A Cooling Cocktail for 4th of July – Bittered Gin Sling

Happy 4th of July!  Happy Birthday America!  Ridiculously hot here today in Chicago so Cheryl and I have been doing the most American of things today: taking advantage of central air conditioning and watching the Tour de France and Wimbledon from our couch.  We’ve got a picnic to attend later when it’ll hopefully be cooler, so while waiting I thought I’d have a cocktail.  Looking into my copy of Eric Felten’s “How’s Your Drink?” for inspiration I found the Bittered Gin Sling.  Apparently, slings were a popular drink in the beginning days of our republic.  If Bittered Gin Slings were good enough for early Americans then it’s good enough for my Independence Day cocktail!

The Bittered Gin Sling is the first cocktail Felten offers in the book.  He begins by telling about the earliest occurrence of “cock-tail” found in a local newspaper from Hudson, NY (not far from where I grew up in the beautiful Mid-Hudson Valley) where the editor, Harry Croswell, used the word while attacking Jeffersonians for plying locals with booze in an attempt to garner votes.  Nice to know the press/media hasn’t changed much in regards to mud-slinging since the birth of the nation.

Side Roam: I love this stuff.  Croswell was a Federalist, Alexander Hamilton’s party, and so, was anti-Jefferson. He is the Croswell at the center of People v. Croswell, an early case of US defamation law (Jefferson decided to prosecute some journalists) where he was defended by Hamilton, Jefferson’s nemesis.  Fitting since Croswell got the information he printed from Hamilton’s newspaper.  Of the Founding Fathers, Hamilton is probably my favorite for various reasons, not least of which is he was New Yorker.  Click the link to learn more about this interesting bit of US history.

Back to the story.  Croswell used “cock-tail” in his accounting of the number of drinks purchased by these local Jeffersonians.  A reader wrote to inquire about the meaning of the strange word, to which the editor replied a cock-tail is “vulgarly called a bitter sling” and is a “stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.”  He also said a cock-tail is “to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because, a person having swallowed a glass of it is ready to swallow any thing else.”

So there you have it.  An early American drink, using a favorite British spirit, plied by the party of the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence to purchase votes, tabloid media, and lawsuits.  Does it get much more American than that?  On top of all that, the Bittered Gin Sling is actually a pretty good tasting cocktail.  It has a very mild gin taste, is not overly bitter, nor overly sweet.  Very quaffable, very dangerous.  Let the fireworks begin!

Bittered Gin Sling (from Eric Felten’s “How’s Your Drink?”)

  • 1 ½ oz gin
  • ¾ oz sweet vermouth or sherry
  • ½ oz lemon juice
  • ½ oz simple syrup
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Soda water

Combine all ingredients except soda water in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake.

Pour into a highball glass over ice.

Top with soda water, garnish with lemon peel (or not).

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