The Bamboo Cocktail - history, recipes & pseudonyms
Words by Simon Difford
Photography by Dan Malpass
Arguably the best-known of all classic sherry cocktails, the Bamboo is also noteworthy due to its lack of base spirit – being simply a mix of sherry and vermouth, sometimes also with dashes of bitters. It's a delicious cocktail but like so many classics there are numerous recipes and conflicting stories as to its origin.
The Bamboo Cocktail's creation may have been inspired by the Adonis, also sherry-based with vermouth and orange bitters. The Adonis is made with sweet (Italian) vermouth while the Bamboo is usually made with dry (French) vermouth (but can be made with sweet vermouth and sometimes with both sweet and dry vermouth).
Various recipes for the Bamboo play on the balance between sherry and vermouth. Some use sweet vermouth to balance the dry sherry, others a dash of sugar syrup or liqueur, some are just plain dry:
Bamboo Cocktail (Stuart's 1904 recipe) with 2 parts fino sherry to 1 sweet vermouth.
Bamboo Cocktail (Boothby's 1908 recipe) with equal parts dry vermouth and fino sherry, 2 dash orange bitters and 2 drops Angostura bitters.
Bamboo Cocktail (Savoy 1930 recipe) with 1½ parts fino sherry, ¾ vermouth and ¾ sweet vermouth.
Bamboo Cocktail (Joaquín Simó's recipe) with equal parts fino sherry and dry vermouth sweetened with a splash of sugar syrup.
Bamboo Cocktail (Difford's Perfect recipe) with 1½ parts fino sherry, 1 sweet vermouth and ¾ dry vermouth.
Bamboo Cocktail (with Palo Cortado Sherry) with 2 parts Palo Cortado sherry to 1 dry vermouth
Bamboo Cocktail (with triple-sec) with equal parts fino sherry and dry vermouth with a splash of triple sec liqueur.
Some say the Bamboo Cocktail was inspired by and named after Bob Cole's 1902 hit song Under the Bamboo Tree but the drink predates the song by more than a decade. It could instead be that the popularity of this cocktail, which by 1900 commonly featured on cocktail menus and was widely available as a bottled version, inspired the song.
In his 1908 book The World's Drinks And How To Mix Them, William T. "Cocktail Bill" Boothby, a celebrated bartender of the day, credits the drink to Louis Eppinger of the Grand Hotel in Yokohama, Japan. (The hotel was renamed the New Grand in 1913.)
1908 The World's Drinks And How To Mix Them
Louis Eppinger, an acclaimed German bartender who made his name tending a small bar on Halleck Street, San Francisco, was brought to Japan in 1889 to manage the bar at Grand Hotel by a group of American naval officers stationed in Yakohama who had an interest in the hotel. They sought to import U.S. cocktail culture to Japan, a desire Eppinger fulfilled at the Grand Hotel until just months before his death in 1907.
The Grand Hotel, Yokohama, Japan
Thanks to that reference in Boothby's 1908 book, cocktail history has assumed that Eppinger created the Bamboo Cocktail in the late 1890s, soon after arriving in Japan. But, as with so many vintage classic cocktails, this previously accepted story would appear to be wrong and we're indebted to EverythingInTheBar for collating and presenting the contradictory evidence.
When was the Bamboo created?
The first reference to the Bamboo dates back to 1886 - three years before Eppinger arrived in Japan. Indeed, Boothby doesn't actually say that Eppinger created the cocktail while in Yokohama. He merely references the place Eppinger was noted for working at the time he was compiling his book. "Originated and named by Mr. Louis Eppinger, Yokohama, Japan". Eppinger could have created, and almost certainly first made the Bamboo Cocktail while still working in San Francisco during the mid-1880s and perhaps earlier.
...and by who?
The first-known written reference to the Bamboo Cocktail (11th September 1886) credits an Englishman, not Eppinger who was of course German.
"A new and insidious drink Has Been Introduced by some Englishman, and is becoming popular in New York barrooms. It consists of three parts sherry and one part vermouth, and is called 'bamboo'."
Western Kansas World 11th September 1886.
Just eight days later, another 1886 newspaper article also credits an unknown Englishman with the creation of the Bamboo.
"One of the latest and most insidious drinks was recently Introduced into swell saloons in this city by an Englishman. Consists of three parts sherry and one part vermouth. It is called 'Bamboo,' probably Because after imbibing the drinker feels like 'raising Cain'."
St. Paul Daily Globe 19th September 1886
The Bamboo also features in Thomas Stuart's 1904 Stuart's Fancy Drinks and How to mix them, listed in the final pages within the "New and Up-To-Date Drinks" section. Sadly, this first appearance in a drinks recipe book does not credit its creator.
1904 Stuart's Fancy Drinks and How to mix them
So, who created the Bamboo Cocktail remains a mystery, although Louis Eppinger certainly played an important role in popularising this sherry and vermouth cocktail.
The origins of the Bamboo are further clouded by recipes with the same or similar ingredients appearing under different names. In his book Imbibe!, David Wondrich says, "By 1893, the drink was being poured in the "uptown Broadway hotels and cafes" in New York with the moniker Boston Bamboo."
The 28th July 1889 edition of the Pittsburg Dispatch mentions a Sea Cocktail, saying "Lots of men alight in here and call for a "sea cocktail," an odd fancy of mine, composed of sherry, vermouth and orange bitters, with a spoonful of shaved ice."
Other pseudonyms appear later:
Reform Cocktail in Robert Vermiere's 1922 Cocktails - How to Mix Them
Reform Cocktail in Harry Craddock's 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book
Amour Cocktail in Trader Vic's 1947 Bartender's Guide
Amour Cocktail in David Embury's 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Cocktails.