The Tuxedo isn’t so much a cocktail as it is a style of cocktail, a class of cocktail. Not like a flip or a sour, more like a Turf Club. It’s not a specific recipe, it’s a general kind of drink that can vary from one practitioner to the next, but was once popular enough to be in every cocktail book and on every menu. Think of it as a house drink, or as the tomato sauce at an Italian restaurant. Every place has their own way of doin’ it.
The Tuxedo is characterized by the use of gin and bitters. It’s a stirred cocktail, but history shows a variety of both gin, bitters, and other ingredients. As with all martini like cocktails, the Tuxedo traces its roots to the 19th century. Some place the origin in the 1880s, although written records of note are all 20th century publications. That’s OK, because we do associate the name with one of the first planned communities in upstate New York.
Tuxedo Park is still a place in Orange County, close enough to the city to be a suburb, but far enough away from the city it’s comfortable for the people who don’t have to go there alot. It’s designed for affluence. Originally, a haven for the rich and fabulous, where you could get this drink at the Tuxedo Club, the planned cocktail bar for the planned community. The cocktail name, Tuxedo, refers to the garment, and the attention it garnered from the well to do when their youngsters cut the tails off of their coats. It was a fashion thing at the time. The Prince of Wales was know to favor short, tailless coats while in the countryside, and the youngsters in rural New York figured, since they, too, were countryside...
Then everything gets hazy. Those 20th century publications with Tuxedo cocktails? Yeah, they’re all different. The earliest, from 1903, uses something called maple gin, while the rest use the more common old tom gin. By the 1930s, the old tom gin faded in favor of London dry gin, which is used in Harry Craddock’s recipe, but Harry McElhone chose old tom gin for his Tuxedo. Both, however, stick with tradition and add a few dashes of both maraschino liqueur, and absinthe.
We say tradition because, around the time of World War I, as some bartenders began reaching for London dry gin instead of old tom, they also began reaching for sherry. Replacing vermouth with sherry and eschewing the absinthe is likely a consequence of the time. Absinthe was under scrutiny, and would be the first victim of early 20th century temperance advocates. Evil absinthe was, if not completely illegal by the time sherry makes an appearance in the Tuxedo, very much out of favor with both the authorities and the public at large. The green fairy came with baggage, and what better way to refine the poisons out of your drink than by changing them altogether.
That’s the tale of the Tuxedo. How much sherry did any of those bartenders use? Pick a number. The Tuxedo is a have-it-your way cocktail, and you can find many recipes today that use either sherry or vermouth, or that omit the maraschino. Some use way more maraschino, but largely you find a Tuxedo with gin, sherry, and bitters, or, the more traditional blend of gin, vermouth, maraschino, and bitters. Absinthe seems only involved in the vermouth version, but only sometimes. In the end, pick what you like. The Tuxedo is supposed to be a variety drink, and is a great platform for interpretation, experimentation, or creative expression.
Our Tuxedo uses old tom gin, vermouth, and a little of everything else. Ransom Old Tom Gin, to be exact, which we match with Ransom Dry Vermouth. Maraschino, Luxardo is fine, absinthe, Haint Absinthe in this case, and Scrappy’s Orange Bitters are all added with a very restrained hand. The star of the show is the gin, so everything else is calculated to support the Ransom Old Tom, and the end result is, as a Tuxedo should be, unique in a very personal way.
Stir with ice, and serve up. Garnish with a lemon twist, and a maraschino cherry.
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