Toast the new year in style

Shaken or stirred, cock­tails of­fer a daz­zling ar­ray of ex­otic tastes and flavours to suit just about ev­ery palate table­top

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODCHEER - MYRNA ROBINS

HAVE you ever won­dered why a mix of al­co­hol, fruit, water, bit­ters and/or other ingredients is named af­ter the tail feath­ers of a male fowl? The an­swer varies, but what’s not in doubt is that the cock­tail orig­i­nated in the US.

The Bri­tish claim that the word comes from the dregs drawn from the bot­tom of bar­rels of spir­its, known as cock-tail­ings, is given lit­tle cre­dence, while Wikipedia states that the ear­li­est printed use of the word cock­tail is thought to be in The Farmer’s Cabi­net, pub­lished in 1803, a date which dove­tails nicely with the fol­low­ing tale.

The Esquire Drink Book, pub­lished by Fred­er­ick Muller in 1957, de­scribes how pop­u­lar innkeeper Betsy Flana­gan presided over the Four Cor­ners Inn in the vil­lage of Elms­ford, just off the New York State through­way head­ing to­wards Buf­falo from New York City. Here, on the Al­bany Post Road, she served Ge­orge Washington’s of­fi­cers their favourite po­tions as they hatched plans to ha­rass the Bri­tish.

This places the pe­riod as some­where be­tween 1775 and 1783 when the Amer­i­can War of In­de­pen­dence was rag­ing. Betsy’s neigh­bour, a Tory and there­fore one of the en­emy, kept fine roost­ers that the of­fi­cers thought she should catch, dis­patch and serve, roasted, to them.

One fate­ful night she sur­prised them by serv­ing them spe­cial drinks. These con­sisted of rum and rye mixed with fruit juices – each glass dec­o­rated with a feather plucked from the tail plumage of her en­emy’s prized birds, as an ap­pe­tiser to a main course of roast fowl. The drinks were re­ceived with en­thu­si­asm, and af­ter down­ing the mix­ture they toasted Betsy nois­ily, with one young French of­fi­cer call­ing out “Vive le coq’s tail.”

In his fine pub­li­ca­tion The Cock­tail Hand­book (New Hol­land, 1999), wine writer David Biggs prefers this ver­sion to any other, and goes on to re­late that the drink reached its first peak of fame dur­ing the 1920s, shortly af­ter the US govern­ment banned the sale of al­co­holic drinks in 1919 – the start of 13 long years of Pro­hi­bi­tion.

This re­sulted in the pro­duc­tion of moon­shine, or il­le­gally dis­tilled spir­its, which was sold in speakeasies and made palat­able by the ad­di­tion of juices, syrups and fruity gar­nishes.

Cock­tails de­clined in pop­u­lar­ity af­ter the re­peal of Pro­hi­bi­tion in 1933 but en­joyed a re­vival in the 1980s as mar­ti­nis be­came trendy, with gin and vodka the favoured spir­its. Since the dawn of the 21st cen­tury, cock­tails, both trad and trendy, have soared in pop­u­lar­ity, with mixol­o­gists dream­ing up ever more ex­otic blends.

The SA Brandy Foun­da­tion has de­vel­oped some sum­mery cock­tails (see be­low) while those based on bub­bly come from Biggs’s Cock­tail Hand­book. The mock­tails, non­al­co­holic mixes, were sourced from Bar­man’s A-Z Guide to Cock­tails, pub­lished by R&R Pub­li­ca­tions in Aus­tralia in 2004. They could dou­ble as in­ter­est­ing smooth­ies to start a New Year brunch.

Sev­eral cock­tail recipes call for the in­clu­sion of su­gar syrup, which is a bet­ter way of sweet­en­ing than just us­ing su­gar. Recipes for syrups can be found in cock­tail books, and vary in sweet­ness.

One sug­gests bring­ing equal quan­ti­ties of water and white su­gar to a sim­mer, stir­ring un­til the su­gar has melted, then boil­ing the mix­ture un­til re­duced by half. An­other sug­gests com­bin­ing 350g castor su­gar with 600ml water, bring­ing to the boil and cook­ing for about four min­utes, then cool­ing.

What­ever you choose to have in your glass as you raise it to wel­come 2012, fes­tive wishes for a happy, healthy and pros­per­ous New Year. Cheers!

NO­BLE: The Kir Royale mixes Cham­pagne and creme de cas­sis.

SMOOTH: The Bellini mixes cham­pagne and peach juice.


COLOURS: Marco’s bar­lady Patiswa Zilwa with the Marco’s Rain­bow.

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