Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Jerry Thomas Project The Saratoga Cocktail

For those of you who haven’t read my entire blog, I am currently in the process of recreating all of Jerry Thomas’s cocktails from his 1887 book, Jerry Thomas’s Bartenders Guide Reciepts for Mixing All Kinds of Punch, Egg Nog, etc. Thomas is the grandfather of American Mixology and lived pre-prohibition, pre ice machine, pre car but was able to travel the world and make a career out of mixing drinks.

Things are looking up for the Boker’s bitters as the last of the ingredients arrived this week and I will start the infusion process tomorrow evening. I figure that they should be done by the first week of November and for the meantime I will plug away at the cocktails that don’t contain Boker’s bitters (although I’m thinking that the vast majority appear to be comprised of what I hope to be a little jewel of an ingredient).

So today I made the Saratoga Cocktail and the Whiskey Daisy. The Saratoga Cocktail is named after Saratoga Springs, New York which was a primer resort at the time of Jerry Thomas. Due to an abundance of sparkling warm water that came out of the ground, a huge tourist business was built with hotels and restaurants lining the streets. In addition to the spa seekers, gamblers ventured to Saratoga for their grandiose racetrack and casinos.

The Saratoga Cocktail contains Angostura bitters, brandy, whiskey, and vermouth. All in equal parts, except for the bitters, which of course is only a couple of dashes. The drink was good, very similar to a Manhattan but much sweeter (due to the brandy). I also wasn’t quite sure which vermouth to use, but I decided on sweet vermouth as it is just not my nature to put whiskey with white vermouth - although I guess I should try it.

The Whiskey Daisy is mixed by using 3 dashes gum syrup (I used plain simple syrup - I still have not found the time to make real gum syrup), 2 dashes orgeat syrup, lemon juice, and bourbon. All the ingredients are mixed together and then topped off with Soda water or Apollinaris water (which I came to find is bottled in Germany and was once owned by the Nazis but now is owned by Coca Cola - I feel like there could be more to that story). As no one in my quaint village sells Apollinaris water (every place I called had me repeat what I was seeking at least three times and Whole Foods put me on hold for approximately 11 minutes transferring me from one belabored miserable hourly employee to the next until they determined that it was not in their current inventory) I just used soda water from the gun. When I first made this drink, the lemon was a little overpowering and I felt that it needed to be balanced with more syrup. I added some orgeat syrup (as I love it) and I found this to be one of my favorite Jerry Thomas cocktails. It was tangy and delightful on the pallet with a zing of lemon and roundness from the almond syrup. The soda water gave it a little sparkle. Perhaps I’ll put the revised Whiskey Daisy on the happy hour cocktail menu.

Here’s my recipe for orgeat syrup

2 cups blanched almonds
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 orange
1 teaspoon almond extract

Bring the almonds, water, sugar and one cut orange to a boil - take off the heat and let sit overnight.
Squeeze the orange of any fruit juice it might still have and add one teaspoon almond extract after the syrup has cooled. Strain the almonds and orange remnants out of the syrup.
How do you say orgeat? Or shaaht

And then another common question I hear: what are bitters?
Bitters are an alcoholic beverage that contains herbs and botanicals, at least one of which has to have a bittering component. Originally bitters were marketed as medicines (and today most bitters you find are in the digestive section of your local health food store) but they are mostly used for cocktail flavoring. They have a very intense flavor that is typically not very desirable on their own. Every bar has angostura bitters, so next time you are out - ask to sample a little with some soda water. Angostura bitters are a great thing to keep around the house also as they are great for tummy aches (put a couple drops in some soda water and within a half hour any misery you were facing will typically be gone) and hiccups, douse a lemon or lime segment in Angostura bitters and eat all the fruit. Most people hate how this tastes, but I promise, it will cure your hiccups.


  1. Gomme syrup isn't that labor intensive. It does take a bit more time to get into solution than just sugar alone. I usually only do one skimming step when it cools (it's recommended to skim off the scum on top from whatever is in the gum arabic). It certainly smooths out drinks especially with cheaper boozes -- and to be authentic, you might try the drinks with the 1800's bar equivalents which were often rougher than today's top or medium shelf stuff. While gum arabic can be found online, Indian grocery stores are a great place to score the stuff rather inexpensively.

  2. I love your dedication! I'm going on an immediate search for gomme syrup and I may try my hand at my own orgeat! (though I'm pretty pleased with Fee Brothers product)

    I'm adding your blog to a custom cocktail search engine that I built.. I tried to paste it in, but won't for some reason..

    google: "cocktail searchologist" to find it..