Turf Club Cocktail

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A sibling, or at least cousin, of the Martinez and the Martini, the Turf Club is, or could be, the first cocktail to combine gin and vermouth. It makes its first written appearance in the 1884 How To Mix Drinks–Bar-Keeper’s Handbook as the “Turf Club” with later books most often merely titling the drink “Turf”.

The name Turf Club refers to the gentlemen's clubs of the late 1800s - early 1900s which operated as a combined restaurant, bar, meeting place and gambling den for the gentleman of the day. Captains of industry and the aristocracy have always liked horse racing and where men gather to watch racing there is bound to be betting. Many a 'turf accountant' (bookmaker) frequented such clubs and many a Turf Cocktail was consumed.

One of the most famous of these gentlemen's clubs, The Turf Club, stood at the corner of Madison Avenue and 26th Street in New York. The building, Jerome Mansion, was a building with some pedigree, being the former home of Lady Randolph Churchill, the American mother of Winston Churchill - a man I suspect would have appreciated a well-made Turf Club cocktail.

There are several versions of the Turf Club Cocktail, obvious in the extracts from cocktail books over the decades shown in chronological order below. I've included links to my modern day adaptations of four of the recipes below and while working on these I came up with my own riff on the classic.

Historic print references

The oldest mention of the Turf Club cocktail is in George Winter's 1884 How To Mix Drinks-Bar-Keeper's Handbook. Sadly we don't have a copy of this tomb so the following recipe is courtesy of David Wondrich's excellent Imbibe (page 244).

Turf Club (Winter's 1884 recipe)
"Two or three dashes of Peruvian bitters
One-half wine glass of Tom Gin
One-half wine glass of Italian vermouth
Fill glass three quarters full of fine ice, stir well with spoon and strain in fancy cocktail glass, then serve.
For my adaptation of this recipe click here

George J. Kappeler's 1895 Modern American Drinks also includes a Turf Cocktail but his recipe uses old tom gin rather than Plymouth Gin and omits both vermouth and maraschino liqueur.

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Turf Cocktail (Kappeler's 1895 recipe)
"One dash Angostura bitters
three dashes orange bitters
one jigger Tom gin
in a mixing-glass half-full fine ice.
Mix, strain into cocktail-glass; add a piece of twisted lemon-peel."
For my adaptation of this recipe click here

Harry Johnson tellingly doesn't list the Turf cocktail in the 1882 first edition of his Bartenders' Manual but does include it as the last drink in his revised 1900 "New and Improved" Edition.

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Turf Cocktail (Johnson's 1900 recipe)
"(Use a large bar glass)
¾ full of fine shaved ice
2 or 3 dashes of Orange bitters
2 or 3 dashes of Maraschino
2 dashes Absinthe
½ wine glass of French Vermouth
½ wine glass of Plymouth gin
Stir up well with a spoon, strain into a cocktail glass, putting in a medium size olive, and serve."
For my adaptation of this recipe click here

Sadly I don't own one of the early editions of Harry McElhone's ABC of Mixing Cocktails but thanks to Dave Wondrich on esquire.com we know that McElhone's 1922 edition contains a version of the Turf Club that's strikingly similar to Johnson's recipe above.

Turf Club Cocktail (McElhone's 1922 recipe)
"1½ oz Plymouth gin
1½ oz Dry vermouth
2 dashes Maraschino liqueur
2 dashes Orange bitters
2 dashes Absinthe
Garnished with an olive."

In his 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book, Harry Craddock also repeats Harry Johnson's 1882 recipe:

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Turf Cocktail (Craddock's 1930 recipe)
"2 dashes Orange bitters
2 dashes Maraschino
2 dashes Absinthe
½ French vermouth
½ Plymouth Gin
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass"

Published two years after the Savoy, Robert Vermeire's Cocktails:How to Mix Them, again repeats the Harry Johnson formula, also crediting Johnson as being the drink's creator.

Turf Cocktail (Vermeire's 1932 recipe)
"Fill the bar glass half full of broken ice and add:
2 dashes of Orange Bitters
2 dashes of Maraschino
2 dashes of Absinthe
1/4 gill of Plymouth Gin
1/4 gill of French Vermouth
Stir up well, strain into a cocktail-glass, add olive.
Note especially no squeezed lemon-peel on top.
(Recipe by Harry Johnson, New Orleans)"

According to Albert Stevens Crockett's 1935 The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, the Turf Cocktail served at the venerable old hotel was actually 2/3rds jenever to 1/3 sweet vermouth (as below) but I find these proportions make an overly dry drink so I've slightly upped the proportion of vermouth to gin in my adaptation.

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Turf (Crockett's 1935 recipe)
"Dash of Angostura Bitters
One-third Italian Vermouth
Two-thirds Holland Gin (Stir)
At times a good half - possibly two-thirds - of the crowd in the Bar were interested in racing."

Charles H. Baker, Jr's 1946 The Gentleman's Companion: An Exotic Drinking Book is more a travel log with recipes than a bartender's guide so accordingly he has a fair bit more to say on the Turf cocktail than the other authors quoted above, documenting three versions of the drink and where he encountered them:

The Improved Turf Cocktail, No. 1 (Baker 1946)
"a modification of own from Dirty Dick's, Nassau, B.I., 1937
We first sampled this drink in Nassau quite some time back, having flown over Pan-American Airways, after the official tourist season was finished, with a 6-year bride and 4 friends, to do a bit of sailing and swimming and basking on undiscovered white sand beaches by vitriol blue coral water that is clearer than anywhere else in the whole universe. A gentleman of colour suggested this as a dry, appetizing taste-thrill at Dirty Dick's, and found it to be merely Holland gin and vermouth - nothing else except Angostura - in a 2 to 1 ratio....
After a bit of later experiment on self and friends we discovered that the addition of ½ a green lime - strained juice - and ½ tsp of grenadine or bar sugar works miracles with this drink.

Turf Cocktail No. II (Baker 1946)
"from the Taj Mahal Hotel, on Apollo Bunder, in Bombay, Saturday, February 14th 1931, to be exact;
Served after the Running of the Maharajah of Rajpipla Gold Cup at the Western India Turf Club, Ltd.
We had won all of sixty-seven rupees on this gold-cup, 23,000 rupees race, and were feeling very horsy and turfy, and tired of the eternal chotapegs - just plain Scotch and not-too-cold soda, without ice, of the last few days -and were open for suggestions. G.J. Mack, local Manager for General Motors Export, suggested a Turf Cocktail, of a recognised mix, and after a barrage of Hindustani this resulted, much to everyone's amazement: 1 jigger of dry gin, 1 pony French vermouth, 1 tsp of absinthe, or Pernod Veritas; donate 1 tsp of maraschino and a dash of Abbots bitters. Stir in a bar glass like a Martini and serve in a Manhattan glass, ungarnished.

Turf Cocktail No. III (Baker 1946)
"from the Havana Country Club, Winter of 1930
This is virtually the same as No.II, only using old Tom gin for a base, orange bitters, and everything else the same."

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