The modern cocktail renaissance does a lot of looking backward. From Jerry Thomas, the 19th-century bartender behind the first known cocktail book, to Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, who created the concept of tiki at his bar Don the Beachcomber in the 1930s, the inspiration for much of today’s mixology comes from the past.
Well, one problem with looking into the past for cocktail recipes is that you can’t always find all the ingredients you need. Prohibition (and the years of cocktail doldrums that followed) killed off a vast range of formerly popular brands, and even entire categories of spirits.
Intrepid bartenders, distillers and other creative experts have resurrected some of these old-timey spirits, re-creating flavors that had disappeared for decades or even centuries. Here are a few bottles brought back from the dead that you should try.
LEGENDRE OJEN ($20)
New Orleans loves liquorice flavors in cocktails: just look at the absinthe-rinsed Sazerac or the anise-spiked Peychaud’s Bitters, both invented there. In the early years after Prohibition, an anise liqueur from Spain called Ojen caught on in the Crescent City, becoming a popular ingredient in drinks like the eponymous Ojen Cocktail, a mix of the liqueur with Peychaud’s and a bit of simple syrup. In the early 1990s, the last distillery making Ojen announced it would be shutting down, and the owner of Big Easy liquor store Martin Wine Cellar bought its entire remaining inventory, some 6,000 bottles. Those lasted more than two decades, but the last one was sold in 2009. Ojen was gone from the face of the Earth. Until early 2016, that is, when New Orleans-based spirits giant Sazerac (which owns dozens of brands including Pappy Van Winkle and Southern Comfort) relaunched the spirit. You can now again find it throughout south Louisiana.
LEOPOLD BROS. MARYLAND-STYLE RYE WHISKEY ($45)
Before Prohibition, rye was America’s favorite kind of whiskey. And back then, there were two major types of rye: the dry and spicy style favored by Pennsylvania distillers, and the sweeter, gentler style made in Maryland. As bourbon became America’s whiskey of choice, rye faded away, and not a single Maryland distillery made it past the 1970s. Todd Leopold, self-described “spirits nerd” and master distiller at Denver’s Leopold Bros. distillery, set out to revive the style, sampling vintage Maryland whiskies and consulting with historians and other experts about how they were made back in the day. The result was this spirit, first released in 2011, which isn’t the rebirth of a particular defunct brand but an entire defunct category. There are really three things that make this a Maryland-style rye: The mashbill uses just 65 percent rye, quite a bit lower than most modern ryes; the mash is fermented for longer than normal, which allows the growth of bacteria that create organic acids, which convert into fruit-flavored esters during barrel-aging; and the newly distilled whiskey goes into the barrel at fairly low proof, which pulls a different set of chemicals from the wood and creates a softer spirit.
BATAVIA ARRACK VAN OOSTEN ($35)
The word “cocktail” was invented in the early 1800s, but people had been mixing spirits, juices, sugar and other flavorings to create punches long before that. As far back as the early 1600s, the funky and powerful Batavia arrack was one of the most sought-after punch ingredients. Distilled from a mix of sugar cane and rice on the island of Java in modern-day Indonesia (which was called Batavia back then, when it was a Dutch colony), Batavia arrack was one of the first distilled spirits to be invented, predating even rum. It was hugely popular in America in the 18th and 19th centuries but had disappeared from our shores entirely after World War II. That changed 10 years ago, when Haus Alpenz, which specializes in importing unusual styles of spirits and wines, found a Javanese distillery that could revive the defunct Van Oosten brand. Thanks to the company’s efforts, you can now make authentic punches the way Dutch East India Company executives would have enjoyed them half a millennium ago.
CREME YVETTE ($35)
In the early years of the 20th century, there was a bit of a fad for bright-purple liqueurs flavored with violet petals. These intensely floral concoctions went into popular drinks like the Stratosphere, which adds violet liqueur to sparkling wine, or the Aviation, which mixes it with gin, maraschino liqueur and lemon juice. Creme Yvette, flavored with violets as well as four different types of berries, was one of the top brands in the category. It was made by a Philadelphia company called Charles Jacquin et Cie from 1900 until it faded away in the 1960s. Thankfully, the grandson of Charles Jacquin et Cie’s founder just happened to be a spirits entrepreneur in his own right. Rob Cooper, who’d already created the wildly successful elderflower liqueur St-Germain in 2007, decided to dig into the family recipe books and brought back Creme Yvette in 2010. Cooper died tragically young in 2016, but his legacy lives on in the form of this resurrected spirit.
ESPRIT EDOUARD ABSINTHE SUPERIEURE ($100)
Real absinthe was not available in the US (and most of Europe) from the very early 1900s until about 10 years ago, thanks to misguided bans based on false information about the spirit’s supposed hallucinogenic properties and poisonous ingredients. That ban was overturned largely thanks to the work of one man: Ted Breaux. A research chemist, Breaux spent years analyzing all the samples of pre-ban absinthe he could lay his hands on, eventually proving to the FDA that wormwood and other botanicals used in the spirit are perfectly safe for human consumption. Breaux’s brand Lucid became the first legal absinthe in the US since the Taft presidency in 2007, and his current company, Jade Liqueurs, is dedicated to rigorous reconstructions of vintage absinthes. Esprit Edouard was Jade’s first bottling released, based on analysis of sealed bottles of a highly regarded French brand from the Belle Epoque period.
THE LOST DISTILLERY COMPANY
Ever heard of the Lossit Scotch distillery? How about Auchnagie? Stratheden? Don’t feel bad: They shut down in 1867, 1911 and 1926, respectively. But you can still taste what their whiskies were like thanks to the Lost Distillery Company. The company’s experts, led by a University of Glasgow historian, analyzed remaining samples of these long-lost spirits and vintage records from their distilleries to create detailed profiles of what the whiskies tasted like. Then a panel of tasters created blends of modern single malts designed to recreate those flavors. You can find several Lost Distillery bottlings in the US, including three that first came to our shores just a few months ago: the fruity Benachie Classic Selection, the spicy and nutty Lossit Classic Selection, and the rich and almost creamy Towiemore Classic Selection ($43 each).
KINA L’AERO D’OR ($33)
James Bond might be famous for his shaken Martinis, but the first drink he orders in Casino Royale, the 1953 novel where the character made his debut, is actually a Vesper, a mix of gin, vodka and Kina Lillet, a fortified wine from France infused with quinine-containing chinchona bark, citrus and many other botanicals. Kina was a popular category a hundred years ago, with lots of brands available, but by the time of 007’s debut, Lillet was already about the only one left, and the brand stopped making its kina entirely in the 1980s. (Lillet still makes several wine-based aperitifs, but none of them contain chinchona.) Enter Tempus Fugit Spirits, a company that both imports and manufactures a wide variety of historically accurate old-fashioned booze. First released in 2014, its Kina l’Aero d’Or is a rebirth of the kina category, and the name and label pay tribute to the first airplane flight across the English Channel, in 1907. It’s perfect for a Vesper, Corpse Reviver No. 2 or just in a glass with a couple ice cubes.