I have always been seduced by beautiful barware. When most children made beelines for toy departments, I loved strolling the glassware departments of Birmingham department stores — especially Loveman’s, which had a glass engraver that affixed one’s monogram to a myriad of old fashioned, martini, sour and gin and tonic glasses.
I drooled over glass decanters on silver trays and martini shakers and, most of all, the small pristine linen squares on which the glasses were placed. I am sure this childhood obsession convinced my abstemious parents their only child was on the road to perdition.
Age has not dampened my fascination, which may have morphed into something of an obsession. If there is a cocktail out there, I likely have a glass for it, a linen square to go under it and an accompanying drink recipe.
Although the word "cocktail" has become a generic term for any alcoholic beverage offered, be it a glass of wine or a martini, the original cocktail was a mixed drink that contained at least three ingredients, two of which were alcohol.
Both America and Great Britain claim the cocktail. British researchers date the word’s first appearance in print to 1798. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the word as being American in origin and dates its first appearance in America to 1806.
The word’s etymology is questionable. Sometimes horse tails were cropped or bobbed. It is said in England this was done to indicate the equine was of a mixed breed, hence the co-opting of the word for a mixed drink.
Others think the word may be a co-opted version of "coquetier," the French word for an egg cup. A coquetier made an excellent vessel for rationing out a jigger measure of spirits.
Regardless the age or origin of the word, the art of the cocktail is experiencing a renaissance, especially vintage cocktails like martinis, old fashioneds, Tom Collins and whiskey sours. I have a glass for all of those, though not necessarily appropriately monogrammed.
In the midst of the holiday season, consider hosting a vintage cocktail party. Arrange a beautiful bar with vintage barware bought at tag sales. (Gentle readers, just call me Martha Stewart.)
You don’t have to have fancy whiskey decanters. Arrange a selection of bottles of bourbon, rye, vodka and gin on the bar. Put out a supply of ice, a cocktail shaker, swizzle sticks, a bottle of Angostura aromatic bitters, slices of orange and lemon peel and recipe cards for you and guests to follow. Consider these recipes:
If a James Bond fan, this is the martini Bond ordered in "Casino Royale." Combine three parts gin, one part vodka and ½ part Lillet Blanc aperitif wine in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. Pour into a martini glass and garnish with lemon peel.
What the heck is Lillet? Available at Tyson’s Fine Wines and Things in Golden Springs, Lillet is a Bordeaux-fortified wine that has been infused with fruits, peels and barks. It is used in this recipe in lieu of vermouth.
This recipe is from New York’s Employees Only Bar. Muddle a lemon peel, sugar cube and a dash of water in the bottom of a glass until a paste-like substance is formed. (FYI, a muddler is a large wooden peg-looking device that fits in a glass and squashes ingredients.) Add 2 ounces of rye or bourbon to the muddled mess along with a dash of bitters. Add ice. Stir until chilled. Garnish with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry.
Combine 1 ounce simple syrup, 2 ounces lemon juice and 5 ounces rye or bourbon whiskey in a shaker. Shake vigorously until chilled. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a cherry.
For those who find crafting cocktails challenging, Tyson’s has an app for that in the form of Bittermilk Cocktail Mixes. Bittermilk is the creation of husband-and-wife team Joe and MariElena Raya of Charleston, S.C., who created the product to simplify concocting artisanal cocktails at home. Their products have garnered many accolades, including winning the drinks category of Garden and Gun magazine’s annual "Made in the South" awards.
Each product features a bittering agent, a sweetener and acid and aromatic compounds to achieve a balanced and delicious cocktail.
These small bottles of elixirs make 12 to 17 cocktails, depending on desired cocktail size. They make excellent holiday gifts.
Contact Pat Kettles at email@example.com.