Fans of cocktails — real cocktails, made with fresh-squeezed juice, homemade bitters, and old school liquors like gin and rye — owe a lot to the man Dave Wondrich brings back to life in his brand-new book Imbibe!, about the dawn of America’s cocktail age and the mixologist who ushered it in: “Professor” Jerry Thomas.
Wondrich, a Boerum Hiller for the past 21 years, was himself a real professor at one time. But before he began teaching English, he’d already developed a taste for sophisticated drinks. “When I was a punk musician in the early ’80s, I drank dry gin martinis,” he says. His love of cocktails, and research, ultimately led him to How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion (1862), the first guide for bartenders, by the most storied bartender of all, Thomas, who — as we learn in Wondrichâ€™s incredibly researched book — was by turns a sailor, a gold miner, an artist, a gambler, and a bartender throughout the West and all over Manhattan.
Almost 150 years later, Thomas’s compilation of classic drinks like the Sazerac, the Blue Blazer (pictured) and the Tom & Jerry (so that’s where that bar’s name comes from!) is still referenced by serious mixologists. The problem is, for someone trying to recreate these drinks according to his original recipes, you have to be able to decode measurements like “1 wine-glass” — which Wondrich has done, defining quantities from the jigger (1 Â½ ounces) to the pony (1 ounce).
He also details the evolution of the cocktail and the tools used to make one (a Brooklynite, Edward Hauck, was actually the first to patent the three-part metal shaker in 1884). And most importantly, Wondrich has gathered and annotated 100 drink recipes from Thomas and his peers, plus 16 more from today’s top mixologists, like Julie Reiner of the Flatiron Lounge, recently opened the Clover Club (the name of an early 1900s drink), in Cobble Hill.
Though I’m still poring over the book, I did have one quibble. Wondrich offers recipes for the Bronx Cocktail, the Jersey Cocktail, and of course the Manhattan, but not one Brooklyn drink. What gives?
“There is the Brooklyn Cocktail from around 1910, which is a variation on the Manhattan — but unfortunately not quite as good as the Manhattan,” says Wondrich. Then shouldn’t someone invent an original drink of our own?
“I came up with one a couple of years ago that I really like. I called it the Old Bay Ridge.” The rye whiskey in it, he says, is a nod to the Irish, and the aquavit is a tribute to the Scandinavians who originally settled there. “Itâ€™s actually pretty tasty I have to say.”
Following is Wondrich’s recipe… which will hopefully appear on some Brooklyn bar menu soon.
“Take an old-fashioned glass or a rocks glass, and put in a sugar cube and a teaspoon of water, and two dashes of Angostura bitters. Crush the sugar cube until it dissolves. Add one ounce straight rye whiskey (like Rittenhouse or Wild Turkey Rye), add one ounce Linie aquavit, stir, add two or three ice cubes, and twist some lemon peel over the top. You’re done.”
Blue Blazer photo by Tony Cenicola/New York Times. Book cover courtesy Perigree Books, tool image courtesy David Wondrich.