One feeling writing this column for five and a half years has stirred in me – besides a more-than-slight disbelief that it's gone on for five and half years – is an appreciation for the classic bar manuals.
Cocktail books from the early 20th century (or even the late 19th) like The Bar-Tenders Guide or How to Mix Drinks by Jerry Thomas, Harry MacElhone's Barflies and Cocktails and Harry Craddock's Savoy Cocktail Book are not just repositories of cocktail knowledge, but also historical documents through which readers can trace the politics, economics and culture of a nation. (And if anyone out there has a copy of 1928's Giggle Water by Charles Warnock that you'd like to get rid of, please get in touch.)
A great friend to this column is the Savoy Cocktail Book, first published in 1930. Craddock, revered for inventing the Corpse Reviver No. 2 (an early obsession of the current cocktail scene), was an American bartender who went to London's Savoy Hotel when Prohibition hit. While flipping through my copy – not a first edition, sadly; but then, I'd be scared to have it around open bottles if it were – I noticed the Dubonnet Fizz. Not as showy as the Corpse Reviver, to be sure, but the 750 cocktails herein do include among their ranks plenty of workaday quaffs like this. And I had a bottle of Dubonnet growing a coat of dust at the back of the cabinet.
The original recipe calls for a dash of cherry brandy, but Dubonnet, a sweeter red vermouth, already tastes like cherry syrup to me, so I tossed that as redundant. My idea was to test the oft-stated mixological principle that any base spirit can be substituted for any other in a well-written recipe, so in the spirit of making it a challenge, I chose mezcal. Mezcal in place of Dubonnet, Dubonnet in place of cherry brandy, and how about the citrus?
Less aged, but equally in need of being pressed into service, was a bag of blood oranges (currently in season) sitting on my counter. I thought the juice might provide a less cherry-sickly but still red-fruity flavor, so I squeezed one (they're small) into the mixing glass in place of the regular orange called for. I kept the lemon, whose sour tang worked well with the mezcal. After adding the fizz – half a bottle of Topo Chico, in this case – it seemed a little flat, so I added a dash of hot honey syrup. Perfection with mezcal.
The substitution theory wasn't exactly proved or disproved; while the drink did turn out a treat, I had to tweak the recipe and ratios pretty hard to get there. Regardless, this Remixed Dubonnet Fizz is wonderful thing to sip while shopping online for vintage books.
juice of half an orange
juice of a quarter of a lemon
2 ounces Dubonnet
1 teaspoon cherry brandy
Put the first four ingredients in a highball glass filled with ice, stir, then top with carbonated water.
juice of a blood orange
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 ounce Dubonnet
2 ounces mezcal
1 teaspoon hot honey syrup
Topo Chico or soda water
Make the syrup: Combine equal parts honey (like Mike's Hot Honey, available at Publix or online) and water in a small pan, bring to a simmer, then take off the heat and allow to cool. Once it's cool, add first five ingredients to a glass filled with ice and top with fizzy water.