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Guest Review: Gilded Age Cocktails: History, Lore and Recipes from America’s Golden Age by Cecelia Tichi

Gilded Age Cocktails: History, Lore and Recipes from America’s Golden Age by Cecelia Tichi
Released by NYU Press on May 4, 2021

Gilded Age Cocktails book coverA delightful romp through America’s Golden Age of Cocktails

The decades following the American Civil War burst with invention―they saw the dawn of the telephone, the motor car, electric lights, the airplane―but no innovation was more welcome than the beverage heralded as the “cocktail.”

The Gilded Age, as it came to be known, was the Golden Age of Cocktails, giving birth to the classic Manhattan and martini that can be ordered at any bar to this day. Scores of whiskey drinks, cooled with ice chips or cubes that chimed against the glass, proved doubly pleasing when mixed, shaken, or stirred with special flavorings, juices, and fruits. The dazzling new drinks flourished coast to coast at sporting events, luncheons, and balls, on ocean liners and yachts, in barrooms, summer resorts, hotels, railroad train club cars, and private homes.

From New York to San Francisco, celebrity bartenders rose to fame, inventing drinks for exclusive universities and exotic locales. Bartenders poured their liquid secrets for dancing girls and such industry tycoons as the newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst and the railroad king “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Cecelia Tichi offers a tour of the cocktail hours of the Gilded Age, in which industry, innovation, and progress all take a break to enjoy the signature beverage of the age. Gilded Age Cocktails reveals the fascinating history behind each drink as well as bartenders’ formerly secret recipes. Though the Gilded Age cocktail went “underground” during the Prohibition era, it launched the first of many generations whose palates thrilled to a panoply of artistically mixed drinks.

Lime asked me to review this book because vintage cocktails have been my pandemic quarantine project. I have amassed a collection of books on the subject, and I am happy to add this one to my bar shelf.

The subtitle of this book says a lot. It contains more history and lore than recipes, and I found it fascinating. As Tichi writes in the introduction, “the Gilded Age might also be known as the Golden Age of Cocktails” (p. 3), especially in the pre-Prohibition USA. She explores some of the reasons for that early in the book, and then she goes on to take a closer look at individual people, groups and places that were particularly significant and influential in cocktail culture from 1870-1910. Continue reading