I need to make an Ur-Cocktail. Like, I want to just mix a liquor (bourbon, a-doy, although I'd then be game for trying several others) with sugar, water and bitters -- the original notion of what constitutes a "cock-tail" -- and see what it tastes like. I kind of assume it's gonna taste awful, or at least undesirable, right? Because, for one, when have I ever employed water as an ingredient, and for two, what kind of cocktail enthusiast thinks it a swell idea to include a diluting agent as a key part of a recipe? Water's what you drink at the bottom of your near-emptied highball while you're waiting for the barkeep to make you a fresh one.
In the meantime, here's the Bittered Gin Sling, which may be the closest I've ever gotten to an ur-ball. To paraphrase How's Your Drink? Cocktails, Culture and the Art of Drinking Well, authored by my spirit animal Eric Felten, it was in the first decade of the 1800s that the word started to appear in print, although at first without much in the way of definition or attribution. Upon receiving a reader's letter asking for clarification of the term, the editor of a Hudson, New York newspaper wrote that a "cock-tail" is also "vulgarly called a bittered sling... a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters." Felten goes on to say that it didn't take long for enterprising folks to massage that template further with additions like lemon juice, sherry, sweet vermouth, or soda water (in place of flat water).
Fittingly, the recipe for this Bittered Gin Sling is the first to appear in How's Your Drink?, on page 13. Atrociously, I just realized that I've never done a sling on this blog either??! Remedies, people. Remedies shall be appearing here soon. (I guess all cocktails intend to remedy something, but you know what I mean.)
The Bittered Gin Sling
(borrowed, with very minor modifications, from How's Your Drink?)
1 1/2 ounces Bombay Dry Gin
3/4 ounces Stock sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce mint-infused simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Soda water, to fill
Lemon twist(s), to garnish
Shake all but the soda water in an ice-filled shaker. Strain into your with-ice glass of choice (highball, Collins, etc.) and top with soda water. Garnish.
Mint-infused syrup, you say? That shit's wack, yo! At least that's what I thought but Sean was calmly insistent, as his demeanor so often appealingly is, that a) it would deliver a refreshing twist and b) neither of us were in the mood to make regular simple syrup at the moment. The cock-tail is an ever-evolving thing.