Airmail Cocktail

Anniversary of the first official airmail

Your cocktail calendar entry for: February
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February 18 is the anniversary of the first official airmail flight, so it’s only natural to mix up the Airmail cocktail.  This august event happened in 1911, and it wasn’t the US Post Office.  It happened in India.  Sure, there were pieces of correspondence that traveled by air prior to this, but none of them were official, and the US Post Office didn’t start doing it until September of that year.

The Airmail cocktail recipe is simple, a bit like a Daiquiri topped with Champagne.  Pretty refreshing and hard to go wrong with that combination.

The Start of Airmail

In an era without email the concept of letters being delivered by air goes back a long way.  Somebody in Egypt around 3000 BC figured out that homing pigeons could do the job.  And it wasn’t just Egypt.  Winners of the Ancient Olympics in Greece were announced by pigeon.  Genghis Khan used them, and Sultan Nur ad-Din established regular service between Baghdad and Syria.  Even Paul Reuter, who founded the Reuters press agency, used a fleet of pigeons to deliver news and stock prices between Brussels and Aachen, where early telegraph lines ended.

Soon enough, though, the pigeons got competition from hot air balloons.  In 1785 a letter was sent that way from Dover to France.  The letter was written by William Franklin to his son William Temple Franklin.  The latter was serving in a diplomatic post with his grandfather Benjamin Franklin, for whom we mixed the Statesman cocktail.

Balloons were tried in the US, but even a pigeon moves more quickly and predictably.  But by 1903 the introduction of the airplane spurred widespread interest in using them for mail.  There was a first unofficial trial in which three letters were sent from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, California, on February 17, 1911.

But that flight was unofficial.  The postmaster wasn’t involved.  The world’s first official airmail event took place the next day, February 18, in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, British India.  The East India Company that we visited for the East India cocktail didn’t do it.  Rather, Sir Walter Windham convinced the postmaster general in India to allow him to operate an airmail service to generate publicity for an exhibition he was running.

It wasn’t much – 6,500 letters flown a distance of just 13 km – but it gets the prize for the first official airmail.

Airmail Cocktail

The Airmail cocktail dates back to the 1930s, when it appeared in a pamphlet from the Bacardi rum company.  Evidently they couldn’t leave it at the Bacardi cocktail we covered for the company’s founding.  It also reemerged in 1941 a book entitled Here’s How, Mixed Drinks by W.C. Whitfield.

The Airmail recipe itself is reminiscent of other drinks, like the French 75, or even a Daiquiri topped with Champagne.  Some people mixing are prone to serving it in a Champagne flute or a coupe glass, but the original recipe is clear:  it should be served over ice in a highball glass.  In that sense it’s closer to a Tom Collins.

What rum you use is up to you.  Originally a white rum was called for, but we would consider a Rhum Agricole or a light golden rum to be entirely acceptable.  When it comes to the Champagne or sparkling wine, though, you’ll want to keep it dry.  Anything off dry may leave your drink sweeter than desired.  After all, the Airmail cocktail should be refreshing, nor cloying.

airmail cocktail

Airmail cocktail

The Airmail cocktail emerged sometime in the 1930s in an advertising pamphlet from Bacardi rum. They clearly proscribed Bacardi, but any white rum, or a light rhum agricole works well. The drink itself is reminiscent of the classic French 75, as it includes a base spirit, citrus juice and a sweetener, all topped with Champagne.
Importantly here, the recipe is designed to be served over ice in a Collins or highball glass. Not in a Champagne flute or coupe. As they say, a short drink served tall.
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  • oz Rum Use a light rum, not dark.
  • ½ oz Fresh lime juice
  • ½ oz honey syrup Equal parts honey and warm water, mixed so no longer too thick to mix in the drink.
  • Champagne or dry sparkling wine, to top.
  • Garnish: mint sprig


  • Add rum, lime juice and honey syrup to your trusty shaker.
  • Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
  • Strain into ice-filled highball glass.
  • Top with Champagne or other dry sparkling wine.
  • Garnish with mint sprig.
  • Drink.
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