As regular readers of A Measured Spirit know, I have launched a campaign to explore that great if slightly obscure American classic, the Gin Daisy. It’s not one drink, but several drinks, some with little in common beyond the name.
Its origins are gauzy, its first recipe apparently lost. This has provided mixmasters almost 150 years of opportunity to improvise, riff, and commit various acts of mischief.
So, for our second installment in this series, I decided to check out the most popular recipe I could find.
Google, make me a Gin Daisy
For this I turned to Brother Google — the world’s always-on vast repository of knowledge, first refuge of rookie drinkmakers, and our most ubiquitous source of misinformation.
When Google presents search results, the order is based on a complex secret algorithm. But its most important component is the number of other sites that link to a particular page. The thinking: If a lot of other people think something is valuable, it’s valuable.
And so I Google “gin daisy recipe.”
Consider the source
Before we get to the recipe — which, to be kind, is practically undrinkable — let’s drill into its source.
- Chowhound started in the 1990s as a message board for enthusiastic eaters. It’s now owned by CBS Interactive. Its launch manifesto opens its doors: You needn’t be an expert to participate.
- The site says the recipe is adapted from The Field Guide to Cocktails by Rob Chirico.
- The Field Guide to Cocktails: How to Identify and Prepare Virtually Every Mixed Drink at the Bar, is published by Quirk Books, whose “Field Guide” series appears to be a, well, quirky take on the “…For Dummies” series. Other Field Guides are devoted to, among many other topics, dreams, cookies, gestures [?], luck, and stains.
- Rob Chirico describes himself as a “polymath” and “grouch.”
- He lives in Western Massachusetts, where he is a modestly accomplished local painter.
- His latest book is “Damn! A Cultural History of Swearing.”
- He is a former winner of Sutter Home’s hamburger creation contest. He won for his Lamburgers ala Grecque with Cilantro-Mint Chutney.
- He has written three novels, two about art crimes.
- No easily available information about him suggests that he has a sustained interest in cocktails.
To summarize the action so far: The most instantly available, ubiquitously validated Gin Daisy recipe in the English language is drawn from a beginner’s guide written by an author who apparently had little knowledge of cocktails beyond what he polymathically absorbed while researching the book, and has demonstrated little interest in since.
The following is not an endorsement. A Measured Spirit accepts no responsibility if you choose to make this drink.
- 2 ounces gin
- 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons [.33 ounce] grenadine
- Cold club soda
- Slice of lemon and sprig of mint
The recipe is described thusly by Chowhound. For the reader’s benefit, I have used bold face to indicate material that is demonstrably wrong, sometimes true, imprecise, or otherwise sketchy.
A medium-tall drink, the Daisy is a fruit juice–based cocktail that is sweetened with grenadine or a red liqueur. Yet another “old-timer” that has more than a century under its belt, Daisies are a sumptuous relative of Cobblers and Fixes. A Daisy always has a red tinge to it and is occasionally finished by a compatible liqueur floated on top at the last second. The name Daisy seemingly derives not from the flower but from slang for something extraordinary—from which the word doozy is also derived.
To separate them from other drinks, Daisies were often served in elaborate, heavy glassware or silver mugs. The latter also keeps the drink cool.
Chowhound’s tags for the recipe include, curiously, “Easter.”
Tasting notes: The Chowhound Gin Daisy
This drink — to digress into barroom vernacular — is just f*cking terrible.
- It is, in the first place, so sour that it’s difficult to taste, and an effort to finish.
- It’s like a ginny lemonade they forgot to put any sweetener in.
- The lemon completely overwhelms whatever characteristics the gin may have brought to the party.
- The Stirrings grenadine I used — one of the tarter mass market brands — made the drink even more puckersome, not less.
The Chowhound Daisy tastes not like a poorly made drink, but like some terrible misunderstanding took place behind the bar. It’s just the wrong things in the same glass at the same time.
What went so horribly wrong?
In their earliest versions, Daisies are essentially sours topped with seltzer. The drink style dates back at least to Reconstruction.
But sours are invariably balanced between tart and sweet — in fact, that’s the whole point of a sour. Nail the balance [often 2:1:1; booze:citrus:sweetener] and it’s a wonderfully drinkable beverage, with any spirit you choose. A Margarita is a sour. A Sidecar is a sour. A Daiquiri is a sour. A whiskey sour, of course, is a sour.
Nearly every Daisy recipe calls for some simple [or gomme] syrup, sugar, or liqueur to balance the lemon [or lime] juice.
And yet in this Daisy recipe, there is no sweetener to speak of.
But doesn’t the Grenadine count as sweet?
Grenadine worthy of the name is balanced between tart and sweet. It is a flavoring and coloring agent. It’s sometimes barely a sweetener at all.
So what is it doing here standing in for sugar, when nearly 150 years’ of Daisy variations balance the citrus with a bona fide sweetener?
I have a suspicion that the polymathical Chirico may have used the dreaded Rose’s grenadine, which consists largely of corn syrup and artificial flavors and colors — and is overwhelmingly, tooth-itchy sweet. It also tastes like cough syrup, at least to me.
I am not a brave enough man to conduct forensics to verify this.
But in any case, the point is this: The most referenced Gin Daisy recipe on the world’s most comprehensive database of knowledge is a barely drinkable variation that bears little relation to the drink’s origins, fundamental profile, or contemporary interpretations. As a Daisy partisan, I’m deeply annoyed that Google-ating home drink makers who find this recipe as the first result at the top of the page make it and think the Gin Daisy is a fucking terrible drink.
To be as fair as possible…
A Measured Spirit is nothing if not fair.
And so — deep breath here — I dug into the drink’s history once again to try to find precedents. Someone somewhere must have championed the unsweetened Daisy.
The Webtender Wiki — which does a good job of documenting recipe variations over time — includes only two variations of any kind of Daisy that use grenadine as the sole sweetener.
- The 1917 version uses a sweeter gin, Old Tom, the juice of half a lime, and a full ounce of [presumably sweetish] grenadine.
- The 1932 version uses brandy, which is sweeter than a dry gin, in a 2:1 ratio with grenadine, and the juice of half a lemon [usually .75 ounce].
And in a final abundance-of-fairness effort I surfaced this one.
- Difford’s Gin Daisy #3 (modern long style) is 2:1:.5; gin:lemon:grenadine. But its 1/2 part “pomegranate / grenadine syrup” is a rich 2:1 syrup (twice as sweet as conventional simple syrup, and considerably richer than a balanced grenadine). Which is to say it has as much functional sweetener as citrus, meaning it operates at 2:1:1 — pretty standard for a sour.
That’s it. I could find no other historical versions of the Daisy that used dry gin, a solid dose of lemon juice, and a relatively smaller dose of only grenadine as a sweetener.
And yet, according to Google, the Chowhound Daisy is not an outlier. It’s the most universally regarded recipe of this classic drink.
It is — not to put too fine a point on it — Number 1.
For this miscarriage of mixology you can blame Google.
You can blame Quirk.
You can blame a certain grouchy Massachusetts polymath.
But do not blame the Gin Daisy. It’s a great drink.
Which, after a period of recuperation, I will return to explore in future blog posts.