Whatever Happened To the Mashie Pickup?
"It is only fitting that the subject of cocktails should be approached with levity slightly tinctured by contempt," writes Lucius Beebe in his foreword to the 1941 book "Crosby Gaige's Cocktail Guide and Ladies' Companion."
I thought of Crosby Gaige recently while plowing through some of the recent "scholarship" provided by the growing number of cocktail scholars, those committed to settling such critical issues as: Who is the true inventor of the martini? What is the etymology of the Jack Rose? What is the truth behind the creation myth of the sidecar? All very serious, and sleep-inducing, stuff.
Later, it was bracing to revisit Gaige. "There are at least three legends as to the genesis of the cocktail," he writes. "I have considered all three and have discarded them into the dim limbo of an alcoholic apocrypha."
While Gaige lays out recipes for drinks such as the Alexander, the Clover Club and the stinger, he questions the notion of the enduring, or "classic," cocktail.
"Cocktails are living organisms like the cells in your body," he writes. "They fluctuate like the tides. They are subject to the law of supply and demand, and are ruled and governed either by the caprice or creative instinct of each individual mixer."
Like many people who think way too much about spirits, I own a collection of old cocktail books such as Gaige's. I often scour them for obscure drinks I can reinterpret and resurrect.
With the trendy return of the "classic" cocktail and the drive of bartenders to out-mix one another, the value of such books is experiencing a bubble. I saw a 1930 first edition of "The Savoy Cocktail Book," compiled by Harry Craddock, selling for $950 online. Mint first editions of Jerry Thomas's 1862 "Bar-Tender's Guide" -- considered the first published cocktail guide -- fetch more than $1,000.
None of the used cocktail books I own is in that league. Each has serious wear and tear and cost me less than $30, and many contain hand-scrawled revisions and notes. For instance, on the title page in my copy of Gaige's "The Standard Cocktail Guide" (1944) is scribbled a personal recipe from the "Albemarle Club" for something called a Morning Mashie Pickup: The drink calls for a jigger of gin, an egg white, the juice of half a lemon, two dashes of absinthe and a dash of anisette.
The Morning Mashie Pickup is certainly alarming. But what makes it less of a "classic" cocktail than, say, a pink lady, which involves the same basic idea but with applejack and grenadine instead of the absinthe and anisette?
My favorite cocktail book is a 1934 edition of the "Official Mixer's Manual" by Patrick Gavin Duffy. It was published right after Prohibition ended and seeks to repair the damage done by the illicit bartenders of that era, who, according to Duffy, created many drinks "obviously of irresponsible origin."
In his foreword, Duffy lays down the law: "The bartender should be neatly shaved, and his hands and nails should be kept immaculately cleaned. A good bartender wears a fresh white linen coat, and I personally fancy a carnation." He adds, "I cannot too much deplore the custom which has become prevalent of late of free and general conversation between bartenders and patrons."
What strikes me most when I flip through old cocktail guides is the sheer number of spirits that were in common use during the early 20th century but have vanished from modern consciousness. Who among us has tasted Byrrh? Amer Picon? Swedish Punch? Anis del Oso? Duffy dedicates whole sections to each.
One spirit that often pops up in early 20th-century cocktails is maraschino liqueur, which Gaige insisted should be part of any 1940s home bar. I love it, and I agree wholeheartedly. Maraschino, luckily, can be found at Washington area liquor stores.
Maraschino is a component of one of the most popular cocktails of the 1930s, the Aviation Cocktail. The old recipes generally call for only a few dashes of the liqueur. In keeping with contemporary tastes, I like to add more.
There seems to be no consensus on why the Aviation Cocktail was so named. Most scholars say it has to do with being a hero's drink during the early age of aviation. But, as Duffy wrote in 1934, "Where most of these Cocktails originated, like our jokes and jazz pieces, history may never reveal."
Jason Wilson's Spirits column appears every other week. E-mail him email@example.com.