Unearthing Forgotten Cocktails

By Derek Brown
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Photo by preater/Flickr CC

To try a classic cocktail from Derek's new favorite book, click here.

When I bought my first copy of Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails in 2004, it was as if I had discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls. Vintage Spirits was a godsend for those of us in the wilderness of classic cocktails. The cocktail had enjoyed at least 200 years on the planet, but by the early part of the millennium it had virtually faded into obscurity with the exception of a few true believers. It was no wonder then that Haigh titled his introduction "Cocktail Archaeology."

So far were cocktails entombed behind the vault of history that bitters, which once defined cocktails, were scarcely to be found on a cocktail menu. If they were spotted, they enjoyed the life of a "mathlete" at the prom--staring from the sidelines as triple sec and blue curacao frolicked.

The new, deluxe edition of Vintage Spirits marks the full ascendancy of a genre that's previous heyday had passed by the mid-20th century. Haigh exults, "It is hardly possible to grasp all of the changes that we've seen in the past five years." It's nearly as remarkable as the rebirth of an extinct language from an ancient civilization. And there's more to be discovered.

I'm gratified to see some of my favorite cocktail recipes unearthed, including the Income Tax Cocktail and the Lion's Tail.

In the deluxe edition of Vintage Spirits, new recipes and stories abound. I'm gratified to see some of my favorite cocktail recipes unearthed, including the Income Tax Cocktail and the Lion's Tail. The book also packs in new illustrations and photography of memorabilia. Haigh is the curator for the Museum of the American Cocktail and has a formidable collection.

Thankfully, many of the "vintage spirits" he mentions are currently easier to find through liquor distributors and the sheer ingenuity of bartenders than they used to be. The sad state of bitters has grown into an abundance as new companies like Bittermen's become commercially available alongside The Bitter Truth, Fee Brothers and Angostura. Bitters are no longer the wallflowers they once were.

The book closes with a roundup of influential online voices, giving credit to the loose confederation of bloggers who are keeping cocktail culture alive. Notable mentions include some of my own blog influences Robert Hess, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, and Kaiser Penguin, among others.

Perhaps the only downside to Haigh's re-release is the unfortunate name. Both old spirits and forgotten cocktails are now new and chic. We only have Haigh and other groundbreaking "Cocktail Archeologists" to thank for that.

Recipe: Lion's Tail

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/07/unearthing-forgotten-cocktails/20973/