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Home / Articles / Eats / Cocktail Tales /  Adventures in retro cocktailing
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Monday, Jan 14, 2013

Adventures in retro cocktailing

Lessons learned from an obscure 1941 recipe book called ‘Here’s How’

By Kelly Davis
cocktails Photo by Kelly Davis

With this issue of CityBeat having a retro focus, I was at a loss as to what to write about. No, really. Retro cocktails are pretty much all I’ve been writing about in this space—folks re-creating classics or doing their own twist on a classic.

So, I did what I’ve wanted to do for years. I hauled out Here’s How, a cocktail-recipe book I pilfered from my dad’s house that I’m pretty sure belonged to his grandmother. Published in Asheville, N.C., in 1941, it’s got wood-board covers held in place with metal hinges. New Yorker-style illustrations—some rather un-PC—fill the pages, along with comments under recipes made to look like marginal notes, like this one for the Brandy Flip: “You’ll be flip, too, if you go too far with this!”

Here’s what I learned from Here’s How: No one used vodka back then. Of the roughly 150 recipes, not a single one includes vodka. And I now know the difference between a jigger (an ounce-and-a-half ) and a pony (1 ounce). A wine glass isn’t a wine glass—it’s 2 ounces. And a dash doesn’t mean “eyeball it”—it means measure out one-third of a teaspoon.

The book pushed me to add to my cocktail cabinet—sweet and dry vermouth, grenadine, curacao. I’m still searching for anisette and prinelle. I learned that gum syrup is actually simple syrup (one part sugar, two parts water), Danziger Goldwasser is apparently the world’s oldest spirit (1598) and orchard syrup is made from apples (Google it for some good recipes).

But, sadly, of the maybe 20 recipes I tried, most were undrinkable. The problem became clear early on—too much citrus (many recipes called for 1/2 a lemon and 1/2 a lime)—but I felt compelled to follow each recipe exactly. So much good booze wasted last Saturday night.

I sent an email to Adam Stemmler and Dustin Haarstad from Blind Tiger Cocktail Co.—I wrote about the new menu they created for Alchemy in our Dec. 26 issue; the guys are cocktail scientists. Haarstad agreed that it’s rare for a cocktail recipe to include more than 3/4 an ounce of citrus.

“It is important to note that citrus tastes slightly different in various parts of the world,” Stemmler added, “and I can only assume that over the past 70-ish years, not only produce, but spirits as well, have changed significantly. That is why recipe templates are more of a guide than ‘law,’ if you will.”

So, with that advice, I cracked open the book again. The Cream Fizz caught my eye; underneath was the Orange Fizz. Using the two as a template, I concocted what I’ll uncreatively call the Orange Cream Fizz:

1 pony of gin
1 wine glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice
1/2 tsp. powdered sugar

Put in a shaker with ice. Strain into a glass 
with ice and add half an ounce of cream or half-and-half. Stir. Optional: One dash of bitters. Cheers.

Email or follow her on Twitter at @citybeatkelly.