Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine
King of the cocktails... John Vincent looks at the life of the master mixologist who dreamed up the ultimate hangover cure.
Strange word is cocktail. Its origins are unclear – but one theory concerns Dr Samuel Johnson, who, on being told a new wine was being mixed with gin by the young bucks of London, told his friend James Boswell: “Sir, to add ardent spirits to wine smacks of an alcoholic hyperbole. It would be a veritable cocktail of a drink.”
“What”, enquired Boswell, “is a cocktail?” Dr Johnson replied: “In parts of the country, Sir, it is a bucolic custom to dock the tails of certain horses of merit, yet which are not entirely of pure stock. Such animals of mixed provenance are called cocktails.”
In America, the traditional home of the cocktail, there’s an equally colourful theory. During the War of Independence, Irish pub landlady Betsy Flanagan regularly served American and French officers of Washington’s Army a concoction called a “bracer”. One night she served them chicken liberated from a
Loyalist neighbour... washed down with “bracers” each adorned with a tail feather from the liberated hens. The Frenchmen in the party toasted their hostess with the cry: “Vive le cock-tail.”
The cocktail had its heyday in the 1920s and 30s, coinciding with the Jazz Age and “It” girls. But while continuing to flourish in the States it all but disappeared from Britain during the war and the long years of rationing which followed.
As recently as the 1980s, untrained bar staff were struggling with recipe books while rigidly sticking to the old one-sixth of a gill measuring system – a hopeless way to make any cocktail.
That between-the-wars heyday saw the publication in 1930 of The Savoy Cocktail Book, the classic bartenders’ bible, by mixologist Harry Craddock (1876-1963). A special signed limited-edition variant of the first edition, with vivid Art Deco illustrations by Gilbert Rumbold epitomising the spirit of the age, emerged at Christie’s in London to fetch an above estimate £3,250. The front cover bears a single ring-mark from the base of a Martini glass – surely the only book where such a defect would actually enhance it.
The 750-recipe book has never been out of print and Craddock, who ran the Savoy’s American Bar, the oldest surviving cocktail bar in Britain, is credited with inventing a number of specials, including the White Lady and Corpse Reviver.
He perfected his craft at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York but returned to England after the introduction of Prohibition in 1920 and his American-style cocktails went down a storm with the smart set at the Savoy during the Roaring Twenties. The book also includes Rumbold’s boldly-coloured Modernist cartoons of Flappers and speeding automobiles.
Finally, the recipe for that powerful hangover cure and heart starter, the Corpse Reviver No.2, best served before 11am: one-quarter glass each of Kina Lillet (a French wine-based aperitif ), Cointreau, dry gin and lemon juice. Add a dash of the lethal anise-flavoured spirit absinthe. Shake and serve. Craddock suggested downing four in quick succession.
One, maybe. Four? That’s definitely not a good idea.