Friday, February 18, 2011

The Lone Tree Cocktail

I was recently blessed with a rare first edition of Albert Stevens Crockett's 1931 classic, Old Waldorf Bar Days, from an extremely generous friend as a birthday gift.

There will be more posts to come from this treasured volume. The Lone Tree may not be the sexiest drink to start with, but I've always had an interest in trying it as I've come across the recipe in different books. So when I found it again here, it sounded like a great place to start.

As it is explained in David Wondrich's introduction to the Mud Puddle reprint of Jacques Straub's 1914 book Drinks, many of the recipes from Straub's books were likely "borrowed" from the famous hand-written books of the Waldorf bar with some limited help from his friend Oscar.

Jacques and Oscar Tschirky (who was one of the Waldorf's most famous bartenders) came over to America from Switzerland together on the same boat, and Oscar even contributed a blurb to the beginning of Straub's book.

The beauty of Old Waldorf Bar Days, which was not written until at least 17-18 years after Drinks, is that Crockett had the full cooperation of many of the "veteran employees" of the old Waldorf, among other collaborators that had "been regular patrons of the Bar who knew its habitués and what went on there."

Both titles are great resources. Drinks contains over 700 recipes in a pocket sized format. The instructions are usually wrong, and the drinks do take a fair amount of general knowledge to be successful with, but it's been a favored book for nearly 100 years for it's inspirational and practical nature.

The Old Waldorf Bar Days advertises "Four Hundred and Ninety-one Appealing Appetizers and Salutary Potations" in a handsome 6x9 perfect bound volume and its recipes are rich in detail, explanation and refinement (not to mention the many wonderful illustrations by Leighton Budd).

(Early history: The Lone Tree appeared first in 1900 in The Cocktail Book, A Sideboard Manual for Gentleman, as well as in the 1913 edition of Applegreen's Bar Book.) 

Straub in 1914 lists the Lone Tree Cocktail as:

When it appears in Old Waldorf Days in 1931, there is an accompanying story.

Tom gin has become Plymouth, a big change! Orange bitters have been added, and the ratio has been taken from 2:1 gin to vermouth, to a 1:1 ratio.

It appears to have been a very popular cocktail, and I'm thinking that word must have spread quickly - and likely by mouth - as the recipes lack consistency.

Four years before the Old Waldorf Bar Days was published, in Barflies and Cocktails by Harry McElhone (1927), you have this recipe:

Five years after it was published, Frank Mier (working in Paris) provided this recipe in the 1936 classic The Artistry of Mixing Drinks.

So what's a person to do? To me, these similarities point to a sweet martini with a bitter orange influence.

Based on the back-story provided in the Old Waldorf Bar Days book, I feel a bit better prepared to give it a try, so here's my version of the "that-time" drink for your refreshment.

The Lone Tree Cocktail

1.5 ounces (45 ml) Plymouth Gin
1.5 ounces (45 ml) Sweet Vermouth (Punt e Mes)
1 dash orange bitters

Stir well with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

(Since this post is also introducing the Crockett book, it's only fitting to use his recipe.)

The 1:1 ratio of the clean-crisp Plymouth gin to the spicy-bitter, "grapefruity" Punt e Mes, along with the nice citrus hit from the bitters and orange peel oils, provide a very rich "sweet martini" experience...fitting for a recipe from the Old Waldof.


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