I was a good kid growing up, but a lousy history student. If I’d been a bad kid — if I’d drank, I mean — I think I would’ve done much better with the history stuff.
Intellectually speaking, what I love about booze (food, too) is that it’s everything. It’s history and it’s agriculture, it’s economics (both macro and micro? I was especially shitty at Econ), culture and style, a science and, some of us even like to believe, an art. If I’d been remotely interested in a subject like cocktails as a teenager (rum and diet Coke not included), it could’ve been my entry into giving a shit about the subject of history.
Which brings me to Tom Bullock, St. Louis bartender of yesteryear and creator of the All Right Cocktail.
I first heard about Bullock through bartending at The Royale, where one of his cocktails was included on the original menu. He’d been a local mixer of some renown and had published his own recipe book sometime before Prohibition, was all I knew — well, that, and the fact that the libation in question, which he’d judiciously christened the All Right Cocktail, made for a fabulous study in simple sophistication: A concoction of three elemental ingredients that gave a nod to other bourbon-based beauts like the Sazerac and the Old-Fashioned while fashioning itself into something distinct and new; a sipper that could take the edge off a summer swelter and warm the belly in the depths of winter; and a cocktail I’d never received anything but grateful compliments on whenever I served it.
I’ve since plumbed for more info on Bullock, and he’s fast become my onion. Bullock, born in Louisville a few years after the Civil War, is widely considered the first African-American ever — or still — to author a book of cocktail recipes. The Ideal Bartender was released in 1917; in 2001, it was reissued under a different author (D.J. Frienz) and a new title, 173 Pre-Prohibition Cocktails: Potations [Ed. note: Great word!] So Good They Scandalized A President. The subtitle refers to a brouhaha that erupted when Teddy Roosevelt claimed he’d only partaken twice in his life, both less than a full serving, one of them a julep prepared by Bullock — an impossible feat, declared the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an editorial, as “who was ever known to drink just a part of one of Tom’s?”
Bullock did the lion’s share of his tending (including during Prohibition, it seems) at the St. Louis Country Club, where one of his most vocal adherents was George Herbert Walker, grandfather of George H. W. Bush and great-grandpaps to Dubya.
Walker penned the introduction to The Ideal Bartender. As Walker so wrote, I likewise encourage you to “follow on, and as you sip the nectar of his schemings tell your friends, to the ends that both they and he may be benefitted.” The book is public domain, which means you can read the whole thing for free here, or listen to a free recording of it here. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test later.
The All Right Cocktail
(Adapted from The Ideal Bartender by Tom Bullock)
2 ounces Old Overholt Rye Whiskey
3/4 ounce Cointreau
2 or 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Mix briskly for a few seconds and strain into highball. Serve with a side highball furnished with a cube of ice.
The Royale’s take on the All Right called for bourbon, not rye. I am assuming this is because, when we first opened in 2005, like most cocktail bars we still hadn’t become hip to rye and therefore didn’t have any. We used Maker’s. You’ll of course have a sweeter All Right if you opt for this.
I chose Old Overholt over Jim Beam Rye because I consider the former to have a scratchier taste to it, which kinda gives the Cointreau something to play against.
Oh, also, Bullock’s recipe calls for orange (but not also blue) curacao. Does anyone really use this anymore? (Not necessarily a rhetorical question.) In any case, Cointreau if you’re fancy, rail triple sec if you’re not, either should do you just fine.
Lastly, Bullock doesn’t call for the side glass of ice, I just think it makes for a nice way to present and explore the cocktail, like how certain enthusiasts like to make their way through a dram of Scotch adding a bit of water at a time. During the summer, of course, you might do a full-on rocks, while I’d forgo it in the winter. In fact, in the winter, I might even forgo the ice in the mixing glass.