Gin Fizz — Recipe and History

The Gin Fizz. What a long and sordid and delightful history. What thirsty role it played among the dandies and darlings of yesteryear.

Here is a recipe for a  Gin Fizz, as it is made in the 21st Century.  But the perusal of the popular fiction of nearly 100 years ago, also shows us how the Gin Fizz was made in the heyday of the Classic Cocktail.  These snippets of literary drinking will follow this modern recipe.

Ingredients:

3 oz Gin
1 Tbsp Superfine Sugar
3 Tbsp Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
Handful of ice cubes
Seltzer Water

Directions:

In a cocktail shaker, add gin, sugar, lemon juice, and ice — shake until well mixed.  In a glass with ice, strain in the mixture and top with seltzer water.

These directions, with some very helpful tips, were published in the Boston Globe on July 24th, 1882.

About 9 o’clock a young fellow said to his sister: “Em, If you’ll get the glasses and ice I’ll rig up a fiz.” Eight glasses and a bowl of ice were soon brought.  Em, her cousin and the young fellow rolled lemons on the table to make them juicy, squeezed the ice into the glasses, put in the ice, heaped in some sugar and added a mere drop of water.  An egg cup, twice filled with gin, was emptied in each of the eight glasses.  Five bottles of plain soda supplied the fiz–and in much less time than I can tell it sixteen lips pronounced the eight drinks “delicious.” Being a stranger, I took one in, and am free to say I liked it.  But that isn’t the point.  I was stuck with the obvious fact that this fiz was a regular evening habit.

Now for the fun part.

Cocktail culture was in full bloom at the turn of the century, and made its appearance in popular cocktail guides, such as this fantastic reference book by Tom Bullock.  The drink often played  a supporting role in popular novels of the day. For instance, the pleasures of the Gin Fizz were sung by the popular author Rex Beach, in his 1911 novel the The Ne’er-Do-Well:

It is merely a rendezvous of pickpockets and thieves, accessible only to a chosen few. I feel sure you will enjoy yourselves there, for the bartender has the secret of a remarkable gin fizz, sweeter than a maiden’s smile, more intoxicating than a kiss.

While the drink plays the seductress, it also promises a quick route to refreshment, with a dash of sophistication, in this 1907  description by George Ade in the Slim Princess:

“Do you mean to say that you never heard of a gin fizz?” asked Mr. Pike. “All the ingredients within reach, simply waiting to be introduced to each other, and you have been holding them apart. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Bring out some ice. Produce your jigger. Get busy. Hand me the tools and I’ll do this myself.”

Then, while the other two looked on in abashed admiration, Mr. Pike deftly squeezed the lemons. After vigorous shaking and patient straining stream of seltzer into each glass and finally delivered to Popova a translucent drink that was very tall and capped with foam. and splashed in allopathic portions of the crystal fluid and used ice most wastefully.

In The Avalanche, by mystery writer Gertrude Atherton, the Gin Fizz is cast as a an alluring and perhaps sinful accomplice, conjuring abandon and carefree pleaseure:

“That is rather a fast lot you
run with. I know, of course, they are F.F.C.’s, and all the rest of it,
but if I ever drove up to the Club House in Burlingame in the morning and
saw you sitting on the veranda smoking and drinking gin fizzes–”

Well, if I ever caught you sitting on the veranda smoking and drinking gin fizzes, I surely hope you’d invite me to sit down!  And with that, I’m going to see if I can find a few lemons and seltzer water . . .

– Marie Westermann