Wednesday, January 5, 2011

White Lion Cocktail

The White Lion cocktail could be described as a rum daisy, with powdered sugar, bitters, curacao, raspberry syrup and decorated with fruit of the season. I noticed that it kept coming up in the old books, but I'd never heard of it outside of historical references. I did not know it was such an old recipe, and was surprised to find it "on the list" in this interesting account from 1855, of life in the then still-young city of San Francisco, California.

Published in 1855 in Hinton Rowan Helper’s “The Land of Gold: Reality versus fiction”

"The grog-shops or tippling-houses constitute the last but not the least prominent feature of Montgomery street that we will notice at the present time. The devil has certainly met with more than usual success in establishing so many of these, his recruiting officers, in this region; for we cannot visit any part of the state or city without finding them always at our elbow. San Francisco might allot one to every street corner in the city, or in other words, four to every intersection of the streets, and still her number would not be exhausted. It is astonishing what an amount of time, labor and money is misspent in this nefarious traffic. Out of the two hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants in California, from twelve to fifteen thousand are exclusively engaged in this diabolical, but lucrative business ; and, what is worse than all, nearly one-fourth of the bars are attended by young females, of the most dissolute and abandoned character, who use every device to entice and mislead the youthful and unsuspecting, "Women being somewhat of a novelty here, their saloons are always thronged with customers, many being induced to patronize them merely for the sake of looking at them. What a base prostitution of their destiny and mission ! Woman has come here, not only to pander to man's vitiated appetites, but also to create and foster in him unholier desires, and, if possible, to lead him further astray than he would have gone without her.

Lest we should fall in love with one of these sirens, we will not go near them, but will enter one of the saloons kept by a biped of our own sex.

Across the street is a large and fashionable one, called the Blue Wing,

" Where politicians most do congregate,
To let their tongues tang arguments of State."

Adding ourselves to the number of its inmates, we find the governor of the State seated by a table, surrounded by judges of the supreme and superior courts, sipping sherry cobblers, smoking segars, and reveling in all the delights of an anticipated debauch. Another group of less distinction in public affairs, but better known , to the proprietor because of their more frequent and protracted visits, occupy a second table in the back part of the room, where they are playing cards and carousing over a general assortment of distilled, fermented and malt liquors. The proprietor himself is a red-nosed, jolly fellow, of burgomaster proportions, generally in a good humor, who treats his victim-patrons with the utmost courtesy and politeness. He is every man's man, and always has a smile and a smart saying prepared for the entertainment of the bystanders. His two clerks, for he is unable to wait upon all his customers himself, are equally urbane in their deportment, and may be found at their posts from six o'clock in the morning till twelve o'clock at night, ready to flavor and tincture mixed drinks, to prepare hot punches, and to deal out low anecdote to vulgar idlers. On the shelves and counters are dozens of labeled decanters and bottles, filled with the choicest liquors and artificial beverages that the world produces; other articles of similar use and value are also kept for sale, and stored away in their appropriate places. As a minute survey of the bill of fare may not be uninteresting, I herewith present it:—

                Bowie Knives and Pistols.
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The annual consumption of beer, wines and liquors in this State exceeds five millions of gallons, a vast deal of which is retailed at extraordinarily remunerative rates. All of the first class establishments, I mean those that deal in good qualities, charge twenty-five cents for every drink or dram they sell; but an adulterated article, of which there is always an abundant supply in market, can be procured at about one half that price. In some of the most popular and respectable saloons, genuine articles are always kept on hand for the benefit and accommodation of those who are willing to pay for a delicious (?) draught. I may not be a competent judge, but this much I will say, that I have seen purer liquors, better segars, finer tobacco, truer guns and pistols, larger dirks and bowie knives, and prettier courtezans here, than in any other place I have ever visited; and it is my unbiased opinion that California can and does furnish the best bad things that are obtainable in America."


The drink was known well enough in 1862 to make Jerry Thomas's first edition.

"Cool with shaved ice". What else would you cool with? The same verbage was lifted in 1878 for Leo Engel's "American and other drinks" which was published in England.

In 1882, Harry Johnson also saw fit to add the White Lion to his book, adding a bit on it's origins.

It appears in 1884 in O.H. Byron's book calling for you to "squeeze juice from half a lemon, putting the rind in the glass" and for "fine" ice rather than shaved. In 1895, George Kappeler listed these instructions in his book "Modern American Drinks":

White Lion. (Kappeler, 1895)

Cut the peel of half a lemon from it in one long thin piece, place it in a mixing-glass, add the juice of half a lemon, one tablespoonful fine sugar, one tablespoonful raspberry syrup, one jigger St. Croix rum, one pony curacoa ; mix well, put all in a long thin glass, ornament with fruit. Serve straws.

By 1914 in Jacques Straub's "Drinks", the recipe changed from a mixed drink to a shaken one, and the addition of Angostura bitters appears (which makes more sense, given the ingredients).

White Lion Cocktail (Straub 1914)

1 barspoon sugar
1/2 jigger lemon juice
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
3 dashes raspberry Syrup
1 jigger St. Croix Rum. Shake Well.

(This is starting to sound good!)

In 1922, it shows up again in Robert Vermeire's "Cocktails How to Mix Them"

White Lion (Vermeire, 1922)

Juice of half a lemon.
1/4 gill of raspberry syrup.
1/4 gill of Curacao.
3/4 gill of Rum.
Well Shaken and strained into a tumbler filled with chopped ice, and tastily decorated with fruits of the season.

Fast forward to 1948, David Embury calls the drink simply a "White Lady without the egg white and with lime juice in place of lemon." Not necessarily so, as we've seen through the recipe's history both lemon and lime have been called for. He's also changed the raspberry syrup to grenadine. Here's Embury's White Lion:

White Lion (Embury 1948)
1 part Grenadine
2 parts Lime Juice (put in shell of 1/2 lime)
1 part Curacao
7 parts White Label Rum

Then it just sort of disappears, popping up here and there in the oddest places. It seems to have remained a Mr. Boston's staple. It appears in a remarkably intact form in my 2006 edition:

White Lion Cocktail (Mr. Boston's 2006)
1 oz. Lemon Juice
1 tsp Superfine sugar (or simple syrup)
2 dashes bitters
1/2 tsp Grenadine
1 1/2 oz. Light Rum
Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

I found no mention of the While Lion from DeGroff, Regan, Calabrese, Haigh or Hess in their books.

Wondrich, in "Imbibe", says "The only difference between (Jerry) Thomas's Knickerbocker and his White Lion is that the latter replaces three-quarters of the raspberry syrup with pulverized sugar. I'll take the knee pants". 

Not to differ with the great cocktail sage, but I think there's a larger story here revealed by viewing the White Lion outside of Thomas's book, and that there's a great drink to be resurrected from these ashes.

I often quote Mud Puddle's "Big Bartender's Guide" and their adaptation of Johnson's recipe is fairly close to where my adaptation ended up.

White Lion (Masson and Boehm 2009 - adopted from H. Johnson's 1882 recipe)
2 ounces (60 ml) gold rum
1 ounce (30 ml) lime juice
1/2 ounce (15 ml) raspberry syrup
1/4 ounce (7 ml) orange curacao

Build over crushed ice in an old fashioned glass. Garnish with two raspberries and a mint sprig.

So where do I see this drink ending up for the 21st century? Looking through it's history, and carefully considering the best elements, I've come up with my version of the White Lion...Enjoy!

White Lion (The Lab, 2011)

Step 1) Into a shaker, place 1 (to 3) barspoon(s) powdered sugar depending on preference for sweetness. (I think 1 is enough though)

Step 2) Add 1 barspoon Angostura bitters, mix with the sugar to make a syrup.

Step 3) Add 1/4 ounce Monin raspberry syrup, 1/2 ounce Cointreau, 1 ounce fresh lemon juice, 2 ounces light rum, the long peel of half of a lemon.

Step 4) Fill with cracked ice. Shake, but not too long or too hard. Stop after 15-20 seconds of "gentle" shaking.

Step 5) Strain into an "Old Fashioned" or "Double Rocks" glass filled with crushed ice, arrange lemon peel as garnish and add optional garnishes (sprig of mint and/or berries in season). Serve with straws.

Add float of high proof demerara rum, like lemon Hart 151, for an extra treat!

The reduced sugar makes the mix a tart and tangy treat, kind of like a raspberry sweet tart. The orange and raspberry are there, but in the background. The sugar and lemon juice add a nice lemonade flavor. The Angostura bitters are just right here and for the super treat, add a float of high proof dark rum.

A few notes on the ingredients. To sugar or not to sugar? I think it's in enough of the early recipes, along with curacao and raspberry syrup that it has to be part of the recipe. But let's not go crazy shall we? It's a sweet drink already with all these flavors, so we're going with a barspoon, basically a little less than 1/4 ounce. You could double or triple that amount depending on taste, but I would not recommend a full tablespoon, as some of the early recipes did. 

On the subject of citrus, I'm in favor of using fresh squeezed lemon (over lime) and for straining the juice over squeezing straight into the glass and dropping in the rind. I also love Kappeler's instruction to "Cut the peel of half a lemon from it in one long thin piece"and serve it in the drink after mixing in a mixing glass. It's a bit of a mix between the "crusta" treatment and a "horse's head" garnish. Keep the lemon rind in as large a piece as possible, so as to stand up to the rigors of shaking.

The raspberry syrup and curacao are still here, but as with the sugar they are dialed back to allow our quality, modern spirits more room to shine in the mix. 

I think the Angostura bitters a brilliant addition, and would have probably added them myself if Straub had not already done so in 1914.

On the St. Croix rum, you could actually go with a Puerto Rican light rum like Don Q crystal, which is an excellent choice for the money. 

A better choice would be the Flor de Cana "Extra Dry" 4 year old from Nicaragua. Better still would be the El Dorado 3 year old, and best of all is the Havana Club blanco. Having the best in stock, that's what I decided to photograph, but my point is that there are many good choices for this drink.

The fruit and mint, charming as they may be, are optional as the lemon peel makes a sufficient garnish on it's own. 

For sure, this is another great drink to pull out that julep cup for on a hot day. In the daisy tradition, adding soda water and making this a tall drink would also work very well, especially as a summer refresher.

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