Words and photos by Olivia Bauso
Upstate New York has held its place in cocktail history for centuries, beginning with the term “cocktail” itself.
The definition of the word first appeared in an 1806 Hudson Valley Newspaper, when an editor described a cocktail as "a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind—sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called a bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head."
While there is still speculation over the etymology of the word and the origins of some historic cocktails, New York State can proudly claim itself the home to a number of drink-related milestones, including the creation of the Mamie Taylor.
Food and beverage writer Don Cazentre shares his research on the Mamie Taylor and other Upstate-connected cocktails in his book Spirits and Cocktails of Upstate New York: A History. He explains, "A lot of cocktail stories are pretty vague. You don’t really know where they came from, but the Mamie Taylor has a stronger history than others."
While vacationing on Ontario Beach in Irondequoit, Broadway actress and opera singer Mamie Taylor requested a "long, cool drink" to await her return from sailing. Obliging in the task, a bartender on shore put together something in highball fashion: a spirit with a sparkling mixer served in a tall glass with ice. The drink, to Miss Taylor's liking, was long, but not strong, with flavor softened by a lemon peel.
Much like Carrie Bradshaw and the Cosmopolitan, the Mamie Taylor soon became the celebrity-endorsed drink of its day. It spread nationwide over the course of a few years, but unfortunately dissipated from bar menus just as quickly. Don says, "It was sort of the prototype for all the Moscow mule/highball drinks we know now. So even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve probably tasted its ancestors."
While all the drinks mentioned Don's book have historical merit, some are more legend than fact. He says, “Among the historic drinks that I’ve cataloged, there’s more substantiation to the Mamie Taylor than anything else I’ve researched. It’s really one of my favorite drinks in the book because of that."
Don Cazentre will guide attendees through a history of forgotten, vintage cocktails like the Mamie Taylor in his seminar, "History of Upstate New York Cocktails" on Saturday, May 5th at 1 p.m. in the Metropolitan, part of Rochester Cocktail Revival's Spirit Tasting Spectacular.
Try the Mamie Taylor at home! You'll need:
Fill an 8-ounce highball glass with ice. Pour Scotch and lemon or lime juice, then fill with ginger ale or ginger beer. Stir with long bar spoon and garnish with lemon or lime peel.
The Rochester Cocktail Revival runs May 1-6, 2018 with multiple events each day. For a full list of events and host bars, visit their website, and follow them on Instagram to keep up with the fun. All events are 21+ and require valid ID.