Danger! Cocktail Geekery Ahead!
Received an email with the following question:
“I was reading the SAVOY Book while looking for a recipe, and found that Harry C. was not much intrigued for the use of Bitters, there aren’t many recipes with them in the cocktails. What you think about it?”
As this is a pretty common question, I thought I’d post my answer.
One of the things that has interested me is figuring out which cocktails were actual Savoy/Craddock cocktails and which were included from other books.
One person I know has described “The Savoy Cocktail Book” as the first example of cocktail recipe “shovelware”. That is to say, The Savoy Cocktail Book collected the recipes from a number of pre-prohibition cocktail books and included them verbatim without crediting the authors.
That we know of so far the big sources for recipes for the Savoy Cocktail Book were:
Drinks, by Hugo Ensslin
ABC of Cocktails, by Harry McElhone
Cocktails: How to Mix Them, by Robert Vermeire
Here’s How, by Judge Jr.
He also nominally cribbed from Jerry Thomas and/or Harry Johnson.
To be honest, I imagine Harry Craddock’s involvement with the “Savoy Cocktail Book” as showing up at the editor’s office with a big stack of books and recipes. I really think that is about it. Unless he enjoyed referring to himself in the third person and quoting himself, he didn’t write the introduction or the conclusion. One of the wine sections was by Colette. I’ve no idea who wrote the other parts or comments to various recipes. It’s a bit of a mystery, but I suspect it wasn’t Craddock.
The first thing we discover from comparing the source material with the Savoy Cocktail Book is that Craddock, or his editors, were not a particularly careful transcribers of others’ recipes or methods. Whether this is due to the fact that some recipes were transferred verbally or they just did a bad job of transcribing and proof reading the book, I do not know. It is certainly not beyond the pale that bitters were just left out of a number of recipes.
Another odd thing about the Savoy Cocktail Book is that it calls just about every drink a “Cocktail” whether it includes bitters or not.
In most pre-prohibition cocktail books, no one would have called a drink which didn’t include bitters a “Cocktail”. In fact, many drinks which did include bitters weren’t even cocktails. Crustas, for example.
By the time of the Savoy Cocktail Book, it seems like the word “Cocktail” had become more or less synonymous with almost any alcoholic drink that wasn’t wine or beer. Basically anything alcoholic that was shaken with ice and served was a cocktail, according to the “Savoy Cocktai Book”.
Anyway, of the drinks that we know or suspect are Craddock’s, you’re right, few include bitters. Leap Year, Corpse Reviver No. 2, Kick in the Pants…
One thing to remember, though, is that many of the aperitifs, Kina Lillet for example, may have been more bitter at that time than their current incarnations. Others commonly used, like Hercules and Caperitif, may also have been somewhat bitter.
So to make a proper version of a Savoy cocktail with Kina Lillet, if you’re using modern Lillet Blanc, it isn’t an awful idea to include a dash of orange bitters, a dash of angostura bitters, and a dash of simple syrup in the cocktail.
Hope this helps!