Cocktail wizard Dave Wondrich used a Boston shaker as a time machine when he taught a room full of people how to make old-school drinks. Real old school--some of the libations that the author of Imbibe whipped up haven’t been made for more than 100 years.
The occasion was yesterday's “Resurrecting Historic Cocktails,” an afternoon workshop at the Astor Center. Wondrich chose “four odd, eccentric recipes.” Odd is an understatement. Take the Blind Tom, a hot whiskey punch that calls for grated chocolate and “sour beer.”
Wondrich selected one of the sourest beers known to man, Belgian Gueuze lambic, to use in his version of this drink originating in Colorado in the early 1870s. Why sour beer? Simple: Back then lemons were almost impossible to get in Colorado. Upon tasting the finished product, Wondrich immediately apologized, “I can see why people wouldn’t like this.”
The drink pictured here, the West India Twilight, dates to 1867, and was the oldest of the lot. It's two ounces of sherry, an egg and a tablespoon of raspberry syrup, shaken with ice and then poured into a highball glass. Cocktail guru Gary Regan aptly pointed out the best way to get the egg to froth up was to dry shake (shake the ingredients once without ice and then once with). Garnished with grated nutmeg, the end result was quite refreshing.
Yesterday was the first time that Wondrich had ever made, much less tasted, all the drinks. The fact that he was feeling his way through the recipes proved to be a great way to put his audience at ease. Many had never used a two piece bar shaker and had to be shown the proper technique, including how to break the seal by smacking the steel cup with the heel of the hand. But by the end of the class, everyone was shaking away in a more or less professional manner.
The afternoon ended with a high-octane punch known as the Grand Duke Cocktail. It contained brandy, green Chartreuse, black tea, dark rum and lemon juice all topped with a splash of Champagne. As Wondrich pointed out, back in the 1860s, “Punch was the liquid crack of the upper class.” Indeed.