55. Remsen Cooler

14 Sep

ImageAt the club there were men enough. It was crowded, except Saturday and Sunday. There was a good deal of quiet gambling, contrary to club rules, and a good many men came up to town for it. There was a great deal of quiet drinking, too. Fat men and thin men, old and young men, sat, smoked, fanned themselves, and drank enormous numbers of Remsen ‘coolers’, getting up the courage, presumably, to roll home in a cab, and let themselves into dark, gloomy, deserted houses, which they called their ‘homes’.

— John Seymour Wood, Gramercy Park: A Story of New York (New York: Appleton, 1892), pp. 168-9.

 It might be a little late in the season – what can I say? I’ve been busy – but Atlanta is still plenty warm enough that, as afternoon gives way to evening, a sensible person thing retreats to the shade of the porch to enjoy a thirst-quenching, pulse-quickening “cooler” (and not the kind of cooler to which William H. Anderson was committed, in his own way).

 In an earlier post we discussed the faddishness of American summer drinks in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when, at the beginning of the estival months, some new refreshing alcoholic draught seemed to catch on, only to be forgotten the following June when the latest craze took hold, then rediscovered the year after that, and so on.

In 1894, for instance, the Chicago Tribune reported that the city’s bartenders were seeing “an increased demand in gin” in July. This was plainly unusual, signifying not only a shift in taste but also a greater medical appreciation of the juniper berry: “The philosophy of this innovation lies in the theory that gin counteracts the injurious effects of beer upon the liver and other organs,” the newspaper explained, adding that it was unable to vouch for the veracity of the hypothesis. Although gin was “the foundation stone” of the martini and gin cocktail, neither of these was “strictly a summer drink”: the former was drunk by its admirers all year round and the latter repelled “a judicious tippler when the sun is high”. The new “toney” gin drinks (the gin fizz, though back in fashion, was an “old-timer”) were the Collins, the Rickey and the Remsen Cooler (“About Hot Weather Beverages”, Chicago Daily Tribune, 22 July 1894, p. 25).

The Remsen Cooler seems to have been born in the late 1880s; the earliest reference of which I’m aware occurs in a story by Edgar Saltus published towards the end of that decade. The last line of The Grand Duke’s Rubies is Alphabet Jones’ command: “I say, waiter, get me a Remsen cooler, please” (Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, vol. XLI, January-June 1888, pp. 123-31). Saltus was evidently fond of the newfangled beverage, because it turns up again a year later in one of his novels:

She had stretched out her hand, but Roland, affecting not to notice it, raised his hat and turned away. Presently, and although, in spite of many a vice, he was little given to drink, he found himself at the bar superintending the blending of gin, of lemon-peel, and of soda; and as he swallowed it and put the goblet down he seemed so satisfied that the barkeeper, with the affectionate familiarity of his class, nodded and smiled. “It takes a Remsen Cooler to do the trick, doesn’t it?” he said.

— Edgar Saltus, The Pace That Kills: A Chronicle (Chicago: Belford, Clarke and Co., 1889), pp. 67-8.

During the next few years scattered references to the Remsen cooler testify both to its novelty and fashionable status. Yet by 1894 this “deplorable form of dissipation”, had, according to the New York Times, already seemingly gone extinct (in Manhattan at least) before being “lately . . . revived at several otherwise reputable clubs.” These remarks, by the way, turn up in an article bemoaning the inconveniences of late-Victorian gentlemanly attire, and especially of the waistcoat, in the summer months: “To one already suffering from the natural plumpness of the ‘middle years’, this costume, in a spell of hot humidity, is simply unbearable,” whined the wilting writer. “It induces profanity, and if persisted in will surely drive the soberest man to repeated Remsen coolers”. After describing in mouth-watering detail exactly how a Remsen Cooler is made, our scribe concludes that to “abolish this kind of dissipation, any dress reform, within reason, ought to be countenanced by a sensible community (“The Shirt Waist”, New York Times, 24 June 1894). I assume that the salutary effects of the Remsen Cooler may be enjoyed even when clothed in the modern American uniform of ill-fitting shorts and polo shirt, although a heavy woolen three-piece suit is the ideal accessory.

Our drink’s rapid rise to prominence was such that by 1896 it was even recognized by the Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia: “Remsen cooler, a compound of Old Tom gin, lemon-peel, club soda, and cracked ice.” And that’s really all there is to the Remsen Cooler: gin, club soda, ice and lemon peel. But the preparation of the lemon peel is key, as the following anecdote makes clear, while at the same time offering an origin story for the mixture:

 After the Reporter’s kind invitation had been declined, with the usual ceremonies, the Purveyor astonished all hands by inviting them to partake of a freshly imported beverage known as a “Remsen cooler”. It was a draught, he said, which had been recently brought back from Cohasset, Mass., by the Proprietor, and its inventor was William H. Crane, the popular comedian, who had already filed his application for a copyright. All hands, excepting the Manager, accepted the Purveyor’s kind and unexpected invitation; and he, too, fell into line after he had ascertained that there was no clause in the average insurance policy which excluded death by poisoning. Then the members propped themselves up against the mahogany, and closely watched the construction of the new beverage, two of which were made at a time. First, two deep and slender glasses were stood upon the bar; then the Purveyor took a keen-edged knife and chased the rind off of a lemon, in both an inspiring and spiral manner. This spiral was separated in the middle with the knife, and a snaky piece of lemon-peel found its uncertain way into each glass. Three small lumps of ice followed suit; and also into each glass went what is technically known as a “jigger” of negro gin. A small bottle of Delatour soda then lent its aid, and filled the glasses. The decoction was agitated with a slender spoon, and was then ready for the palate. When every member had been duly provided for, the signal to fire was given, and there was the old familiar gurgle, followed by the highly appreciative and long-drawn-out “Ah-h-h-h!” The “Remsen cooler” had scored an immense hit on the occasion of its first production in Chicago; and it will doubtless be played to “standing-room only” during the hot months.

— William T. Hall, The Turnover Club: Tales Told at the Meetings of the Turnover Club, about Actors and Actresses (Chicago and New York: Rand, McNally and Co., 1890), p. 211.

But where did the potation’s name come from? The New York Times offered a different and rather more convincing explanation: “One of the sons of the late William Remsen originated the Remsen cooler, which is one of the standard drinks at the Union Club. I think it was the late William Remsen, who died very shortly after his father.” (“With the Clubmen” New York Times, 29 June 1902, p. SM10).

And who were the Williams Remsen? The elder William Remsen (1815-1895) was, his obituarist recorded, a “typical representative of those upright, frugal, unostentatious, and intelligent Knickerbockers who by their business sagacity, their probity, and consistent lives formed so valuable a part of the population of this metropolis.” He was a founder and one of the largest stockholders of the Third Avenue surface railroad and for 34 years a Trustee of the Greenwich Savings Bank (“The Obituary Record”, New York Times, 6 March 1895). His son, “Billy”, a stalwart of the Union Club, the oldest private members’ club in New York, was a rather less substantial figure. Yet he won acclaim not only for his alcoholic innovation, but also, as a young man, for his feats on foot: he was, at least in the Woosterish circles in which he moved, a noted “pedestrian”:

He asserted himself as champion of the club in a long-distance walking-match, and his title was disputed by Walter B. Smith, an athlete, whose performances on the flying trapeze, said a member last night, have made him famous in the club. Both Mr Smith and Mr Remsen are noted sportsmen. Mr Smith, a few days ago, wagered a sum which is variously estimated between $50 and $1,000 that Mr Remsen could not walk 27 times around the block bounded by Twentieth and Twenty-first streets and Fifth and Sixth avenues within three hours. The distance was computed by the surveyors of the club to be 10 miles. Yesterday was chosen as the day for the performance of the great feat, and Mr Remsen was promptly on hand at noon with his trainers. Mr Smith, it was understood, would rise in a coupe over the route, following Mr Remsen, but Mr Smith preferred the seclusion of the club-house, saying that it was sufficient for him to gaze from a window and behold Mr Remsen every time he made a ‘lap’. A large party of the sporting element of the club clustered around Mr Smith in the exhilarating atmosphere of the club-house, and tossed off a bumper every time Mr Remsen’s smiling countenance turned the corner of Fifth-avenue and Twenty-first-street. There was no excitement in the street, no crowd of ragamuffins, or any disturbance whatever. Mr Remsen stuck quietly to his task, and complete the 27 laps with 15 minutes to spare. When he entered the club-house he was received with cheers, and Mr Smith called for a ‘basket’. During the afternoon and evening Mr Remsen was the lion among the athletes and pedestrians of the club.

— “Union Club Athletes”, New York Times, 9 February 1881.

Here’s the recipe for a Remsen Cooler from Daly:


—    Daly’s Bartenders’ Encyclopedia (Worcester, MA, 1903), p. 42.

Measurements don’t need to be exact; you might prefer the formula used by a “Michigan Avenue mixer” and printed by the Chicago Tribune: “Cut off the rind of a whole lemon in one piece and wrap the spiral around as large a piece of ice as it will hold. Drop into a tall glass and set before the customer, who also takes the gin bottle and adds as much of that liquor as he likes. Drown the whole in plain soda poured in by the man behind the bar”  (“About Hot Weather Beverages”, Chicago Daily Tribune, 22 July 1894, p. 25).

But be warned: the same newspaper proclaims that the “taste for Remsens is considered an affectation”.


2.2 Down-and-out cocktail

5 Jun

Cousin Lafe had him Down and Out. He fell back and took the Count. Cousin Lafe took him Home in a Hack and roasted him, and told him he was a Rhinestone Sport and a Mackerel.

— George Ade, Breaking into Society (New York: Harper, 1904), p. 53.

A “new form of liquid exhilaration” was reported on Park Row, New York in early 1902, and it involved a reworking of the Manhattan cocktail. The originator was still a mystery, according to the newspaper that brought the scoop, but it confidently predicted that “when he discloses his identity his fame promises to eclipse that of the inventor of the Mamie Taylor and the horse’s neck“. It continued:

The new concoction is referred to as the “Down-and-out” cocktail, the title being a delicate allusion to the forceful and persuasive qualities of the beverage. The Park Row bartender who mixed several last evening for a venturesome person was inclined to be somewhat secretive as to the ingredients, but it was learned after much difficulty and personal investigation that the component parts are the same as the Manhattan variety, with the significant exception that applejack takes the place of whisky.

One of the survivors of the mixture, upon regaining consciousness, asked:

“What wuz in that stuff you gimme?”

“Nothing but apple-jack,” was the soothing reply.

“I thought it was blackjack,” murmured the patient, as he again relapsed into insensibility.

— “‘Down-and-Out’ Cocktail, New York Telegraph, repr. in Washington Post, 26 January 1902, p. 36.

2 oz. applejack

1 oz. sweet vermouth

2 dashes of bitters

54. Silver jubilee cocktails

2 Jun

Sir Stafford Cripps, leader of the Socialist wing of the English Labor party and often mentioned as Britain’s next Prime Minister . . . classed the King’s Silver Jubilee as National Government propaganda.

— “Cripps Visits Cambridge, Scoffs at King’s Jubilee”, Boston Daily Globe, 28 April 1935, p. A8.

This weekend Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate her Diamond Jubilee, having selflessly clung to the throne for 60 years and spared the British nation the prospect of King Charles III. It seems an appropriate opportunity, then, to travel back to 1935, when her grandfather, George V, marked his own Silver Jubilee, batting 25 years not out on a far stickier wicket (his cousins Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicolas II had long since been forcibly retired to the pavillion). For this was a prolific moment in cocktail history.

The Silver Jubilee celebrations were scheduled to last for three months, beginning on 6 May, the anniversary of the King-Emperor’s coronation in 1910, with a thanksgiving service in St Paul’s Cathedral, and culminating in the Cowes Week yachting regatta. In between there were balls, processions, musical festivals, military tattoos, and street parties across the country. The often-grimy capital was transformed, putting on its party-dress, its buildings draped in flowers and monuments floodlit. The photographer Cecil Beaton remembered that “London had the air of a Valentine in its gala-trimming . . . the public squares were festooned and garlanded almost beyond recognition; every house seemed to have been freshly painted, and hung with swags and flags; the window-boxes were stacked with marguerites; everywhere were crowns and emblems of festivity” (Cecil Beaton’s Scrapbook [New York: Scribner’s, 1937], p. 6).

Outside of London the ceremonies were inevitably a little more pagan:

In the country, the brass band blared, and all the villagers turned out to watch the goings-on: the infirm were wheeled into the porch or peeped from the windows. The pageant was headed by a group dressed in fancy costumes of miscellaneous origin, and in a remote village there were Italian peasants and hula-hula dancers . . . Lorries passed disguised as flowering arbours, smithies, Theocritean dairy farms. There followed a cavalcade of the early kings and queens of England (though to the anguish of the lady organiser James II was lost), while the later Royalty was compelled to tread delicately in their wake. The industries and produce of Britain figured in the pageant play, and the arrival of the village postmistress was greeted with the shout “Hail, Butter.” Hanging over the pleasure-garden railings, pointing and giggling hysterically, dressed in fantastic costumes of brilliantly-coloured paper, representing strange birds and flowers—one with a huge upturned daisy on its head, another in a sunburst halo of petals, and yet another in a top hat, to which was affixed the cryptic question “Who am I?”—were the lunatics from the local asylum, their faces twisted and knotted, but madly gay.

The procession halted in the market square in time to hear its own speech from the King through the radio. No other royal celebration had ever seemed so personal, and, when night had fallen on the jubilant village, strange ghosts of the past, some on white horses, carrying flares, mingled with the crowds and streamed onto the Downs to light the bonfire. One after another, for miles around, pin-points of light burst into being. All over the country these beacons, once lit only for war, were now offering to Their Majesties the most united symbol of loyalty that the country could give. [ibid., p. 8]

Like the royal wedding of 1922, the jubilee bash was meant to foster a sense of unity and solidarity in the people, regardless of social class, throughout Britain and her global empire. The event was largely successful in that respect: the New York Times noticed that the rubbernecks filling the capital’s streets, so many that traffic had to be stopped, were “different from the ordinary London crowd that flocks to see royal pageantry.” On this occasion it was “suburban families” who had “brought their children to town to gape at the gilded Britannia that towers ninety feet above the roof of Selfridge’s store or to admire the flowers massed in windows from one end of Regent Street to the other”, “elderly women from seaside boarding houses”, “retired officials”, “seamen from London docks who one seldom sees in the West End of London” (“Jubilee Throngs Stream to London”, New York Times, 5 May 1935, p. E4). And the thousands welcoming the king and queen to the vermin-ridden slums of the East End, some following the royal procession on roller skates and bicycles, were no less enthusiastic than the multitudes lining the Mall, even at the expense of political consistency. “Lousy, but loyal” declared one improvised banner; “Down with capitalism—God save the King!” urged another. But British communists were predictably less indulgent. The Daily Worker newspaper dubbed the extravagant £5000 Silver Jubilee banquet “Royal Squandermania”, and a manifesto by the leaders of the “London First of May Committee” described the years since George V’s coronation as “Twenty-five years of robbery of workers in which  millions of our brothers have been slain, mutilated, gassed and tortured” (“Reds in Britain See Jubilee as ‘Royal Squandermania’”, Gettysburg Times, 26 April 1935, p. 6).

Bolshevik killjoys notwithstanding, the monarch was taken aback by the warmth with which he was received by his subjects and concluded in his diary: “I am beginning to think they must really like me for myself.” Not exactly, George. The public’s high spirits were not just affection for the king as an individual and loyalty to the Crown, or even love of well-choreographed show, the New York Times observed:

It is not a man but a reign that is being commemorated throughout the empire Monday. This time there is little of the intensely personal feeling that dominated Queen Victoria’s jubilee when the old Queen had been on the throne sixty years and had become a living legend. When the crowds cheer for King George Monday morning they will also in a very real sense be cheering for themselves. They will be thinking of all they have endured and achieved in the twenty-five years since the King came to the throne. Not many of them imagine the King has had a decisive influence over the events of those troubled years. […] Yet the fact that King George is still on the throne is a symbol to the British people that they themselves have come through terrible trials and that when other countries have been broken and other monarchies gone up in smoke their country and its free institutions are still intact.

— “Jubilee Throngs Stream to London”, New York Times, 5 May 1935, p. E4.

Perhaps to counter the criticisms of the Left, that these imperial self-celebrations, and even the institution of monarchy itself, were a waste of money at a time when the nation could ill afford such profligacy, it was claimed that the jubilee would not help “restore good times throughout the country” but bring ‘profitable employment of thousands of people”—mainly through the mass production of royalist tat. Potteries worked round the clock churning out souvenir mugs and plates, foundries cast millions of medals, printers published millions of books and programs, the colonial office issued a special series of stamps, the manufacturers of flags and bunting were at full stretch. And that was just the beginning, according to the Washington Post:

New women’s fashions are being developed and considerable employment is promised in this line. […] Makers of artificial flowers cannot supply the demand. […] In this branch of industry new hands are being constantly broken in. Electricians are beginning to reap a harvest. Floods of light will be the rule at all places of assembly and along many main streets. More employment will be given in all parts of the empire by the planting of commemorative trees. One town in England has signified its intention of planting 10,000 trees along its local roadways.

— “Great Britain’s Silver Jubilee is Creating Jobs, Washington Post, 31 March 1935, p. S11.

While all this was going on London’s best bartenders were busy inventing their own tributes to the King-Emperor. The Café Royal Cocktail Book contains no fewer than 13 cocktails with a jubilee theme. This Stakhanovite effort led to some complications, as the Baltimore Sun reported:

London’s cocktail world is shaken by an unusual mix-up during the silver jubilee. The Bartenders’ Guild decided to copyright the use of the names “Jubilation” and “Silver Jubilee” given to two new cocktails invented by its president, Harry Craddock, of the Savoy. By coincidence Tony, of the Trocadero Restaurant, and Alex, of the Cumberland Hotel, two other cocktail experts, each made cocktails and christened them by the same names.

— “Jubilee Cocktails”, Baltimore Sun, 19 May 1935, p. TM3.

Legal action was threatened by both the Guild and the two rival mixologists, but the dispute appears to have been resolved amicably enough. Three of Craddock’s Jubilee-themed recipes were subsequently included in the Café Royal Cocktail Book, and none carry the names mentioned in the newspaper article. In fact, the only cocktail bearing the title “Silver Jubilee” is the rather unfortunate creation of the book’s author, W. J. Tarling, a glop as sickly-sweet as the outpourings of royalist fervour:

½ Booth’s dry gin

¼ fresh cream

¼ crème de Banane (banana liqueur)

I suspect Tarling may have been a closet republican. A little better, but not by much, is the Jubilee Rhapsody by Laurie Ross:

2/3 gin

1/6 Danzig silver water

1/12 lemon juice

1/12 blue Curaçao

Rim of glass crusted with  sugar.

(Danzig silver water, I’m assuming, was a brand of lightly sparkling silver water, so I found something suitable to stand in for it.)

The clear winners, both by Harry Craddock (an American, of course), stuck to tried-and-trusted combinations and were all the better for it:

Royal Jubilee King’s Jubilee
¼ lemon juice ¼ lemon juice
¼ Cointreau ¼ Luxardo’s Maraschino
½ Calvados ½ Daiquiri rum

Three cheers for the king! Well, two cheers. OK, let’s just leave it at “cheers”!

Fraud, lies and forgery: the John T. King cocktail

30 May

Scandal rocked the temperance movement in 1923 when William H. Anderson, superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League of New York, and the very man who had done so much for the dry cause by ensuring the State Legislature’s ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment, was indicted on charges of grand larceny, forgery and extortion.

Anderson claimed that the League owed him $24,700, a debt supposedly incurred when he had financed a “confidential publicity promotion” out of his own pocket ten years before. Prosecutors alleged that he had coerced O. Bertsall Phillips, a former fundraiser for the organization, to give him a 50% cut on all commissions Phillips earned in excess of $10,000 a year and then cooked the books to cover up the fraudulent transactions.

Despite Anderson’s loud protestations that he was the victim of a “wicked conspiracy of character assassination”, the case was brought to trial. In his defence Anderson maintained that by entering into the arrangement with Phillips he was merely trying to claw back what was rightfully his. But how could a professional scold afford to lend his employers $24,700 in the first place? The money, he explained with a straight face, was the gift of a kindhearted stranger named “John T. King”, about whom Anderson could remember nothing except for the fact that he was 45 years old and the owner of a black moustache. The cash was then apparently spent by three equally mysterious and untraceable individuals, “Henry Mann”, who directed the phantom publicity campaign, and his helpers “Green” and “Johnson” (“Anderson Reveals New Mystery Men and Admits Deceit”, New York Times, 26 January 1924). So implausible was Anderson’s testimony that Assistant District Attorney James Garrett Wallace was moved to poetry. “King, Mann, Johnson and Green,” he doggerelized,

They belong to the realm of the spirits, I ween. / Will some medium lend me a first-class control / To bring back that King and his generous roll? / And if none of the others materialize / I’ll be thankful for King and a wad of good size. / But alas! I’m afraid that no more will be seen— King, Mann, Johnson and Green.

— “Pecora to Grill Anderson on Stand”, New York Times, 27 January 1924.

(Anderson’s tall tale was obviously the last refuge of the scoundrel. One quick-thinking burglar, who was caught stealing bundles of clothes from a laundry, told the detective that he found the items in front of the premises after someone else had made off with several similar bundles. That person, the thief assured the cop, was “King, the fellow that gave Anderson $25,000”.)

Needless to say, the jury wasn’t buying Anderson’s story. He was convicted on charges of forgery in the third degree and received a prison sentence of one to two years. It was an ignominious end to the career of an activist whose “genius in detecting and thwarting the schemes of saloon-men to control officers of justice and corrupt legislatures”, one of his comrades subsequently wrote, conveniently overlooking his recent stay in Sing Sing, “caused his enemies to dread his appearance on any battlefield where trickery was relied upon to prolong the life of the saloon” (Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem, vol. 1 [Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing, 1925], p. 164).

But Anderson’s enemies got the last laugh. His hypocrisy gave the local “wets” an opportunity to prove their bone-dry sense of humour:

“John T. King”, mysterious benefactor of William H. Anderson, convicted head of the New York Anti-Saloon league, may stay forever marooned in the power of missing men, but his memory will go down to posterity.

This was assured when R. W. Merrick, divisional prohibition enforcement head, announced that “King” had gone into the hall of fame occupied by Tom Collins, Three Star Hennessey, Haig & Haig, and other similar supposedly dead but still living characters.

Merrick is investigating the invention and suddenly acquired popularity of the “John T. King cocktail”, which local bartenders are concocting from orange juice, gin, ginger ale, a few drops of “overnight” brandy and a dash and half of absinthe.

— “John King’s Name is Memorialized in Gin Cocktail”, Atlanta Constitution, 31 January 1924, p. 6.

The automated cocktail

29 May

The twentieth century brought us many technological marvels designed to spare us the exhausting manual labour involved in opening tin cans (the electric can opener, patented in 1931), slicing food (the electric knife, 1939),  brushing our teeth (the electric toothbrush, 1954) or pleasuring ourselves (the electric vibrator, first patented in 1902). To be honest, it’s surprising that it took as long as it did for the first automatic cocktail dispenser to hit the market.

In 1961 Auto-Bar Systems, a division of Ametek brought out the “Cocktailmatic”. The gizmo was designed, The LA Times reported, for large-scale commercial use, “where dispensing of drinks in a hurry is a problem” (Joe R. Nevarez, “New Dispenser Mixes Drinks Automatically”, Los Angeles Times, 12 June 1961, p. C8).

In an ad Ametek loudly and proudly trumpeted its achievement:

The martinets laughed when we sat down to our Cocktailmatic dispenser and demonstrated how a mere machine could produce scientifically-proportioned martinis, manhattans and other cocktails every time. But the hotel and tavern industry, to whom the problems of the hit-or-miss martini are no joke, is taking our Cocktailmatic to its bosom. Not only is it saving the industry millions a year, but the automatic martini mixers developed by the Auto-Bar Systems division of Ametek, Inc. have enabled any number of bars to step up the horsepower of their martinis without raising prices.

Business Week, issue 1740-1747, (1963), p. 107.

The folks at Industry Week were certainly impressed, particularly with the way the device “counts your drinks on a meter and can be preset to serve dry, very dry, or very, very dry martinis” (Industry Week, vol. 149 [1961], p. 5). Meanwhile, the Hartford Courant admitted that, while the Cocktailmatic might seem “sacrilege to the artist who insists on mixing his own after the fashion of the dedicated salad-tosser”, its inhuman precision made sense to the drinks industry:

Every martini quaffer has his own recipe for the perfect blend of gin and vermouth. But when he orders one away from home, he never knows quite what he’ll get. The new cocktail dispenser is aimed at curing such frustration. It can be dial-set for the flavor and zing the customer requires for lip-smacking. One may imagine the bartender asking: ‘Will that be 90 proof, Sir, with a four-to-one ratio?’ as he spins the knobs. Once the right setting has been discovered, the bibber has only to write the combination on his cuff in order to get the same satisfaction on the next round or the next day . . . It probably has an optional gadget for simply passing a vermouth cork over the rest of the liquor when the customer wants one real dry.

— “The Automated Martini”, Hartford Courant, 19 April 1963, p. 16.

Others sounded a note of caution. “Is this another case of machine taking over for man?” wondered H. R. Clauser in the pages of the always entertaining Materials Engineering. “If it is, the machine better watch out . . . Not only might they become inebriated and start being as obnoxious as many human drunks, but they could conceivably escape and go around getting other machines plastered. Considering some of the sensitive jobs being handled by computers today, a binge of this kind could give the whole world a hangover” (H. R. Clauser, “Last Word”, Materials Engineering, vol. 56: 1 [1962], p. 180).

That would give new meaning to the phrase “a well-oiled machine”.

Chain gang cocktail

28 May

From: I am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang (1932).

Atlantans with a taste for fancy cocktails, highballs, rickeys and juleps please take note of the mixed drinks some prisoners in Fulton prison camps think are good.

Chief Warden A. A. Clarke, during the grand jury investigation of alleged special privileges allowed George Harah and Mark (Chicken) Chastain, said yesterday deputies frequently find prisoners with bottles of whisky heavily accented with kerosene as a disguise for the real contents. Mixtures of oil and liquor have been taken away from the convicts. Clare said the prisoners drink the concoction and smack their lips if not caught.

— “Liquor and Kerosene Chain Gang Cocktail”, Atlanta Constitution, 15 October, 1936, p. 9.

British binge-drinking, 1927 edition

27 May

Photo: Christopher Pledger, Daily Telegraph, 2009.

For at least the past decade or so, the British press has been indulging in one of its periodic bouts of hand-wringing at the drinking habits of young women. Proving that there is nothing new under the sun, certainly not newspapermen’s morbid fascination primly disguised as moral crusade, is this bourgeois-epating story from 1927:

Forty cocktails a day “without turning a hair” is the new all-British record, both for flappers and confirmed drinkers.

An anonymous English girl of “good social standing” turned the trick.

Hitherto, 12 to 15 cocktails a day has been considered a very respectable average for the energetic flapper but the Rev. W. H. G. Shapcott’s assertion that he has met a 17-year-old girl who boasted she could get outside of 40 of them between breakfast and breakfast, has caught the imagination of all London and the news and editorial columns of the newspapers blazon her prowess.

The Rev. Shapcott, who is Metropolitan secretary of the church army, says he cannot see the greatness of her accomplishment, despite the editorial hullabaloo, and has refused to reveal the girl’s identity. He has said, merely, that  “she is a girl of good social standing and goes to the Riviera every year.”

“But she is not the only case,” he added, in an interview. “Girls are getting more and more into the cocktail habit. Dozens of them drink their 12 of 15 a day and think nothing of it. But the girl who boasted she drank 40 of them headed the list. When she said that that was nothing, and that the number didn’t turn her brain, I told her that it must be because she didn’t have any brain to turn.”

At this rate, cocktail drinking becomes of the expensive pastimes.

Forty cocktails a day represents a drinking bill of about $5,000 a year—or $15 a day. Forty Martinis, for instance, would represent about one and a half bottles of gin and three-fourths of a litre of French vermouth.

With these figures before them, certain speculative editorial writers are inclined to wonder whether the cocktail girl’s claims should not be classified with the English channel swim hoax.

— “English Girl Found Able to Drink 40 Cocktails Day”, Atlanta Constitution, 1 November 1927, p. 10.

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