Tuesday, May 26, 2020

New Sampan Article: Quincy's First Chinese Restaurants

"The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations."
--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

As I mentioned previously, I have a new writing gig, contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English Newspaper in New England. My first article for the Sampan was In Search of the First Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown and my second article was Malden’s First Chinese Restaurant. My latest article is now available, Quincy's First Chinese Restaurants.

Today, Quincy has plenty of excellent Chinese restaurants, as well as other interesting Asian restaurants, but when was the first Chinese restaurant founded in that city? In my new article, you'll learn about its first Chinese restaurant, established in Quincy in 1916. Its opening brought some controversy, primarily because it possessed a large, illuminated flag. The restaurant only lasted a year, when it was destroyed by fire.

The second Chinese restaurant opened in 1919, and it too had a controversy over signage. Both of these Chinese restaurants were rather unique in Massachusetts, because they were not founded by Chinese, bur rather by whites, though they did hire Chinese cooks. Learn more of the details about these early Chinese restaurants in Quincy in my full article.

In addition, in my article, I mention three Asian spots of note that currently exist in Quincy, including The China, maybe the only Chinese restaurant and Sports Bar in Massachusetts, MoMo Café, where you can find unique and delicious Durian Doughnuts, and Chili Square, where you can order Duck Wings, Heads and Necks.

I'm now working on my next article for the Sampan, and thinking of ideas for future articles.

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Rant: The Future of Restaurant Reviews?

Some restaurants will likely open in June, though at a limited capacity. Some might only offer patio dining at first. Others will wait until July or later to open. And when they open, all restaurants will institute significant changes, enhanced safety measures to protect their customers and employees. This will be new territory for everyone, trying to balance the new, enhanced safety concerns with the desire to provide a pleasant dining experience. It will seem, in some respects, like these are all new restaurants.

How should food writers review restaurants during this time?

There are many questions to consider concerning this issues and it might benefit food writers if they engage in conversations about these matters with their peers. I don't have all of the answers, especially as I've just started conceiving of the questions. Sure, some of the basics of restaurant reviews will remain the same, although there might be a need for some alterations. Let's consider some of the issues to ponder.

First, maybe we should consider when would be the appropriate time to review these newly opened restaurants. Do you give them three months before reviewing them, providing necessary time to adjust to all of the changes? Would it be fair to review them earlier than three months, especially when this is all so new to everyone? Maybe we should wait even longer than three months. If you do review a restaurant earlier than three months, your review should provide caveats about the shortness of the time frame, and that restaurant deserve time to adjust and work out all of the potential problems of this new paradigm.

Second, restaurants may only have limited menus at first, so that is something to consider. Should they be penalized for such a limited menu? Will it depend on how long that limited menu exists? Restaurants might initially have supply issues so that should be a consideration.

Third, how do you assess the ambiance of a restaurant under all of the new safety measures? It certainly won't feel as intimate as it once did. It also won't feel as lively and exciting, as when a restaurant was busy and crowded. Would you penalize the restaurant for lacking a proper ambiance when they are simply trying to make everyone safer? In one positive aspect, the noise level of restaurants, which has been a common problem for some places, should be alleviated at most spots.

Fourth, how do you assess service? Initially, service might not be up to par considering all of the new safety measures, such as the wearing of masks by employees. Why penalize the service when they are also trying to keep others safer? Restaurants might initially be under-staffed as well, so service might not be as quick as usual. It is a learning curve for all.

Fifth, how should pricing be evaluated? It is possible that some restaurants will raise their prices, trying to recoup money they lost during the pandemic, as well as trying to pay their employees better. Restaurants margins have been notoriously low and this pandemic pointed out the problems with such a system. Restaurants need to make more money to be able to survive, so we should expect higher prices, and we should be willing to pay them. As a corollary, I would suggest tipping well when these restaurants reopen.

Sixth, will reviews now include a section on safety measures, and how a restaurant measures up in this regard? Will these reviews criticize restaurants for failing in some safety measure? Does the public want such information?

There are certainly other questions that should be addressed as well. It's a complex issue and I'm sure there will be plenty of different opinions on the answers to these matters. At its most basic, I think food writers need to be fair in their reviews, to consider the uniqueness of the position of restaurants at this time. They haven't had to deal with a pandemic like this before, and all of the numerous changes required to increase the safety of their guests and employees. They will try to do their best, but some mistakes might be bad.

Plus, after being closed for these months, or doing only take-out/delivery, there's probably not a single restaurant that hasn't suffered significant financial difficulties. Some of these restaurants may have to close. They might not have sufficient resources to continue operations. And a bad review, within the first couple months of their reopening, could be a death knell. And it probably wouldn't be fair to review them so soon.

All food writers who write restaurants reviews should consider these questions. Talk with your fellow writers about these issues too. We shall soon enter a new world with our restaurants and we need to create new maps to navigate through all these changes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A History of the Sherry Cobbler (Early 20th Century)

Recently, I posted A History of the Sherry Cobbler (19th Century), exploring the origins and early history of this delicious cocktail. Now, I'm extending that exploration of the Cobbler into the 20th century. As the century began, Sherry Cobblers were still popular but that popularity would wane over the years, and as I said before, it's time for a comeback.

As the new century began, The Times (D.C.), January 20, 1901, published an article, Origin of Mixed Drinks, presenting origin tales for a number of cocktails, such as the Mint Julep, and related terms, such as "cocktail" (said to be of Mexican origin). There was also mention of the origin the “Cobbler.” It stated, “Very many years ago an ingenious shoemaker devised a warm drink compounded out of beer, spirits, sugar, and spice. This he called ‘cobblers’ punch,’ and the concoction becoming widely known and very popular, it was, in due time, carried into this country. Here, however, it was adapted more especially for warm weather in which form it was composed of wine, sugar, lemon, and powdered ice, imbibed through a straw. There are various kinds of ‘cobblers,’ but a ‘sherry cobbler’ is most frequently called for.”

The St. Joseph Gazette-Herald (MO), July 5, 1901, noted the popularity of Sherry Cobbler, especially during the summer. "There is a great demand for beverages of a light order and bartenders claim it is hard to say whether mint-juleps, sherry cobblers, lemon sours, or plain lemonade is the favorite." The article continued, "Light wines are also quite popular with sherry cobblers at the head of the list. The bulk of this liquid is simply plain water with plenty of ice and a few spoons of sherry floating on the surface." This seems to have been a much milder version, with far less Sherry, of the traditional Sherry Cobbler.

President Grover Cleveland enjoyed Sherry Cobblers. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), October 27, 1901, published an article by W.T. Sinclair, Steward for four U.S. Presidents, discussing some of the foods and drinks that were prepared for those Presidents. It was mentioned that Richard Watson Gilder, a poet and newspaper editor, was a great friend of President Cleveland and would always make him Sherry Cobblers when he visited. The recipe for his Cobbler is presented above, and that recipe would be reprinted in numerous other newspapers around this time period. For example, the Pacific Commercial Advertiser (HI), June 20, 1909, stated, “President Cleveland was notably fond of sherry cobbler, the recipe for which he received from a friend.”

Sherry Cobblers beginning to wane in popularity? The Augusta Chronicle (GA), June 8, 1902, noted that "Mixed drinks have nearly gone out of fashion in New York. Visiting Englishmen, indeed, still call for the gin sling, the brandy smash, and the sherry cobbler,...but the every-day New Yorker seldom orders any such refreshment save for spectacular effect."

In addition, the Duluth News-Tribune (MN), July 6, 1902, had an article about a Philadelphia bartender who recently had a customer ask for a Sherry Cobbler. The bartender stated, "I don't know when I've had a call for a sherry cobbler before. I've almost forgotten how to make one. You see, we don't have the call for fancy drinks that we used to have even in warm weather. The high-ball, which is just whiskey and seltzer with a lump of ice, seems to have driven the mixed drinks to the wall."

Cobbler recipe. The Augusta Chronicle (GA), August 25, 1904, in an article on simple cooling drinks provided some instructions to make a Sherry Cobbler. "Cobblers are capital summer drinks and easy to make if one has a shaker or 'medlar.' Take a sherry cobbler, for instance. Put a tablespoonful of sugar into a glass, a slice of orange and a few bits of pineapple. Shaved ice is next added to nearly fill the glass, after which sherry--not too much--and shake thoroughly. Ornament the top with a cherry or berry and drink through a straw."

The New York Daily Tribune (NY), August 4, 1907, discussed some of the theaters in New York, including Niblo's Gardens, which had a theater and garden. In the garden, "one could eat a dish of ice cream or sip a sherry cobbler in luxurious shade,.."

Another recipe was provided in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser (HI), May 9, 1909, in an article titled, Some Dangerous Punches. The recipe was “California Sherry Cobbler—Three tablespoonfuls of sugar, one pony pineapple syrup, fill glass with shaved ice, add one and three-eighths wineglass California sherry wine, then stir well; dash with port wine, serve with straws in large glass, and trim with California grapes.” This is a Cobbler variation, using such extra ingredients as pineapple syrup and Port wine.

There was an intriguing comment in the Oregonian (OR), May 29, 1910, which printed a fictional interview with Halley’s Comet, which has made its appearance in 1910, and its last appearance had been in 1835. “I might state that the same state of affairs prevailed when I was here back in 1835. The brandy smash and the sherry cobbler have been succeeded by the Thomas Collins and the Mame Taylor, by the cocktail and the highball,..” This passage indicated that Sherry Cobbler existed at least as far back as 1835, which certainly is a reasonable statement.

Sherry cobblers continue to wane. The Bennington Evening Banner (VT), June 8, 1909, mentioned that "Lemonade has almost ceased to be drunk as a beverage....The once much honored sherry cobbler has gone the same way, only more so."

The Calumet News (MI), July 8, 1911, published a recipe for Sherry Cobbler, which is pictured above. The fruit needed included pineapple, orange and lemon.

More origin tales. The Pittsburgh Daily Post (PA), September 12, 1911, published an interesting article, There Are Various Kinds of Cobbles, discussing the various uses and origins of that term. It stated, “A cobble means a lump. That is why some potatoes are known as cobbles. They are simply lumps. Up in Maine farmers plant anything that looks like a cobblestone and a cobble spud is grown. It cooked hard for a week the cobbles taste like real potatoes.” As for the Sherry Cobbler itself, the article noted, “The best and most popular cobbler is the sherry cobbler. It is made of sherry wine and cobblestone juice and is absorbed through a straw.” Unfortunately, there wasn't a definition of "cobblestone juice" or any indication of what it might mean.

Origin tales continued. The Boston Herald (MA), April 12, 1913, stated, “Then there is cobbler’s punch, warm ale, thickened, sweetened and mixed with spirits. Some say that ‘cobbler’ in ‘sherry cobbler’ is short for ‘cobbler’s punch’ and that it patches up the drinkers. We doubt this derivation.” It seems that no one actually knows the reason why it is known as "Cobbler" though there are plenty of theories.

Sherry Cobblers during the winter? The Evening Star (D.C.), January 11, 1914, ran an article about Winter Beverages, including recipes for drinks such as Temperance Julep, Cocoa Eggnog, Egg Milk Shake, Banana Cup, Victoria Punch, Ginger Ale Mint Punch, Pineapple Punch, and Strawberry Cocktail. Strangely, the Sherry Cobbler was also included, with the same basic recipe as the one pictured above from the Calumet News. Most commonly, the Sherry Cobbler has long been considered a refreshing drink for hot weather and this was the first time I'd seen it recommended as a winter drink.

Another Cobbler recipe. The Sun and New York Press, August 16, 1914, presented a summer beverage recipe for the Sherry Cobbler. "Place into each tumbler a wineglass of sherry, a tablespoon of Curacoa, a teaspoonful of raspberry syrup, a teaspoonful of sugar, and a strip of thinly pared orange peel. Full up each tumbler with finely crushed ice and decorate the top with a few raspberries. Serve with straws." I suspect the term "Curacoa" was a misspelling of "Curaçao," the liqueur.

The Boston Herald (MA), September 10, 1914, provided some information about an intriguing boo, The Upper Ten Thousand: Sketches of America Society By a New Yorker (1852) by Charles Astor Bristed. The article discussed the wealthy Harry Masters, who apparently had little to do but spend money. It also noted, "When Masters showed his guest how to make a sherry cobbler, he did not take Amontillado or Manzanilla. Either would have made the cobbler look too weak. The sherry was dark in color and high in flavor. The favorite sherry for ordinary drinking in those days was Manzanilla."

In The Upper Ten Thousand itself, there are multiple mentions of the Sherry Cobbler. For example, at one point, Masters stated, "To be properly appreciated it requires a hot day,..." Then, there was a description of his tools and ingredients that he used to make a Cobbler. "Four large tumblers, two wine-glasses, a couple of lemons, ditto of knives, a decanter of sherry (not Manzanilla, but dark in colour and high in flavour), a saucer of powdered sugar, and another of finely-pounded ice, were paraded on the table, and among them sat Masters, on the table also, examine a bundle of fresh straws."

Masters then gave a lesson to his guests in how to make the Sherry Cobbler, starting with the lemon peel, stating "...pare off the rind very carefully, taking only the yellow, and not cutting into the white at all." He continued, "Sometimes you will see slices of lemon put into a cobbler--nothing can be more destructive; avoid everything but the yellow peel. If you will have something more, put in a slice or orange or pineapple, or a few strawberries."

He even gave advice on how fast to drink the cocktail. "Now don't drink it too fast. You should take a quarter of an hour to each glass. Three glasses a piece will be enough, and we have an hour before us."

Can Sherry Cobblers cure malaria?

The Rutland Daily Herald (VT), August 26, 1913, published an article noting that the Anderson Auction Company would seen offer up for sale the collection of John Boyd Thacher, a former mayor of Albany, New York who also wrote several books on the early history of the U.S. He collected numerous famous autographs and his collection was considered one of the most valuable in the country. The article also mentions many specific, rare autographs in the collection.

One of the letters in Thacher's collection was written by Dolly Madison, the wife of President James Madison. The Blackwell Daily News (OK), October 28, 1914, reported on the alleged circumstances surrounding this letter. It stated that Dolly had caught malaria from the Potomac flats and the Presidential physician prescribed quinine as the remedy. However, Mrs. Gouverneur Morris sent Dolly a Sherry Cobbler, recommending she try it as a substitute for the quinine. Dolly did so, and interestingly recovered. The letter, which sold at auction for $23, was a thank you from Dolly to Mrs. Morris, certifying to the positive effect of the cobbler.

This was supported in a similar article in the Brooklyn Citizen (NY), November 1, 1914. The Messenger & Intelligencer, December 10, 1914, also mentioned this matter, stating, “All this explains why Mrs. Madison was cured of malaria by a sherry cobbler.” The Chattanooga Daily Times (TN), January 6, 1915, also repeated much of the information, noting the buyer of the letter H.C. Hines. In American Book Prices Current (Volume Xxi, 1915) by Victor Hugo Paltsits, it was mentioned that this autographed letter was undated.

As background, we know that James Madison was the President from 1809-1817. Gouverneur Morris was one of the Founding Fathers, served in the Senate, and was a chairman of the Erie Canal Commission. His wife was Anne (Nancy) Cary Randolph Morris. They first met President Madison and Dolly when they visited the White House in December 1811. Gouverneur Morris died in November 6, 1816, and his wife never remarried.

I sought out a copy of Dolly's letter to Mrs. Morris, to confirm what was stated in these newspapers. The Dolley Madison Digital Edition claims to be "the first-ever complete edition of all of her known correspondence" and "As of May 2020 it is complete through 1849...." On this site, there was but a single letter from Dolly to Mrs. Morris, allegedly dated May 22, 1848. The letter is as follows:

"My very dear Mrs. Morris.
The gift from your hands is more precious than I can express—bearing in your good wishes for me healing on its wings—for these, as well as the beautiful shawl, I thank you. And—I must say that the countenance of your Husband, beaming with health & kindness, was delightful to me, on Annie’s lively eveg.
Constant affection

If this letter referred to the Sherry Cobbler, it was very vague, referring to it only as a "gift." What stood out to me though was the date of this letter. The Cobbler letter was supposed to be undated, which would mean this letter wasn't it. However, the date on this letter cannot be correct. First, Mrs. Morris died in 1837, so Dolly wouldn't have sent her a letter in 1848. Second, her husband died in 1816, and she never remarried, so the letter had to have been much earlier than 1848, sometime likely during 1812-1816. The 1848 date is clearly an error, and we can only speculate as to how that occurred. Did someone read a date incorrectly? Was the date later added by one of the owners of the letter? Did another letter exist which this archive never found?

If the several newspaper references concerning the Dolly Madison letter sold from the Thacher collection were accurate, it would push back our known history of the Sherry Cobbler from the 1830s to the latter half of the 1810s. Based on our knowledge of the Thacher collection, it seems that there was no question of the authenticity of the items in that collection. So, the Dolly letter sold was most probably authentic. However, what were the actual contents of that letter? Did the newspapers create a fictional story around the contents of that letter? If so, why did they do so?

I haven't been able to confirm anything about the letter and the Sherry cobbler malaria cure in any other sources. That certainly raises the question about the credibility of the newspaper story about Cobbler as a malaria cure. There is an auction catalog detailing the Thacher collection however, it isn't readily available unless you want to spend several hundred dollars. The catalog would present more information about the letter, but it's unclear whether there would be a photograph showing the contents of the letter.

For now, this entire matter is intriguing, yet more evidence is needed to determine the truth behind all of it.

The popularity of Sherry Cobbler continued to wane. The Boston Globe (MA), October 19, 1919, detailed the life of George Forbes, 71 years old, who had been a bartender for 44 years at the American House.  George stated, “Sherry Cobblers have been called for but little of late years, yet it used to be a favorite beverage. Catawba Cobblers also were often called for, but lately I have seldom seen the wine mentioned, even on wine lists.

Over the next few decades, references to the Sherry Cobbler diminished greatly, and most of the references were simply scattered recipes for the Cobbler. It no longer was one of the most popular drinks, and had been mostly relegated to an interesting drink of the past. In recent years, there has been some limited interest in bringing back Sherry Cobblers, but more is needed, especially as summer approaches. It's a delicious and refreshing cocktail, and relatively simple to prepare. Why not try a Sherry Cobbler, and share it with family and friends, this summer?

Monday, May 18, 2020

Rant: Should Restaurants Reopen Now?

I miss dining out so much, from chowing down at a local burger joint to savoring sushi and tempura at a high end Japanese restaurant. Dining out has always been one of my favorite experiences and being unable to do so has been tough. I know I'm not alone and many others miss this experience as well. Take-out and delivery is fine, but it's not the same as dining in.

I also know that this crisis has struck restaurants quite hard economically. Many restaurants are trying to adapt, offering take-out, delivery, pantry service and more, to help them survive. However, restaurant margins have never been high, so this is an especially trying time. Some restaurants won't survive, and will be forced to permanently close. Restaurant employees are in a precarious position as well. Something significant needs to be done to protect these restaurants and their employees.

So, should restaurants reopen now?

That's a complicated question. First, we have to understand the severity of Covid-19, noting that over 90,000 people have died in the U.S. over the course of a few months. Massachusetts has been especially hit hard, worse than any other New England state. There is still much that is unknown about this virus. Unless we take adequate precautions, the death toll will increase and no one truly wants that to occur.

So, if restaurants reopen, we need to know they are as safe as possible. We have to carefully weigh the risks. We have to think about our community, and not be selfish in our attitudes. We have to base our decisions on science and facts, not emotions. We have to understand that our decisions will have real consequences, that will affect even those who don't dine out at restaurants. We should receive input from all relevant parties.

I've heard some people state that restaurants should reopen right now, and if people don't feel safe, they shouldn't dine out. That, by itself, is a selfish statement and the reasoning is flawed. If someone chooses to dine out, and gets infected with Covid-19, then they could potentially infect a number of people who never dined out. And just because you don't have any symptoms doesn't mean that you aren't infected, and could be a carrier, infecting others. You have to think about the entire community, and not just yourself and your own desires.

I certainly don't have the answers as to when and how restaurants should open, but I understand the questions that need to be addressed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A History of the Sherry Cobbler (19th Century)

But, by my halidome, a sherry cobbler is a nectar fit for the gods; and the most eloquent descriptions will prove inadequate to convey a just idea of a compound so truly delicious."
--Boston Pilot, July 18, 1846

During the 19th century, the Sherry Cobbler was one of the most popular cocktails in the country, but its popularity in the current day has waned much so maybe it's due for a comeback. It's a relatively simple concoction, a mixture of Sherry, sugar, ice and a fruit garnish. It's commonly served in a tumbler or tall glass, and served with a straw, for ease of drinking due to all of the ice. During the summer, it's an especially refreshing drink so now is the time to stock up on supplies so you'll be ready when the weather warms up.

What's the origin of the Sherry Cobbler? Most sources claim that its origins are murky, that the inventor of the drink cannot be identified. That might be true, though I've found evidence of a person claiming to be its inventor, a person I haven't seen mentioned in any other history of the Sherry Cobbler. Even if the claim isn't true, it is a intriguing story. I'm also going to present some of the history of the Sherry Cobbler, primarily through the 19th century. Please note that this is also a work in progress, that I'll expand its history over time.

According to a number of sources, the first known printed reference to a Sherry Cobbler occurred in 1809. A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty (1809), by Washington Irving, was a satire, describing a couple hundred years of New York history. In one passage, it states, “... the roaring, roistering English colony of Maryland, or, as it was anciently written, Merryland; so called because the inhabitants, not having the fear of the Lord before their eyes, were prone to make merry and get fuddled with mint-julep and apple-toddy. They were, moreover, great horse-racers and cock-fighters, mighty wrestlers and jumpers, and enormous consumers of hoe-cake and bacon. They lay claim to be the first inventors of those recondite beverages, cock-tail, stone-fence, and sherry-cobbler, and to have discovered the gastronomical merits of terrapins, soft crabs, and canvas-back ducks.”

We don't get many details about the Sherry Cobbler in this passage, except that it might have originated in Maryland. However, I also couldn't find any other source which claimed the Sherry Cobbler was invented in Maryland. And there wouldn't be another print reference to a Sherry Cobbler for almost thirty years. Why such a lengthy gap? Something was suspicious.

David Wondrich, the famed cocktail historian, recently clarified this mystery for me. He told me that through his extensive research into the various editions of Irving's book, he found that the reference to "Sherry Cobbler" was added in his Author's Revised Edition in 1848. I then went back to check on the earliest editions of Irving's book and Wondrich was correct, the term "Sherry-Cobbler" didn't exist in the original few editions.

So, instead of the Irving reference of 1809, the actual first known printed reference to a Cobbler was in 1837, though it wasn't a reference to a Sherry Cobbler. The New York Herald (NY), August 9, 1937, described a man's activities in the city, and at one point, he "sat in the shade with a friend, tried Madeira Cobler's, good drink, preferred juleps, drank till dinner..." Did the Madeira Cobler pre-date the Sherry Cobbler? Or was it but a variation of the Sherry Cobbler, where the main ingredient, Sherry, was substituted in this case with Madeira wine?

The next printed reference to the Cobbler was in the New York Morning Herald (NY), August 10, 1838, which noted, “Payne, of Park Row, has the coolest dining cellar in the city. His oysters, steaks, ham, cotelets, and soups are superb; his wines recherche; his cobblers inimitable; his ale not to be surpassed.” Again, no details were provided about the nature of the cobblers. Was it a Sherry Cobbler, or Madeira Cobbler?

Almost a month later, the New York Morning Herald (NY), September 6, 1838, noted, “A good brandy and sherry cobbler made by Payne, of Park Row, is as great a luxury as a glass of Braden’s delicious ice cream.” This seems to indicate that the prior reference was for Sherry Cobblers. Again, there's was no information about the composition of the Sherry cobbler but it received high praise.

I'll add a little information about Payne and the dining cellar. The New York Morning Herald (NY), October 8, 1838, mentioned, “We call the attention of all our friends and readers to the old Shakespeare cellar in Park Row, kept by Payne. It is well supplied with the best food and wines that are to be found in the city. The larder and cellar is equal to any and superior to most. It is quiet, well attended and well kept. All the literati and distinguished strangers of the city are to be met here. A gentleman entering the Shakespeare is sure to meet with none but gentlemen—is sure to be well supplied, and quickly too. It has private rooms, and an entrance in Ann street, and one in Park Row. We commend it to all residents and strangers.”

The first detailed reference to Sherry Cobblers was presented in The Diary of Jane Ellice, edited by Patricia Godsell (1975). The diary, written by Katherine Jane Ellice, a British diarist and artist, detailed her travels exploring New York and two diary entries referenced Sherry Cobblers. The first entry, Caldwell-Lake George, Friday, August 24, 1838, noted that after passing through the village of Ticonderoga, Jane took a steamer up Lake George to the town of Caldwell. She had a mint julip, and felt that it "would be very good without the mint.” However, she was much more enamored with the Sherry Cobbler.

She wrote, “Sherry Cobbler is delicious and easy of composition—a wine glass or more of Sherry, Sugar & Lemon Peel, put into a tumbler which is then filled up with ice shavings, which is done with a plane. Then pour it all from one glass to another for a minute or so and pronounce it (a la Yankee) ‘first rate.’" We see all the basic elements of the cocktail, though there wasn't a reference to drinking it from a straw. That might have been a simple omission, though we can't be positive.

In another entry, Friday, August 31, 1838, Jane was in New York City on a hot day. She wrote, “A large glass of ‘Sherry Cobbler’ somewhat revived us, but certainly the heat all day had been intense.” This is the first reference to the idea that Sherry Cobblers were refreshing on hot days, a theme which would continue throughout the history of this drink.

After this time, there would be numerous references to the Sherry Cobbler throughout the years, though many were brief and added little to our understanding of this cocktail. I'm not going to cite every reference, but only those who help to enhance our understanding, or which are especially interesting.

It's also interesting to note that The Baltimore Sun (MD), July 4, 1839, briefly printed, “Sherry cobblers are said to be a very fashionable drink in New Orleans. What can that be?” It seems that this Maryland reporter was unaware of the Sherry Cobbler.

A President drinking a Sherry Cobbler. The New York Herald (NY), July 10, 1839, wrote about “His Democratic MajestyMartin Van Buren, the President at the time, touring through New York.  At one point, the President stopped at the Stoppani’s Arcade Baths, where he “...drank a half pint imperial republican Sherry cobbler,..

In Louisiana, the Times-Picayune (LA), August 8, 1839, mentioned, “We are not about to speak of the excellence of sherry cobblers, which, notwithstanding the way they are cracked up and tossed down, are nothing more nor less than an improved pig-and-whistle—a second edition of sangarees, or toddies with an addenda.”

One of the most poetic, and evocative, passages about the Sherry Cobbler was presented in The Southern Literary Messenger (Richmond, VA), vol.5, 1839. The article stated, “Now for a Sherry Cobbler! Old Bachelor as I am, and vagrant, too;--without tie or home—I suppose I may be allowed to give the ‘receipt’ for the greatest ‘liquorary’ invention of the day. How happens it that ‘twas not discovered before?--’Tis the most cooling, refreshing, luscious, unintoxicating liquid, that ever grew into ripeness under the warm, fanciful incubation of a thirsty soul. Who claims the conception I know not; but, man or woman, the author deserves well of his country for giving it to the people without the protection of copyright or patent. ‘Tis a fragmentary world of sweets in a little palace of glass.”

The article continued, with instructions on creating this cocktail, adhering to its poetic slant. “Powder your fine white sugar, or crystal candy, and sprinkle the mass through a sieve, over a tumbler of pounded ice—every particle of which is broken into lumps not larger than a pea. In another vessel, pour two wine glasses of pale gold sherry over the fine cut peelings of half a lemon—peelings which have suck’d into their pores sufficient acid from the ripened pulp, to make the pungent rind flavored like a China orange—and then, for a minute or so, suffer the spirit of the wine to extract the rich aroma. Next, dash the contents of one tumbler to the other, till fruit and fluid, ice and sugar, sweet and sour, warmth and frost, are mixed and married, by this delicate ‘runaway’ process, and the dew of their bridal-kiss coats the sides of the vessel with a creamy veil. Then—allowing the new married couples to cool from the first extatic moments of their swimming embrace,--you sip the delicious pair in the dreamy elysium of their ‘honeymoon!’ A true love letter to the Sherry Cobbler.

A North Bend Sherry Cobbler? The Boston Post (MA), September 9, 1840, briefly made reference to a North Bend Sherry Cobbler, and the Gloucester Telegraph (MA), November 4, 1840, expounded a little bit more, noting a visit to a Boston “drinking shop” where one of the available drinks was a North Bend Sherry Cobbler. Unfortunately, there were no details as to how this version might differ from the usual Sherry Cobbler.

The Mississippi Free Trader (MS), March 11, 1841, noted, “a piece of lemon peal out of a sherry cobbler which had fallen out on the floor.” Initially, it appears lemon peel was the most common fruit garnish for this cocktail, though later, other fruits might be substituted or added.

The Natchez Cutter (MS), April 7, 1841, reprinted the recipe from the previously mentioned Southern Literary Messenger article, and titled it under, Recipe for a Crack ‘Sherry Cobbler.’ The article added its own loving comment about the Sherry Cobbler, stating, “Here is one of the most brilliant efforts of modern genius. Read it and weep ye sinners, who have swallowed down barrels of raw liquor without getting one good taste out of it.” 

In Tait's Edinburgh Magazine for 1841 (England), there was an article titled "Colonel Maxwell's Run Through the United States," which detailed his visit to the U.S. in August and September 1840, where he spent time in Boston and Washington. D.C. While in Boston, he enjoyed Mint Juleps and Sherry Cobler. Maxwell described the composition of the Mint Julep as "consisting of sundry layers of mint leaves, placed among chipped ice, as pure and brilliant as crystal; and sprinkled over with two tablespoons of powdered sugar, with a legere soupçon of brandy--the smallest possible glassful--to crown the whole." 

As for the Sherry Cobler, "The only thing to be feared, lest the suspicion of the brandy should, by degrees, become a certainty: if you doubt your powers of self-control on this point, sherry coblers must be your resource. They are similar in their fabrication, but with two glasses of very old sherry, substituted for the more dangerous alcohol."

Positivity continued in the New York Atlas (NY), June 19, 1842, which mentioned, “Cobblers have been immortalized in modern times, by having their name given to one of the most exquisite drinks ever manufactured—the Sherry Cobbler.” A few months later, another article in the New York Atlas (NY), September 4, 1842, noted, “I took a sherry cobbler for the first time; it was delicious!

There were a number of advertisements in New York Daily Herald (NY), which mentioned spots where you could find a Sherry Cobbler. In the March 17, 1843 issue, there was an ad for the Billiard Saloon, located at 5 Barclay Street, 3 doors below the American Hotel, which would offer Sherry Cobblers, among other drinks. The April 23, 1843 issue published an ad for the Washington Gardens, Hoboken, which offered “Sherry Cobblers, Mint Juleps and Punches made in the best style.”

From 1842-1844, The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, a novel by Charles Dickens, was serialized, and one of the chapters praised the Sherry Cobbler. First, it mentioned the Cobbler being created by one of the characters, “With which he produced a very large tumbler, piled up to the brim with little blocks of clear transparent ice, through which one or two slices of lemon, and a golden liquid of delicious appearance, appeared from the still depths below, to the living eye of the spectator.” Then, there was the first printed mention of a straw with the Sherry Cobbler, “...merely plunging a reed into the mixture—which caused a pleasant commotion among the pieces of ice—and signifying by an expressive gesture that it was to be pumped up through that agency by the enraptured drinker.”

Another character then experienced the Sherry Cobbler for the first time. “Martin took the glass, with an astonished look; applied his lips to the reed; and cast up his eyes once in ecstasy. He paused no more until the goblet was drained to the last drop.” He certainly enjoyed the cocktail. The book continued, “This wonderful invention, sir’ said Mark, tenderly patting the empty glass, ‘is called a cobbler. Sherry cobbler when you name it long; cobbler, when you name it short.

However, Dicken's novel wasn't without controversy. When Dickens had visited the U.S., he had often been treated and feted as a very special guest, and some were upset that Dickens was rather negative about the country in his novel. New Yorkers were especially incensed. The Public Ledger (PA), July 25, 1843, mentioned that “The only thing in New York that Dickens finds it agreeable to compliment, in his last issue of absurdity and dullness, is a sherry cobbler.”

The Southern Patriot (SC), July 27, 1843, also stated, “The extracts made below from the last number of Martin Chuzzlewit contains just such a concentration of venom and spit as is significant of a vulgar and coarse man.” It continued, “But there was one thing in this country, which Mr. Dickens heartily approved, and which he describes with rapture.” What was that item?  "The only thing your hero finds to praise, in two chapters on your city, is a Sherry Cobbler.”

Returning to the use of the straw, we now consider the use of a straw in a Sherry Cobbler to be essential. Was that always the case? It's difficult to say, though it seems straws had been used in this drink at least since the 1840s, and likely earlier. The True Sun (NY), April 8, 1844, mentioned, “Since the era of Sherry Cobblers, many, very many, have learned a new use of straw.”

What was a straw like at this time period? It certainly isn't what we use commonly use now, made from plastic or paper. A rye grass straw was the norm during much of the 19th century, especially as it was considered inexpensive and soft. Sometimes, and much more rarely, a glass tube was used as a straw, though that was likely a more expensive option.

The Small Grains (1920), by Mark Alfred Carleton, mentioned that the rye grass straw was "obtained from rye which is cultivated especially for the straw, and not the grain." It continued, discussion the production process. “After bleaching, the straws are assorted by hand, each individual stalk being examined, and the imperfect ones removed. “They are then cut, the five lower joints only being utilized for drinking purposes. The sheaths are then removed, and the straw washed and bound into bundles ready for the market.”

There were two significant issues with the use of this straw though. First, the liquid in a drink tended to cause the straw to disintegrate, leaving sediment in the bottom of the glass, and also eventually rendering it unusable. Second, the straw added a grassy flavor to the drink, which might not have been pleasant dependent on the type of drink. It's possible that some drinks, which used this straw, were created specifically to mask or overcome that grassy flavor. Maybe the sugar added sufficient sweetness to the Sherry Cobbler to offset the grassy taste.

In an article on Coney Island, the Commercial Advertiser (NY), August 10, 1843, noted that the "upper class" drank mint julep or sherry cobblers, which were “sucked through a straw in the most delicate manner imaginable.” In addition, it was mentioned that “Some of the emigrants from Great Britain are mightily taken with our sherry cobblers.

A variety of Cobblers in Boston. The Ottawa Free Trader (IL), January 05, 1844, provided “a list of fancy drinks” on the “bill of fare of a Boston restaurant,” which went unnamed. What's interesting is that it lists several different types of Cobblers, including Sherry, Rochelle, Arrack, Peach, and Claret. The Cobbler was now apparently more of a category of drinks, evolving from just the Sherry Cobbler.

The Liverpool Mercury (England), July 5, 1844, presented an advertisement for the Victoria Hotel in Liverpool. J. Berry, apparently a bartender, announced that he recently received "a large quantity of pure AMERICAN ICE" and would be serving various cocktails, including Sherry Coblers, Mint Juleps, Red Rovers, Gin Slings, and Stone Fences.

The price of a Sherry Cobbler. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), August 1, 1844, presented an ad for an upcoming Ball, noting the drinks available for sale. A Sherry Cobler was available for 12.5 cents, the same price as Brandy Punch, Milk Punch, Mint Julep and Egg Nog. A glass of Sherry was only 6.5 cents, the same as Madeira, Irish Whiskey, Gin, Port, Absinthe, Mineral Water, and Bottled Ales.

The Freeman's Journal & Daily Commercial Advertiser (Ireland), September 6, 1844, printed an ad from George Mitchell, who now offered Sherry Coblers at his establishment. The ad stated, "this delicious and Cooling Summer Draught, so much in use in America, can now be had at this Establishment. Also the celebrated AMERICAN ICE,..." So, Sherry Cobblers had already spread to England and Ireland by this point, less than ten years than the likely invention of this cocktail. 

A fictional origin story of the Sherry Cobbler was offered in The Commercial Advertiser (NY), December 14, 1844, which also stated that “The great feature of city civilization is—a sherry cobbler.” In addition, the article continued, “…the name of him who invented the Sherry Cobbler is buried in oblivion. Yes, he who taught rude man to lay sparkling crystals of ice beneath delicious Sherry, and to flavor the liquid with sharp slices of lemon, and then to imbibe it, not by course Thracian draughts, but gently, lightly and plafully through a rustic straw, is totally unknown.” Their fictional origin tale seemed more tongue in cheek, with no effort to making it realistic.

A possible inventor of the Sherry Cobbler? There were newspaper references that alleged the creator of the Sherry Cobbler was Otis Field, a bartender and former cobbler. It was even alleged that the drink acquired its name as an homage to his former career as a cobbler. Though the information is intriguing, and compelling in some respects, there is insufficient evidence to verify the veracity of these claims.

The first mention of Otis Field, in New York City, I located was in a notice in the Morning Courier & New York Enquirer (NY), January 11, 1837, which was repeated in the March 13 and March 17 issues. It was noted that Otis could be found at a Billiards Saloon at 218 Broadway.

Otis wasn't mentioned again under 1842. The New York Daily Tribune, January 10, 1842, had an ad for Bassford’s Billiard Rooms, over the Climax Eating House, noting Otis Field could be found at Bassford's.  He apparently worked there through at least April 1843.

Next, the New York Daily Herald (NY), June 8, 1845, published a notice that “Otis Field respectfully informs his friends and the public that he has arrived in the city and taken quarters at the United State Hotel, his entrance through the bar, or 196 Water street; where he has a number of Bassford’s improved Billiard Tables, on sale or for playing, and will be happy to have them tried. His bar is well stocked with materials for making Sherry Cobblers, White Lions, &c. &c.

This was followed up in the New York Daily Herald (NY), December 31, 1845, noting that Bassford’s Rooms and billiard tables were undergoing a thorough repair and would be ready on New Year’s Eve. Otis Field would be there for the opening.

Interestingly, the New York Atlas (NY), January 11, 1846, noted that "Otis Field, Esq." was "known as the Napolean of caterers.” Was Otis now a lawyer? This is the only reference I found adding "Esquire" to his name.

These references about Otis seem rather innocuous but then the New York Atlas (NY), May 24, 1846, dropped its bombshell. It printed, “Blessed be the man who invented sherry cobblers and who do you think that man is? Why, Otis Field, to be sure, and ‘it aint anybody else.’ Reader, if you call at Bassford’s rooms, entrance 149 Fulton or 1 3/4 Ann sts., and drink a cobbler, made by Otis, and don’t say it is the very best you ever tasted, you need not pay for it; let it be charged to us; we are willing to risk that much.” Is this true? Did Otis create the Sherry Cobbler? It's certainly a fascinating allegation.

About a month later, the New York Atlas (NY), June 21, 1846, referred to Otis Field, manager of Bassford’s Billiard Rooms, and stated, “They all know and appreciate Field, and his delicious drinks. Sherry cobblers are now made in Paris a la Field.” Had his fame truly extended to France? I wasn't able to find any other reference to cobblers "made in Paris a la Field.”

Otis continued working at billiard saloons for many years. The New York Atlas (NY), July 1, 1849, noted that Otis was now working at the billiards saloon at the Irving Rooms, mentioning, “And, then such sherry cobblers as are made by Otis Field! They are really delightful! How is it? Can no other person get up such drinks?”

Sixteen years later, after the first claim that Otis invented the Sherry Cobbler, numerous newspapers printed the same story, another origin tale of Otis and Sherry Cobblers. The Daily Missouri Democrat (MO), February 1, 1862, mentioned, “The Detroit Tribune has discovered that the sherry cobbler was invented in that city forty years ago by an ex-cobbler named Otis Field who ‘mixed liquors’ in those days behind the bar of ‘Uncle Ben’ Woodworth’s Steamboat hotel.” If true, that would mean the cocktail was created during the early 1920s in Detroit. However, I haven't been able to find any supporting evidence for this assertion.

As reported in the Evening Post (NY), October 25, 1871, Otis Field, 67 years old, died of consumption after an illness of 5 months.

For now, Otis Field remains a potential candidate to be the inventor of the Sherry Cobbler, with a more compelling story than some of the other would-be contenders for that designation. More evidence would be needed to verify, but his case is strong, except that it seems more likely Otis invented it in New York City rather than Detroit. If he weren't the inventor, then maybe Otis was more of a promoter of the Sherry Cobbler, a leading advocate for this cocktail who helped spread its popularity in New York City.

The Gloucester Journal (England), May 30, 1846, discussed an article in the Tate Edinburgh Magazine which mentioned sherry coblers. The Tate writer had visited Cincinnati, and it was very hot during his visit, so he enjoyed a number of refreshing cocktails. He noted, "a sherry cobler is a nectar fit for the gods." He then described how it was made. "Some pounded sugar, about two tablespoonsful, is out into a large tumbler, a liberal supply of ice, pure as crystal, two wine glasses of fine sherry, lemon peel cut, very thin, a large slice of pine apple at the top, and the whole violently shook up, or poured several, times from one tumbler to another, and allowed a minute or so to clear; a long reed is then stuck in the glass, and so you imbibe it: the charge is sixpence."

This was the first reference to another fruit added to the drink, a slice of pineapple along with the lemon peel. And pineapple would continue to be added to other Sherry Cobblers in the coming years.

The New York Atlas (NY), June 21, 1846, wrote about the Howard House, located at the corner of Broadway and Howard Streets. The article noted, “This popular establishment has recently undergone a thorough repair, making it the most splendid place in this country.” It was also mentioned that “...Jim, so long and well known at the Second Ward Hotel, has not forgotten how to make a sherry cobbler or a mint julep, for which he has ever been famous.

Sherry Cobblers in England. Oxford Night Caps, A Collection of Receipts For Making Various Beverages Used in the University (4th edition enlarged, 1847) by R. Cook, stated that the “Sherry Cobbler has only been recently introduced into the University, and has become a great favorite among the Undergraduates.” It then provided a recipe for the cocktail. “Pound a small quantity of ice quite fine, by wrapping it in a coarse cloth, and beating it with a mallet or rolling pin. Half fill a large tumbler with this powdered ice. Add a teaspoonful and half of pounded sugar, two or three pieces of the outer rind of a lemon, and a wine glass and a half of sherry. (Throw in half a dozen strawberries, if in season.) Fill up with pounded ice. Mix by pouring rapidly from one tumbler to another several times. Drink through a straw.”

A danger from using a straw? It was also mentioned in this book that “This liquor, drawn into the mouth through a straw, has in more than one instance produced Vertigo.” In addition, it was interesting that another different fruit was used in this recipe, the addition of some seasonal strawberries, along with lemon peel.

The Golden Receipt Book (1848), published by James Thomas Pickburn, presented another recipe for the Sherry Cobler, noting, "The following is the genuine American recipe for making it"--Two wine-glassfuls of water; one glass of brandy or gin; one glass of sherry; sugar to taste; and a few drops of stone bitters. The rim of the tumbler should be rubbed with the juice of a slice of lemon. For iced sherry cobler, a lump of ice is dropped into the glass. The stone bitters, which is an important ingredient in the composition, is difficult to be procured." This is a different recipe, adding brandy or gin, as well as water. 

California and Sherry Cobblers. The Daily Alta California (CA), July 30, 1850, noted “who can look back with pride to the days now past, when oysters and sherry cobblers were luxuries so expensive that they could only be indulged in on Saturday night.” Though this article didn't go into any explanation, it seems likely that sherry cobblers were initially expensive because it was difficult to acquire the ice needed for the drink. However, by 1850, ice was being shipped across the country, much of it from New England.

The Sacramento Transcript (CA), July 31, 1850, discussed the “Hawthorn Cottage.—This small but unique place of refreshment (on second street between I and J) is crowded nightly. Those Oyster stews —dont mention them, and those Ice creams, sherry coblers punches, &c., are not surpassed even by Thompson of New York.” It was also mentioned that, “We had the pleasure of testing at this place the first fresh pond ice direct from Boston.”

Sherry cobbler love. The Sacramento Daily Union (CA), July 1, 1853, published, “What is so agreeable between dances as a glass of iced sherry, deftly compounded with flagrant herbs, and piquant acids? Even if the luxury is a trifle in itself, a mere commonplace, still it affords pleasure and material for conversation— and to be deprived of it is a noticeable subtraction from one's enjoyment.”

Pineapples again. The Daily State Sentinel, (IN), July 24, 1854, made a brief reference to a “huge pitcher of pine apple sherry cobbler as cold as ice could make it.”

More about ice. The Times-Picayune (LA), October 1, 1855, printed, “We have again a good supply of ice from Boston, which was imported to Aspinwall and brought across the Isthmus. It sells for ten cents a pound, and is a very useful article here, particularly in the manufacture of a sherry cobbler.”

The diversity of the Cobbler! In what is said to be the first drinks book published in the U,.S., How To Mix Drinks: Or, the Bon-Vivant’s Companion (1862) by the famed Jerry Thomas, listed seven different variations of the Cobbler, including: #98--Sherry Cobbler, #99--Champagne Cobbler, #100--Catawba Cobbler, #101--Hock Cobbler, #102--Claret Cobbler, #103--Sauterne Cobbler, and #104—Whiskey Cobbler.

Later, the price of ice apparently rose. The Daily National Republican (D.C.), June 19, 1863, mentioned that prices in Richmond, Virginia were growing higher and higher so that “a sherry cobbler cannot be bought for less than $2.50, ice being so expensive a luxury.”

The Princes of Wales toured the U.S. and some claimed that it Americanized him in a number of ways. The Sacramento Daily Union (CA), December 25, 1860, described some of the ways he had become Americanized. picturing him at home, including that “A sherry cobbler, with its characteristic straws, is on the mantelpiece.

The Daily Alta California (CA), November 9, 1863, reviewed a book, "The Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Bar-Keepers" by Jerry P. Thomas, who was formerly the principal bar-keeper of the Metropolitan Hotel, New York, and Occidental, San Francisco. The review stated, “But that "sherry cobbler," composed, as its name expresses, of sherry, gratefully liquidated with saccharine, or rock-candy and ice, ranks, as we are told by the author, in popularity next to the juleps. This, like nearly all the others, is to be imbibed through a straw. The exact dimensions of the bore of the straw is not given. Probably that is a matter left to the drinker, as some might possibly feel inclined for one as large as that of a Minnie rifle.”

Choose your drink based on the temperature. The Daily Alta California (CA), July 21, 1864, provided an interesting list of drinks to have at various temperature ranges. "The weather, an inexhaustible as well as irrepressible subject, has been intensely hot, and the can’t-get-away chaps who haven't the necessary tax to pay Salmon P., on their incomes, have been regulating their drinks and style of living and dressing altogether by the thermometer. From zero up to 30 degrees, New Yorkers stick to hot whiskey; from 30 to 60 degrees, Bourbon plain; from 60 to 70 degrees, gin cocktails; from 70 to 80, mint juleps; from 90 to 100, sherry cobblers; and from 100 upwards, claret punch and ice water. The latter is so cooling, you know, that it is esteemed a luxury, and not a universal beverage; while the ladies, sweet creatures, go it strong on sherbet (no kin to the General of that name,) and ices.

So, when the temperature ranges from 90-100 degrees Fahrenheit, that's said to be the best time to enjoy a Sherry Cobbler.

The Boston Daily Advertiser (MA), January 12, 1866, reported on an "English cafe" in Paris which offers a drink called a "cheri-gobler," which is actually a Sherry Cobbler.

Sherry cobblers at the Paris Exposition. The Commercial Advertiser (NY), July 16, 1867, had an article about the U.S. presence at the Exposition. "Two-thirds of our fame at the Paris Exposition is based upon our beverages." The article then noted, "Sherry cobbler is composed of sherry, a little brandy, a little powdered sugar, some pulverized nutmeg, and a few small pieces of ice; the whole mixed in two cups like mint julep. It is also mostly drank also by means of a straw." This is the first time that either brandy or nutmeg was mentioned as an ingredient in this cocktail.

With more information on the Paris Exposition, the Harper’s New Monthly, November 1867, noted “For this is the American Restaurant, which has made a goodly number of francs. One day it opened 500 bottles of sherry for cobblers. It demands a franc for every drink, except the soda, …”  The article didn't mention how many cobblers could be created from a bottle of sherry.

The Jewish Messenger, August 9, 1867, had a section of "Floating Facts," noting that "The favorite drink in the Paris saloons is Sherry Cobbler."

The Gold Hill Daily News (NV), August 21, 1868, mentioned "a pitcher of most deliciously iced, oranged, pineappled, and limed sherry cobbler" found at the Gold Hill Bank Exchange. It also states, "The sherry cobblers at the Exchange cannot be surpassed." Once again, pineapple was used, but also oranges and lime. There didn't seem to be any rules as to what types of fruit could be used in this drink.

Summer Beverages. The Times-Picayune (LA), July 9, 1873, described a number of summer beverages, noting the Sherry Cobbler was the most popular. It then described how they were made, "A teaspoonful of sugar, to which is added about two teaspoonfuls of water, and on this is poured the sherry, about a wine-glass full. Then some small pieces of lemon-peel are put in, and the glass filled with finely crushed ice, when the finishing touches of pine apple and nutmeg are made, and the work is done." There's that nutmeg once again.

There was an article on strawberries in the New York Tribune (NY), June 25, 1874, which noted, "To the sherry cobbler, the strawberry is considered a wholesome addition, .."

In the famous Bartender's Maunal (1882 edition) by Harry Johnson, there were listings for eight different Cobblers, including #43--Champagne Cobbler, #69--Rhine Wine Cobbler; #75--Sherry Cobbler, #77--California, Sherry Wine Cobbler, #113--California Wine Cobbler, #130--Port Wine Cobbler, #131--Sautern Cobbler, and the #176--Whiskey Cobbler. This is a similar list to what Jerry Thomas presented in 1862, but with the main addition of a Port Wine Cobbler.

And in the 1888 edition of the Bartender's Manual, Johnson added a comment about the Sherry Cobbler, noting ”This drink is without doubt the most popular beverage in the country, with ladies as well as with gentlemen. It is a very refreshing drink for old and young.”

A new straw arrives! The Semi-Weekly Interior Journal (KY), December 13, 1887, noted "The old time sherry cobbler straw is doomed, and its place is to be taken by a straw made of paper. The straw is constructed of a narrow strip of paper, wound as though wrapped around a pencil, the edges just lapping. The paper is secured with a preparation of gum." No more grassy flavored straws!

In the Arizona Republican (AZ), July 14, 1900, there was an article on “Popular Summer Drinks,” which noted, “Sherry cobbler is coming back into favor and according to a local Boniface who has been in the east recently, the cobbler is very popular there. It is made of sherry wine, soda, sugar and ice.”

What are your thoughts about the Sherry Cobbler?

(Revised/expanded as of 9/1/23)

Part 2: Early 20th Century

Monday, May 11, 2020

Rant: Some Pandemic Advice--Spend, Spend, Spend

In the midst of this Covid-19 crisis, health concerns have taken front stage. With nearly 80,000 Covid 19-related deaths estimated across the country, including nearly 5,000 in Massachusetts, in only a few months, there is certainly plentiful reason to be concerned. Social distancing, face masks, and other hygienic measures help to reduce the risk of spreading this infection. One of the measures has also been to significantly limit businesses, closing some down, while allowing others to offer take-out, delivery, or curbside service.

Economically, many of us have taken a hit, and there are far too many businesses that might not survive. For example, restaurants have been severely affected, as dining in has vanished for now. I certainly miss dining out, as I know most people do. Restaurant employees have been furloughed or laid off, so they aren't earning their wages. Many restaurant owners struggle to pay their bills. Plenty of other businesses, and employees, are in the same boat. There's so much uncertainty and fear, worry and dread.

Questions: How can we help? What is my pandemic advice?

Answer: Spend, spend, spend.

One of the best ways we can help our community, to help our local businesses, is to spend money at them. I know it might be tough for some who don't have extra disposable cash, but I'm directing my comments to those who have some money to spend, even if it isn't much extra. Order food from restaurants, buy flowers at the local florist, order books from a local bookshop, get wine, beer, and liquor at your local wineshop, purchase donuts and other baked goods, and so much more. Support these businesses rather than just saving all of your extra cash.

For example, I've ordered food from A Tavola in Winchester, which has an excellent Pantry where they sell a variety of delicious items, such as their Bolognese Sauce, Tomato Soup, Home-made Pastas, Pizza Kits, and more. They also have a Take-Out menu of prepared dishes as well. I've also ordered from Tonno in Wakefield, which has a Mercato, offering items such as a tray of Meatballs, Fruit & Veggie boxes, a tray of Manicotti, Bolognese Sauce, Steak Tips, and plenty of prepared foods too. These are great places to shop rather than the large grocery stores, and you generally don't have to wait in any long line. Plus, the quality of the food is high.

Plus, I'm pleased that Kane's Donuts is still open, and this is a great time for one of their Honey-Glazed Coffee Rolls. I've also gotten take-out and delivery from several, small local restaurants to me, such as Hong Kong City, Amore Pizza, and Alfredo's Italian Kitchen. As for non-food related items, I've also ordered books and other items from independent creatives as I know many authors are having economic difficulties at this time too. There are few, if any, small businesses which haven't been negatively affected by the current crisis.

Every bit helps, no matter how small. Spend what you can, trying to help local businesses. Tip generously. We need to help each other as we are all part of a greater community, and if we lose some of these local businesses, we all suffer. Please, please try to help each other and spend more during these times.

Friday, May 8, 2020

The 13th Anniversary of The Passionate Foodie!

Pop the Bubbly as it's time to celebrate!

Tomorrow, The Passionate Foodie blog celebrates its Thirteenth Anniversary, a significant milestone. During all those years, I've seen many other blogs come and go, but I've chosen to continue my writing. With over 4700 posts, I'm very proud of all I've written and have accomplished, and I look forward to continuing to write, continuing to share and spread my deep passion for food & drink.

I've actually been writing about food and drink for 14 1/2 years, as I wrote for another blog, Real World Winers (since defunct), for 1 1/2 years before I started The Passionate Foodie.

During the past 13 years of The Passionate Foodie, I've learned so much about food & drinks, exploring a wide variety of topics, essentially anything I can eat or drink. I never wanted to limit my writing to a specific cuisine, type of drink, or other specialty. I want the freedom to explore whatever perks my interest and I know I'll never run out of subject matter. Every time I learn something new, I realize how much more there is to learn. That is one of my favorite aspects and it helps that I'm a voracious reader and love to research new topics.

My blog has provided me a myriad of wonderful opportunities and experiences, creating a vast storehouse of fantastic memories. I've sampled so much excellent and exciting food and drink, in this country and others. I've gotten to travel to some amazing destinations, including Canada, CroatiaFrance (Bordeaux and Champagne), Spain (Sherry region), Italy (Tuscany & Collio), Portugal (Douro region), Argentina and Chile. In the United States, I've visited a number of states, including California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, and more.

Last fall, I visited Croatia for the first time and had such a wonderful time, filled with great food and drink, gorgeous scenery, fascinating history, and fine people. I've written about 27 articles about Croatia, and am sure there will be more to come. It's such a compelling destination and I highly recommend you consider it as a possible future travel destination. Plus, you should buy some Croatian wines and experience their quality and taste.

I've met so many interesting people, which has enhanced my experiences as I've long said that food and drink when shared is even better. Some of those people have become very close friends, and I think those friendships will last for many years to come. It has been fascinating to meet numerous wine makers, distillers, brewers, wine & liquor store owners, importers, distributors, restaurant owners, chefs, and much more. From each, I've learned something new, which has helped my writing and understanding.

During these thirteen years, what began as a hobby transformed into my profession. I'm now a freelance writer, having been published in a number of magazines and newspapers. I've recently started writing a column for Sampan, a bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England. I'm also a Sake educator and consultant, working for a variety of clients, from restaurants to distributors, conducting Sake classes, tastings, dinners and more. Plus, I work part time at a local wine store, gaining an insight into wine consumers.

In addition, I write fiction, and have published three novels and a book of short stories. The fiction is mostly part of the Tipsy Sensei series, about a Sake expert in Boston who learns that the supernatural creatures of Japanese folklore are real. In addition, this past year, I've publishing a crime novella, The Lion's Diamonds. I was also a contributor to a comprehensive whiskey guide, The New Single Malt Whiskey.

It has been my pleasure to try to showcase and promote under-appreciated and/or lesser known wines, spirits and other drinks, such as SakeSherryFranciacorta, Croatian WinesGreek Wines, Georgian WinesUruguayan WinesPortuguese WinesMezcal, Baijiu and more. I've championed many of these underdogs, all which are worthy beverages deserving of much more attention by consumers as well as other writers. We all need to expand our palates and seek out the liquid wonders that can be found all around the world.

Within the last year, I've spent lots of time researching and writing numerous historical articles about food and drink, and I'm especially proud of these articles, many breaking new ground in our understanding of certain topics. Some of these articles include:
I believe my writing has improved over all these years but some of my earliest articles still stand the test of time. I hope to continue writing articles that make me proud, articles that my readers find interesting and enlightening. And I want to keep challenging myself, to write better and better articles each year.

I owe many thanks to all of my readers, as it is their support and encouragement which has helped motivate me to continue writing year after year. I also owe thanks to my family and friends who have been so supportive for all these years. In addition, I am grateful to everyone in the food and drink community, from chefs to wine makers, who have helped contribute, in a myriad of ways, to my blog.  Life is about connections, about the relationships we make, and they all contribute to what we do.

If I didn't thoroughly enjoy what I've been doing, then it would have ended years ago. I find it fulfilling and satisfying, and hope that my passion for food, drink and writing never dims. I look forward to celebrating my 14th anniversary next year, and I hope my readers keep reading me year after year.

It's time to celebrate!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Historical Tidbits About Shochu In The U.S.

In April 2012, Sake and Shochu were declared by the Japanese government to be "national alcoholic beverages." The idea behind this decision was to help local economies, increase the demand for rice, and boost export sales. Motohisa Furukawa, the state minister for national policy, stated. "Sake and shochu are part of the Japanese culture of taking pride in high-quality rice and water. I'm confident [they] could develop into an export industry capable of penetrating the global market."

Though Sake is relatively well known in the U.S., and consumption continues to increase each year, familiarity with Shochu is much less common. There are Shochu advocates trying to promote this intriguing spirit, and I strongly recommend that you try to experience Shochu, expanding your palate and being adventurous.

In short, Shochu is a distilled alcohol, which can be produced from a variety of ingredients, including rice, chestnuts, sweet potato, milk, brown sugar, sesame, and more. The term "shochu" is written with the Chinese characters for “fiery liquor.” Like Sake, Koji is used during the fermentation process of Shochu. Its alcohol content commonly ranges from 50 to 90 proof (the legal maximum, dependent on the type of Shochu), and though it is commonly clear on color, there are varieties which possess some color too. It's important to know that Shochu is a diverse beverage, with many different flavor profiles, and it's fun to explore all of its varieties.

Shochu is generally separated into two categories, dependent on whether it undergoes a single distillation or multiple ones. Otsurui is distilled once and korui is distilled several times. Otsurui has a more distinctive aroma and flavor. It is more often enjoyed on the rocks. This type may also be referred to as honkaku, or "authentic," shochu, because it’s the original style. Koshu, as it is lighter and cleaner, is more often mixed in cocktails. Perhaps its most popular form is the chu-hi, a shochu high ball made using numerous fruit flavors. It can be found in single-serving cans or mixed fresh at bars and pubs. Another way to enjoy either type is known as oyu-wari, which is simply mixing it with a bit of hot water. This reduces the alcohol flavor, strengthens others flavors and warms the body.

It is thought that the origins of Shochu extend back in Japan to around the 16th century. During the 18th century, with the introduction of the sweet potato to Japan, shochu made from sweet potato started to be made. This is important as many consider sweet potato Shochu to be the best type. Today, Shochu is produced in all 47 of Japan’s prefectures, but the primary centers of production are Kyushu Island and Okinawa Prefecture.

What is the history of Shochu in the U.S.? Let's examine some of that history, to see how Americans perceived Shochu. 

The first reference I found was in A Treatise on Chemistry, vol. 3 (1881), by Henry Enfield Roscoe. The author stated, "The preparation of rice-spirit, or shochu, is conducted in Japan according to the following primitive plan. Rice is allowed to undergo a peculiar kind of fermentation: this yields the beverage called sake (from ki, spirit), containing from 11 to 15 per cent alcohol. The residue, after pressing out the sake moistened with some poor qualities of sake, is then submitted to distillation,.." He then continued, "The spirit thus obtained contains from 36 to 40 per cent of alcohol."

As we know, in 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan to sign a treaty opening trade between the two countries. At that time, many Americans were curious about Japan, desirous of learning more about that country and its ways. Initially, Sake took center stage as it was the primary alcoholic drink of Japan, served to Americans visiting Japan and attending formal functions. It took longer for Americans to learn about Shochu, especially as it was considered more of a drink for peasants. As presented in the Treatise, Shochu was made from the dregs of Sake production, a distilled spirit which was about 72-80 proof.

The first newspaper reference I located was in the St. Johnsbury Caledonian (VT), October 1, 1885, which published an article on Japanese beverages. The article noted, "In our country there is another liquor, called shochu. This is a clear tasteless distilled liquor; its toxology is tremendous. Hundreds of the people were are ruined by the dreadful drink. It is said that after taking shochu, to drink water or to wade a stream is dangerous." This is a rather unflattering depiction of Shochu, by a Japanese native, and certainly wouldn't entice any American to try it.

The San Francisco Chronicle (CA), October 3, 1893, related the tale of the island of Okushiri, located in the Sea of Japan. In 1885, the island had a tiny population of only 260, but they annually consumed $3000 of Sake, Shochu and other alcohol. It was stated that 9 out of 10 men were addicted to alcohol, and the people finally got together to change matters, making a contract, pledging to never drink again. The contract was for a term of five years, and it was renewed for another five. After making this contract, and abiding by its provisions, the island proposed, doing far better economically than when they were spending so much money on alcohol. This article was reprinted in other newspapers, in New York, South Carolina, Indiana, Maryland and Illinois.

This incident, without some of the identifying details, was discussed in the San Antonio Daily Light (TX), November 27, 1894. The article stated, "An island in the Japan sea...exists where the fishermen population who were formerly addicted to the inordinate consumption of alcoholic beverages have reformed and converted the place into an earthly paradise. The islanders were enamored of sake and shochu, those being the names of their local poison,.."

As an aside, we'll note that in the Laws and Regulations Relating to Taxation of Japan (1905), in Article I-6, it stated, "The word 'Shochu' in this law is held to mean liquor or spirits obtained by distilling the lees of Seishu." Seishu is the legal term for Sake, so we see that Shochu was made from Sake lees. However, the Article continues, noting that "Those obtained by distilling the following liquors are considered to be 'Shochu.': 1) Seishu; 2) Dakushu; 3) Lees of Mirin; 4) Those obtained after fermentation by using rice, mugi (wheat, barley, or rye), kibi (millet), hiye or sweet potato and koji and water as material or by adding shukobo." This seemed to extend the basic definition of Shochu beyond just using Sake lees, and included items such as the use of sweet potato. Such other items though were probably much rarer than the use of Sake lees.

During the first decade of the 20th century, mentions of Shochu were rare and brief. The Hartford Courant (CT), June 26, 1905, stated, "The only distilled liquor produced in that country (Japan) is shochu, distilled from rice." The Chicago Daily News (NE), February 10, 1906, noted "...there is a stronger kind called shochu, which contains as much as 50 per cent of alcohol." 

The Democrat & Chronicle (NY), May 21, 1910, mentioned that in Japan there was "A stronger variety, shochu, contains from 20 to 50 per cent of alcohol." This last article, about alcoholic beverages in the "Far East," was reprinted in many other newspapers during this time.

Sweet potato Shochu. The Evening Sun (MD), September 22, 1921, discussed the island of Hachijojima, located in the Pacific Ocean between Japan and the Bonin Islands. On the island, they  grew only sweet potatoes and rice. For many years, there wasn't a tax on liquor and one of the inhabitants, A. S. Yamada, created a monopoly on alcohol production. However, soon after that, Tokyo banned the manufacture and sale of alcohol. After the ban, many islanders wasted their money on alcohol, facing economic ruin, including Sake and "moonshine shochu, which is a strong spirit brewed of sweet potatoes."

This is the first reference to sweet potato Shochu outside of the mention in the Japanese law. The previous references had been to Sake made from rice, Sake lees. And the connection of Shochu and sweet potato would be mentioned numerous times in future articles, while mentions of rice Shochu would decrease dramatically.

The Detroit Times (MI), January 13, 1935, published an article on life in Japanese, including family life. The article briefly noted, "The head of the family alone enjoys his glass of 'shochu,' an alcoholic brew stronger and saki, which is rice wine." 

For example, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (MO), June 10, 1945 presented an article on Okinawa, mentioning that the men ".. take their relaxation almost entirely in drinking shochu, a liquor distilled from sweet potatoes which is cheaper, more potent and more plentiful than the Japanese sake. In dry seasons a bottle of good water can be traded even for a bottle of shochu." The Springfield Republican, June 10, 1945 also had an article on Okinawans, mentioning, "It is considered normal and manly for men to get beastly drunk on shochu, the strong drink of the islanders made from sweet potatoes, but women must not drink."

The Lockwood Luminary (MO), September 13, 1945 published an article on the Ryuku Islands, which includes Okinawa. It stated, "Drunkenness and imorality are the besetting vices of the men of the Archipelago. Ryukyu awamori, distilled from rice, has a higher alcoholic content than sake. Shochu 'burning liquor' distilled from sweet potatoes, is plentiful and cheaper." In short, Shochu was cheap and potent, made from sweet potatoes, and its consumption was limited to men.

The St. Louis Globe-Democrat (MO), November 20, 1948, noted that "All potatoes, white or sweet, can be made into a crude form of liquor that will stun like a blackjack." The article continued, "On Okinawa, natives use sweet potatoes to make their 'burning liquor' called Shochu."

Shochu as a Sake substitute. The Arkansas Democrat (AR), January 10, 1952, stated, "Shochu, made from sweet potatoes, is being widely used in Japan as a substitute for saki, the favorite wine, because of the rice shortage." This is another brief article that was reprinted in numerous other American newspapers across the country.

The San Angelo Standard-Times (TX), September 29, 1953, printed an article on Japanese culture, from motorists to Buddhists, and included information on their alcoholic beverages. There was a discussion of Saki, and then a brief reference to Shochu. "There is a distilled spirit, a saki brandy called shochu which is used by the poor who want a quick cheap buzz and as a libation for the departed spirits in the Shinto shrines."

A fascinating historical fact was mentioned in the Honolulu Advertiser (HI), October 10, 1954. It noted that, "An interesting fact in Japanese medical history is that sword wounds were treated with a 100-proof spirit distilled from sake called shochu preceding today's use of alcohol for cleansing purposes by several hundred years."

A terrifying Shochu incident. The Omaha World-Herald (NE), March 26, 1955, discussing a Tokyo AP article, noted that, "Shochu, a low grade sake made from sweet potatoes, killed five persons and blinded two others this week." No details were provided on this incident but it certainly wouldn't encourage any American to try Shochu.

Shochu moonshine. The Tampa Bay Times (FL), June 30, 1956, discussed a reporter in Japan who accompanied the police on a raid seeking illegal alcohol. The raid was successful and recovered a bunch of moonshine. "Moonshine is common in Japan and widely practiced by Koreans--" It was then mentioned, "Many liquor lovers got blind or killed when they drank methyl alcohol in moonshine when liquor was scarce right after the war." It was also noted that "..the moonshiners make cheap and strong (sometimes over 100 per cent proof) stuff called Shochu."

The Charleston News & Courier (SC), May 11, 1958 published that, "Shochu, the poor man's sake, originally was made from sake mash, but the modern version is a product of potato and other grains. Its alcoholic content is about 35 per cent or 70 proof." Again, we see that Shochu is cheap, something for the lower classes who couldn't afford Sake. It was interesting to see that Shochu wasn't commonly made any longer from Sake lees and other ingredients were now far more common.

Massaging cattle with Shochu? The Illinois State Journal (IL), December 1, 1962, mentioned that Japanese cattlemen fed their cattle beer and massaged them with "... shochu (Japanese gin)..." They claimed that the massages "... make the steers' blood more active."

The Las Vegas Review-Journal (NV), September 5, 1966, discussed the area of Sanya, Tokyo's "skid row." About 13,000 people, many who are Koreans, lived in flophouses in this area. It was noted, "Their diet consists of rice and noodle dishes, on which a filling meal can be made for as little as 30 yen (about 10 cents). They customarily drink Shochu, a raw liquor distilled from potatoes." The San Francisco Chronicle (CA), May 23, 1968, also discussed the Eta, the social outcasts of Japan, mentioning that they drink shochu, "... a kind of white lightning sake which sells for 40 yen (11 cents) a shot..."

The Atlanta Journal (GA), November 26, 1972, ran an article about Kagoshima, Japan. It was mentioned that, "They even have a sort of 'white lightning' in Kagoshima. It's a potent version of sake, Japan's most popular alcoholic beverage. This old Satsuma supersake is called shochu, and most Japanese abhor it. Kagoshimans down it with gusto."

Shochu statistics. The Greensboro Record (NC), March 16, 1973, detailed statistics on Japan's alcoholic consumption in 1972. Beer, the most popular drink, constituted 61.4% while Sake was in second place at 29.8%. Shochu, "a cheap distillate," constituted only 3.6%, with whisky at 2.7%;, and other alcoholic beverages at 2.5%. So, it's clear now that Shochu consumption was quite low in Japan, especially compared to beer and Sake.

Shochu consumption decreases. A year later, the San Francisco Chronicle (CA), March 31, 1974, noted that in Japan, whisky and brandy consumption now constituted 11% of the market, while "shochu, an inexpensive vodka-like spirit distilled from sweet potatoes" had seen its market share decrease by half. Already at a low amount, decreasing even further certainly wasn't good for Shochu, and it almost seemed it could end up as more of a footnote in the Japanese history of alcohol.

The Seattle Daily Times (WA), March 13, 1977, discussed the island of Kyushu, mentioning the popularity of Shochu. "Shochu is distilled from rice or sweet potatoes, unlike sake, which is brewed from rice in a process more like the manufacture of beer.." The article continued, "Shochu resembles the alcoholic drinks of China more than anything else. This may be due to the trading links which Kyushu developed with China some 1,500 years ago." The article also mentioned the potency of Shochu, that it can be 90 proof plus.

Shochu and snakes? The Abilene Reporter-News (TX), October 22, 1977, reported on Masuzo Nezu, aged 72, who created a drink with 70 proof Shochu and a batch of poisonous snakes, known as habu. This drink is supposed to contribute to longevity and sexual potency. However, about an hour after Masuzo placed 12 snakes into the shochu, one of the allegedly dead snakes came to life and bit him on a finger. He went to the hospital and was in fair condition. "The habu is common to the Okinawa islands of southern Japan, and sells for about $15 for use in the shochu drink. Shochu is made from potatoes and grain."


Shochu and longevity. The Honolulu Advertiser (HI), September 13, 1978, discussed a possible connection between Shochu and long life. It stated, "Japan's oldest citizen, Shigechiyo Izumi, 113, says the secret to good health is moderate exercise, a lack of worries and a daily glass of shochu, a strong distilled spirit made from rice or potatoes, which 'helps me feel relaxed.' A year later, the Sacramento Bee (CA), September 16, 1979, mentioned that Izumi drinks a half-pint of warm Shochu daily, and at his 114th birthday, there was much Shochu at his party.

Interestingly, a Shochu distillery tried to capitalize on Izumi, using his likeness on the label of their "Long Life" Shochu. However, the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), November 14, 1979, noted that Izumi contested the unauthorized use of his likeness, and he received an out of court settlement, which included a cash award of 200,000 yen, and he also would receive 1500 bottles of Shochu on an annual basis. The distillery probably thought that Izumi couldn't live much longer so they wouldn't have to give him too many bottles. They probably never suspected they might have to eventually give him about 10,000 bottles.

The Spokane Chronicle (WA), June 29, 1983, detailed that Izumi had celebrated his 118th birthday, mentioning that he had been born June 29, 1865, the same year that the Civil War ended in the U.S. Izumi was documented in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest man. And he was still receiving 1,500 bottles of Shochu each year. The Tyler Courier-Times (TX), February 1, 1985, noted that Izumi prefers a kind of Shochu made from black sugar. Unfortunately, the Alabama Journal, February 21, 1986, mentioned that Izumi had passed, though the cause of death was not yet known. He was 120 years old, and he had always claimed that Shochu was one of the reasons for his long, long life.


Shochu and Horse Sushi? The State-Journal Register (IL), July 20, 1979, in an article on the consumption of horse in Japan, noted, "Connoisseurs claim that top-grade raw horse has excellent body and a light taste. They say it goes well with 'shochu,' powerful distilled spirits also popular among the young." Quite an interesting pairing, and probably one you'll never find in the U.S.

In the Charleston News & Courier (SC), September 5, 1980, there was an advertisement for Pier 1, the home decor store, noting the sale of "Showy Shochu and Sake bottles." The ad said shochu was a "sweet potato brew" and that the ceramic bottles sold for $7.99 each.

Shochu consumption rising. The Pacific Daily News (Guam), April 23, 1984, discussed some statistics on Japanese alcohol consumption, noting that beer was still #1, at 66.4%, and Sake was still #2, at 19.8%. However, Shochu had seen a 30.2% rise, and it now constituted 5.2% of the total, whole whisky & wine were at 5.1%. Even with Shochu's large surge, it still was only a small percentage of the total.

The Indianapolis News (IN), August 18, 1984, noted that Shochu had gained popularity in recent years, causing some concern to beer producers. The article also mentioned how John Travolta had recently done a commercial for Shochu.

More statistics. The Los Angeles Times, August 21, 1984, stated that back in 1947, beer had replaced Sake as the most popular alcoholic drink in Japan. Since that time, Sake had only regained first place twice, and the last time that occurred was in 1955. Last year, beer constituted about 67% of the total and Sake was only at 20%.

Maybe the most lengthy and detailed, as well as very positive, Shochu article to first appear in U.S. newspapers was in the Tyler Courier-Times (TX), February 1, 1985, which discussed the new popularity of Shochu. This article would also be published in numerous other newspapers round the country. The article stated, "A colorless concoction once derided as lower class swill is toppling traditional tipples as Japanese drinkers join the worldwide trend to light alcoholic beverages." Shochu sales were increasing by about 15% each year, while Sake sales were declining by about 2% each year. Whiskey sales, which had peaked in 1980, had recently been flat. It also noted that Shochu sales by volume had overtaken domestic whiskey in 1983.

The article mentioned that there were two types of Shochu, Type A and Type B. Type A, "about 50 proof, is a colorless, tasteless, odorless distilled grain alcohol diluted with water and very similar to vodka." It is popular with young people, who commonly use it in cocktails. Type A was marketed as far back as 1910, to utilize excess alcohol. Type B "is more traditional and distilled from rice, barley or sweet potatoes, or even sesame, black sugar, or chestnuts, and ranges from 40 to 72 proof." It is more popular with middle-aged and older people. The most popular way to consume it in the winter is in a glass with hot water.

The article also stated, "true shochu connoisseurs can spend whole evenings comparing the merits of spirits from different areas." It continued, "Shochu is not only trendy, it's a lot cheaper because it is lightly taxed." For example, top grade whiskey is taxed at 50.3%, top shelf Sake at 40.1%, and beer at 48.8%. Type A Shochu though is taxed at 14.4% and Type B at only 8.7%. A huge difference which is reflected in Shochu's much lower price.

The National Post (Ontario, Canada), May 18, 1985, detailed some of Japan's latest alcohol consumption statistics for 1984. Beer was still the most popular beverage, at 65%, while Sake was still in second place, though at only 19%, down 9% from 1983. Shochu now constituted 8%, a 40% increase from 1983. Whiskey was only 4%, losing some of its market share to Shochu.

For some current statistics, we note that in 2008, 970 million liters of Shochu were produced, but that has been decreasing since then, as in 2017, total production was down to 820 million liters. In 2017, Sake consumption in Japan had dropped down to about 5.6%, a big fall since 1985, while Shochu consumption was now 8.16%, meaning Shochu was more popular than Sake, though Shochu consumption still was relatively low.

In 2018, the Nikkei Asian Review noted statistics on Shochu exports to the U.S. in 2017. First, it was mentioned that Sake exports to the U.S. came to 6 billion yen ($53.4 million) and whisky exports were worth 3.7 billion yen. Shochu exports though were only 390 million yen (about $3.5 million). So, Shochu is only a tiny niche beverage in the U.S., with lots of room for growth.

For more detailed information on Shochu, there are two excellent books on the subject:
There is two Shochu distilleries in North America, including:
  •  Hawaiian Shochu Company, which was established in 2013, and is located on the island of Oahu. They produce the Nami Hana brand, made primarily with locally grown sweet potatoes.
  • American Shochu Company, which is located in Frederick, Maryland. They produce Umai! Shochu ("umai" means "delicious"), an organic barley shochu. 
In addition, a couple other companies in the U.S. have made Shochu. Last year, the Colorado Sake Company collaborated with the Ironton Distillery to make Sai Shochu. St. George's Spirits, in Alameda, California, have created the St. George California Shochu, distilled from sake lees. I haven't tasted Shochu from any of these companies yet but I'm intrigued.

My top Shochu recommendation is the Tenshi no Yuwaku, 8 Year (pictured at the top of this post), which is made from 83% Sweet Potato and 17% Rice. It was aged in Sherry casks for about 8 years, which is rare as few Shochu are ever aged this long. It's name translates as "Angel's Temptation," a reference to the Angel's Share, the amount of spirit that evaporates over time while it ages in a barrel. It is rich, creamy and smooth, with intense Sherry notes, hints of sweetness, and plenty of complexity. Simply sublime.

(Revised/Expanded as of June 22, 2023)