There can’t be many other books from the past century that have brought people as much joy and laughter — and headaches, too — as The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock.
Take the legendary bartender’s famous invention, the Corpse Reviver No. 2. Composed of equal parts lemon juice, Kina Lillet (a French liqueur sadly no longer made), Cointreau and dry gin, topped with a dash of absinthe, the bright-green potion was designed to be consumed first thing in the morning in order to get the juices flowing.
The author recommends drinking four in quick succession for the ultimate effect.
Craddock first published his compendium of 750 ‘cocktails, rickeys, daisies, slings, shrubs, smashes, fizzes, juleps, cobblers, fixes and other drinks’ in 1930, after rising to the role of head bartender of the American Bar at The Savoy hotel in London.
In the 91 years since it first appeared, The Savoy Cocktail Book has never been out of print.
Craddock — born in Stroud in England in 1875 — had perfected his craft at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York, but returned to his native country in 1920 after the introduction of Prohibition in the US made his profession obsolete.
‘Nobody in London really knew what a cocktail was at the time,’ explains Christie’s Books and Manuscripts specialist Julian Wilson. ‘But then along came the Roaring Twenties and jazz and Art Deco, and Craddock’s new American-style cocktails at The Savoy captured the spirit of all that.’
Between the recipes Craddock filled his pages with ‘sundry notes of amusement’, such as how to most appropriately ask for a glass of port, whether at the local pub or a royal residence, and witty verse that celebrates the pleasures of alcohol.
The book also includes boldly coloured Modernist cartoons of flapper girls and speeding automobiles by the illustrator Gilbert Rumbold.
This copy of The Savoy Cocktail Book is from a rare limited edition, numbered 52 from a special print run of probably just 100.
Inside, Craddock has penned a message to the recipient John Probert, stating that he hopes ‘he will derive pleasure in reading and drinking’ the gift.
The exterior of the book — covered with a limited-edition red and green binding — bears a single ring-mark from the base of a martini glass. ‘Surely, this is the only book where such a defect increases its charm,’ suggests Wilson.
In the above short film Shannon Tebay, the first American to be head bartender at the American Bar — the oldest surviving cocktail bar in Britain — mixes up one of her favourite drinks from the book, the Thistle. One of Craddock’s many inventions — the most famous of which perhaps is the White Lady — it contains Italian vermouth, blended Scotch whisky and Angostura bitters.
‘The Thistle cocktail is very easy to make,’ explains Tebay. ‘Anyone at home can do this if you just have a few key ingredients and a couple of very basic tools.’
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Tebay adds words of wisdom imparted by her predecessor: ‘Shake the shaker as hard as you can. You are trying to wake it up, not send it to sleep!’
But once the cocktail has been poured into its chilled glass, what then is the best way to drink it? According to Craddock’s legendary handbook, the answer is, ‘Quickly, while it’s laughing at you!’