Upstate New York’s storied cocktail past
Spirits & Cocktails of Upstate New York
According to Don Cazentre in his new book Spirits & Cocktails of Upstate New York (Arcadia Publishing 2017, $21.99), “The first recorded definition of the word cocktail was printed” not all that far from here by the editor of a newspaper in Hudson, New York, in May of 1806. A reader had asked what a “cock tail” was after seeing the word in print a week prior, and the editor answered: “…a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” (So, basically, an old fashioned.)
Our neighbors to the west would disagree, however. Residents of Lewiston, Niagara County, “contend that their town is the place where, for the first time, a tavern keeper placed a rooster’s feather in a drink and called it a ‘cock tail’,” writes Cazentre.
James Fenimore Cooper joins the fray at one point, and things get pretty cloudy as to the exact origins of the word. Clearly, however, it was around here someplace.
Spirits & Cocktails takes off there and dives deep into boozy history for a fun and educating read. Local stories of note include the rise of whiskey over rum as westbound settlers started distilling for themselves with local grains rather than splurge on rum from imported molasses; Rochester’s own Fee Brothers’ more than 100-year progression from importer to retailer to winemaker to its present iteration, producer of bitters; and how Bill Young, Rochester-area ad agency guy who died at eighty-one in 2016, famously popularized the Harvey Wallbanger (vodka, orange juice, and Galliano) in the late ’60s, earning himself a royalty on the sweet liqueur imported to the States thereafter.
Mixed in with the history are fascinating modern-day accounts of regional distillers succeeding today and, of course, myriad recipes: old and new, familiar and bizarre. Our favorite, of course, is the 585 Cocktail from Black Button Distilling.
Packs of fifteens recipe cards are sold separately at $7.