The Prince of Wales got around. The future Edward VII spent his first 59 years of life as heir apparent to the English throne, but his mother Queen Victoria shut him out of all royal business and political power. With no official duties, Albert Edward became "the playboy prince", and typified the life of a wealthy late-Victorian gentleman of leisure. He pursued affairs with Lillie Langtry, Sarah Bernhardt, Winston Churchill's mother Jennie Jerome (who was erroneously linked with a classic cocktail), and Alice Keppel (the great-grandmother of Camilla Parker-Bowles, who was herself to become the mistress of another Prince of Wales) -- not for nothing was he later known as "Edward the Caresser."
His other appetites were legion as well: the Prince of Wales exemplified "the sporting life" of shooting, sailing, betting on the horses, and gambling. And, of course -- and of most interest to this blog -- drinking. At the age of eighteen, the prince toured North America, and one biography reveals that on October 6, 1860, he visited Richmond, Virginia, where "his most enjoyable experience is said to have been, not the historical explanations and hospitable companionship of Governor Letcher, but the first taste of a mint julep mixed by a negro of much local fame in the preparation of this cooling drink."
Less than two years later, the young prince embarked on a tour of the Middle East, and another biography notes that the royal party's provisions on its excursion up the Nile included "twenty thousand bottles of soda water, three thousand bottles of champagne, over four thousand bottles of claret of various kinds, besides liqueurs, bottled beers, sherry, and spirits. How much of this vast sea of liquid was ever consumed neither history nor tradition can say."
He is also credited with having composed an excellent "cocktail." It consists of a little rye whisky, crushed ice, a small square of pineapple, a dash of Angostura bitters, a piece of lemon peel, a few drops of Maraschino, a little champagne, and powdered sugar to taste. This "short drink" is often asked for at the clubs which he frequents.
For guidance on modern quantities and execution, I turned to David Wondrich's excellent book Imbibe!, a veritable encyclopedia on nineteenth-century drinking and the life of Jerry Thomas, author of the first bartending book. And, there exists the tantalizing possibility that Thomas and the Prince may have even met across the bar: when the Prince visited New York in 1860, he visited Barnum's Museum (where Thomas earlier operated a bar in the same building), and stayed in the Fifth Avenue Hotel, a little over a mile away from where Thomas held court at 622 Broadway. Wondrich quotes from an account of the prince's visit published by a George Forrester Williams, which has the prince sneaking out of the hotel (to avoid the throngs of admirers) and escaping down 23rd Street:
As they turned up Sixth, Doesticks posed the question: "Have you ever drunk a mint julep, sir?" No, the prince had not. Yes, he would. And here's the kicker: "Thomson led the prince into a famous barroom presided over by the no less famous Jerry Thomas, one of the greatest artists in his line or time." His Royal Highness watched the "elaborate and picturesque style of manufacture practiced by the mixers of elixirs in those antebellum days with profound curiosity and admiration," took a sip, said, "Why, it's only a lemonade, after all," revised his opinion as the Julep-glow suffused him, and pronounced it "very, very nice."
This account was published in 1902, forty-two years after the prince's visit, and conflicts with the 1901 biography quoted above in which the prince tastes a mint julep in Richmond, a bare week earlier than his visit to New York. Wondrich notes some other problems with the story, in a passage that's worth quoting at some length:
Now, if there were ever two people who should have met, they were the Prince of Wales and Jerry Thomas; they had much in common, from a deep curiosity into the composition of drinks to an interest in the operation of the rules of probability to an unshakable prson dignity leavened with humor. But the details, the details. What was Thomas doing up there on Sixth Avenue when his bar down Broadway was open? And why is there no other record of this bar? And, most of all, what the hell was he doing putting lemon in his Julep?. . . But according to one Richard Doolittle, a New York businessman, the outing was rather wilder than Williams, who has things ending quickly and sedately, let on. As Doolittle recalled in 1892, the prince and his party ended up downtown, rather worse for the wear, and -- as happens in these situations -- got separated. "The heir to Britain's throne wandered, unattended, into a . . . resort and proceeded to make things pretty lively," whereupon "the bartender started in to squelch him, and would have done so effectually had I not taken charge of the roisterer and piloted him back to his party." Jerry Thomas's bar was downtown, it should be noted, and I doubt he was disposed to take any guff from splificated customers, heirs to the throne or not.
But back to the prince's eponymous cocktail. It's a marvelous drink, with the spicy rye (I used the baby Saz, which was just right) and the sweet Maraschino and pineapple playing off each other and the bubbly tying it all together. I strained the cocktail, as Wondrich recommends; the original recipe from the 1901 biography doesn't describe how to build the drink, and does mention "crushed ice" as an ingredient, which made me wonder if this was a julep- or cobbler-type drink with a mountain of crushed ice. But the presence of Champagne would argue against that -- you don't want to lose that lovely fizz -- and who am I to argue with the learned? (Using lots of ice in the shaker seems appropriate; after all, Edward lent his name to an Antarctic peninsula -- and let's be glad there's no fish in the drink.) As the gentleman and scholar Paul Clarke writes, "It’s a decadent recipe to read, and the drink is obviously the work of someone who takes their refreshment very seriously, and has plenty of time and resources to do so. A prince, in other words."
The Prince of Wales Cocktail
- 1 1/2 oz. rye
- 1 oz. Champagne
- 1 small piece pineapple (fresh is preferable to canned; if you use the canned stuff, rinse off the syrup);
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 1/4 tsp Maraschino
- 1 tsp sugar (or simple syrup)
Stir the sugar with the bitters and 1/2 tsp water in a mixing glass. Add the rye, Maraschino, and pineapple. Add cracked ice until the glass is 2/3 full, and as Wondrich describes, "shake brutally to crush the pineapple. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, add the cold champagne, and deploy the twist. Then smile."