For all of you who read our “Thirsty Thursday” blog you know I like to focus on the historical side of libations and spirits. This week we are going to focus on the history of whiskey in America. We all relate bourbon whiskey as being America’s spirit, and rightfully so as it helped with colonizing land during western expansion. Much like Jazz, Bourbon is an American art form. What most people don’t realize is it was not America’s first whiskey, but a by-product of our country’s ingenuity and ability to adapt.
After the American Revolution many of the colony’s settlers were on a trek westbound in search of farm land. One of the largest counties to offer settlers such land was Bourbon county in what is now Kentucky. As great as it may sound to obtain free land on which to work and from which to reap benefits, the settlers soon found it was going to take hard work to survive. Corn was the main crop—it grew plentifully with very little preparation and maintenance. But it was also a double-edged sword in that it has very little dietary value and overpowered grains not as commonly found in the area. So in an attempt to use the resources of the land to provide for their family, many farmers began distilling white corn whiskey (a non barrel-aged type of whiskey most commonly resembling modern day moonshine). Over time, the quality of whiskey became better as well as the techniques to make it. Charred barrel-aging quickly caught on with individuals looking to make the most superior spirit. Not long after, Edmund Haynes Taylor (Col. E.H. Taylor), nephew of our twelfth President Zachary Taylor, gave us our first set of rules regarding the production of whiskey in America: the Bottle and Bond Act of 1897. The act established a standard for the vast differences in common American whiskey and quality American whiskey.
Bourbon whiskey was not produced in its current form for over 150 years after we started producing “whiskey” in the “New World.” Our first foray into this type of distillate was rye whiskey. Many have conjectured that the reason for stopping at Plymouth Rock was because the ships had depleted their supply of spirits (mainly the hefty load of sherry rumored to cost more than the entire expedition). There were not great amounts of corn or grape vines when they landed, but there was an abundance of rye. It didn’t take settlers long to create rye whiskey using techniques adopted from other countries. Rye whiskey instantly took off as the first and most prominent spirit in the “New World”. So much in fact that in 1838 America’s first cocktail was created using it, the Sazerac. It’s true that in some form this cocktail had existed much longer with its use of sugar, bitters and an Absinth wash. But it truly brought America’s first whiskey to the world stage when Thomas Handy took possession of the Sazerac Coffee House, adapting the recipe to incorporate the cask strength rye whiskey he was known for producing.
To anyone who has been reading over the last few weeks, first, I thank you and I hope you are finding enjoyment in the history of one of the world’s favorite pastimes. Please know that I enjoy the traditional way of making cocktails and so, for this week’s feature we will be exploring the history and modern usage of, perhaps the world’s oldest “mixers”, shrubs.
A shrub is a fruit preserve originally made from fresh seasonal fruit and fresh citrus or vinegar to preserve and infuse. The first historical documentation of this was in the 15th century with the use of medicinal cordials and tinctures. The process tapered off slowly over the next few hundred years, however was still used for making punches and some traditional winter holiday beverages.
As we began to colonize America the trend reemerged with the rise of rye-based spirits, only this time there were a few differences. Fresh citrus juice was phased out in preference of vinegar as the shrub’s shelf life was much longer. This time it wasn’t used for medicine, but mostly for making punches and beverages of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties, especially during the Christmas Holidays. However, with lack of refrigeration, this trend was short-lived because shelf-life was only about a week after opening. After then, the bitterness of the vinegar would become over-powering.
Shrubs have returned to bars in both the United States as well as the United Kingdom. At Pierpont’s, we are happy to be providing a little piece of history in our “Kansas City Connection” cocktail. This concoction features orange shrubs from Steadfast Shrubs, a local company where everything is made traditionally by the owner, Aaron Branstetter. As the seasons and fresh local fruit change, so will our collection of shrubs and classically inspired cocktails.
If you are over the age of twenty-one then you are familiar with the Moscow Mule, or at least, the copper clad cup it's presented in. I can safely say that most out there have tried this drink whether it's somebody who was drawn in by the copper mugs aesthetic qualities, someone who loves classic cocktails, or someone who simply was curious about ginger beer. But the story you may not know is how a couple gentlemen helped validify vodka as the number one clear spirit in America at a time when you couldn't give the stuff away due to the correlation of Vodka, Russia, and Communism.
There was a man named John Martin who had purchased the Smirnoff company, possibly feeling it was a bad choice, as he had almost no luck selling vodka. He had a good friend by the name of Jack Morgan, who owned a pub style bar called the Cock'n'Bull which happened to make its own ginger beer. Both men were sitting around looking for an inspiration (drinking) on how to better distribute and sell their products when they decided to mix the vodka and the ginger beer with a squeeze of fresh juice. This act of desperation turned out to be just what was needed, the drink was crisp, tart, and refreshing. At this time, Jack had a girlfriend who worked at the Moscow copper company as an artist. She designed a copper mug which they chose to put this cocktail in. After they had refined the recipe and the device they hired a number of models to pose for pictures which would later grace the
Last week we discussed the history of the martini so I felt it only a natural transition to discuss the spirit that made it all possible—gin. This week we are going to highlight a few interesting facts that you might not know about this classic spirit.
I implore you to remember that saying you don’t like gin is like saying you don’t like pizza. Each one has its own unique blend of ingredients making up its own very different signature flavor. With summer just around the corner, I hope this article well inspire you to try something different.
The Martini is perhaps not the oldest, but certainly the most commonly known cocktail. The most original form of this cocktail is believed to be the "Martinez", consisting of sweet vermouth, Old Tom gin, Luxardo Maraschino Cherry Liqueur, and Angostura bitters.
Our modern Martini was originally a 2 to 1 ratio of gin and vermouth. A dry martini simply was made with dry vermouth, becoming very popular in the "Roaring Twenties." These cocktails, like many of this time, were garnished with a single olive, a lemon twist, or in some cases a cherry. The garnishes were not a part of the cocktail recipe or designed to be a snack, but derived in order to cleanse the pallet as alcohol was not made to the high standards it is today.
Over the last 150 years, we have seen the progression that the Martini has taken. As the years have gone by, the amount of vermouth has dropped and garnishes have grown bigger. In the late 1960's, vodka became popular in the Martini. With the help of a certain famous spy, drinking your Martini "shaken" (commonly known as a Bradford), instead of being stirred, took on a large following. From the original recipe to the chocolate-chi-tini, ordering a Martini is always a classic choice.
Things to remember when ordering a Martini:
1) Martinis are still a gin drink, so if you prefer yours with Vodka, let the bartender know you would like a "Vodka Martini."
2) If you order your Martini "dry," it will have Dry Vermouth in it.
3) Martinis have Vermouth. If you don't want vermouth in your Martini, then you will want to order your Martini "Clean."
4) Good bartenders will make your Martini the correct way, by stirring it. So if you are looking for a "Shaken Martini" make sure you ask for it.