Monday, January 28, 2013

'The Cocktail Book' -- For Private Use

I bought this small book, "The Cocktail Book: A Sideboard Manual for Gentlemen," in an antique shop in Eugene, Oregon, in 2000. The original copyright is 1900, with this particular edition dating to 1908.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a connoisseur of cocktails -- an (very) amateur bartender, if you will -- and so when I spotted this, I just had to have it. (You can read more of my cocktail posts here and here and here, for example.)

Let me quote from the book's introduction:
This book is not placed before the public as a "bar-tender's guide," nor is it a list of all the fancy combinations of various liquors invented to advertise certain establishments, or for imposing on the ignorant. It is a recipe book compiled for private use. By following the directions given, it is hoped that any gentleman will be able to provide his friends with most of the standard beverages, mixed in an acceptable manner.
Imposing on the ignorant? Indeed!

Anyway, it's a fascinating little volume, for a variety of reasons.

I love old books with notations in the margins or inscriptions or old notes and cards and clippings tucked away in the pages. This book has them all.

The flyleaf has a lovely little dedication:
to John (alias Jack, "Duke" etc.)
from his ban[c]kers & friends
Johnny Pratt
Waldo C. Hodgdon
Christmas 1909
N.B. "Here's looking at you";
hoping you may say the
same to us, after you have
got to know this books [sic].
On the back cover the owner of the book has glued little clippings of cocktail recipes that appear to have been snipped from the pages of "The New Yorker" magazine. So charming.

In addition, a yellowed clipping roughly ripped from a newspaper and pressed between the pages contains a variety of eggnog recipes ("General Harrison's Eggnog," "William's Eggnog," and "Hot Eggnog" among them) and seems to have been published in December 1936, from what I can deduce from clues on the reverse. Which could mean that the same owner kept this little volume close at hand for almost 30 years. Incredible.

Plus, I really love that this guideboook contains recipes for cocktails using absinthe, which was banned in the United States in 1912. As many are, I'm fascinated by absinthe, and I have a bottle at home, but I've yet to make either of the absinthe recipes contained herein. I must admit, it's not my favorite tipple, but I've vowed to whip up an Absinthe Frappe one of these days.

It's also fascinating to leaf through this book and see how the recipes have changed over the years.

In this book, the standard recipe for a Manhattan, which we drink more than any other cocktail in our house, calls for gum syrup, what we would call simple syrup today, I guess, but with the addition of gum arabic, an emulsifier; Boker's bitters, a predecessor of Angostura bitters that went out of business during Prohibition; Italian vermouth (doesn't specify sweet or dry), and whiskey. Of course, today's recipe for Manhattans do not call for simple syrup or any kind of sweetener. At least none that I've seen.

Even the recipe for a Martini Cocktail calls for three dashes of orange bitters, in addition to the gin and vermouth (again, it doesn't specify), while the recipe for Martini Cocktail -- No. 2 includes, intriguingly, half a teaspoonful of sherry.

Anyway, inspired by a chance encounter with the wonderful blog 901 Very Good Cocktails: A Practical Guide, by cocktail historian Stew Ellington, I thought I'd share this tiny gem with the world.


  1. What a fun book! I wonder how the owner did with it through prohibition. How lovely that your volume there ended up in the right hands.

  2. The dedication actually reads ba[n]ckers - a deliberate joke? Also, I'm pretty sure that the final 'book' is singular. People were generally quite careful about this sort of thing back in the 'noughties'!

  3. That sure looks like an "s" on the end, but maybe it's just a weird "k." The language itself is a bit offZ: "after you have got to know," instead of "after you have gotten to know..." Odd.