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Fizzes: the very best cocktail family?

The Morning Glory, the Peach Blow, the Silver and the Golden, the Elk’s and the Hobbs – we take a look at the best effervescent sours.

Of all the cocktail categories, and there are many of them, the fizz is possibly the best.

Ok, ballsy way to start but I can back this up.

While the Martini will always reign supreme as king of the cocktails, with its close companions the Margarita and the Old Fashioned, those are drinks to get drunk on. The fizz is silky smooth, can carry its booze, is beguilingly light and can contain a myriad of flavour combinations. Put simply fizzes are delicious. They haven’t changed much either in the last 200 years we’ve all been quaffing them – probably because they don’t need a lot of tinkering.

Fizzes are easy to define – they’re essentially a sour charged with soda water and served long, usually without ice. And just that small measurement of soda water changes the sour from something basic into a majestic drink.

 “At any time or in any place where the tongue and throat are dry; when the spirits are jaded and the body is weary; after a long automobile trip on hot and dusty roads; it is then that the Gin Fizz comes like a cooling breeze from the sea, bringing new life and the zest and joy of living. And in the ‘morning after the night before,’ when the whole world seems gray and lonesome, and every nerve and fibre of the body is throbbing a complaint against the indiscretion, just press the button and order a Gin Fizz – “Not too sweet, please!” It comes. Oh shades of the green oasis in the sandy desert of life!”

Told you they were good. Certainly Ernest Rawling agrees with me, or would if he were still around, having penned that ode in his 1914 Rawling’s Book of Mixed Drinks.

Having sipped more than a few fizzes, including classics such as a Ramos Gin Fizz (gin, lemon, lime, orange flower water, egg white, cream and soda), a Japanese Fizz (scotch, port, lemon, egg white and soda) and the wickedly creamy Peach Blow Fizz (gin, strawberries, lemon, egg white, cream and soda) and some modern day incarnations – personal favourite found on an old menu at Happiness Forgets, the Angel Fizz – the fizz seems like an open and shut case. But of course history has more to tell.

Having learnt a lesson or two last time I asked the internet for help, I went straight to the bookshelf and pulled out Imbibe. There really is no better book to get to the root of a drink and I often wish I had its author, David Wondrich, on speed dial.

“If the Sour has one fault,” writes Wondrich, “it’s that it lacks zip (this of course is also its virtue; zip is a fine thing, but all zip all the time can get to be a bit much). But charge your basic Sour with fizz water, and it sparkles and dances in the glass, bland simplicity transforming itself into clean directness…but it didn’t come into its own until after the Civil War, and when it did there was – as so often in American saloon culture – a certain amount of confusion about what to call it. Was it a John Collins? A Daisy? A Fizz?”

Originally there was some confusion between a collins and a fizz, both being long sours. However a collins is served over ice while a fizz typically isn’t. Of course America, the nation which brought us so much cocktail culture, invented this problem in the first place as they don’t seem to add egg white to sours and fizzes as much as the UK does. In London it’s very easy to tell the difference, one is frothy and silky, the other not.

But the yanks wanted a solution, and they found it in glassware. Fizzes should be served in a smaller glass than any other long drink and they should be drunk immediately, or as Wondrich puts it “it’s meant to be drunk down with dispatch.”

“The Collins and the fizz are both spinoffs of the sour – they’re really just sours with the addition of club soda – and the difference between them is nothing more than glass size and garnish,” writes Dale DeGroff in The Essential Cocktail. “A Collins goes into a tall or Collins glass and is garnished with a cherry and an orange slice; a fizz is served short in a highball glass, once known as a Delmonico glass, without any garnish. In other words a fizz is a Collins on the short plan.”

From Jerry Thomas’s first mention of a fizz, back in 1876, the style quickly caught on, giving us the Silver, Golden, Morning Glory, Police Gazette, Elks’, Electric Current, Green, Sitting Bull, Ramos – the list goes on, and with good reason. Fizzes were invented to get us up and moving again after a heavy night on the sauce – this was the original Bloody Mary meant to put a spring in your step.

“Into the saloon you’d go, the kindly internist behind the bar would manipulate a bottle or two, and zam! There stood the glass packed with vitamins, proteins (assuming you went for one with egg in it) and complex sugars, foaming brightly and aglow with the promise of sweet release. Civilization proceeds, but not always forward,” writes Wondrich. Indeed,

We haven’t got too far away from that tradition though if you look at cocktails such as the Morning Glory Fizz, on which DeGroff notes “Over the years, I’ve soothed thousands of hangovers with this famous eye-opener.”

The whole idea of drinking it quickly is backed up by plenty of other sources in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manuel the Whisky Fizz has this note – “this drink must be drank as soon as mixed, in order that it should not lose its flavour”, reiterated for the Silver Fizz “this is a delicious one, and must be drank as soon as prepared, as it loses its strength and flavour” and again for the Gin Fizz “bear in mind that all drinks called Fizz’s must be drank as soon as handed out, or the natural taste of the same is lost to the customer.” Even Jerry Thomas weighs in with “drink without hesitation.”

Not a session drink then.

But such a well documented cocktail, with a clear concept of exactly what it was, comes to us modern day drinkers with a few great stories. The best is possibly

“Professor” Denton, of Brooklyn, New York, who used to put away forty in a day back in the early 1890s. Billing himself as “the champion gin fizz drinker in America” he was a regular at all the Williamsburg bars. Sadly our hero died after betting that he could drink a fizz and eat the glass, too.  Let’s just say internal haemorrhaging and leave it at that.

Then there are the stories of shaker boys at the Mardi Gras in New Orleans right up until prohibition. It was Carl Ramos, inventor of eponymous famed Ramos Gin Fizzes using cream and egg white, who would hire strong men to shake these drinks endlessly during the festival as guests would clamour at the bar for a sip of his house special.

Carl Ramos was put out of business by prohibition but he decided to tell everyone the recipe for his drink, ensuring it could still be sipped in secret up and down the American coast, and legally drank across the pond in Europe, where we still enjoy a Ramos today.

From the Savoy Cocktail Book written in the 1930s we have 27 fizzes listed, and the number of classically known fizzes only increases from there. Interestingly we still enjoy drinks made to the specifications of those imbibers over a hundred years ago. Classic bars such as Milk & Honey and Satan’s Whiskers will list fizzes unchanged from the original recipes while modern interpretations tend to stay within a confined set of rules.

Of course there are exceptions to everything, and in 2009 Joaquin Simo invented Pearls Before Swine at Death & Co in New York where he replaced the egg for yoghurt and lemon curd to create a cocktail which was as delicious as a Ramos but took a lot less longer to shake.

Fizzes are great cocktails, and while soda is such a simple edition to the drink, it makes a world of difference. Luckily there is a plethora of fizzes to try, long may they last.