Happy Repeal Day!

If you read any cocktail blogs other than this one (and, by God, you really should), you already know this is Repeal Day, the seventy-third anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition.

To celebrate, I dove into a vintage cocktail book, Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails: How to Mix Them, which first appeared in print in Great Britain in 1922, when the untied states were in the middle of their crazy delusion called Prohibition. I thought it would be fun to find a recipe that was current during that period.

Happy Repeal Day!
photo by Jennifer Hess

Because Dewar’s has had so much fun marketing its blended scotch to Repeal Day celebrants, I thought it would be fun to drink the Kool-Aid, so to speak, and have some Dewar’s.

So I looked through Vermeire for a new scotch cocktail and found the Thistle (pictured above). Vermeire calls for 1/6 gill of Italian vermouth, 2/6 gills of scotch, and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters. Although I normally translate his gills into the exact number of ounces (1 gill is 4 oz., so 1/6 gill is approx. 3/4 oz.), in this case, I simply used 1 part vermouth to 2 parts scotch, plus the bitters.

So, my recipe:

Thistle

  • 2 oz. Dewar’s White Label scotch
  • 1 oz. Cinzano Italian vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Lemon twist, for garnish

Technique: Fill a metal shaker with ice. Pour scotch, vermouth, and bitters over ice. Stir until shaker frosts over. Strain into chilled cocktail glasses. Add garnish.

8 thoughts on “Happy Repeal Day!

  1. It tasted like YUM!

    Seriously, though, Jimmy, I think I would say that it had lots of notes of warm spices – cinnamon, cloves that sort of thing going on. It went down real easy, that’s for sure. :)

  2. The recipe isn’t that different from the modern Manhattan, of course, which is whiskey and vermouth. This formulation has about twice as much vermouth as the Manhattan does, so this one’s a bit sweeter. And of course, with the scotch subbing in for the bourbon/rye, this is smokier.

    Basically, if you like a Manhattan, you should try this.

  3. Michael’s absolutely correct that Vermeire’s Thistle is essentially a Manhattan made with scotch but what he may have forgotten (or overlooked) is that the Scotch Manhattan has its own name, the Rob Roy. I don’t know if the Rob Roy predates the original Thistle but it does predate the Vermeire book by almost thirty years. The Rob Roy was named after the play of the same name. It opened in 1894 (http://www.esquire.com/foodanddrink/database/drinks_frame_120.html).

    I wonder if there’s a Thistle recipe in any of the cocktail books from the 1800′s. I suppose it’s possible that it was around prior to 1894. For what it’s worth, the Thistle recipe at Cocktaildb.com has the scotch to vermouth ratio at 1:1. Does the Vermeire book have a recipe for the Rob Roy? If so, what’s the scotch to vermouth ratio?

  4. Thank you, Kurt.

    “Overlooked” is right. I’ve made many Rob Roys, a couple of them with that same Dewars I used for the Thistle. So I don’t know why I didn’t think to say that it’s basically a Rob Roy with bitters. Everybody has a bad day.

    I don’t know the provenance of the Thistle, but I can answer your other question. Vermeire does indeed include a Rob Roy recipe, and it’s perhaps not what you’d expect:

    Rob Roy Cocktail.

    Fill the large bar glass half full of broken ice and add:

    2 or 3 dashes of Gum Syrup or Curaçao.
    1 or 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters.
    1/4 gill of Scotch Whisky.
    1/4 gill of French Vermouth.

    Stir up well, strain into a cocktail-glass, add a cherry, and squeeze lemon-peel on top.

    To be fair to Vermeire and to allow a better comparison of the two recipes, I’ll include here his Thistle:

    Thistle Cocktail.

    Fill the bar glass half full of broken ice and add:

    2 dashes Angostura Bitters.
    1/6 gill of Italian Vermouth.
    2/6 gill of Scotch Whisky.

    Stir up well, strain into a cocktail-glass, and squeeze lemon-peel on top.

    This cocktail is also called a “York Cocktail.”

    (That last comment about the York is Vermeire’s.)

  5. Michael, if a simple oversight makes for a “bad day” you lead a charmed life. :)

    How weird that Vermeire seems to have mixed up the Rob Roy and the Thistle. I don’t know enough to be 100% sure that the Thistle is more commonly made up of equal parts scotch and vermouth but that’s the recipe at Cocktaildb.com. I’d have to guess, though, that Vermeire’s 1:1 Rob Roy is one of the very few, if not the only one, with that ratio of scotch to vermouth. I’ve seen 3:2 Rob Roys but I’d say that most every other Rob Roy recipe I’ve seen before today was 2:1.

    I guess that’s part of the “fun” of old cocktail books. I just picked up a copy of The Art of Mixing Drinks, a paperback version of the Esquire Drinks Books (’50s ed.). I’ve been amazed to see some of the non-standard recipes for standard, well-established cocktails. Off the top of my head, the worst offender was the Sazerac recipe. I don’t remember the details but it sure as hell wasn’t a Sazerac. What’s worse is that the drink listed just prior, the Saz, was, in fact, the standard Sazerac recipe. No wonder some of us stick to beer when we go out.

  6. Kurt,

    Yeah, unless I’m in a bar that’s known for its cocktails, I normally play it safe. Even in bars that are known for cocktails, I still sometimes get the vermouth-atomizer when I order a martini. Hey, if I’d have wanted ice-cold gin, I’d have asked for it! (Campbell Apartment, I’m looking at you, dammit.)

    I was at one of the Museum of the American Cocktail events back in the spring, and both Dale DeGroff and David Wondrich noted that when they look at the classic cocktail books, they frequently have to adjust the proportions to the modern palate. The older recipes are usually too sweet, they said.

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