Today’s post is written by science librarian and culinary specialist Alison Kelly. She has provided her expertise in a number of Inside Adams blog posts related to food history and cooking such as Early American Beer.
New Year’s Eve is just around the corner, so this seems like a good time to raise a glass to a very small–but engaging–collection of books by American mixologists. Most of these books have been sitting on the shelves at the Library of Congress for 100 years or more–but today, with the renewed interest in hand-crafted cocktails–they are more relevant than ever. I also like to think of them as a snapshot of American history from a time when ice was kept in iceboxes and the art of removing a lemon peel in one long spiral had not yet been lost.
Some of these books may be familiar: The Bar-Tender’s Guide, or How to Mix All Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks… (1887), by “Professor” Jerry Thomas. This book is the second edition of his How to Mix Drinks: Or, The Bon-vivant’s Companion, which was first published in 1862 and is generally considered to be the earliest book of cocktail recipes produced in the United States that we know of.
Another legendary mixologist, Harry Johnson, whose New and Improved Bartender’s Manual (1882) provides extensive practical information for the professional bartender, later stated that he had published an even earlier first edition, but no copy has yet surfaced. Johnson’s book includes lists of what is needed for “a first-class saloon,” from many varieties of bitters, fruits, beers and mineral waters to an amazing array of equipment. For ice alone, the bar required ice picks, an ice cooler, ice shavers and scoops. Other necessities are funnels, a gimlet, corks and stoppers and liquor thieves (a tube for withdrawing or sampling of liquids).
George Kappeler, author of Modern American Drinks(1895), and Jacob Grohusko, who wrote Jack’s Manual (2nd edition, c1910), were both well-recognized names in New York City. Other authors are less well-known, for example Joseph L. Haywood, of Wilmington, Delaware, whose recipes in Mixology: the Art of Preparing all Kinds of Drinks(1898) hint at a connection with Wilmington’s Evening Star newspaper. Americus V. Bevill, a commercial traveler and self-described “agent for the western states,” collected various recipes during his extensive travels for the Barkeeper’s Ready Reference (1871).
Prohibition soon brought an end to this first age of mixology. Some of the early practitioners moved outside of the country to work in Mexico, Cuba and Europe, or they were employed at private clubs in the United States. Others retired from the profession for the duration. It would be some time before people were again interested in recipes for drinks with a venerable past and exotic names like crustas, sangarees, smashes, bowls, fizzes and flips. Of course, most of these books also contain recipes for cocktails of all sorts, from a Spring Chicken (Bevill) to a Crystal Slipper (Grohusko).
For New Year’s, eggnogs and punches seem to be the favored drink. Harry Johnson warns readers that his recipe for a “Bowl of Egg Nogg for a New Year’s Party” produces gallons of punch. It calls for 20 eggs, 2 ½ pounds of sugar, 1 ½ gallons of rich milk, St. Croix rum and 2 quarts of “good old brandy,” and is enough for a good-sized gathering of 19th-century partygoers. But I think that even if I owned a punch bowl massive enough to accommodate this rich recipe, I probably would not consider trying it out on a party of 21st-century health-conscious guests.
Whether you are a historian tracing the origins of a particular concoction, or you simply enjoy dipping into the language and old recipes, reading through these books is always interesting. To help you explore them, we have created the research guide “American Mixology: Recipe Books from the Pre-Prohibition Era.”
Happy New Year!