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Tiki Central Forums Tiki Drinks and Food The Knickerbocker - a Primordial Mai Tai?
The Knickerbocker - a Primordial Mai Tai?
Tiki Centralite

Joined: Aug 10, 2006
Posts: 91
From: Haunted Hudson Valley
Posted: 2008-02-19 4:19 pm   Permalink

This topic is for cocktail nerds like me.

If you're a cocktail historian and keep up on even the most casual level with the chatter on cocktail blogs, you know all about Professor Jerry Thomas and his pioneering manual of mixed drinks, first published in 1862. In his recent book _Imbibe_, David Wondrich takes us through the life of Jerry Thomas, and road-tests and analyzes many of the drink recipes contained in Thomas' canon. One of these drinks is the Knickerbocker.

According to Wondrich, the Knickerbocker makes its first appearance in published lists of drinks in the 1850's and is mentioned for the last time in the early 1880's, and then in the context of excellent but old-timey cocktails of yore. In other words, I'm not suggesting that there is even the remotest chance that Trader Vic [or Don the Beachcomber, for that matter -- see _Sippin' Safari_ and the QB Cooler] ever ordered a Knickerbocker or watched a bartender make one.

But when you look at this recipe, there are some amazing similarities.

As Wondrich says, "Think 1850's Mai Tai -- similar drink, different island."

The Knickerbocker

1/2 ounce freshly-squeezed lime juice

2 teaspoons raspberry syrup

2 ounces Santa Cruz rum [Defunct ingredient - Wondrich substitutes Cruzan Estate Diamond or Mount Gay Eclipse but there is no way to tell how this rum really tasted]

2 tsp. orange curacao

Shake with shaved ice; pour into a rocks glass, add more ice if needed, garnish with an orange slice and berries.


Take out the raspberry -- a standard sweetener for cocktails back then -- and substitute orgeat syrup instead, and whaddaya got? OK, not a Mai Tai exactly, but pretty close.

I've made this drink at home to good effect and I've had one shaken up for me down at the Flatiron Lounge, a cocktailian destination if there ever was one. And get this -- if you admire one of their drinks they print out the recipe for you!

I attended David Wondrich's seminar on Jerry Thomas and vintage cocktails down at the Astor Center in NYC and it was a lot of fun. They held it in a beautiful, sleek test kitchen with closed-circuit TVs overhead, and we all got full portions of the cocktails he made, in real glasses. It was more than worth the cost of admission and I'm looking forward to their upcoming weekend of cocktail education in March.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 20, 2007
Posts: 339
From: santa rosa, calif.
Posted: 2008-02-20 08:07 am   Permalink

Thanks for the report. What an experience to go to that seminar. I'll give this one a try tonight. First, I'll have to make some raspberry syrup. Any advice on the syrup?

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jun 13, 2006
Posts: 1434
From: San Diego
Posted: 2008-02-20 09:05 am   Permalink

Interesting theory regarding Knickerbocker/Mai Tai.

For a similar drink, try another from Jerry Thomas' arsenal, the White Lion:

Take 1 tea-spoonful of pulverized white sugar.
1/2 a lime (squeeze out juice and put rind in glass).
1 wine-glass Santa Cruz rum.
1 tea-spoonful of Curacoa. (Orange Curacao)
1 tea-spoonful of Raspberry Syrup.
Fill the glass half-full of shaved ice, shake up well and strain into a cocktail glass.

"I am Lono!" -- Hunter S. Thompson

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