Untangling the Remsen Cooler and the Highball

One of my favorite topics—because I find I am frequently the victim—is how history gets mangled. Later–if we’re lucky—it gets untangled.

This example is inspired by the latest Life Behind Bars episode (recommended) with Noah Rothbaum and @splificator, who has been on this particular case since at least 2007, writing for Esquire. (To be clear, the following is pretty much just my new hypertext presentation of @splificator’s work.)

Here we have an easily-overlooked passage from Boothby’s 1891 American Bar-tender:

A few years later, we have this in Kappeler’s Modern American Drinks (1895):


Remsen is misspelled, and his drink is now presented as a variant of a Ramsay Cooler, which itself is presented as a variant of the Catawba Cooler. Turns out John Ramsay was the owner of the Port Ellen distillery back the in 19th Century (today ravaged by Diageo), he was quite famous in his field, and it seems his name was probably attached to actual whisky at some point.

Here is Kappeler’s Catawba Cooler recipe:


Ok. We’ve got ice now, too.

But five years after that, in Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual, the spelling is corrected, but now it’s a scotch drink—calling for a brand of scotch that never existed!—while acknowledging that some folks want Old Tom or even Sloe Gin:


From this point, Remsen Cooler recipes would go on to be replicated endlessly as a scotch highball with the addition of the horse’s neck garnish. Meanwhile, here’s Johnson’s (1900) Highball recipe a few pages away:


One thing is for sure: today I shall mix up my first Remsen Cooler with Old Tom Gin!

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Just adding that Jacques Straub included ‘Dry Gin’ & soda combo (no ice) in his 1914 ‘Remsen Cooler’ and ‘Old Tom’ & ginger ale in his ‘Hilly Croft’ (with a lump). By the time Mr. Crockett got to them in “Old Waldorf Bar Days”, they both were made with ‘Old Tom’ at the base and iced. This is a good example of the stuff that wound up on the cutting room floor of my book or it would’ve been a thousand pages. Not to mention the rabbit hole that is ‘Hilly Croft’…ha!

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The Old Tom Gin version of the Remsen Cooler also appears in a 1903 uruguayan cocktail book that I’m currently investigating (a recent discovery of mine that predates by 8 years B. Iglesias’ cocktail book, constituting the first published cocktail book in the River Plate region –Uruguay and Argentina– so far).

The recipe:

Usando vaso grande

Una rebanita de limón; tres pedazos de hielo; una parte de Ginebra Old Tom y una botella de soda. Agítese con la cucharadita.

(Using large glass / One slice of lemon, three pieces of ice, one part Old Tom Gin and a bottle of soda. Stir with a spoon.)

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@martin, is “vichy” just slang for soda water, or is it referencing a particular brand? I’m thinking of Vichy Catalan, which has a very distinctive flavor that would certainly play… interestingly… with scotch.

My understanding is that “Vichy water” originally was mineral water from the hot springs of Vichy, France, and came to be used generically for (ostensibly curative) mineral water.

Vichy Catalan was called ‘Vichy’ because Vichy Water, as described by Martin, was extremely popular and it was thought it’d sell better that way.

Both real Vichy waters and Vichy Catalan are naturally sparkling, high in sodium and bicarbonates. but Vichy Catalan is actually lower in both ingredients than the French real deal.