Today we’re mixing a Gold Rush cocktail. On August 16, 1896 natives Skookum Jim Mason and Tagish Charlie, together with a guy named George Carmack, found gold. They were in Rabbit Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River that in turn feeds into the Yukon River. In case you’re wondering, the Yukon River originates in Canada, courses through Alaska, and drains into the Bering Sea. It gets cold there. Very cold. That’s why we need a gold rush cocktail recipe to commemorate the Yukon gold rush.
The Yukon Gold Rush
The discoverers registered mining claims the next day. Eleven months later the steamship Portland delivered “more than a ton of gold” to Seattle. At the $25 per ounce price of gold at that time it’s at least $29 million in today’s money. Not bad for a bit shy of a year’s work. Word got out and the Klondike Gold Rush was underway. Within six months about 100,000 potential prospectors set off to try their luck. But this wasn’t exactly like a road trip on the interstate.
The trip was long and cold, whether by trail crossing mountain passes or attempting to navigate up the Yukon River. Many died on the way or turned back. Only about 30,000 made it to Dawson, which then became the largest western city north of San Francisco. Only a few hundred became rich. The best claims were taken before most of them arrived.
Life was rough, but he richest prospectors lived lavishly. Saloons were open 24 hours a day. There were gambling rooms, houses of ill repute – you name it. But for most folks inconveniences like dysentery, malaria, cholera and scurvy held a grip.
It wasn’t all disease, madness and ruin; some found fame in other ways besides gold. Jack London sought gold, but ended up establishing himself as an author by writing To Build a Fire. Others did well selling supplies to prospective prospectors or doing things like running dance halls in Dawson.
By 1899, most of the treasure seekers were working for those who had the best claims. Then a lot of folks left when gold was discovered in Nome, Alaska. That find was richer and easier to extract since most of the gold was just lying in the beach sand. The Klondike Gold Rush was over.
The Gold Rush Cocktail
Regardless of which gold rush we’re talking about there is an appropriate Drink of the Day: the Gold Rush cocktail. It’s a drink of real pedigree, even if it is a simple variation on the Whiskey Sour.
Sasha Petraske founded Milk & Honey inside a former mahjong parlor on a dark block of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. No sign, no menu, no published phone number. Milk & Honey is often credited with being the most influential bar of the current century, with Petraske widely acknowledged as one of the pioneers of modern cocktail culture. In 2014 the bar intended to relocate to larger premises in the Flatiron District but that deal fell apart. Petraske passed away in 2015, and the bar has never reopened.
But on to our Drink of the Day. It was created at Milk & Honey, was one of several breakout success recipes there, and is considered a modern classic. Apparently T.J. Siegal sat down in the bar to order his customary bourbon sour, without eggs or garnish. Petraske mentioned a honey syrup made and Siegal asked to try it instead of the usual simple syrup. The drink was brilliant, the honey syrup providing a silky texture unfamiliar to simple syrup. Since Milk & Honey eschewed menus and arrived at a selection through conversation with the customers, it became a common “dealer’s choice” when its flavor profile seemed appropriate.
For the recipe we go to Robert Simonson’s book 3-Ingredient Cocktails: An Opinionated Guide to the Most Enduring Drinks of the Cocktail Canon where he describes it as a mainstay of Milk & Honey and “a modern classic, served worldwide.” By the way, if you like a bit of tea in your drink, a variation on this is the Sherlock Holmes cocktail we cover here.
Gold Rush cocktail
- Old Fashioned Glass
- 2 oz Bourbon
- ¾ oz Fresh lemon juice
- ¾ oz Honey syrup (Make this by combining equal parts honey and hot water. Stores well in the refrigerator.)
- Add all ingredients to your trusty cocktail shaker.
- Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
- Strain into a rocks glass over a single, large ice cube.