Mah Jongg Cocktail

Mah jong

Marion Andrews, Feebee West and Mary Barnett play Mah Jongg on Venice Beach. This photo was published Aug. 22, 1926 Los Angeles Times.

Unless it is the 1970s with its mood rings and pet rocks, I can think of few decades in the last century with more fads than the 1920s. The Charleston, flag pole sitting, flappers, and Mahjong just to name a few. 

Unlike the crossword puzzle (also a “fad” in the 1920s) which has retained its popularity, the game of Mahjong (or Mah Jongg, Mahjiang) somewhat fell out of favor during the decades following the 20s, though there seems to be a recent boost in its popularity. It was so popular in the 1920s—”How popular was it?!”—that Chinese parties were held where the participants dressed up and decorated the room in Chinese style. So it seems only fitting a drink was designed after this most trendy of games.

The earliest confirmed recipe for this drink I found in the 1927 Barflies and Cocktails. The drink shows up in the Buckstone Book of Cocktails, however the copyright date for this little tome is elusive. I’ve seen it listed as c. 1910 and also c. 1925 for the same edition. And since when are copyright dates “circa?” The recipes are identical and written as follows:

Mah Jonggmah jong 2

1/6 Cointreau (1/2 oz)

1/6 Bacardi Rum (1/2 oz)

2/3 Gin (2 oz)

Shake well, strain into cocktail glass.

Harry McElhone (Barflies and Cocktails) states that the cocktail was the invention of Willie Dale, “one of my late pupils.”

No garnish is called for, and I would stir this cocktail instead of shake. If you use Bacardi rum, do not employ any of the flavored varieties. Also remember that today’s silver Bacardi is not what it was in the 1920s. I would opt either for a higher quality silver rum or something with a bit of age to it, but nothing too dark if you want to keep within the spirit of this drink.

This boozy little number would prove a grand accompaniment to a game of Mah Jong or a crossword puzzle. I would probably not try any flagpole sitting after a couple of these.

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