Blame Charles Dickens. The great novelist of Victorian London was also a great drinker. Quite aside from Bleak House and David Copperfield, he wrote one of the best flaming punch recipes I know. And when he made his famous trip to the US in 1842, he delighted in all the new-fangled beverages he found there, a bit like your annoying friend Instagramming pictures of poorly lit cocktails from their holiday in New York.
Two American innovations particularly impressed Dickens. Ice, which the Americans harvested from the great northern lakes (a bit like they do at the beginning of Disney’s Frozen) and stored in ice houses throughout the summer. And straws, then literally pieces of straw, because when your drink was rammed full of frozen pond, it wasn’t so easy to sip.
Both found their way into the famous (to cocktail geeks) Sherry Cobbler scene in The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44). Martin’s friend Mark Tapley presents the hero with “a very large tumbler, piled up to the brim with little blocks of clear transparent ice, through which one or two thin slices of lemon, and a golden liquid of delicious appearance, appealed from the still depths below, to the loving eye of the spectator” (Thirsty yet?) “Martin took the glass with an astonished look; applied his lips to the reed; and cast up his eyes once in ecstasy. He paused no more until the goblet was drained to the last drop.”
The Sherry Cobbler (sherry — amontillado is best! — sugar, fruit, ice) was the drink of 19th-century America, according to bartender Harry Johnson. “It is a very refreshing drink for young and old,” he enthused in his Bartender’s Manual of 1888. And it caught on like billy-oh in Britain. Queen Victoria served Sherry Cobblers at her garden parties, with ice shipped all the way from…