A glance around any cocktail bar will reveal a trio of likely suspects: martinis, Manhattans and, more recently, cosmopolitans. These three drinks have become so ubiquitous I wouldn't be surprised to find that bartenders have forgotten how to make anything else. Don't get me wrong--they're perfectly fine drinks. They're just a little too predictable for my taste. I like to drink what other people have yet to discover or, in the case of the four styles that follow, rediscover.
Shrubs & Bounces
These playful-sounding drinks, which are both made with a fruit base and brandy or rum, actually date from Colonial days. Their interchangeable names have little meaning, although the word shrub is probably derived from the Arabic shurb, meaning "drink." (Bounce has no clear origin.) My favorite is the West Indian shrub, a drink brought to the States from Bermuda in the 1930s by Charles H. Baker, Jr. In his book The Gentleman's Companion, Baker suggests using wild or "tame" cherries for this drink, although blackberries also work well.
The origin of these tall, iced wine- or spirits-based drinks is unknown, but Washington Irving and Charles Dickens were among their early promoters. Dickens introduced cobblers (an American creation) to the British in his 1844 novel, Martin Chuzzlewit: "This wonderful invention, Sir...it is called a cobbler. Sherry cobbler, when you name it long; cobbler when you name it short." In the 1862 edition of Bartender's Guide: The Bon-Vivant's Companion, Jerry Thomas explains that presentation is key. "The 'cobbler' does not require much skill in compounding, but to make it acceptable to the eye, as well as to the palate, it is necessary to display some taste in ornamenting the glass," he writes.
When most people think punch, they probably envision something served in a crystal bowl. The word punch is thought to be derived either from the Persian word punj or from the Hindi panch--both meaning "five"--and as you might guess, punches typically include five or more ingredients, though not all are spirits. Punches based on rum and water were favored by the English of the 17th century, although by the 18th century, punches had became more elaborate, containing a great variety of fruits and liquors. My favorite punch is planter's punch, although it barely meets the definition of the drink and, consumed in excess, it may even be blamed for a variety of illnesses.
Collinses & Fizzes
The Tom Collins and its sibling, the John Collins, seem to have surfaced in the mid-1800s. Legend has it that the Tom Collins was named after its creator, who in turn named the John Collins after his brother. All collinses and fizzes are made with a primary spirit, lemon or lime juice, soda water and sugar, and although an ability to differentiate between these drinks might indicate excessive leisure, the basic difference is ice--with a collins you get it, with a fizz you don't. Either way, a collins should be presented in its namesake glass (10 to 14 ounces) and a fizz in a slightly smaller glass (less than nine ounces).
Laura Moorhead is coauthor of Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century (Viking).