In 1842, Charles Dickens visited Boston and described how a hotel bar initiated him into “the mysteries of the Gin-sling, Cocktail, Sangaree, Mint Julep, Sherry-cobbler, Timber Doodle, and other rare drinks.”
In actual fact, the cobbler—specifically, the sherry cobbler—was one of the most popular libations of the time. Must be the drink’s sheer simplicity: it typically includes a base spirit, sugar, and fresh fruit. As you can imagine, varieties abound. Famed 19th century bartender (and wordsmith) Jerry Thomas listed cobblers made of Catawba, Hock, Claret, Sauterne, and whiskey. As the granddaddy of bartending puts it, “The cobbler does not require much skill in compounding but to make it acceptable to the eye as well as to the palate it is necessary to display some taste in ornamenting the glass after the beverage is made.” Or, to put it another way – the cobbler is a bit of a dandy. It’s not garnished – it’s ornamented. And it has additional requirements as well.
Devotees of craft cocktails are sticklers about their ice. (If you don’t believe me, read Wayne Curtis on the subject.) A cobbler requires a pebble ice to really make it sing. If you were to ask David Wondrich what makes a cobbler a cobbler – and more pointedly, what made the simply compounded cobbler so wildly popular, he would say: the straw. “The straw is key… not only was it useful, it was also something much more important. It was new.”
If you are even a little dubious about trying a Sherry Cobbler, you need to get to Boston’s Eastern Standard immediately. Though it may only be on their menu seasonally, you must ask your barkeep to whip up the Bon-Vivant, Eastern Standard’s homage to Jerry Thomas and the Sherry Cobbler. It is sublime. For those who want to mix it up with a little history, here’s Thomas’s recipe from How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon-vivant’s Companion (1862).
(Use a large bar glass)
2 wine-glasses of sherry
1 table-spoonful of sugar
2 or 3 slices of orange
Fill a tumbler with shaved ice, shake well, and ornament with berries in season.
Place a straw as represented in the woodcut. (above)
Finally, here’s one modern, more seasonally appropriate variation worth trying from Jim Meehan’s The PDT Cocktail Book.
(Created by Michael Madrusan and Jim Meehan, 2007)
2 oz. Beefeater Gin
.75 oz Lustau East India Sherry
.5 oz Cranberry Syrup
7 Macerated Cranberries (reserve 3 for garnish)
1 Orange Wheel
1 Lemon Wedge
Add the citrus, cranberries and syrup to a mixing glass and muddle.
Add everything else, then skae with ice and strainitno a chilled rocks glass filled with pebble ice.
Garnish with a mint sprig and three macerated cranberries.
For more about historic cocktails and the Bostonians who drank them, take a look at Drinking Boston: A History of the City and Its Spirits by Stephanie Schorow. Covering everything from flips and bounce served in Boston’s revolutionary taverns to the craft cocktail movement of today, readers will see how much of this city’s history has played out in Boston’s bars. Download the free complementary smartphone app to learn more about Boston’s bars, both historic and contemporary, and follow along as we test-drive these liquid artifacts. (It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it…)