A 19th century delight that’s perfect for celebrating the Kentucky Derby
Watching horses dash down the track is thirsty work. You’ll be pawing the ground for a drink!
How about the Turf Cocktail? It (probably) originated at the Turf Club, which was devoted to the ponies. So it’s an ideal drink for watching one of the world’s most renowned horse races. We bet you’ll like this enough that you’ll want a second.
In fact, this cocktail could become a real hobby horse for you.
Recipe: The Turf Cocktail
This drink originated in the late 19th century as a gin-based cocktail. But the gin they used then was not the dry, London-style liquor we know today.
Originally, the Turf Cocktail (sometimes called the Turf Club Cocktail) probably was made with Holland (Genever) gin. Genever is flavored with juniper (like most gins), but it’s a malty liquor that tastes very different from modern dry gins. You can find more information on Holland gin in the Notes.
If Holland gin wasn’t available, barkeeps most likely substituted Old Tom gin, which is somewhat sweeter than dry gin. Old Tom is also less spicy and botanical than dry gin, but not as malty as Holland gin (so its flavor is kind of halfway between Holland and dry gin).
This drink takes about 5 minutes to make, and serves one.
- 2 ounces Old Tom or Holland gin (see Notes if you want to make a version using dry gin)
- 1 ounce sweet (red) vermouth
- 1 to 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- garnish of lemon or orange peel (very optional)
- Place all ingredients (except garnish) in a mixing glass half filled with ice. Stir briskly until the contents are well chilled – at least 30 seconds.
- Strain the contents into a cocktail glass, preferably one that has been chilled. Garnish, if you wish, and serve.
- Why stir this drink rather than shaking it? Because all the ingredients are clear liquids. Shaking introduces oxygen bubbles, which can cloud drinks. That’s not a problem when some ingredients are cloudy anyway (think citrus), but it can be less appealing in clear drinks.
- If the bubbles don’t bother you, feel free to shake. We often do.
- We’ve found several variations on this drink. Many call for equal parts of Old Tom or Holland gin and sweet vermouth (say, 1½ ounces of each), plus bitters. You might want to give that formula a try. We prefer the ratio in our recipe.
- We think this drink works best with Holland or Old Tom gin. But if you want to try using dry gin, here’s a recipe: 1½ ounces dry gin, 1½ ounces dry vermouth, ¼ ounce maraschino liqueur, a dash of absinthe (optional), and 1 dash bitters.
- For a more Martini-like drink, use 2 ounces dry gin, ¾ ounce dry vermouth, ¼ ounce maraschino liqueur, a dash of absinthe, and a dash of bitters (preferably orange bitters). We suggest using a fairly mild-flavored dry gin, like Plymouth or Boodles.
- Want to try another cocktail that traditionally uses Old Tom gin? See our recipe for the Martinez Cocktail.
- It can be hard to find a good selection of Holland (genever) or Old Tom gin. Many liquor stores carry it, but they usually have only one or two brands on offer. Old Tom tends to be a bit easier to find than Holland gin.
- Holland gin was invented by (wait for it) the Dutch. (A similar gin was also made in Belgium). Holland gin is often called genever or jenever because it’s flavored with juniper berries (jeneverbes in Dutch). You may also see it referred to as Dutch gin or Belgian gin.
- Holland gin is made by distilling malt “wine,” which in turn is made (usually) from barley, wheat, or rye. Holland gin is actually a bit more like Scotch whisky than the dry gin most of us think of as “gin” today.
- The brand of Holland gin you’re most likely to find in the US is Bols. It comes in two versions, one clear and one with a honey hue. The hued version is aged in wood and sold in a clay bottle (which is traditional for Holland gin). The aged version is a bit smoother and makes a pretty good sipping spirit.
- BTW, the term “Dutch courage,” which dates from the 17th century, probably derives from the practice of taking a shot or two of Holland gin before going into battle (a habit common among European soldiers during that century’s terrible wars).
- In the US during in the 19th century, most gin-based drinks were made with Holland or Old Tom gin. The craze for dry gin didn’t get going here until the early 20th century (possibly as late as the Prohibition era).
- This year’s Kentucky Derby will be held on Saturday, May 4th. It’s the 145th Run for the Roses.
“Hold your horses!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “This drink is really good. Especially the version with genever.”
“Yup,” I said. “The Old Tom version is good too, but genever is a horse of a different color.”
“Bet you were chomping at the bit to say that,” said Mrs K R.
“Just wanted to pony up with some praise,” I said.
“You’re flogging a dead horse here,” said Mrs K R.
Better plod back to the paddock. Don’t want to make a mare’s nest of this.
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