The trouble with “Cocktails de Paris”

I recently worked my way through the book Cocktails de Paris (1929) for recipes to add to Martin’s Index. The book includes quite a few period illustrations and advertisements, and enjoys some recognition for its early Camparinete (Negroni) and Bee’s Knees recipes, as well as a smattering of other drinks that get singled out from time to time. A free PDF of the entire book is available on-line. Do check it out.

This book is particularly exciting because nearly all the drinks are “original”, most carry attributions (even if many are illegible hand-written signatures) and they are clearly drawn from a wide selection of French bars and restaurants of the day. Like Beverages De Luxe (1914), Cocktails de Paris looks like a terrific opportunity to acquire a snapshot of the state of mixology in a particular time and place.

I did quickly notice that a handful of ingredients appeared over and over:

  • Courvoisier
  • Cherry-Rocher
  • Get (the peppermint liqueur)
  • Gordon’s Gin
  • Rhum Saint James
  • Moët et Chandon

…plus a few others.

All these ingredients are advertising sponsors of the book, each receiving full- or half-page ads. There’s nothing unusual about that; it was always commonplace to raise the funds for printing cocktail books through sponsorship, and to substitute the sponsors’ products in the recipes where appropriate. This same practice lives on today in many comparable situations.

However, in this case, by systematically studying each recipe in sequence, I found myself encountering suspiciously arbitrary recombinations of these same ingredients ad nauseum. Is it possible that mixology in Paris in the late 1920s was so narrowly obsessed with boozy, stirred drinks built from these few ingredients? Or was it perhaps more likely this book’s impresario, Georges Gabriel Thenon (a.k.a. RIP), had solicited from the fraternity mainly drinks—however slipshod—to feature these same ingredients?

Regardless, this book is a bit of a disappointment and an editorial challenge. I’ve placed most of its recipes in indefinite quarantine, but I still found 45 drinks that seemed clearly worthwhile to excerpt. They’re available now in today’s database update.

Also available in today’s update are 57 more recipes from Cuba, largely completing the Cuban contribution to Prohibition-era drinking!

Finally, with all these new recipes, several new ingredients enter the picture, including:

  • Izarra
  • Cordial Médoc
  • eau de mélisse
  • pisco
  • Pernod (pastis)
  • rhum agricole

Martin’s Index launched in late July with 700 odd recipes. As of today, the app has grown to nearly to 1100, with plenty more to come.