What does “split jigger” mean?

Traditionally, in pre-prohibition American mixology, the term “jigger” in drink recipes referred to 2 0z.

Most drink recipes back then contained no more than a jigger, or 2 oz. of liquor. So if you were creating a drink that had more than one liquor in it, you would be dividing or “splitting” the contents of the jigger between those liquors.

Thus, “split jigger” implies combining more than one liquor in a drink. It is essentially a synonym for mixology.

Where does the term “jigger” come from?

jiggerMany early mixology books measure the liquor in their drink recipes by calling for a “glass” or a “wine-glass.” This was meant to refer to the 2 oz. sherry glass that was common in the day. At some point, a metal version of this 2 oz. glass was created and attached to a metal version of the smaller liqueur glass called a “pony.” This contraption was called a jigger. And in most recipes, mixologists would call for a pour of the full 2 oz. standard amount contained in a drink by simply referring to the larger side of the contraption as the “jigger” amount.

Where does “The Old Fashioned” come from

I’m going to attempt to explain this directly.

“THE Old Fashioned” is historically the wrong name for the drink.

To wit:

  • For a long time, many people drank distilled alcohol with sugar and water (and/or ice), and often something like nutmeg grated on top. It was commonly called a “sling.”
  • Sometime (likely toward the end of the 18th Century, some people in America started adding bitters to the sling.
  • Some people called this new drink a “bittered sling,” but this drink became popular and quickly took on the name of “cocktail.” (See here for more on the history of the name.)
  • This drink could be made with different types of spirits. You could make a whiskey cocktail, a gin cocktail, a rum cocktail, a brandy cocktail, etc. It often featured a piece of lemon “zest” misted on top of the drink and placed in the drink.
  • Early on, this drink was typically made with a large chunk of ice sitting in the drink because ice was delivered in large blocks and smaller pieces had to be chopped off. So one relatively large chunk did the trick.
  • But once ice machines became available, the drink was made by stirring the contents — liquor, sugar, bitters — with ice and then straining it into a stemmed glass and serving it “up.”
  • This new method of making such a drink was still called a whiskey cocktail, or a gin cocktail, or a rum cocktail, or a brandy cocktail, etc.
  • But some bar customers wanted their cocktails still to be made the “old-fashioned” way.
  • So they would ask for an “old-fashioned whiskey cocktail,” or an “old-fashioned gin cocktail,” or an “old-fashioned rum cocktail,” or an “old-fashioned brandy cocktail.”
  • The drink most craft bar-tenders make today as “The Old Fashioned” (whiskey, sugar, bitters with a large ice cube) is really just an “old-fashioned whiskey cocktail.”
  • If a bar-tender today substituted another spirit for whiskey, most would probably call it a “Rum Old Fashioned,” or “Gin Old Fashioned,” or “Brandy Old Fashioned,” etc., but those drinks should be properly called an “old-fashioned rum cocktail,” or an “old-fashioned gin cocktail,” or an “old-fashioned brandy cocktail.”
  • During the “Dark Ages of Drinking” (roughly 1920-2005) many people made what they called “The Old Fashioned” by muddling a cherry and an orange peel at the bottom of the original whiskey cocktail.  Today it’s frequently called “The Muddled Old Fashioned” to distinguish it from the original version of the drink, but it’s still a bad name, and an inferior version of the drink.

For more on the history of The Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail, read this post at the Elemental Mixology blog.

In praise of Elemental Mixology and Andrew Willett

Any master craftsman needs a mentor. While I do not (yet) consider myself a master craftsman in the art of mixology, I have made many strides and do aspire to true excellence.

In this pursuit of amazing drinks, I have found one authority on drinking history and mixology technique that stands above all else: Andrew Willett and his Elemental Mixology school of drink making and history.

Before I sing his praises, let me direct to some of his resources if you want to check them out for yourself:

  1. His blog: Elemental Mixology (Read it.)
  2. His book: Elemental Mixology (Buy it.)
  3. His classes in Portland, OR: Elemental Mixology (Take them. Out of 33 reviews on yelp, all 33 are 5 stars.)

As he points out in the introduction to his American Mixology Quiz, nearly any bartender in the world would learn plenty in his classroom. I’d argue that if you took one of his mixing courses twice, you’d still learn a ton the second time.

Andrew Willett truly is a mixology savant. While many great bars, restaurants and “cocktail” gurus are studying and creating the reinvigorated art of drink making, and now many are publishing books about their work, I’ve seen nobody create such an exhaustively researched and analyzed system for understanding the history, science and art of drink making in such a level of detail and scholarship as Andrew Willett and Elemental Mixology. As I’ve seen another student write, his book and system is “akin to Escoffier for drinkers.” The depth of knowledge and understanding that is available from him in an Elemental Mixology course is mind blowing.

Furthermore, Andrew Willett is an incredible master at teaching the art and craft of mixology. He is not just about history. His teaching is obsessed with the proper tools, ingredients and techniques that make truly amazing mixed drinks possible.

Finally, his system – and the book he’s written to attempt to capture it – provide systematized approach to understanding the universe of cocktails, and impart one with a tremendous ability to be inventive with confidence rather than simply stumbling through trial-and-error to create new drinks. His approach allows one to understand mixology beyond just memorizing recipes and begin to understand the world of mixed drinks at a deeper, more “elemental” level.

You may not have heard of Andrew Willett before, and you may have heard of people like David Wondrich, or Ted Haigh, or Dale Degroff, or others. But I submit that none of them can compare with the depth and breadth of knowledge of Andrew Willett.

Recognizing that only some mixed drinks are “cocktails” is really important

America has for the past 10 years been emerging from the “Dark Ages” of drinking by turning toward the methods of the past. However, there’s still one central idea that keeps many leaders of the so-called “Cocktail Renaissance” from becoming truly enlightened tipplers.

19th century drinker #1For nearly 85 years, from the onset of Prohibition until about 10 years ago, Americans’ mixed drink habits were downright barbaric, particularly when compared with centuries of pre-Prohibition drinking traditions.  The drinks of these “Dark Ages” were mostly bad recipes, poorly made with inferior ingredients. They were terrible drinks like the Harvey Wallbanger, the Tequila Sunrise, or the Adios “MF.”

But something happened with mixed drinks just as it has with craft beer. Americans stopped drinking crap.

Bars stopped using sweet and sour mix, or Rose’s Lime Juice, and started using freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice. Drinkers started demanding better quality spirits in their drinks. Dedicated bar-tenders stopped free pouring and started using jiggers to actually measure these (much better) ingredients in drinks. Bar tools got better and so did (thankfully) the ice used in making high-quality mixed drinks.

But none of these things were new ideas. They were old ingredients and old tools. They were the old ways. It’s just that the old ways stopped being used once the Volstead Act was passed and for 14 years drinking went underground, all the good bar-tenders got other jobs, and good ingredients were nowhere to be found. For some reason, it took 85 years to get back to the old ways.

"Modern American Drinks," by George Kaeppler

Aiding this renaissance has been an interest among bar-tenders and drinkers alike in tasting the old drink recipes, and in dusting off old books of drink recipes written more than a 100 years ago from names that are now becoming well-known (at least in obsessive, historical drinking circles) like Jerry Thomas, George Kaeppler and William Boothby.

Yes, it seems that when it comes to the current state of mixed drinks in America, everything old is new again.

Well, that is … except for … One. Big. Thing.

The word “cocktail” is NOT a synonym for “mixed drinks.” Or, at least it wasn’t before Prohibition. And this is actually really important.

“Cocktail,” the word, has a great history. It’s use in alcoholic drinking has its own interesting history. And most importantly, in the drinking world it was originally used — and used for more than 100 years to refer only to certain types of mixed drinks — specifically, for those drinks containing four ingredients: alcohol, water, sugar (or other sweetener), and bitters. It was a new type of drink that came into fashion likely sometime in the latter part of the 18th Century. It was an American invention.

Understanding this history, and how cocktails as a “category” developed over time is key to understanding American bar traditions and methods. Yet so many leaders of the mixed drink historical revival over the past 10 years have continued to perpetuate the misuse of the word “cocktail” as a synonym for all mixed drinks, because they are either oblivious to the true meaning of the word, or they ignore this fact.

Yet turning a blind eye to the true meaning of the word “cocktail” is to turn a blind eye on an important part of American and world drinking history, and makes it impossible to obtain a true understanding of historical drink-making methods that can help make someone a better bar-tender.

Misusing the word “cocktail” to mean all mixed drinks screams ignorance of “cocktail history.”

Yet we have a Museum of the American Cocktail, a national convention called Tales of the Cocktail, a pioneering revivalist nicknamed King Cocktail, a revivalist author nicknamed Dr. Cocktail, and countless numbers of alcohol industry writers misusing (some willfully) the word “cocktail.”

This kind of perpetuated ignorance could be understandable 10 years ago when the renaissance in American drinking was nascent. But by 2015, it just smacks of laziness or denial.

No one should consider themselves a true historian of American drinking or bar history if he or she continues to misuse the word “cocktail.”