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
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.