There’s not much to say about the Palmetto. Except to say it’s delicious and mysteriously absent from most cocktail menus. If you ask for one from a bartender who returns a blank stare, just say “it’s a rum Manhattan” and their eyes will light up.
It’s possible this drink goes back to the 1870s vermouth craze in New York City, but the first documented recipe I’ve found is in Jacques Straub’s 1914 pocket-book Drinks. Straub was the son of a Swiss distiller, and worked as a wine steward at Louisville’s famed Pendennis Club before relocating to Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel. But, as David Wondrich notes in his foreword to the book, Straub was a tee-totaler. No wine, no booze. So what we have in Straub is a simple curator, a collector and distributor of data. His catalog of recipes must’ve been cribbed from the various bartenders he knew in Kentucky and Illinois – and for the most part, those recipes are still solid 100 years later.
Having said that, an adjustment to his spec of equal parts rum and Italian vermouth (1.5 oz each) to a 2:1 ratio prevents this from veering off balance. After all, the rum brings its own sweetness to the party – vermouth can take a small step back.
In the book, Straub calls for St. Croix rum; Cruzan Aged Dark Rum would be the closest widely-available version. But a tour of the Caribbean suggests even better options: try Appleton Estate V/X from Jamaica, El Dorado 8 from Guyana, or the fantastic Mount Gay Black Barrel from Barbados, which brings delicious cinnamon and vanilla notes to the drink.
Hardware: Mixing glass, Jigger, Barspoon, Cocktail pick, Hawthorne strainer, Fine-mesh strainer
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Aged rum (recommended: Appleton Estate V/X, El Dorado 8, Mount Gay Black Barrel)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Italian vermouth (recommended: Dolin, Noilly Prat, Martini & Rossi, Carpano Antica)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Orange bitters (recommended: Regan’s), orange twist
Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.
In a mixing glass, add:
2 1/4 oz aged rum
3/4 oz Italian vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
Add a mix of ice cubes and cracked ice to cover well above the liquid level. Stir well to blend and chill, then double-strain (to catch small bits of ice) into the prepared, chilled glass. Pinch an orange twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then lightly brush the twist around the glass exterior. Garnish with the twist.
Barbados (early 18th century)
This is the most you’ll ever hear me talk about The Bible, not just on this site, but ever. Get it while you can.
What that old book has to do with the tiny southern Caribbean island of Barbados, I’ll share in a moment. It’s my grand (and more than slightly half-assed) theory of where this name “Corn ‘n’ Oil” came from. The drink itself is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it situation, and the drink’s name has encouraged even more dissension, with plenty of ideas about what the hell corn and oil have to do with rum, lime, and Caribbean spices.
Up through the 15th century, the native Arawak people had Barbados to themselves (and most likely created the idea of spit-roasted wood-smoked meat, “barbacoa,” the granddaddy of southern US barbecue). Thanks for that. Spanish explorers (you know, the guys who “explored” the fun to be had with raping and pillaging) arrived in the 15th century. It didn’t take long for the Arawaks to leave Barbados and get replaced by droves of pigs imported by the Spanish, left to graze and be reclaimed for dinner on a return voyage. The English colonized Barbados in the 17th century, and although independent now, it remains part of the British Commonwealth. Some Arawak people eventually returned when the coast was clear of “explorers.”
In the early 18th century, German Protestant missionaries arrived in Barbados. Funny enough, that was around the same time the Barbadians (“Bajans”) learned how to distill rum from the molasses left over from making sugar. And, following the production of rum, they came up with a delightful homemade liqueur of rum, ginger, lime, almond, allspice, and clove they called “falernum.” Now, falernum was the Latin name for the popular and coveted wine grown by the farmer Falernus in the foothills of Mount Mossico in Italy way back in Biblical Roman times. How did the Bajans get this name for their spiced liqueur? It’s gotta be by way of the missionaries.
Here comes The Bible stuff:
“…I will give you the rain of your land in His due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.” — Deuteronomy 11:14
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to take this Biblical idea of an agricultural tribute sacrifice to God (corn, wine, and oil – they crop up several times in the book) and have the native Bajans adapt it to sanctify their homegrown hooch, their easy punch of rum, falernum, and lime as “Corn ‘n’ Oil.” After all, it may taste devilish to some, like manna from heaven to others.
In 1890, John D. Taylor of Bridgetown, Barbados, began selling his falernum commercially. It’s still commonly available today as “Velvet Falernum” — but I don’t recommend it. Compared to homemade or to the commercial version by B.G. Reynolds, well… there’s no comparison. Likewise, some great rums from Barbados are easy to come by, notably Mount Gay “Eclipse” and Plantation Barbados 2001 — really stellar on their own or in other drinks, but they tend to fade in this particular cocktail. Some fire & brimstone is in order here, and it fell to Murray Stenson to revive this almost-lost drink while he was working at Seattle’s Zig Zag Café, and his idea of using Cruzan Black Strap Rum from the Virgin Islands has become the industry standard. The deep, black, almost sulfurous molasses flavor of the blackstrap balances the sweet spicy ginger of the falernum, keeping the drink from becoming cloying or limp. A bright dash of lime’s acid across the crushed ice gives your lips something to think about while you sip the drink, and helps solidify the cap of crushed ice on top.
The mystery of how Murray learned about the Corn ‘n’ Oil remains, though… I hope to get the answer out of him someday.
The first couple times I tried this drink (using different recipes), I hated it… until I tried the version served at Portland’s amazing tiki bar Hale Pele by proprietor Blair Reynolds (the same guy behind the previously-mentioned B.G. Reynolds line of syrups & liqueurs). Blair was kind enough to share his preferred recipe for the Corn ‘n’ Oil, and it’s turned me into a believer.
Here endeth the lesson.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Crushed ice
Glassware: Rocks glass
Spirits: Blackstrap rum (recommended: Cruzan Black Strap)
Mixers & Liqueurs: falernum (recommended: BG Reynolds’ or make your own; recipe linked above)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime wedge (reserve from squeezing)
In a shaker about a half-full with crushed ice, add:
1 1/2 oz black strap rum
1/2 oz falernum
Shake briefly to blend. Pour unstrained into a rocks glass. Mound with additional crushed ice. Over the drink, squeeze:
1 lime wedge (one quarter lime)
Garnish with the spent lime wedge.
Café Royal, London, England, 1937
Drinking seasonally just makes sense, and for my money in the winter months, there’s nothing like a brisk gin cocktail that matches the cold outside. Sure, hot drinks like Hot Buttered Rum, Irish Coffee, or Hot Toddy are comforting, but frosty-cold gin is reality-affirming in a weird way. Like walking through a snowy pine forest in shorts.
As the 19th century turned into the 20th, French aperitif wines known as quinquinas (say it “keen-keen-uz”) or kinas were all the rage. Similar to vermouths, they use cinchona bark (the source of quinine) for the bitter element in lieu of (or in addition to) vermouth’s wormwood. Quinine is the famous anti-malarial agent administered to British troops serving in India via healthy portions of Gin & Tonic (tonic being sparkling water spiked with a syrup of quinine and citrus peel). Although effective, bracing, and refreshing, the Gin & Tonic isn’t the friendliest flavor. Enter the kina: a sweet, citrusy aperitif wine delicious enough to enjoy on its own before dinner – with its sweetness tempered by just enough bitter quinine. The kina brand you choose will affect the sweetness of your finished cocktail: if you like it drier, go with Tempus Fugit’s Kina L’Avion d’Or. For a sweeter drink, try Lillet Blanc. Right down the center is Cocchi Americano. Like vermouths, keep kinas in the refrigerator after opening and use within a couple weeks. Also like vermouths, they’re great on the rocks before dinner.
This cocktail dates from the Café Royal Cocktail Book, published in 1937 – the height of the Art Deco movement. Apparently it was named by its creator, British bartender C.A. Tuck, for the luxurious 20th Century Limited passenger train that operated between New York City and Chicago. I can’t find any evidence the drink was actually served aboard the train as part of its cocktail program (it doesn’t appear on the dining car menus from the period), but it certainly would’ve fit. It’s similar to the Corpse Reviver #2 – sleek and mysterious, with a hint of chocolate on the back. Luxurious and sophisticated, I have yet to serve one to anyone who didn’t love it.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Vegetable peeler
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirit: London Dry Gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray)
Liqueurs: Kina (recommended: Kina L’Avion D’Or, Cocchi Americano, Lillet Blanc), Crème de Cacao (white) (recommended: Marie Brizard)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Lemon twist