The early twentieth century is an interesting time from the cocktail point of view. In the United States, at least, it was an entry into a period of change that saw many social movements (women's suffrage for example) and a lot of excess (the Roaring 20's) and, of course, Prohibition (1920-1933). Actually, one could say that Prohibition was the result of (or maybe even the combination of) the good times and social movements.
The Turf Cocktail pre-dates those good times (it was first mentioned in Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual published in 1882) but it has the look of something of that period. After mixing it up, it has the slightest hint of green but it is so clear and still that you might think it's maybe a reflection of something in the room around you.
That color and glassy stillness is an indication of what you're getting into. This isn't a drink like, say a Kamikaze, where the taste isn't really the point. The appeal of this cocktail is that it drinks like it looks.
It's smooth like glass. If you let it play on your tongue a little bit, you'll begin to breathe in the anise and orange flavors. The herbal notes of the gin and vermouth mesh with them and of course, the maraschino manages to poke its head through with some added sweetness.
Now, bear in mind that, being from the period it is, it may have a little bit of a medicinal quality to it. I find the astringency pleasing, actually, and don't consider it a negative.
So, why am I writing this during the holiday season?
Because its look and taste remind me of walking in the clear sunshine and brisk cold of a clear and windless winter afternoon. An afternoon where the long shadows of trees are cast across a glassy lake and you think of the cocktail you're going to make when you get home.
The Turf Cocktail
(1922 recipe from Cocktails: How to Mix Them by Robert Vermeire)
1.5 ounce gin
1.5 ounce dry vermouth
2 splashes orange bitters
2 splashes maraschino liqueur
2 splashes absinthe
Stir well over cracked ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Add an olive.