The Golden Age Of Cocktails: When Americans Learned To Love Mixed Drinks : The Salt The Manhattan, the daiquiri, the martini. These classic cocktails were all born between the 1860s and Prohibition, an era when American bartending got inventive — and theatrical.
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The Golden Age Of Cocktails: When Americans Learned To Love Mixed Drinks

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The Golden Age Of Cocktails: When Americans Learned To Love Mixed Drinks

The Golden Age Of Cocktails: When Americans Learned To Love Mixed Drinks

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Manhattan, the martini and the daiquiri were all whipped up during the Golden Age of Cocktails. And while the Prohibition-era speakeasy culture of the '20s might seem like a golden age, it turns out the latter half of the 1800s was really when American bartending came into its own.

DEREK BROWN: You had these great bartenders. They were publishing bartending books. The first one comes in 1862 by Jerry Thomas, and it really just marks this start of this incredibly creative period in making great cocktails.

CORNISH: How better to learn about those great cocktails than to sample outside in the summer heat? We hauled an ice bucket to NPR's roof deck for some bar talk with Derek Brown. He's the chief spirits adviser for the National Archives, and I asked him to make me one of those marquee drinks of the Golden Age of Cocktails. And to my surprise, he picked the daiquiri.

BROWN: Well, the daiquiri is perhaps one of the most bastardized drinks of all times. I mean, most people expect to get a daiquiri when they're going through a drive-through window in New Orleans or something like that. And it's going to be full of grain alcohol and red coloring and things like that.

CORNISH: So it has a bad rap in your opinion

BROWN: A horrible rap - yeah, it's terrible because the daiquiri itself is really something so simple. It is rum, it's lime and it's sugar and that's it.

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CORNISH: All right. Well, let's make one, then, and we can keep talking, but how do you start?

BROWN: So I'm going to start by putting some ice into this cup because the glass itself needs to be chilled. You want to pour a cold beverage into a cold glass. It only makes sense, right? The next thing that we're going to do is we're going to load up the shaker with the ingredients.

CORNISH: I have to admit, seeing a shaker makes me think of the showmanship of being a bartender. And is this also a period in time where bartenders were being theatrical, kind of putting on a little bit more of a show?

BROWN: Absolutely. Bartenders were really hamming it up back then. They would have diamond stick pins. They would wear elaborate suits. Jerry Thomas himself would have two white rats that he would rest on his shoulders when...

CORNISH: Did you say rats (laughter)?

BROWN: Rats, yeah, that's not sanitary at all nowadays.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: I'm assuming, at this period in time, rum is a key alcohol, right?

BROWN: Rum is such a huge part of American drinking. It has been since the beginning of the Republic. But this particular drink was invented by an American in Cuba - Jennings Cox. Now, there are plenty of people drinking rum then and using lime and cane sugar, but it was his particular formula that became specifically the daiquiri.

CORNISH: That looks like a big two ounces, Derek Brown.

BROWN: It is a healthy two ounces. Then I'm going to take three-quarter ounce of fresh lime juice. The next thing I'm going to add is cane sugar syrup. I'm going to cover it up in the shaker and of course shake.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BROWN: And we're going to strain it into the chilled glass.

CORNISH: I can definitely get a whiff of the lime. All right, cheers.

BROWN: Cheers.

CORNISH: Oh.

BROWN: It's really good, right (laughter)?

CORNISH: Yeah, if someone gave this to me and said daiquiri, I wouldn't believe them.

BROWN: Yeah, it has - even though it has that richness and a little bit of sweetness on the back, it has that nice acidity to it because the limes kick in and it makes it very balanced.

CORNISH: That's actually pretty delicious...

BROWN: (Laughter).

CORNISH: ...She says three drinks in.

BROWN: Yeah.

CORNISH: Awesome, perfect, tastes like summer.

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CORNISH: Derek Brown is a D.C. barkeep and is the chief spirits adviser to an exhibit about the history of American drinking at the National Archives. You can find his recipes for the daiquiri, the martini and the Manhattan at NPR.org.

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