The sazerac.

Over the years, I’ve referenced David Wondrich, Charles H. Baker, Dave Arnold and Simon Difford, among others, in this space. Sometimes I feel like I go to the same wells too often. Maybe I’m getting lazy.

I’ve been in the game so long at this point that reading industry stuff is kind of low on my priority list, to be honest—but I recently found a handy little book with some solid history and recipes, and Eric Felten’s How’s Your Drink? is interesting enough to warrant a discussion. It actually took me on a trip down memory lane, and gave me a reason to revisit some cocktails.

It’s pretty crazy how far recipes and cocktail history have come since this book was published in 2007, when I was still slinging subpar margaritas on double shifts. In the 15 years since then, we, as bartenders, have gone bitters crazy, amaro mad, and herbal demented.

For instance, here’s what was a standard sazerac, one of the pre-eminent cocktails from New Orleans in 2007, according to Felten.

  • 1 cube of sugar
  • 2 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
  • 2 ounces of rye whiskey or cognac
  • Herbsaint or Ricard liqueur

Dissolve sugar in bitters and a splash of water. Stir in whiskey or cognac with ice. Strain into an Herbsaint- or Ricard-coated glass; add a lemon twist.

This is a fine cocktail as listed; I would not complain about this drink at all. That said, these days, we would probably double the amount of bitters; perhaps add Angostura bitters; replace the sugar cube with simple syrup; and possibly, in the geekiest of establishments, even mix cognac and rye. What a difference a decade and a half can make.

Chances are, you enjoy ice in a beverage now and then, but do you know the story of Frederic Tudor, the “Ice King”? In the early 1800s, he gathered ice from Walden Pond and Wenham Lake, sending clear ice from Massachusetts (and even an iceberg once!) as far away as India. As a wise person once said, “No ice, no party.” Well, I feel like Felten is one of the few authors I’ve read who properly discusses what is probably the most forgotten but important ingredient in a proper cocktail.

Although Felten is a proponent of the Martinez (which includes sweet vermouth and maraschino liqueur instead of dry vermouth) as the predecessor of the martini, his love of the later, and more-polished, cocktail is obvious. I might disagree with him about the origin of the martini, but not about its superiority to most cocktails. We certainly agree that martinis made with scant vermouth suffer from the absence.

We all know the movie cocktail favored by a certain British secret agent, and you might even order a Vesper on occasion—but did you know that 007 favored cocktails as diverse as the Americano, a gin and tonic, and a black velvet? Now there’s a drink that’s hard to find these days: Take equal parts Champagne and Guinness stout, and serve it in a tall beer glass, and you have a black velvet. It doesn’t get much easier than that! I’m not sure if many would consider that a cocktail, per se, but it’s definitely a nice change of pace.

The Americano is a favorite of mine—a less-assertive version of the negroni. It’s nice to know Bond liked to switch it up once in a while.

  • 1 1/2 ounces of Campari
  • 1 1/2 ounces of sweet vermouth

Top with soda water; garnish with an orange peel.

We all know the movie cocktail favored by a certain British secret agent, and you might even order a Vesper on occasion—but did you know that 007 favored cocktails as diverse as the Americano, a gin and tonic, and a black velvet?

The Bronx cocktail is another easy one, and rarely seen these days. The downfall of Bill Wilson, or “Bill W.,” as he’s known in Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s one of the handful of drinks to feature sweet and dry vermouth in the same glass.

  • 1 1/2 ounces of gin
  • 1 ounce of orange juice
  • 1/4 ounce of sweet vermouth
  • 1/4 ounce of dry vermouth

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass; garnish with a slice of orange.

I like a little bit more of each of the vermouths in my version, but this will certainly suffice. You can also add a dash of Angostura bitters to the mix for what’s called an “Income Tax Cocktail.” As with so many drinks, the origins of the Bronx cocktail are vague, and too tall of a tale for this short column. Felten does a nice job of telling that tale, if you want to dig deeper—but it’s a drink that doesn’t get its due, and it’s nice to see it featured by Felten.

In the mid-’00s, cocktail culture was constantly evolving, and things that are conventions today were still topics of debate back then. Felten was certainly on the right track about the gimlet. Before I got into the whole craft scene, I was told by old-timers that a Gimlet without Rose’s lime juice wasn’t a gimlet. I stuck by that, and I was never able to fully accept the version with fresh lime, sugar and gin—despite my having promoted it here, and my making it for guests by the hundreds. That said … at a certain point, I just couldn’t stomach the idea of serving Rose’s to people. But I also had no intention of peeling a ton of limes, and boiling the peels with lime juice and sugar to make a craft cordial for the one gimlet a month someone might order.

I actually find that Felten’s solution is a bit of an elegant one, for the home bartender especially.

  • 2 ounces of gin
  • 1/2 ounce of Rose’s lime
  • 1/4 to 1/2 ounce of simple syrup

Shake and strain; garnish with a thin slice of lime, or serve on the rocks. The addition of two dashes of Angostura bitters are a variation suggested by the author.

Continuing on the same note, it’s quite amusing to read Felten’s description of the negroni as “a bit obscure these days,” seeing as we just celebrated Negroni Week (Sept. 12-18), but in 2007, I must admit, I probably only had a vague idea of what went into it. These days, even the worst bartenders have a rough idea how to put one together.

Other cocktails Felten covers didn’t have such an illustrious comeback—like the “Dandy Cocktail,” “The Granny” and the “Bishop’s Cooler,” for example.

All in all, it was fascinating to go back and see where cocktail culture was back when I was first starting on this journey. While there are certainly books I would put ahead of it, there’s still quite a bit to recommend in How’s Your Drink? Only the nerdiest of bar geeks would find any fault with the recipes, and you can see the process that cocktail historians went through to make my job a little more interesting.

I will definitely be adding it to my short list of reference books—although I will keep my updated recipes, thank you.

Kevin Carlow

Kevin Carlow has been a bartender and writer for most of his adult life. Having worked in nearly every position in the service industry at some point, he is currently a cocktail consultant and the co-owner...