Oh, Dickens! Always boozing. Illustration by Peter Van Hyning.
When Charles Dickens made his first trip to America in 1842 (recorded in American Notes for General Circulation), he made certain to partake of one of the greatest American inventions: the cocktail. While visiting Boston, he said “the bar is a large room with a stone floor, and there people stand and smoke, and lounge about, all the evening dropping in and out as the humor takes them. There too the stranger is initiated into the mysteries of Gin-sling, Cocktail, Sangaree, Mint Julep, Sherry-cobbler, Timber Doodle, and other rare drinks.”
Dickens didn’t write down any recipes for these “rare drinks”, but fortunately some of his contemporaries did. Captain Alexander, who toured America in 1833, recorded the directions for making The Cock Tail, along with four other drinks he had at the City Hotel in New York, prepared by a celebrity bartender named Willard. Another English tourist, Captain Marryat, recorded his experiences with Mint Juleps after he made a trip to America in 1837. He said: “I once overheard two ladies talking in the next room to me, and one of them said, ‘Well if I have a weakness for any one thing, it is for a mint julep!’–a very amiable weakness, and proving her good sense and good taste. They are, in fact, like the American ladies, irresistible.” I think that quote is like the best thing ever.
Much of what we know about Victorian cocktails comes from How to Mix Drinks; or, the Bon-Vivants Companion by Prof. Jerry Thomas, published in 1862. Which, thanks to Google, is now online.
Couldn’t make it out to What Dickens Drank at apex art last week? No worries; below, all the recipes you need to mix an 1840s cocktail at home. Photos from the event, and more, can be found here.