The Sipsmith Blog

William Terrington and the Surprising History of Cordial

in Articles January 26, 2015

You may have seen a little something last week about Sipsmith’s big news. We’re delighted to present our new Original Cordials for Gin by Sipsmith, which evoke London’s rich sipping history – and which just so happen to go smashingly with gin.

And while we certainly think our cordials are Original, they aren’t unprecedented. In fact, the history of cordial goes back centuries – although a little dive into the books shows that they weren’t always used to add a kick to our cocktails.

As with so many traditions involving the drinks we savour now, cordials, along with liqueurs, were first conceived of as medicine hundreds of years ago (note that genever was also initially imagined as a juniper-flavoured cure-all). As likely to be found in monasteries as apothecaries, they consisted of mixtures that steeped spices, herbs, and other ingredients thought to settle the stomach, restore the constitution, and otherwise promote good health.

That history of cordial long had its medicinal associations, then, which continued all the way through to 1869, when William Terrington, in his influential “Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks,” (a book that he hoped would become the bible of how the modern man drinks), described cocktails as “compounds” used to “fortify the inner man.”

cordials, along with liqueurs, were first conceived of as medicine hundreds of years ago…

Before we start sipping, though, it’s worth discovering: who was William Terrington, and why was he so influential? Though he’s less well known than celebrated cocktail veterans Professor Jerry Thomas and our own beloved Harry Craddock, Terrington should be venerated by any and all with a taste for British spirits.

For starters, his aforementioned tome was the very first British drinks book that printed cocktail recipes – making him quite the 19th century trendsetter. For another, he devoted much page space to cordials, and how to prepare them at home as a core part of a delightful cocktail.

And it wasn’t just cordials that Terrington helped pioneer. The “cup” recipes that he penned – broadly, punch-style drinks or drinks flavoured with fruits, aromatics, and other ingredients – are certainly still popular today (just see Sipsmith Summer Cup for proof). And, after soaking up his pages, we’ve concluded that he could very well have been the first Sipsmith: not only does he talked about ‘spirits that should be sipped, not bottled’, in a kindred spirit sense, he also records:

“Some of these preparations are, indeed, of a flavour so exquisite, that the epicure may well be tempted to exclaim ¬¬- “One sip / Will bathe the drooping spirit in delight /Beyond the bliss of dreams.”

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Mr. Terrington.

In creating our Original Cordials for Gin by Sipsmith, we took (several) pages from his book and looked to celebrating London’s rich cocktail-making past – as well as the rich history of cordial.

The Original speaks to the very first cocktail recipe published by Terrington, which married gin with ginger and orange bitters. Our Gimlet is a refreshing, floral lime concoction, while the third in the line, the Bishop, is based on Terrington’s Good Bishop, favoured by Dickens and which consisted of roasted citrus and clove.

This is no simple exercise in nostalgia, but rather a celebration of how cocktails used to be sipped – and therefore how cordials used to be made; real, full of flavour, and without any creep from modern day techniques. Just pure, simple concoctions that are an homage to the art of classic bartending.

Inspired? Begin with our take on Terrington’s Original cocktail, with its rich notes of orange bitters and spicy ginger, currently being mixed at the Coq D’Argent and the Clove Club in London.

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