Monday, September 15, 2008

MxMo XXXI: Fast Times & Hot Drinks

This month's installment of Mixology Monday is hosted by the folks over at whose rather inspired theme - Cocktails of the 19th Century - combines two of my favorite topics: classic libations and history! Hat's off to Joe & Dina for choosing such an interesting topic...

Despite a rather peculiar hot and humid turn of the weather hereabouts, the evenings have started to grow decidedly chillly, (as is right & proper for mid-September if I do say so) particularly this evening. And so, in anticipation of the many cold nights yet to come while contributing to the theme of this MxMo, I reasoned to discuss a popular hot drink of the period in question - the Whisky Skin.

The recipe for a Scotch Whiskey Skin, as well as the Columbia Skin (as it was called for in Boston) first appears in Jerry Thomas' 1862 How to Mix Drinks, though it was apparently well-known some time prior to this publication. As noted in David Wondrich's marvelously well-researched work Imbibe! the drink is almost assuredly Irish in origin - "a small version on the almost-lemonless punch popular there" - and it is first referenced in an 1854 printing of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper.

A rather simple warming beverage consisting of Scotch whisky (likely a blended variety, which was most popular at the close of the 19th century), a long spiral of Lemon peel & plain boiling-hot water. Straightforward enough, and differing from the similarly-popular Hot Toddy only in the addition of the Lemon peel. While fairly soothing due to it's heat, and tasty if you enjoy the milder flavor of the Scotch you use, the drink is just that - a measure of warm blended whisky adulterated by some Lemon oil.

However, in the revised 1887 edition of Thomas' work, the (unknown) revising author specifies alternately Glenlivet or a peaty Islay Scotch for the 'Skin (both improvements on a blended variety) while also adding a small measure of sugar to the recipe. Likewise, the 1887 also presented an additional variation on the beverage - the Irish Whiskey Skin, similarly prepared with the aforementioned 'lump of sugar'. These revisions combined produce a warming drink which in my opinion (as well as Dr. Wondrich's, it seems) is a vast improvement on the original.

Of equal interest, the Whiskey Skin appears to be a drink which is particularly well-steeped in the violence associated with the fast times of the turn-of-the century. As Professor Wondrich describes in Imbibe!, the second recorded mention of the drink comes from the testimony of one Richard Stark, a young bartender at an establishment off Broadway in 1855 who had a steaming-hot 'Skin flung into his face by a customer. The (difficult, to say the least!) customer, one Richard "Pargene" McLaughlin would later shoot Mr. Stark's employer three times in a scuffle at the bar of the Stanwix Hotel. Mr. Wondrich also notes that further violent behavior involving the Whiskey Skin included it's appearance in Our American Cousin, the play at which President Abe Lincoln was shot. Finally, the drink makes an appearance in several works of prose, most notably a colorful poem entitled "The Mystery of Gilgal", by John Hay included in the 1912 Yale Book of American Verse. The work details an unknown order for a 'Skin, which after some debate by the establishment's patrons, sparks a rather lively knife & gunfight amongst the same. The author humorously closes with the remark that he never did find out "who got the Whisky Skin".

It was me. Though hardly a cause for outright violence, in preparing this drink, I realized I lacked the necessary Scotch - having only a blended variety on hand - but that I did have a bottle of the (delicious) pot-stilled Redbreast Irish Whiskey. And so I prepared (and greatly enjoyed) the following:

Irish Whiskey Skin
2 oz. Irish Whiskey (preferably pot-stilled)

1½ Tsp: Demerara Sugar
Peel of 1 small Lemon, pith removed
Combine the sugar & Lemon peel in a pre-warmed Hot Toddy or Irish Coffee glass. Fill halfway with boiling water, add Whiskey and stir. Serve with a spoon & enjoy while steaming hot.


PS - Don't mind this post's URL title - I had originally thought to write on one of my favorite cold drinks of the 19th century - the Japanese Cocktail - but TraderTiki had that one well sewn up long before I began the post.


Tiare said...

This looks like something i shall drink soon when it gets colder..

Nice lemon twist!

Chris "Rookie" Stanley said...

It is a really fantastic for chilly weather to be sure...

Thanks Tiare - took a page from your book as well as Thomas'!