The world’s spirits are like any one of us. They’ve each got their likes and dislikes, and their friends and enemies. Some of them are solitary sorts, not much given to mixing with their peers. Chinese baijiu might be a fascinating and heady spirit when sipped in little (but frequently refilled) thimble-cups alongside double-sautéed pork or salt-baked squid, but just try fixing cocktails with it. (It even makes a lousy Old Fashioned, and nothing makes a lousy Old Fashioned.)
Others are utterly, unashamedly promiscuous. That vodka? It’ll mix with anything; it’s the Vince Vaughn of spirits.
Like the rest of us, though, most varieties of hooch fall somewhere in between. Rye loves sweet vermouth, will mix with brandy if it has to, and doesn’t get along at all with dry vermouth. Scotch tolerates sweet vermouth, has a secret affection for all things orange, and — well, that’s about it.
Rum and lime enjoy true, undying love, never to be parted, but rum plays around on the side with brandy, bringing a wild funkiness to that spirit’s smoothness. At the same time, lime has a little thing going on with tequila, which in turn engages in a torrid fling with the sweet lushness that is crème de cassis. It’s that kind of world. As the Booze Pours.
Among the strangest relationships is the interspecies ménage à trois pursued by gin, lemon juice, and egg white. Here you have gin, a lean, odoriferous sort of liquor with a long and sometimes distinguished pedigree — and yet, it’s an easy, casual mixer. Over here you have the egg white, soft, yielding, even slippery, with only one thing on its mind: a desire to be soundly whipped.
And lemon juice — well, everybody knows how much lemon juice likes the sauce, and it’s been cohabitating with egg whites since at least 1862, when Jerry Thomas suggested that "lemonade will be much improved by having the white of an egg beaten up with it." Combine all three and you have something greater than the sum of its parts: the gin loses its tough, bitter edge, the lemon juice gets brighter and more fragrant, and the egg white takes on an unexpected light, frothy opacity.
The first actual drink to make full use of this raffish trio was the Silver Fizz, an early variation on the Gin Fizz. The Silver Fizz pops up in New York (and, soon after, everywhere else) in the early 1880s, a scant half-decade after we first see the plain version appear. "A body of creamy liquid topped by about an inch of frothy foam," as the Chicago Tribune described it in 1883, this "very tempting" quick refresher rapidly gained a reputation, in an age before Alka-Seltzer, as the morning stomach-settler par excellence.
Add a splash of cream and a couple drops of orange flower water and shake it until all the ice has melted, as Henry C. "Carl" Ramos would start doing at his
New Orleans bar in 1887, and you have something so delectable as to invite comparisons to Mediterranean sunsets, mountain meadows, and poems of old. His Ramos Gin Fizz is still a popular cocktail on menus around the country.
Some 40 years later, Harry Craddock, at the Savoy Hotel in London, would substitute Cointreau for the sugar in the Silver Fizz and take the combination in a slightly different direction with his White Lady, perhaps the greatest of all Art-Deco cocktails.
However odd, any relationship this fertile has to be a good one.
David Wondrich is the author of Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl and Esquire magazine’s drinks correspondent. He is also a Liquor.com advisory board member.
This story was originally published at Cocktail Matchmaking. For more stories like this join Liquor.com and drink better. Plus, for a limited time get How to Cocktail in 2013, a cocktail recipe book — free! Join now.