Whole books have been written about individual cocktails. Gaz Regan and David T Smith are among over a dozen writers to tackle the Negroni while even more volumes have been devoted to just the Martini. If you are pressed for time, a more succinct history of these and 10 others are covered in An Anthology of 12 Classic Cocktails by Jake Burger – cocktail historian, bartender, bar owner and distiller.
Teaming up with spirits distributor Hi-Spirits, he offers his own take on cocktail history, infused with his in-depth knowledge of making drinks. It turns out to be murky: there are few definitive records about when even the more recent classic recipes were invented. As Jake points out, until recently everyone was “too busy having fun to write down exactly who was responsible, what they used, who was drinking it and what it was called”. On top of that, the “origin stories” of so many drinks are complicated by conflicting accounts, which Jake – a bartender since the age of 18 – suggests is because bartenders are “a self-aggrandising bunch of charlatans, happy to ride on the coat tails of others”.
Jake’s writing is full of playful humour, providing a personal perspective on the story of how mixed drinks developed. He draws on his own experience to suggest the best ways to make the classic recipes, from ingredients and measures to practicalities such as glassware, ice and shaking. He is not shy to share his opinions: the Manhattan is the greatest cocktail ever created, he claims, while a Dry Manhattan – made with no sweet vermouth – is “a monstrosity and has no place in the modern world”. Each chapter ends with original classic recipes and modern versions, using brands from Hi-Spirits’ portfolio.
Jake notes that the ongoing digitising of archives around the world means that more facts about classic cocktails are coming out all the time. Each chapter distils the latest thinking about the origins of each cocktail into a potted history with lots of fun facts along the way. He traces the Daiquiri to at least the 1890s but stops off to check out the Frozen Daiquiri, while his search for the roots of the Old Fashioned harks back to the “matutinal”, or morning, drinks of the early 19th century. His attempt to identify the lineage of the Sour hurtled back to the 17th century and punch while he finds himself tangled up in the histories of hotels in Philadelphia and New York while examining the Clover Club. The story of the Sazerac, rooted in 19th-century New Orleans, brings in the story of its key ingredient, Peychaud’s Bitters.
Jake explores the development of tequila cocktails more generally in the chapter on the Margarita – a cocktail particularly plagued by multiple origin stories. As well as delving into popular classics such as the Negroni and the Martini, he champions the Hanky Panky – an opportunity to celebrate Ada Coleman, one of the few women in the earlier years of cocktail history. The book culminates in an exploration of what makes the quintessential Bloody Mary – Worcestershire Sauce may be involved – and ends on the most recent of the classics, the Espresso Martini, created by Dick Bradsell but obviously not the first cocktail to combine coffee and spirit.
Jake credits the research of others such as Jack McGarry of New York bar The Dead Rabbit and cocktail historians David Wondrich and Gaz Regan, combining it with his own unique insights into bartending built on years of experience. It is all complemented by stunning cocktail photography by Liam J Curtin.
Only 500 copies of the book have been printed but it is available digitally at hi-spirits.com/classiccocktailanthology/ and as an audio book narrated by Jake himself on platforms including Spotify at https://open.spotify.com/show/4YyFmBE9RnJ9gwYFQE9gtd.
The book coincided with the launch in July of a bartender competition to find Classic Cocktail Masters in the UK. Entrants are being judged on how their two drinks and taste, their classic cocktail knowledge and how true their interpretations of the drinks are compared to how the drink was originally served – similar to the format of Jake’s book. After eight regional finals, the final eight winners will go on an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy (when Covid travel restrictions allows), visiting the Branca Distillery in Milan and the Italian Lakes.