"Every civilized nation has one or more characteristic drinks"
March 3, 2015 3:39 AM   Subscribe

Odd Drinks To Be Had.
Here, from the December 26, 1893, issue of the New York Sun, is an article about the various drinking establishments of Lower Manhattan, from the Battery up to about 28th Street. Be aware, some of the ethnic attitudes expressed in this piece are very much of their time. You’ll also note peculiarities of style and spelling; those are all in the original.
posted by Lexica (20 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
"the Cockney his rum shrub, dog’s nose, and bitter."

Bitter, yep. You are what you drink and I'm a bitter man.

However the other two. The what now?

Rum shrub as suspected turns out to be a rum-based fruit drink.

Dog's nose apparently was seven ounces of gin to thirteen ounces of beer.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:08 AM on March 3, 2015

Dickens refers to shrub a few times, I think.

This is an entertaining read, although that's terrible slander about Armagnac. Maybe he had some Italian Armagnac.

Interesting that he praises Chilean wine. I've always believed it was rubbish until Miguel Torres came over in about 1979 and showed them how to do it.
posted by Segundus at 4:23 AM on March 3, 2015

Seven ounces of gin? Good god, I'm gonna guess that wasn't Hendricks or anything even remotely nice. Ick.

Probably why it was mixed with beer-- makes the ride on The Express Train To Crunk Town a little more palatable.
posted by KingEdRa at 6:09 AM on March 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

I was all prepared to be "lol ethnic stereotypes," and of course there are some of those (the past is a foreign country), but what struck me was how surprisingly well-informed it was. Here are a couple such passages:
In Whitehall street and also in the Tenderloin district may be procured pulque and mescal. These are Mexican drinks so-called, but in reality are purely Aztec. They were used by the Incas long before the times of Pizarro and Cortez. Pulque is a sourish beer made from the agave. It looks like milk and water, has a not unpleasant taste, and is about a strong as ordinary table beer. Mescal is obtained by distilling pulque, and is a fiery fluid of yellow color and a very corrosive aroma.

In a French establishment in the neighborhood of Bleecker street can be seen some wines which are grown upon the north coast of Africa. They are of very good quality, and for an experiment compare well with the older vintages of Europe. In the past twenty-five years the French Government and French capitalists have introduced viticulture into Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, and Egypt. In one or two instances it was found that the new vineyards were upon the sites of those that supplied the tables of Roman epicures 2,000 years ago. Oddest of all is one vineyard near Alexandria. It supplied red wine to the Pharoahs, the Ptolemies, to the Vandals and the Goths. The vines were destroyed, and the grapes ploughed under by the Moslems, but again today after the lapse of years they are vigorous and prolific. The greatest vineyards are in Algiers and Tunis, and the best wine so far comes from the land of Abd-el-Ka[d]er.
Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 6:22 AM on March 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I find it amusingly apt that the headline following this article about globally drinking one's way through New York is "Highway Robbery in Brooklyn."
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:47 AM on March 3, 2015

"Mescal is obtained by distilling pulque, and is a fiery fluid of yellow color and a very corrosive aroma. It produces what the cowboy calls a crazy drunk, and is said to contain more inebriety to the cubic inch than any other drink known."

Good to know that even in the nineteenth century everybody had A Tequila Story.
posted by ostro at 7:07 AM on March 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Rum shrub as suspected turns out to be a rum-based fruit drink.

Rum & Shrub is still a thing were I live in Cornwall. The story goes that back in ye olde smuggling days if the revenue were about to catch you, you would haul the barrels of rum over the side and return for them later. The salt water would get into the barrel and effect the flavour so shrub was used to cover the taste. Since this was unlikely to be true of that many barrels this is likely just a fancy. I tend to think it was favoured by people with quite a sweet tooth, it is pretty sugary, but the points made about poor quality gin above may also apply to rum I guess.

Shrub is actually sold more as a herb cordial than as a fruit cordial now.

I confess to having both a bottle of rum and a bottle of shrub at home, there was a brief fashion for it locally about 4-5 years ago.
posted by biffa at 8:13 AM on March 3, 2015

The poor showing of the Armagnac here is probably due to phylloxera having destroyed most of the vineyards and the producers turning to synthetic and compound means to keep their businesses alive. (German potato spirit--basically, potato vodka--was commonly used in such mixtures.) By the 1890s, the wine business was coming back but spirits take aging and stick around longer so its more than possible that the correspondent found some of this ersatz Armagnac still on the shelves.
posted by Splificator at 8:27 AM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Fascinating article! I did notice that after reading through it, and trying to imagine the tastes and effects of each beverage on the tour, that it probably wouldn't be a good idea for me to try to drive anywhere for a few hours.
posted by TDavis at 8:53 AM on March 3, 2015

Blood type: dog's nose.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:59 AM on March 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

That's a really interesting and slightly confounding piece. The high praise for Australian and Californian wines in 1893, for example. There's one really odd linguistic usage that puzzled me, too:
habitually use the singular hybrid patois known as jargon
Was there ever a time when "jargon" was a term used exclusively or primarily for (I presume) yiddish in New York?
posted by yoink at 9:16 AM on March 3, 2015

The high praise for Australian and Californian wines in 1893

And in fact the claim that Peruvian and Chilean wines were superior to all other New World wines!

That use of "jargon" also threw me, as well.
posted by suelac at 9:18 AM on March 3, 2015

Apparently "jargon" for Yiddish was definitely a thing.
posted by themadthinker at 9:32 AM on March 3, 2015

Apparently "jargon" for Yiddish was definitely a thing.

Oh, thanks--those are very helpful. What's interesting in this is the interchangeability of calling Yiddish "jargon" (i.e. "they spoke jargon with each other at home" say) and calling it "a jargon" ("I would maintain that Yiddish is a jargon and not a fully-formed, distinct language.")

What's clear, though, is that "jargon" was a semi-technical linguistic term meaning something like what we mean by "a creole." (And, of course, "creole" is used both as a general term and as a proper noun: "they spoke Creole" and "the language they spoke is a creole.")
posted by yoink at 9:48 AM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Shrub syrups are coming back as part of the modern cocktail renaissance. We're about to start making some as part of the cocktail program where I work.

Acidity is one of the primary building blocks of a well-structured cocktail cocktail. Citrus juice (citric acid) is one of the most common sources of acidity in cocktails, but the vinegar in a shrub is also an excellent source of acid, and can bring all sorts of fresh angles to the drink's flavor profile.

Modern mixology is digging into the past for classic ingredients. Was a time when orgeat (pronounced or-ZHAHT, like in Zsa Zsa Gabor) was an exotic ingredient that only people who'd ever read Trader Vic or Beach Bum Berry had even heard of. These days, if your bar makes anything more complicated than a Boilermaker, it's likely in the rack somewhere.

Shrubs are cool and versatile making a comeback bigtime behind the bar.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:05 AM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Apparently "jargon" for Yiddish was definitely a thing.

Yup. Though I note that "jargon" seems to have been the (derogatory) term used by those who wanted Yiddish to make way for Modern Hebrew or other languages, not the one used by people who felt it was just fine as it was.
posted by Shmuel510 at 10:18 AM on March 3, 2015

> The high praise for Australian and Californian wines in 1893

I don't know the history of Australian wine, but the thriving Californian wine industry was essentially destroyed by Prohibition and had to be reinvented pretty much from scratch decades later.
posted by languagehat at 11:11 AM on March 3, 2015

Was a time when orgeat (pronounced or-ZHAHT, like in Zsa Zsa Gabor) was an exotic ingredient that only people who'd ever read Trader Vic or Beach Bum Berry had even heard of.

Eh, I think this largely depends on your region. Orgeat wasn't really a secret in the cajun-influenced parts of the south (my parents only drank rarely, but our neighbors were always making mauresques and, I assume, their own orgeat). But yes, overall, cocktail-makers and drinkers are certainly interested in historic novelty than outright novelty these days. It's fun to see old ingredients back on the production line, too.

(Since you mention the pronunciation--and that terminal T is not pronounced (i.e. or-ZHA)--it's worth bringing up the shared etymology with horchata which is noted elsewhere).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:37 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Was not expecting "The Jews are temperant because their booze is terrible."
posted by PMdixon at 2:46 PM on March 3, 2015

As a born-&-raised New Yorker, I may not have been expecting that, but it doesn't surprise me that that's what 1893 sounded like.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:51 PM on March 3, 2015

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