A majority of the time, pre-Prohibition cocktail books are the research materials I use for creating new cocktails or when I'm looking to serve something new to my guests. They are some great sources for reprints of the old tomes. Probably the best would be Amazon or, my favorite, Cocktail Kingdom. While many of these books are a fascinating look at how bars were run in the early 1900s and the recipes that were cataloged at the time, they don't necessarily delve into the history of the drinks or their particular place in American history.
Luckily, there is a fantastic book that I highly recommend to anyone interested cocktails or cocktail culture written by David Wondrich titled "Imbibe!" Mr. Wondrich's book details the history of the first barman to write a cocktail guide, Jerry Thomas. Jerry Thomas wrote "How to Mix Drinks, or The Bone Vivant's Companion" in 1862.
While looking through Imbibe! I came across a cocktail called the "Star Cocktail." The ingredients -apple brandy and sweet vermouth -sounded very appealing.
1.5 ounces Apple Brandy (I suggest using Applejack)
1.5 ounces sweet vermouth
0.5 tsp simple syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitters
(optional dash of orange curacao)
Add all ingredients into a mixing glass half filled with cracked ice, stir roughly 30 times or a slow count to 15. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and twist a small piece of lemon over the top.
The drink may look very similar to a Manhattan, and truth be told, it is very similar. This mixture in the "Star Cocktail" is absolutely fantastic. The vermouth and bitters provide an herbal note that do not overpower the sweetness of the apple brandy. The curacao plays a note that is almost imperceptible, but brings a brightness that would sorely be missed.
Mr. Wondrich tells us that this cocktail was in vogue just before Prohibition was enacted. He also explains that one of the establishments serving the drink preferred using orange bitters. I've made the cocktail with Angostura and orange bitters; both are great options. In my opinion, if you want to gild the lilly just a bit, use two dashes of Angostura and one dash of orange bitters when making the drink.
Do you have a favorite recipe book for cocktails? Or old tomes in the book case? Share them with us in the comments.