If writing on a winter's evening requires a good, dark beer, then summer calls for something more effervescent.
Images of Jerry Thomas' Bar-Tender's Guide or How to Make Drinks (1887) Left to right: red and black cover with "Jerry Thomas' Bar-Tender's Guide or How to Make Drinks" written on it; title page with text "Bar-tender's Guide Plain and Fancy Drinks; drawing of a champagne flute with instructions on how to make a "Pousse L'amour ("a delightful drink"; a black-and-white illustration of a mustachio'ed man in a vest and long sleeve shirt pouring a drink from a cocktail shaker into a glass.
Jerry Thomas’ 1887 The Bar-Tender’s Guide or How to Mix Drinks (a follow-up from the original 1862) includes a simple set of recipes for “Tom Collins”-style drinks: the spirit of your choice followed by “five or six dashes of gum syrup,” lemon juice, soda waterand ice. The only direction is to “imbibe ... lively”
The history of spirits is spirited. Like beer, it too brims with hearsay, jokes, as well as debates about taste, aesthetics, and national identity. Especially thanks to thriving book and periodical publishing, nineteenth-century cocktail culture may now be understood as an emblem of Victorian modernity-- an intoxicating combination of urbanity, print culture, celebrity, and national identity.
Now enjoying a revival thanks to the U.S.'s love of 1950s-era retro style (Mad Men, anyone? even Sally can make a proper Collins), the Tom Collins is a simple cocktail that has been around almost since the genesis of the term "cocktail" itself. Debuting his definition in the May 13th 1806 issue of The Balance and Columbian Repository, Henry Croswell defined the cocktail as "a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling." And like all booze aficionados of the period, Croswell made sure to explain the cocktail's affects on the imbiber. The cocktail was an attractive but risky bet, as it "renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head." While this pithy explanation of the modern cocktail may enjoy discernible origins, the Collins cocktail is not so easily located. There are, however, a colorful cast of suspects who have each earned their own spot in the Collins' mysterious history whose lively exploits live on through the period's print materials.
Suspect #1: Garrick's Gin Punch
The Collins that we all know and love now arrives to thirsty folks in its trademark glass, tall and thin. If the Collins glass captures the sleek sophistication of the individual, its more egalitarian Victorian British counterpart casts a wider berth, namely in the form of the punch bowl.
Squatting low on the table with a handy ladle with enough booze so that it was made to share, the punch bowl encouraged communal drinking and chattering. While there is something pleasingly democratic about the promise of a nearly un-ending bowl of the hard stuff meant to be shared with friends old and new, the nineteenth-century British drinking culture that brought us the Collins was not quite so egalitarian. Punch and cocktail scholar, David Wondrich speculates that the forebear of the Collins was the Garrick Club's famous (or infamous depending on with how gusto one tucked into the punch bowl) "Gin Punch." Established in 1831, the Garrick Club catered primarily to London's literature and arts elite, including authors Charles Dickens and H.G. Wells, Pre-Raphaelite brothers John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, composer Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan), and actor Henry Irving. Named after the acclaimed stage actor, David Garrick, the club sought to elevate the status of the actor in early-nineteenth century by providing him a space to sip and mingle with other "men of refinement" (James Winston 1831).
On London's unbearably hot summer days, the Garrick's Gin Punch was sparkling and refreshing enough to rival the conversation. TheLondon Quarterly sang the punch's praises, proclaiming it to be "one of the best things we know" (1835). The recipe was simple, and familiar-- a half a pint of gin, lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar, maraschino liquor, and then club soda to be poured at the imbiber's leisure. The ingredients yielded three and half pints of easy drinkin' fun. The Garrick's twist on the classic British Gin Punch was such easy drinkin' fun that humorist, bon vivant, and dependable drinking companion of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Theodore Hook reported downed at least five jugs of the beverage before heading off to dinner. No stranger to the hooch, Hook was ready set to be unimpressed with the Garrick's offering until he tasted the maraschino-spiked concoction, the maraschino being a welcome add-in courtesy of the Club's American manager, Stephen Price. An eye witness testified that after the first jug, "A second followed—a third, with the accompaniment of some chops—a fourth—a fifth—a sixth—at the expiration of which Mr. Hook went away to keep a dinner engagement at Lord Canterbury’s." How and in what shape Hook made it to his dinner engagement post-gin and chops remains a delightful mystery. And, considering the track record of our story's hero, the legend of Hook and the Gin Punch may have been just one of Hook's many pranks-- we will never know. However, the anecdote well illustrates the ways in which the history of the Collins encapsulates the exciting promises and perils of modern Victorian city living: wild conjecture , wilder men , and the wildest urban romps, all feed by print culture and insatiable thirst for cocktails.
c19 scholar interested in all things freakish