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The origin of the cocktail. Part 6: The English Cocktail

The origin of the cocktail.

We look at what a cocktail might have looked like in 18th century England and make an initial proposal for its reconstruction.

Fifth intermediate review

Now that we have proved that all the ingredients put into an English cocktail also had a medicinal use, especially as stomachicides, and we have already looked at individual ingredients in more detail, we would like to take a closer look in the next chapter at what a cocktail might have looked like in 18th century England. This will also require a little experimental cocktail archaeology.

The English Cocktail

Cocktails. William Terrington, Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks, 1869, page 190-191.
Cocktails. William Terrington, Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks, 1869, page 190-191. [1-190] [1-191]

After we had understood, based on William Terrington’s cocktail recipes from his 1869 book “Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks”, what a historical English cocktail might have looked like and how it seems to have developed, we were naturally curious to see what its drinks tasted like. It also seemed appropriate to put our thesis into practice to see if the result was convincing in terms of taste. We therefore decided to try out his “Brandy or Gin Cocktail” with bitters, ginger syrup and curaçao. What is perhaps interesting about this recipe is that William Terrington rubs the rim of the glass with lemon juice, just as one would do for a brandy crusta, except that the sugar rim is omitted: [1-190]

Brandy or Gin Cocktail. – 1/4 pint of brandy or
gin, 1 gill of Curaçoa, 1 tablespoonful of bitters, 1/2 gill
of ginger syrup, 1 pint of ice; mix with a spoon;
moisten the rim of the tumbler with juice of lemon.

The recipe, with the quantities given there, yields a quantity of around 300 ml, without the watering down by the ice. We have therefore reduced it to

50 ml cognac or gin
25 ml curaçao
5 ml bitter
25 ml ginger syrup

We also started looking for a recipe for ginger syrup. We consulted various books and decided on the one that proportionately uses the most ginger, namely the book “The Independent Liquorist” by L Monzart, published in 1866. On page 73 it says:[2]

Ginger Syrup.
To 2 ounces Jamaica ginger powdered put
in 1 quart of boiling water, closely covered,
twenty-four hours; strain it, and add 3
pounds crushed sugar; boil it to syrup.

We modified the recipe for us by adding 17 g of ginger to 250 ml of boiling water and letting this mixture macerate for 24 hours. Then we strained the liquid and boiled it with twice the volume of sugar. As a result, we got just under 500 ml of ginger syrup.

At the time of our first tasting, we had not yet looked into making Stoughton Bitters or a comparable imitation ourselves. Since Stoughton’s Elixir was a bitters, we opted for one of the bitters we had in the house: Underberg.

As our experiment showed – and as was to be expected – William Terrington’s recipe was far too sweet for our taste. However, it became clear that if the recipe was “desweetened” accordingly, it would be possible to prepare something tasty.

George Edwin Roberts & Henry Porter - Cups And Their Customs, 1863 - Recipe for Ginger Brandy.
George Edwin Roberts & Henry Porter – Cups And Their Customs, 1863 – Recipe for Ginger Brandy. [3-50]

We therefore decided not to use ginger syrup for the next attempt, but a macerate in the form of a ginger brandy. We considered that we would like to reduce the 25 ml ginger syrup to 5 ml ginger brandy, and that in this reduced amount the same amount of ginger should still be added to the cocktail.

We used a recipe by George Edwin Roberts and Henry Porter from their 1863 book “Cups and Their Customs” as the basis for the ginger brandy. On page 50, they describe how to make it: [3-50]

Recipe for Ginger Brandy.
To each bottle of brandy add two ounces of the best
ginger bruised; let it stand for a week; then strain
the liquid through muslin, and add a pound of finely
powdered sugar-candy. This should be kept at least
one year.

That is the equivalent of about 70 g of ginger to 750 ml of cognac. Since our approach was to concentrate the amount of ginger to 5 ml ginger brandy and to do without sugar, we adapted the recipe as follows and increased the amount of ginger:

Ginger Brandy

Put 20 g of ginger, thinly sliced and then coarsely mortared, into a sealable glass with 150 ml of Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, leave it to macerate for a week and then strain it through a paper filter.

This macerate is much more aromatic and intense than the ginger syrup.

Ginger Brandy.
Ginger Brandy.

Analogous to this ginger brandy, we also made a ginger gin, for which we prepared the ginger with Hayman’s Royal Dock. The idea was that a ginger gin would probably harmonise better with a gin than with a ginger brandy.

We don’t want to go into detail about the experiments we made with it here, as they were only a stopover and we don’t want to bore anyone with it.

Bitter, not inferior to Stoughton's Drops. Mary Kettilby: A collection of above three hundred receipts in cookery, physick and surgery, 1734, page 180.
Bitter, not inferior to Stoughton’s Drops. Mary Kettilby: A collection of above three hundred receipts in cookery, physick and surgery, 1734, page 180. [4-180]

We then asked ourselves whether we had used the right bitters at all in order to be able to estimate what a cocktail might have tasted like originally. So there was no way to avoid making one of the historic Stoughton imitation recipes, because the original recipe has been lost. We decided to use Mary Kettilby’s recipe from 1728, which we have already described in detail in the chapter on Stoughton Bitters. She gives the following recipe: [4-180]

A most excellent Bitter, not inferior to
Stoughton’s Drops.
TAKE two Ounces of Gentian-root, the
Rinds of nine Oranges, they must be of
the largest right Sevil, and pared very thin,
two Drams of Saffron, and two Drams of
Cochineal; infuse all in one Quart of Brandy,
for forty-eight Hours, in the hottest Sun;
then philter it through whited-brown Paper:
After this you may take from twenty Drops
to a Tea-spoonful, in Wine, Beer, Tea, or
any Liquor you like.

We worked down the quantity and made the bitters as follows:

Stoughton Bitters

15 ml dried gentian root
zest of 2 oranges
0.33 g saffron
225 ml Pierre Ferrand Cognac 1840
Leave the ingredients to infuse for 48 hours, preferably in hot sun, and shake occasionally. Then strain through a paper filter.

In the third round of tasting, using our Stoughton Bitters, we have now decided against gin and in favour of cognac. The gentian-saffron-orange flavours harmonise wonderfully with a cognac.

Mary Kettilby's most excellent Bitter, not inferior to Stoughton's Drops.
Mary Kettilby’s most excellent Bitter, not inferior to Stoughton’s Drops.

We wanted to give this reconstructed recipe a name. Since we “rediscovered” this recipe on the basis of an old English recipe and developed it, so to speak, through experimental cocktail archaeology and taking historical evidence into account, we decided to call it simply “English Cocktail” because of this background. The recipe is as follows:

English Cocktail

55 ml Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
5 ml ginger brandy
5 ml Stoughton Bitters
5 ml sugar syrup (2:1)

This cocktail, developed on the basis of a historical English recipe and taking into account historical sources related to cocktail history, shows us that our theory that a cocktail must be made with much more bitters than an old-fashioned cocktail and also with a good portion of ginger is not only conclusive, but also leads to a quite tasty result. This is more or less a confirmation of our theory in practice. However, it should be critically noted here that we have not yet reached the end of our reconstruction. This will be completed in the following part of this series of contributions. To say it in advance: Cold ice does not suit the Stoughton Bitters at all. The cocktail, which is made according to the recipe above, only develops its full aromas and all its persuasive power when it has become warmer. Cooling it with ice does not agree with it at all.

Finally, we asked ourselves whether it is absolutely necessary to make a ginger brandy and Stoughton bitters in order to enjoy an English cocktail. It is easier to use standard products. During our research, we happened to come across the Appenzeller Kräuterbitter (Appenzell herbal bitters), which immediately excited us with its distinctive Enziann notes. This bitter is perfect as a component in a cocktail, and its additional, subtle herbal aromas harmonise very well. There are no notes of saffron, which is the big difference to the original recipe. Nevertheless, with cognac it produces a tasty result. We did not replace the missing orange flavours by adding orange bitters. We think this variation is more successful without the same. Instead of the ginger brandy, we used the ginger liqueur from Canton, so there is no need to add extra sugar. With other products, of course, the recipe has to be adapted, so we would like to suggest the following variant:

English Cocktail, modern variant

60 ml Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac
15 ml Canton ginger liqueur
10 ml Appenzeller Kräuterbitter

This variant is also insensitive to chilling with ice. How to modify the variant with Stoughton Bitters to achieve a tasty result will be discussed in the next post.

We hope that this suggestion will inspire you to prepare and develop more drinks with ginger and herbal bitters. It is worth it.

  1. William Terrington: Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks. Collection of Recipes for „Cups“ and Other Compounded Drinks, and of General Information on Beverages of All Kinds. London & New York, George Routledge & Sons, 1869. Page 190-191.
  2. L. Monzert: The Independent Liquorist, or, the Art of Manufacturing and Preparing all Kinds of Cordials, Syrups, Bitters, Wines, Champagne, Beer, Punches, Tinctures, Extracts, Essences, Flavorings, Colorings, Worcestershire Sauce, Club Sauce, Catsups, Pickles, Preserves, Jams, Jellies, Etc., Etc.. New York, Dick & Fitzgerald, 1866. Page 73.
  3. George Edwin Roberts & Henry Porter: Cups And Their Customs. London, John Van Voorst, 1863. Page 50-51.
  4. Mary Kettilby: A collection of above three hundred receipts in cookery, physick and surgery: for the use of all good wives, tender mothers, and careful nurses. 4. Auflage. London 1728. Page 180. https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/10320

explicit capitulum


Hi, I'm Armin and in my spare time I want to promote bar culture as a blogger, freelance journalist and Bildungstrinker (you want to know what the latter is? Then check out "About us"). My focus is on researching the history of mixed drinks. If I have ever left out a source you know of, and you think it should be considered, I look forward to hearing about it from you to learn something new. English is not my first language, but I hope that the translated texts are easy to understand. If there is any incomprehensibility, please let me know so that I can improve it.

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