Whether it’s rodeo or polo season, celebrate the equine with these cocktails
They say you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
Ever think it just wanted something stronger?
Truth be told, horses and cocktails have a long, long history. In fact, the origin of the word cocktail very possibly started with a horse.
At the time, the word cocktail began to refer to potent alcoholic beverages that made people act like horses’ behinds. The word cocktail had long been in use to describe a horse’s docked tail that stood up similarly to that of the feathered tail of a male chicken. By the early 17th century, horses with docked tails were described as cock-tailed horses.
Having such a tail was attributed to horses of high standing, good health and excellent breeding. Hunters and coach horses sported these plumes, as were prized riding horses of the aristocracy.
One theory suggests that inferior or older horses whose tails had been adulterated to make them appear to be something they were not were said to have been “cock-tailed.” As it became popular to adulterate strong or cheap liquor with other ingredients to make them palatable, the drinks became known as cocktails.
However much truth there might be to such theories will never be known. But in Texas, where at this time of year the state’s equine citizens get a lot of attention, it seems only right to credit them with being the namesake of one of life’s great pleasures.
There are a myriad of specific cocktails named in honor of horses and their kin.
One version of the Quarter Horse cocktail is a perfect transition drink for this discussion. It’s a sipper made with bourbon, ginger beer and a little bit of Rose’s Lime Juice. While the name is new, the drink has been around for quite some time, and that’s the reason it seems to be the perfect transition cocktail. It’s old name is Horsefeather.
As with the old cock-tailed swindle, do check out your horse before ordering. An alternate Quarter Horse recipe tosses the beer and lime juice, replacing it with cognac, single malt smoky whisky, Benedictine and red vermouth.
Considering the cocktail’s early connection with the well-bred, it would seem appropriate to start with a High Horse. Served in a rocks glass, the High Horse is a stirred mixture of aged rum, Kirsch brandy, cherry liqueur, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters. It’s garnished with a brandied cherry. After several of these, one might be told to get off your High Horse.
One of the best known, horse-related cocktails that dates back more than a century is the Horse’s Neck, a drink known less for its taste or ingredients than for its elaborate garnish. It’s a show horse.
The perfect Horse’s Neck has a lemon-peel spiral made from an entire lemon and measuring 6 inches or more. At the end of it, the peel is cut to resemble a stylized horse’s head and neck. The spiral is placed in a high ball glass, curling up the sides until the head and neck hang over the rim. Ice is placed inside the spiral. The drink itself, bourbon, ginger ale and a few drops of bitters, is carefully poured in so as to leave the swirling lemon peel in place.
When drinking with the horses demands something oh-so-civilized, consider the Pimm’s Pony Cocktail. Perhaps more polo than rodeo, this gin cocktail includes Pimm’s No. 1 Cup and Sprite.
For a truly classic drink that lives up to its name, try a Trojan Horse. It’s a classic not because it’s an old drink. It’s not. It’s just the name is from a classic. It lives up to that name, however, because just as the original Trojan Horse turned out to be something altogether less pleasant than it appeared to be to the Trojans, the cocktail is made with equal amounts of Guinness stout and Coca-Cola. It’s an acquired taste.
Feel like a Dark Horse? One popular version calls for dark rum, coffee liqueur, vermouth, lemon and cola. A lighter Dark Horse calls for gin, curacao, orange and tonic. There are various other versions in between these two. Dark horses follow no rules.
While paying tribute to all the grand cock-tailed horses and their aristocratic lineage, it would seem a shame not to show a little appreciation to their working-class cousins, the mules. The cocktail world does.
The most famous, of course, has to be the Moscow Mule, which has no connection to Moscow. It was simply an amazingly successful marketing program by the American-made Smirnoff Vodka company and a bar in Los Angeles. The original drink is a mixture of ginger beer and vodka.
Variations are as numerous as lineage questions about mules. Some include the Kentucky Mule, the Irish Mule, the Mexican Mule, the Yule Mule, the Georgia Mule, the Texas Mule and the Cider Mule. They all are similar but use various substitutes for the ginger beer and/or vodka.
One good example served locally is in Kemah at the 707 Chophouse, 707 Bradford St. There, bar master John Schilhab serves up the restaurant’s 707 Peach Mule. This refreshing version brings in Texas’ Dripping Springs Vodka, a little peach schnapps and the traditional ginger beer. Schilhab also is known for a similar drink called the Bradford Bull, inspired by a bull decoration in 707’s back dining room, but that’s another rodeo.
Mike Norfolk, the talented bar manager at Number 13 Prime Steak and Seafood at 7809 Broadway in Galveston, has his own mule in the herd. It’s the Cherry Mule, made with Dripping Springs vodka, lime juice, simple syrup and Cherry Heering Liqueur, all mixed with a muddle of mint, Luxardo Maraschino Cherries and ginger.
So be it horse, pony or mule, the drinking world owes an untold amount of gratitude to our equine friends. A salute is due to both cocktails and the horse they rode in on.
707 Peach Mule
Cocktail created by 707 Chophouse in Kemah
1 ounce 1876 by Dripping Springs Vodka
½ ounce peach schnapps
½ fresh lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup
Fresh mint for garnish
Combine the vodka, schnapps, lime juice and simple syrup and pour into a copper mug — the kind sold for the traditional Moscow Mule — filled with ice. Top with ginger beer and stir. Garnish with the mint.