2 ounces rye
One sugar cube (scented with cardamom - see below)
The earliest mention of a cocktail as an alcoholic drink - not as a horse - is found in the May 13, 1806, edition of The Balance and Columbian Repository, in which an answer was provided to the question, "What is a cocktail?" Editor Harry Croswell replied:
"A cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling..." (Thanks, Wikipedia!)
Of course, life is terrible. And the stories we tell each other – like Ten Thousand Things Theater Company's current production of Forget Me Not When Far Away by Kira Obolensky - these are the bitter slings we use to support our damaged parts and hold them close.
As you might expect, I'm pretty tired from trying to make that analogy. I think I'll make myself a drink. And I'll make it close to what the first cocktail would have been.
"But why, Johnny Midtown, why does a new play make you think of an old drink?"
Well, let me tell you. Forget Me Not... is a new play, but playwright Kira Obolensky has drawn on some very old sources to create it. She uses characters and themes that we find in folk tales – the sort of stories that we've told each other for 30,000 years or more. Old soldiers trying to find their way home, mothers and sons, lost love, hungry wolves in the forest - that sort of stuff.
The Past is Important
First, I want you to start a week ago. That's when you're going to buy a pack of sugar cubes and put them in a glass jar with 30 cardamom pods. Now, one week later, the sugar is gently scented with the lovely smell of cardamom. Aren't you glad you did that? You can take a handful of these cubes, crush them and sprinkle them on a rhubarb tart before you bake it. That's why I made them in the first place and I've used them that way. Once. I've used them in cocktails a lot more.
Next, put your sugar cube (unscented, if you are foolish and lazy) in the bottom of a glass. Hit it with a few drops of bitters and add an orange slice. Muddle. I just use the fat end of a chopstick and give it a good mush, mush, mush. Now add the rye (or brandy, or bourbon, but really, use rye). Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add ice to fill the glass. The ice provides the water from Mr. Croswell's original recipe. Stir until the drink is thoroughly chilled.
Sip. Enjoy the taste of the world's oldest cocktail.
You might think it looks a lot like an Old Fashioned. And you're right. The people who make cocktails being an innovative and attractive folk, by 1880 or so, those first cocktails had been transformed into a variety of sweeter, brighter, fruitier concoctions, causing some cranky old fart to demand a drink made the old fashioned way and the Old Fashioned was born.
And here's another thing.
There are lots of old fashioneds in the world - go into any bar in Wisconsin and someone will be drinking a brandy old fashioned sweet - but a well-made cocktail like the one you just created is a rare and beautiful thing. So too, there are lots of plays in the world, but a play written by a resident playwright for a specific company, and when that playwright writes with the intelligence, warmth and humor of Kira Obolensky, well, that's a rare and beautiful thing, too, and it should be savored.