Improved Gin Cocktail

In the good ol’ days, a cocktail consisted of nothing more than your liquor of choice (usually brandy or Hollands Gin—whiskey if you were from out of town), a little water, sugar, and bitters. Stir the sugar with the water, add a dash or two of bitters, liquor of any kind, stir, and there you have it. Drink up! Being Americans, we can never leave well enough alone, so we had to go and “improve” the cocktail. This usually involved the addition of various liqueurs; basically whatever you had behind the bar. It proved to be popular and the bars were making more money so democracy and free enterprise were safe.

Our Improved Gin Cocktail comes from Jerry Thomas’s 1876 edition of his Bartender’s Guide. He goes crazy with this one and adds not one, but two liqueurs to his basic gin cocktail. Wow! There was no stoppin’ this guy.

2 oz Gin (Genevcocktail-drinkerer preferred but Old Tom is good also)

2 dashes Boker’s Bitters (or Angostura)

3 dashes Gum Syrup (Simple Syrup)

2 dashes Maraschino Liqueur

1 dash Absinthe (Optional)

1 piece lemon (Lemon peel)

Fill the glass one-third full of shaved ice, shake well, and strain into a fancy cocktail glass. The flavor is improved by moistening the edge of the cocktail glass with a piece of lemon.

Now, for the modern interpretation: Stir all the ingredients except the lemon peel with ice and strain into a chilled [fancy] cocktail glass. Take the lemon peel and squeeze it over the drink to express the oils, rub it along the rim of the glass and either toss it in or discard it. You can shake the drink if you like, but it is better stirred. Some people cannot abide the licorice taste of absinthe, so I leave that as an option. 19th century bartenders were divided in their acceptance and use of absinthe in cocktails. Most left it up to the customer. If you do use it, a dash is plenty. Absinthe can quickly smother a drink. This is a great drink to try different types of bitters and gins, including many of the newer styles which are more floral or citrus centered.

To Jerry Thomas and all the other bartenders who have shown us the way. Down the hatch!