Vintage Cocktails: Gee Whiz, The Evolution of the Gin Fizz


KIMBERLY VOSS, PhD, is an associate professor at the University of Central Florida. She blogs at womenspagehistory.com. She is the author of The Food Section (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014) and a co-author of Mad Men & Working Women (Peter Lang, 2014)…..

The Gin Fizz. Photo credit: Lance Speere

The Gin Fizz. Photo credit: Lance Speere

Plenty of cookbooks from the 1950s and 1960s featured cocktail recipes. Some of my favorite cookbooks were issued by newspaper women as fundraisers. These publications featured options for punches and mixed drinks, often in large quantities.

In 1962, the Women’s National Press Club issued a new cookbook to raise money for a clubhouse. The book, Second Helping, was a follow up to the group’s popular 1955 publication, Who Says We Can’t Cook! The Washington, D.C.-based female reporters were known for their alcohol-fueled gatherings and their books featured several cocktail recipes. (To get an idea of how much alcohol the journalists consumed, a book about them was titled Drunk Before Noon.)

drunk before noon

Marguerite Davis, a reporter for the wire service UPI, contributed a recipe for a gin fizz. According to Davis, a New Orleans bartender shared his drink instructions in return for “pleasant conversation and a generous tip” from Davis. She continued: “It is recommended as the ideal brunch drink for it provides vitamins via citrus juice, protein via egg-white, and good conversation via gin.”

Davis’s Recipe for Gin Fizz

  • 1 ½ ounces fresh lemon juice
  • 4 ounce table cream
  • 2 tablespoon sugar
  • 5 ounces gin
  • White of one egg
  • 6 ice cubes

She noted that having a blender makes this easier: “Just toss in all the ingredients and blend until you no longer hear the rattle of the ice.” Alternatively, Davis noted, “you could put all of the ingredients into a mason jar, hand over to an aggressive guest with instructions to shake the concoction until the ice cubes have melted.” What is not clear from her recipe is how many this was to serve. Five ounces of gin is clearly intended for more than one serving. My personal variation to her recipe for a single serving is to substitute 1 ounce of half and half, 2 ounces of gin and 1 ounce of simple syrup, along with the lemon juice, egg white and ice. Top off with a little seltzer or club soda.

The Ramos Gin Fizz at the Roosevelt Hotel remains a New Orleans favorite. Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Ramos Gin Fizz at the Roosevelt Hotel remains a New Orleans favorite. Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans, via Wikimedia Commons.

According to culinary historians, the first printed reference to a fizz (originally spelled as “fiz”) was in the 1887 edition of Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide. Fizz drinks became popular in America between 1900 and the 1940s. It was known as a hometown specialty of New Orleans – the Gin Fizz was so popular that bars would employ numerous bartenders working in teams that would take turns shaking the fizzes before blenders were available. This could be a time-consuming and exhausting process. Before seltzer and club soda were regularly available, bartenders used baking soda to create the fizz.

Legend has it that Henrico C. Ramos invented the frothy Ramos gin fizz in 1888 at his bar, the Imperial Cabinet Saloon. The drink was initially called the New Orleans Fizz. It included cream, milk and orange-flower water. Before Prohibition, the bar was known to have more than 20 bartenders making nothing but the Ramos Gin Fizz and still struggled to keep up with customers’ orders.

Huey P Long loved the Gin Fizz. By Keystone View Company, Meadville, Pa [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Huey P Long loved the Gin Fizz. By Keystone View Company, Meadville, Pa [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Colorful Louisiana governor Huey Long was a fan of the beverage and helped publicize the drink when he shared the beverage with journalists. In 1935, Long brought a bartender from the Roosevelt Hotel to the New Yorker Hotel in New York City to show the staff there how to make the drink so he could have it whenever he was there. Long’s version included gin, egg whites, orange-flower water, vanilla, milk, cream, powdered sugar, seltzer water and ice. Instructions recommended the bartender shake the ingredients for ten minutes.

Variations on the drink include the Royal Fizz, which includes the entire egg, the Green Fizz, which includes a splash of crème de menthe, and the Diamond Fizz, which includes sparkling wine rather than carbonated water.

From a popular culture perspective, the Ramos Fizz was mentioned in the sixth season of the Sopranos and Jim Morrison orders a Ramos Fizz in Oliver Stone’s The Doors.

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