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The Flowing Bowl and Other Vintage Cocktail Books

Four exceptional reprints that showcase how we used to imbibe

by David Graver in Food + Drink on 31 July 2014

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Currently, there is a classic cocktail revival occurring; bartenders are once again revered as artists and flavors become the palette for one's palate. But what are these classic cocktails being revived? Where do their roots begin? How did those before us knock them back? Turns out, there are a few books out there with the answers. Between 1862 and the 1930s, the world looked to several select guides for cocktail-making and etiquette of the times. Some are recipe books, while others contextualize cocktails within a deeper history and, for those looking to find out where punch originated or how whiskey built up its reputation, the following four options are intriguing—and what readers will find within is still worth a sip today.

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The Flowing Bowl: What and When To Drink

Originally penned in 1891, by an author who refers to himself as The Only William (actually William Schmidt), "The Flowing Bowl: What and When to Drink" promises full instructions on how to prepare, mix and serve beverages. And yet, it delivers that and more. Within the pages—which were digitized from an original—not only will readers find the histories of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and even water, but how they are (and should be) used. A deep ethnography that is both interesting and deeply entertaining.

To this day, Schmidt's wit shines through. The book contains sample menus and concludes with plentiful and diverse mixed drinks. While readers may have heard of a Tom Collins, not everybody will be familiar with the egg, cream, vermouth, anisette and benedictine-based Bunch of Violets. If you're having a large party, perhaps try the suggested Champagne Bowl—one pound of lump sugar, two bottles of Moselle wine, one bottle of Burgundy and two bottles of champagne, all mixed together. "The Flowing Bowl" reprint is available on Amazon for just $12, but a very rare original will fetch thousands.

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Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide: How to Mix Drinks or The Bon-Vivant's Companion

Predating Schmidt's work, "Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide: How To Mix Drinks" debuted in 1862. Today's reprint is also a facsimile edition, meaning the formatting is charming and old world. Within these pages there are over 600 valuable recipes developed by Christian Schultz and NYC's Metropolitan Hotel principal bartender Jerry Thomas—but not just for cocktails, there's also guidance on the distillation apparatus and the process of making liquors, cordials, syrups and more. Thomas didn't want any bar to be without, and the lessons within guide bartenders to making their very own spirits.

As for the cocktails, a Parisian Pousse Cafe (referred to as a celebrated Parisian drink) pairs Curaçao, Kirschwasser and Chartreuse—something of an oddity really. And yet the whiskey toddy recipe holds up today. There are many drinks within Thomas' guide that truly feel strange and, with that, inspirational. This reprint is available for purchase on Amazon for $12, while the 1887 version sells for roughly $1,400.

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The Savoy Cocktail Book

During the 1920s, the epitome of class and culture thrived within the walls of The Savoy Hotel and, during that time, they collected over 750 cocktail recipes. Although it was published in 1930, a year after the global market crash, "The Savoy Cocktail Book" memorializes the '20s gracefully, while demonstrating the depth of the craft. From 1925 forward, Harry Craddock helmed The Savoy's American Bar—and built the first location for chatting about mixed drinks. His concoctions matched the potency of dizzying jazz, and many of these recipes are still in circulation today.

Inside readers will find the Corpse Reviver, something recently revived by bartenders globally, as well as a variety of stellar martinis. Another interesting cocktail: the Harvard Cooler, which employs Calvados and lemon, and the Manhattan Cooler matching Claret and rum. This majestic compendium, in a beautifully illustrated reprint, can be purchased on "Amazon for $13. The original London edition ranges between $958 and $4,400.

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The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book

Two years after the lift of America's Prohibition, NYC's Waldorf-Astoria published their gold standard guide that's "flavored with dashes of history, mixed in a shaker of anecdote and served with a chaser of illuminative information." And that claim is true. "The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book" was compiled by the hotel's historian at the time, Albert Stevens Crockett and it contains over 500 cocktails served before Prohibition—and 100 that originated during Prohibition.

From the wonderful Wild Cherry (half Tom Gin, half Cherry Brandy and a dash of orange bitters) to a Sherry Cobbler (chilled Sherry with sugar water, and fruit), there are many gems. There's even a riveting section on "Hot-With Flames" drinks—including a Café Brûler of coffee, brandy and more. The preamble and the historical appendix also provide plenty of context for all the cocktails. The reprint sells on Amazon for $9, the original will run you $1,200.

Images by David Graver

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