In a previous article, we looked at what defines a Perfect Cocktail. This article examines the Improved Cocktail along with its history and variations.
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Just like in the Perfect Cocktail, and the use of the word “Fancy”, the Improved Cocktail is not merely an adjective. Its history goes as far back as the 1800s. In Jerry Thomas Bartenders Guide 1862 Reprint: How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon Vivant’s Companion, there is no mention of improved cocktails. The closest is the “Fancy Brandy Cocktail” which calls for serving the classic brandy cocktail in a “fancy wine-glass, and a piece of lemon peel thrown on top, and the edge of the glass moistened with lemon.”
In the later edition, Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide (1887 edition), he defines the Improved Brandy Cocktail with the addition of Maraschino liqueur, absinthe and lemon rind:
Take 2 dashes Boker’s (or Angostura) Bitters
3 dashes gum syrup
2 dashes Maraschino
1 dash Absinthe
1 small piece of the yellow rind of a lemon, twisted to express the oil
1 small wine-glass of brandy
Fill glass one-third full of shaved ice, shake well, and strain into a fancy cocktail glass, put the the lemon peel in the glass and serve.
The flavor is improved by moistening the edge of the cocktail glass with a piece of lemon.
Further along, he defines the Improved Whiskey Cocktail:
Prepared in the same manner as the Improved Brandy Cocktail, by substituting Bourbon or rye whiskey for the brandy.
The Improved Gin Cocktail follows the same template, replacing the brandy with Genever or Old Tom Gin for a sweeter flavour:
Prepared in the same manner as the Improved Brandy Cocktail, by substituting Holland or Old Tom gin for the brandy.
In The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan and Chris Gall, the specs are as follows:
2 oz Rittenhouse Bonded Rye Whiskey
0.25 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
0.25 oz Simple Syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stir with ice and strain over one large cube into a chilled, Vieux Pontarlier Absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Sam Ross’ Bartender’s Choice app does away with Angostura bitters altogether:
1 dash absinthe
3 dashes Peychaud
Add ingredients to glass, add ice and stir 5 or 6 times. Garnish with a lemon.
In short, if the original cocktail definition is comprised of a spirit, sugar and bitters as in the Old Fashioned, an Improved Cocktail “improves” the recipe with the addition of Maraschino liqueur, absinthe and an expressed lemon peel dropped in the glass.