Of Croswell and Cocktails
There are few things in life I enjoy as much as a smart cocktail.
So imagine my chagrin when I realized I had missed its bicentennial. My oversight was compounded when I realized the first official mention of the cocktail (actually, “cock-tail”) was made in the Hudson Valley on May 6, 1806, by Harry Croswell in the City of Hudson newspaper Balance and Columbian Repository.
If ever there was a man who needed a stiff drink, it was Croswell. Two years earlier he had been convicted of sedition by going after Thomas Jefferson. Undeterred, he continued to publish – and undoubtedly to drink.
I can say, as someone who has in the past been given the task of producing newspapers on a regular basis, that the lure of alcohol can be strong.
It was strongest when running a daily newspaper, which I did in the same block where Croswell toiled. A restaurant a mere block away from that auspicious location serves grapefruit margaritas that blend the perfect bite of hesperidium with the tang of tequila. So enamored of this delightful concoction, I set myself the task of learning how to mix one perfectly. After several failed attempts, I finally managed to get the perfect blend of tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau with the merest hint of grapefruit.
I don’t know what Croswell was sipping when he decided, apparently unchastened by his earlier legal fracas, to publish “Rum! Rum! Rum!,” a detailed account of how Jefferson’s minions were liquoring up voters before they hit the polls. He highlighted the 32 Gin-Slings, 411 Glasses Bitters, and 25 glasses “cock-tail” doled out by Jeffersonians. Asked by a correspondent to explain this nefarious “species of refreshment,” Croswell wrote in the issue of May 13, 1806: “Cock-tail, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters; it is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, in as much as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said also, to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else.”
Perhaps. Whether Jefferson’s willingness to pay the bar tab of voters managed to determine an election or not, it’s certainly a more palatable approach to stealing an election than having the Supreme Court anoint a president. And a whole lot more fun than counting hanging chads.
I don’t drink to go to the polls. Nor do I imbibe with the intent of doing foolhardy things; I am capable of astounding idiocy when perfectly sober.
I have a cocktail because I enjoy it. A perfectly mixed drink brings me great pleasure, something Barbara Holland, in her book Endangered Pleasures, convincingly argues is becoming increasingly un-American. We are a nation that lives in fear of overindulgence, which is often equated with disease. Our pursuit of happiness has been thoroughly infused with Puritan overtones: hard work and steady denial will bring us our just reward. At some point we forgot – or became too guilty – to stop and smell the roses, or in this case, to sip a cocktail.
Feeling parched? Try out the original cock-tail recipe, or receipt, as they would have spelled it back in 1806:
Bittered Gin Sling
1.5 oz gin
0.75 oz sweet vermouth or sherry
0.5 oz lemon juice
0.75 oz simple syrup
dash or two of Angostura bitters
Shake all but the soda water with ice, strain into a tumbler or highball over ice, top with soda, and garnish with a lemon peel.