Sunday, October 17, 2010

What's in a Name, What's in a Drink: Part I

The naming of drinks truly is an art unto itself, and as with many art forms there are occasionally recurring themes or conventions that can be identified.  An example of this is what one might call "the evolving cocktail."  What I'm referring to here are various lines of drinks that begin with a certain template drink that subsequently has one (or more) elements varied to produce a new drink, usually borrowing in its title from the original.  One of my favorite examples of this phenomenon is the prohibition era cocktail, the Last Word.
Last Word 
3/4 ounce gin
3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
3/4 ounce green Chartreuse
The Last Word is itself a fantastic cocktail that has fortunately achieved a sort of renaissance after a long post-prohibition hiatus.  More than just resurfacing, however, the Last Word has spawned an impressive array of variations that provide a new spin on the drink by changing up some of its constituent elements, while generally keeping to a basic idea:  four ingredients, in equal parts, one of which is a tends to be a base spirit, one a citrus element, one Chartreuse (green or yellow), and one liqueur.  And, of course, there's the names!:  the Final Ward (not a variation with a spelling error, but rather a creation of NY bartender Phil Ward that subs rye and lemon juice for the gin and lime juice); the Next to Last Word (sub lemon juice for lime, St. Germain for Chartreuse);  the Latest Word (a Craigie on Main variation subbing genever gin for London dry) to name a few (a longer list here).  And of course, there's also the Monte Cassino, a variation that won the Esquire magazine's "Alchemist of our Age" competition early this year that substitutes rye for gin, Benedictine for maraschino liqueur, and yellow Chartreuse for green; it may break with the naming scheme in favor of a monastic one (it WAS made in celebration of the benedictine 500th anniversary), but it's delicious enough that I for one will not complain. 

Another example of this evolving cocktail theme is provided in Beachbum Berry's Remixed anthology:
Suffering Bastard (the original)
1 oz gin
1 oz brandy
1/2 oz Rose's lime juice
2 dashes Angostura
4 oz ginger beer, chilled

Dying Bastard
1/2 oz each of gin, brandy, and bourbon
1/2 oz. Rose's lime juice
2 dashes Angostura
4 oz. ginger beer, chilled

Dead Bastard
1/2 oz. each of gin, brandy, bourbon, and light rum
1/2 oz. Rose's lime juice
2 dashes Angostura
4 oz. ginger beer, chilled

Make no mistake, however; this particular theme in cocktail naming and construction is by no means solely a modern phenomenon.  An older example can be found in a set of American drinks recounted in the the 1892 book Drinks of the World:  Volume 1 (which incidentally, can be found on Google Books here, as with many other interesting reads now in the public domain):
Bishop
Stick an orange full of cloves, and roast it. When brown, cut it in quarters, and pour over it i quart of hot port. Add sugar to taste, and let mixture simmer for half an hour.
Archbishop
The same as Bishop, with substitution of best claret for port.
Cardinal
The same as Archbishop, with substitution of champagne for claret.
Pope
The same as Cardinal, with substitution of Burgundy for champagne.
For my part, I find the evolving cocktail theme to be both fun to explore, and very instructional. It's an interesting experience to take a drink recipe that just "works" and to explore the effect of changing an element of that recipe.  Sometimes you get a straight out improvement on the original; sometimes you get something new and unique, but with throwbacks to its precursor; and, of course, sometimes you get something utterly undrinkable.  It is, in any event, a very useful way to learn how different flavors interact in a drink.  Also, if nothing else, it give you an excuse to get your pun on, and see what fun (and sometimes cringe-worthy) names are elicited by your new creation.

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