiece, giving beauty to the everyday. The bright red, bittersweet diva is a true cocktail star, balancing complex flavors effortlessly in a simple, equal parts formula that anyone can remember.
The generally accepted story is that in 1919, Count Camillo Negroni, a true Bon Vivant and moustache connoisseur, strutted up to the bar at Caffè Giacosa in Florence and ordered an Americano (Campari, Sweet Vermouth, and Soda) with some added heft, asking for Gin in place of the Soda. The bartender served it, equal parts, with an orange garnish in place of the typical lemon, and history was made. It caught on quickly in Italy, becoming a cafe standard. In 1947, Orson Welles famously remarked in an American Newspaper about the delights of the drink, which he had experienced whilst filming in Rome, saying “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.” That may not be scientifically sound, but it’s a damn good thing he said it, because the drink began to catch on to some extent in America as well, among those urbane city dwellers with a taste for the bitter. Fast forward to the present day, and the Negroni is held on high by drinkers and bartenders alike, more well loved among the cocktail cognoscenti than maybe even the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or the Martini.
1 oz Four Pillars Gin
1 oz Cocchi Vermouth di Torino Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Campari (it's also fun to try other red bitter liqueurs once you have the proper Negroni down)
Stir ingredients with ice and serve in an old fashioned glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with orange twist.
Corpse Reviver No. 2
This delicious, macabre sounding concoction was one of a number of drinks to share its name, all intended as a kind of tonic the morning after a heavy night of drinking. Hair of the dog. This was brilliant branding, as it allowed this drink, the best of the Corpse Reviver family, to avoid obscurity. Though it dates from before Prohibition, the recipe was first put to print in 1930’s Savoy Cocktail Book. Another equal parts success story, it really comes alive with the added complexity of an Absinthe rinse, giving the whole upbeat citrus affair a dark and mysterious aura. And though one of these may assist in an unfortunate hangover, it is advised to heed the original printed warning: “Four of these taken in swift succession will un-revive the corpse again.”
Corpse Reviver No. 2
3/4 oz Uncle Val's Botanical Gin
3/4 oz Cocchi Americano (originally Kina Lillet)
3/4 oz Cointreau Triple Sec Orange Liqueur
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
2-3 dashes St. George Verte Absinthe
Combine Gin, Cocchi Americano, Cointreau, and lemon juice and shake with ice. In a chilled cocktail glass, dash the Absinthe and coat the glass. Discard excess Absinthe and strain other ingredients into glass. No garnish.
This tawdry sounding cocktail was first mixed up at London’s Savoy Hotel in the early 20th century by Ada Coleman, who was described by the London Daily Express upon her retirement in 1926 as “The Queen of Cocktail Mixers”. Charles Hawtrey, a famous actor of the time, would frequently come in and ask her for something with a “bit of punch in it”, and one of those times she served him a combination of Gin, Sweet Vermouth, and a small measure of Fernet Branca, which he declared to be “The Real Hanky Panky”. The name stuck. The drink is basically a pre-prohibition Martini (using sweet vermouth) with Fernet in place of bitters, but what a difference that makes! The original calls for equal parts gin and vermouth and just a barspoon of Fernet Branca, but us modern folk can take it a bit drier and more bitter.
2 oz Russell Henry London Dry Gin
3/4 oz Ransom Sweet Vermouth
1/4 oz Fernet Branca
Stir with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist.
The gin based version of the classic fizz template was the only one that really stuck it out through the 20th century in terms of popularity. A fizz is simply a sour with soda and often, egg white, a cocktail template described by Ernest Rawling in his 1914 Rawling’s Book of Mixed Drinks as “a shade of green oasis in the sandy desert of life”. Basically, fizzes are the self-love you need when a sour just won’t do it, and you need some bubbles to float your cares away. Gin works here maybe better than any other spirit thanks to its herbal complexity as well as its lightness, playing along with soda and egg white perfectly.
2 oz Fords Gin
3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Simple Syrup
1 egg white (or 1 oz liquid egg whites)
Dry shake Gin, lemon juice, syrup, and egg white without ice to froth the egg white. Add ice and shake again until cold. Strain into small Highball glass (no ice!) and top with soda.