When we make a punch from Jerry Thomas’ 1862 tome How to Mix Drinks or a Corpse Reviver No. 2 using the recipe in Harry Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book, we say we’re drinking a bit of mixological history. But to truly sample a cocktail as these legends intended, you need to use vintage spirits that date back to their eras. They may be rare and quite expensive, but old bottles of everything from whiskies and gins to vermouths and liqueurs can be found, and there are a handful of bars around the world where you can order these extra-special ingredients.
All-star barman Salvatore Calabrese helped start this trend by offering ancient cognacs and other spirits wherever he has worked in London. (Currently, you can visit him and his collection at Salvatore at Playboy.) But you don’t need to cross the ocean to taste these hard-to-find bottlings. Here are a few places across America to try liquor that’s really old-school. Cheers!
Billy Sunday, 3143 West Logan Boulevard, Chicago, 773 661 2485:
This Windy City joint (pictured above) serves up some amazing mixed drinks with obscure ingredients and house-made components (including four different tonics). But what’s most impressive is its assortment of vintage fernets and other Italian amari, ranging back as far as 1938. If you’ve only ever heard of Fernet-Branca, you’ll be blown away.
What to Drink: Fernet China from the 1960s
Canon, 928 12th Avenue, Seattle:
Looking for a truly unique dram? Head to Seattle, where you’ll find Canon owner Jamie Boudreau’s unbelievable Captain’s List, an 86-page menu of the hundreds of spirits he carries. Skip ahead to the “Hardcore Porn” section for an extensive collection of vintage whiskies and more, including Amer Picon from 1890 ($1,500 a pour), Canoe Club Whiskey from 1898 ($1,225) and Old Overholt from 1901 ($1,125).
What to Drink: Wallet Wiggler Scotch flight (Dallas Dhu from 1980, Glen Keith from 1968, Cardow from 1984)
With locations in Paris and London in addition to the Big Apple, the Experimental Cocktail Club is dedicated to fixing fine drinks of all kinds. And its selection includes gin, rum, Scotch, cognac, vermouth and liqueurs dating back to the 1940s, ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, which you can order by themselves or in a range of tipples.
What to Drink: Stinger (Courvoisier 3 Star Luxe Cognac from the 1950s, Imperium Crème de Menthe from the 1940s)
MilkWood, 316 West Main Street, Louisville, Ky., 502 584 6455:
Chef Edward Lee has a large personal collection of vintage bourbons, so it comes as no surprise that his Louisville small-plates spot also serves old whiskies. The selection rotates frequently; ask your bartender what’s available.
What to Drink: Old Fitzgerald Bourbon from 1955
The Oakland, 201 West 9 Mile Road, Ferndale, Mich., 248 291 5295:
Just outside of Detroit, this elegant cocktail bar exudes speakeasy sophistication. And owner Sandy Levine has scoured the Earth looking for vintage bottles with stories behind them, including a Mt. Vernon Rye distilled in 1921 and bottled in 1933 that was made legally during Prohibition (it’s labeled “for medicinal purposes only”) and a bottle of Booker’s Bourbon (then called Booker Noe’s) from its very first release in 1988.
What to Drink: Booker Noe’s Bourbon from 1988
Pouring Ribbons, 225 Avenue B, New York, 917 656 6786:
Top bartender (and Spirited Award winner for American Bartender of the Year at the 2012 Tales of the Cocktail convention) Joaquin Simó runs this year-old watering hole in New York’s East Village. It stocks an incredible selection of 18 Chartreuse bottlings, including all currently available varieties, special editions and vintages dating back to the 1950s.
What to Drink: 1970s Green Chartreuse distilled in Tarragona, Spain