Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | February 11, 2009

Hannibal Hamlin

While reading Gary Regan’s, The Joy of Cocktails I came across a cocktail called the Hannibal Hamlin. The cocktail was listed on the pyramid menu outside of Harry Johnson’s bar Little Jumbo in New York City (page 18). The list included a number of classic cocktails still made today like the Mint Julep, Tom Collins, Absinthe Frappe, and Manhattan Cocktail, but one stood out: “Hannibal Hamlin.” Hannibal Hamlin was a senator from Maine in the mid-1800s and served as Abraham Lincoln’s first vice president. He’s also family to me (and most people who go by the name “Hamlin”), so naturally I was very curious about the recipe of this cocktail. Regan’s book didn’t include it, nor could I find it on any online cocktail databases or cocktail books in my possession.

Harry Johnson was one of the great barmen of the late 1800s. In 1882 he published a book, titled New and Improved Illustrated Bartender’s Manual. I thought that might be a good place to find a recipe for the Hannibal Hamlin. After all, if it was good enough to write on the wall of his bar, it was likely good enough to make it into his book. Johnson’s Bartender’s Manual is currently being reprinted by Mud Puddle Books. I reached out to Greg Boehm of Mud Puddle and asked if his version included a recipe for the Hannibal Hamlin. Unfortunately, it did.

Greg proceeded to start an investigation into the recipe, searching old books and manuals for the recipe. After a few days he found a Dutch cocktail book with a recipe. He did a rough translation of it:

in the sorbet freezer.
the juice of half a lemon.
the juice of half an orange.
1 / 2 glass of fine ice deleted.
1 pipe glass of cognac.
1 pipe glass of rum.
2 tablespoons honey.
This also freeze and serve in a silver cup.
N. B. The honey solve with cognac and rum.

Hannibal Hamlin

Hannibal Hamlin

I tried an approximation of it and it was clear I wasn’t getting it right. Greg said he’d keep looking, but I had a feeling that this was simply a recipe that wasn’t quite good enough to stand the tests of time. It did, however, provide the inspiration for my H.H. Punch a little while back.

Out of the blue this week I got another email from Greg saying he’d found a new recipe that worked much better than the one above.

Hannibal Hamlin
1 1/2 ounce arrack
1 1/2 ounce cognac
1/2 ounce maple syrup
3/4 ounce orange juice

From Die Modernen Getraenke by F. J. Beutel (1919)

This is a very strong, boozy cocktail. The arrack and cognac give it two dominant flavors that play fairly harshly together. The orange juice is sweet but only adds a light citrus tone – perhaps some lemon would make sense. I’d initially thought the half ounce of maple syrup would be way too much, but the strength of the base spirits actually make the syrup necessary. As I continued to sip the drink, stronger vanilla-cream flavors merged in with the orange. I was impressed with the combination of flavors – they started out very boozey and sweet but ended up working well together.

I’m totally indebted to Greg Boehm and am currently on my way to ordering a few old cocktail books from Mud Puddle Books. I’d love to be able to do more of this research on my own in the future, but am greatful that there are people out there ready to help answer questions that date back 150 years.  Check out CocktailKingdom.com for more on Greg and Mud Puddle Books.

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Responses

  1. William Schmidt has a recipe in The Flowing Bowl from 1891 which may be the earliest written recipe for the drink:
    Hannibal Hamlin
    • Juice 1/2 Lemon
    • Juice 1/2 Orange
    • 2/3 Peach Brandy
    • 1/3 Old Jamaican Rum
    • 2 Tbsp Honey
    Shake with ice and strain into a fancy glass.

    • Good find – this also sounds a fair deal more appealing than the slush attempt…


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