The Automobile Cocktail

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A strange but tasty cocktail, the Automobile cocktail combines gin, scotch and Italian vermouth with a dash of orange bitters.


So I finally have thrown up my hands, said hallelujah, and decided to contribute to MxMo this month. MxMo is a monthly online cocktail exchange, or as the blog put its “online cocktail party.”  Each person in this association of bloggers submits a cocktail before the event day, so there can be a monthly aggregate post enumerating the various contributors for the month.   Every event is based upon a specific theme chosen by a blog who acts as the host for the month: this month, blog Rock and Rye, run by Dennis acts as the host.  The theme of this month is “vintage” or “forgotten” cocktails, and since I love these little gems, I went through some books and chose one that caught my eye which I had not paid any attention to before.  That being, the Automobile.

The only person to have talked about the Automobile cocktail online, as far as I can see, is Frederic at Cocktail Virgin Slut.  His version, which is identical to mine, comes out of Patrick Duffy’s The Official Mixer’s Manual, but I’m not sure what edition (I presume the original 1934 edition).  I found my recipe in Frank Meier’s The Artistry of Mixing Drinks  (1936).  What we can extrapolate from this reprinting of the cocktail two years later is that the cocktail may have been popular enough to travel across the ocean and enter into Meier’s repertoire of drinks or that it is a drink older than 1934 and thus well known.

Checking the Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, we can find a printing of the Automobile cocktail that looks nothing like the version listed by Meier or Duffy.  The drink, which is classified as a pre-war and thus pre-prohibition drink is composed of gin, ginger ale, mint and lemon juice (Crockett 104).   There is no reference to a pre-prohibition cocktail of the same name, so it is likely that the drink came out of the prohibition.  Yet, that seems unlikely, since Crockett notes that there had been issues with importing orange bitters during the prohibition (Ibid 15).

Digging some more to see if I could find Duffy’s version, I can say it does not appear in the 1940 printing of The Official Mixer’s Manual, since I went through an eBook copy of the book and am unable to locate an Automobile cocktail.  So either it it appears in another version, or it is not in Duffy’s book at all.

The drink features equal portions of gin, scotch and vermouth with a dash of orange bitters.  I increased the bitters to two dashes of Regan’s Orange, used a 12 year old blended scotch (Ballantine’s 12 year), and poured Bols Genever for the gin.  I chose Bols because it has a drier tone that would augment the scotch I think, more than detract from it as a London Dry might.  Because the Bols worked really well, I think that any Genevieve style gin would work well, and I could see this working really well with Steinhäger.  Now the tricky part is the sweet vermouth; I tried this with a few versions and Carpano Antica works the best (as most people would probably expect) followed closely by a more moderately priced vermouth like Cinzano.  Of the trio I tried, Punt e Mes detracted from the scotch and orange bitters thanks to the strong bitter component.

I can say that this drink works well as an aperitif: all the ingredients help encourage and stimulate appetite, as they should, and since the vermouth is not too sweet and well balanced in the cases of Cinzano or Carpano Antica, the flavors are wonderful.  I can’t picture this drink working with an extremely sweet Italian vermouth, or working with very cheap gin and scotch, since the components that flavor the drink, besides the vermouth, are spirits, so something without backbone or character would make a poor quality cocktail.

Overall, this drink is a winner, since scotch cocktails are few and in-between.  Despite this, the cocktail is still very rudimentary at its’ base, being a cross between a Martinez and a Rob Roy.   Yet great drinks, like the Vieux Carré, seemingly are little more than bastard children bred from two drinks (the recipe for the Vieux Carré is rather similar to a Saratoga, which is similar to a Manhattan crossed with a Metropolitan).

The Automobile:

3/4 ounce blended Scotch
3/4 ounce Holland gin
3/4 ounce Italian vermouth
1 dash orange bitters

Combine the ingredients in a chilled mixing glass with cracked ice; stir until sufficiently cold and diluted, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. 

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Crockett, Albert Stevens.  1935.  The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book.  Reprint of original.  New York.

Duffy, Patrick Gavin.  1940.  The Official Mixer’s Manual.  New York:  Blue Ribbon Books.  Accessed online as an eBook at Open Library.  http://openlibrary.org/works/OL15432310W/The_official_mixer%27s_manual. 

Field, Colin Peter.  2003.  The Cocktails of The Ritz Paris.  New York: Simon & Schuster.

Meier, Frank.  1936.  The Artistry of Mixing Drinks.  Reprint of original.  Paris: Fryam Press.

Thomas, Jerry.  1887.  Bartender’s Guide.  Reprint of original.  New York: Dick and Fitzgerald.

Wondrich, David. 2007. Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. New York: Penguin Group.