Long before the term “mixologist” entered the 21st-century lexicon and conjured up images of overpriced bars packed with Millenials, two bartenders, R. Bowie and J. Burke Edelin, formed the Black Mixologist’s Club in 1898. This professional association catered to Black individuals who choose careers behind the bar. Through “the world’s most noble profession” many Black bartenders discovered a path towards upward mobility that wasn’t present in other professions. While these men aren’t often discussed in the history of American cocktails, individuals such as Cato Alexander (the founding father of cocktails) and John Dabney (known for his “hail storm” mint juleps) were some of the country’s most critical influencers of modern cocktail culture.
The Bizzy Izzy Highball is straight out of Tom Bullock’s cocktail book The Ideal Bartender (1917). Tom Bullock was a legendary bartender, who served for over a quarter-century (and well into Prohibition, supposedly) at the St. Louis Country Club. The book is dedicated “to those who enjoy snug club rooms, that they may learn the art of preparing for themselves what is good.” Since a snug club room is out of the picture this month, it’s a good thing Bullock recorded these recipes, so that we can enjoy a taste of drinks so good they almost brought down future-president Teddy Roosevelt.
The story goes that Roosevelt was defending himself during a libel suit, where the qualities of his temperance and sobriety were put into question. When the future-president claimed that he didn’t drink the entirety of his Mint Julep from the St. Louis Country Club, he almost lost the case. “Who was ever known to drink just a part of one of Tom’s?” an editorial from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (May 28, 1913) stated. “To believe that a red-blooded man, and a true Colonel at that, ever stopped with just a part of one of those refreshments which have made St. Louis hospitality proverbial and become one of our most distinctive genre institutions, is to strain credulity too far. Are the Colonel’s [Roosevelt’s] powers of self-restraint altogether transcendent? Have we found the living superman at last? When the Colonel says that he consumed just a part of one he doubtless meant that he did not swallow the Mint itself, munch the ice and devour the very cup.”
While not much is known about Tom Bullock’s life, other than his birth in Louisville, KY to a Union veteran of the Civil War, his influence on American cocktails reverberates well into the present. At a time when ice was cut straight from a block shipped in from up north and the consumption of cocktails was illegal, he defined what it meant to be not just a bartender, but the Ideal Bartender. I can think of few greater ways to celebrate Black History Month than to mix up a cocktail from the mind of one of history’s original mixologists.
Prep Time: 5 min
Makes: 1 serving
- 0.5 OZ. FRESH LEMON JUICE
- 0.5 OZ. FRESH PINEAPPLE JUICE
- 0.5 OZ. OF A SWEETENER LIKE DEMERARA SYRUP BROWN SUGAR (SEE PRO TIPS BELOW)
- 1 OZ. OF BOURBON OR RYE WHISKEY (LIKE WOODFORD RESERVE)
- 1.5 OZ. OF OLOROSO OR DRY SHERRY (SEE PRO TIPS FOR POSSIBLE SUBSTITUTES)
- 1 BOTTLE OF SPARKLING WATER
GARNISH: Maraschino Cherry or Pineapple frond or pineapple section (optional)
To make a demerara syrup use a 2 to 1 ratio of sugar to water. Meaning, add twice as much sugar as water and heat until thoroughly dissolved. The best sweetener for this cocktail is demerara syrup. To make enough syrup for a small party, combine 1 cup of turbinado sugar, brown sugar, or whole cane sugar with ½ a cup of water. Stir this mixture over medium heat, until the sugar is dissolved. You can refrigerate this syrup for up to 1 week.
Oloroso is a distinct, nutty sherry that is well aged and will pair well with the bourbon (or rye) in this cocktail. However, if you don’t happen to have this specific Spanish sherry in your bar, a similar substitute would be dry sherry or dry vermouth (like Cocci Americano or Lillet Blanc).
- Woodford Reserve is a Kentucky Bourbon that has been produced in the same distillery since 1812. The site is a National Historic Landmark as well as a functioning distillery that recycles 98 percent of their waste material, compost 97 percent of their food scraps, and dedicates 10 acres of land to native grassland restoration. The label is owned by sustainable spirit juggernaut, Brown-Forman, the same distillery behind Old Forester, Herradura Tequila, and Chambord.