Airmailing a Hot Toddy into Alabama, Part 1

Previously on the Rituals: My childhood friend Jason came to Los Angeles to help us deconstruct some weird cocktails (the AFTER DINNER, AFTER DINNER SPECIAL, and the AGGRAVATION) and offer his opinions. It was good to have a different perspective around—to keep Brian and me in check—and this success encouraged us to include guest tasters whenever possible. So this week Brian’s friends Andrew and Jesse join us in Brian’s kitchen to help us go through the next three drinks in the Complete World Bartender Guide, copyright 1977: the AIRMAIL SPECIAL, AL LONG’S SPECIAL HOT TODDY, and the ALABAMA.

There is no mention of the AIRMAIL SPECIAL on the Internet, whatsoever, but instead of filling me with excitement, like the A-1 PICK-ME-UP, this dearth of information depletes my energy stores. We are back in the jungle again, with anarchy, and no road map to guide us. Going by what the Bartender Guide tells us, the AIRMAIL SPECIAL is a cousin of the AMERICAN FLYER, which looks like a daiquiri topped with champagne. The AIRMAIL SPECIAL uses honey as its sweetener, however, instead of sugar, and to me it looks like a promising cross between a honeyfied daiquiri and a French 75. But we all know looks can be deceiving.

AIRMAIL SPECIAL
1.5 oz Bacardi rum
1.5 tsp lime juice
1 tsp honey
Champagne (Korbel)

Combine rum, lime juice, and honey, with ice. Shake extra well and strain into glass. Top with champagne.

Andrew: It’s a little sour.
Brian: There’s probably a little too much lime juice in there. Most Prohibition-style drinks were trying to mask the shitty alcohol they used.
Andrew: It’s extremely dry. Extremely.
Jesse: Maybe it would come alive with a sweeter champagne.
Brian: It IS super dry.
Jesse: It tastes like water to me. A watered-down drink.
Eric: There’s nothing in the middle. It’s all beginning and finish with a big empty middle. It’s like a doughnut.
Brian: Dry champagne and then lime juice at the end.
Andrew: I’ll say it’s not really a drink you’re going to smell on someone’s breath.
Jesse: That’s very true. Good for drinking and driving! [editor’s note: Jesse’s views and sense of humor do not reflect the opinions of The Rituals website]
Andrew: It’s sweeter at the bottom.
Eric: Maybe it’s because of that floater of champagne.
Jesse: The floater. I always wonder about those. Maybe you have to take a big enough gulp to taste everything at the same time.
Andrew: I use the word sweet loosely, of course.
Jesse: Let’s ask how much would I pay for it in a bar. One dollar. If it was one dollar I would drink it.
Andrew: But with all of the ingredients they’d be paying you $12 to drink it.
Eric: An inauspicious beginning, Brian. But not atypical for us.
Jesse: I don’t know, though. On a very hot day in 1925 I might have liked that.

SCORES: Scores: Brian 2.5, Eric 4, Jesse 4, Andrew 6.

One thing, though: There is some mention online of a cocktail called simply the Airmail, and its ingredient list looks comparable to the AIRMAIL SPECIAL, although it seems there is nothing special about it. Is this the same drink? The Airmail was reportedly published in the Handbook For Hosts in 1949, and asks for 2 ounces of golden rum, ½ ounce lime juice, 1 teaspoon honey, and 5 ounces of Brut champagne. A common contemporary version calls for 1 ½ ounces of gold rum, ¾ ounces lime juice, ¾ ounces 2:1 honey syrup, and Champagne. We make a version from San Francisco’s Beretta (published in Imbibe Magazine) that asks for añejo rum, 1:1 honey syrup, orange blossom honey, and prosecco, with a Pisco Sour-esque Angostura design on top—while employing none of these exotic ingredients or techniques. The ratios are already way better, however, and everybody agrees that the añejo rum will round it out even more.

I can’t help but be left with a dull feeling of failure, though, about our AIRMAIL SPECIAL. Did Brian put a full 1.5 ounces of lime juice in this drink instead of 1.5 teaspoons? It’s a plausible theory that would explain a lot. If so, I would suggest terminating the slander of this cocktail and revisiting it as soon as possible.

[Editor’s Note: A couple of weeks later Brian and I tried the Airmail again, with proper ratios this time. Although the cocktail was much better, it was still unremarkable. We both gave it a 5.]

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On the Next Rituals: In Part 2 Brian, Eric, Andrew, and Jesse find out who Al Long is and why he makes a special hot toddy.



Eric D. Anderson

About

Eric D. Anderson came to appreciate cocktails late in life and is trying to make up for lost time. He finds that crafting drinks involves the same precision, creativity, sociability, and ritual as baking—another passion—and believes that it brings people together in the same way. Eric is the director of Way of the Puck, a feature-length documentary about professional air hockey, and the editor of Stories of Quitting (storiesofquitting.com), an online collection of true stories that celebrate giving up. His writing has appeared in AGNI, Painted Bride Quarterly, Perigee, Giant Robot, and Wild Quarterly, among other publications. In his free time he works as a camera operator on commercials and motion pictures.


Always drink responsibly!