The Sherry Cobbler and Boston’s Ice King

Your cocktail calendar entry for: September
4
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You probably like to use ice in your cocktails and other drinks.  What you may not know is that today is Frederic Tudor’s birthday, born on September 4, 1783.  Why is this important?  He was also known as Boston’s “Ice King” and changed the world by making ice available to people around the world, not just those who happened to live by a frozen lake.  Obviously an accomplishment that changed the course of civilization, today our Drink of the Day in honor of his birthday is the Sherry Cobbler.

Tudor grew up in a wealthy Boston family, but he spurned the chance for a Harvard education and instead dedicated himself to business.  At some point in his youth he visited the Caribbean, and whether it was his own idea or his brother’s suggestion, came to the conclusion that he could make a fortune exporting ice from the ponds of Massachusetts.

People thought he was nuts, so in 1806 Tudor bought his first brig to carry cut ice from his father’s farm to Martinique.  The Boston Gazette wrote “No joke.  A vessel has cleared at the Custom House for Martinique with a cargo of ice.  We hope this will not prove a slippery speculation.”  The Sherman Act wouldn’t be around until 1890 and paying off governments to get what you wanted was common in those days.  So he sent his brother and a cousin ahead to secure a monopoly from various island governments, with an offer for them to either take a “commission” or $1,000 up front.

But it didn’t prove to be so easy to ship ice around and make a profit.  His first shipment to Martinique resulted in a loss of $4,500.  His next three shipments to Cuba resulted in even larger losses and he didn’t have his first profit until 1810, and his debts far outweighed his income and he spent time in debtor’s prison.

Ultimately, a few factors worked in his favor.  The ice itself was free and he only had to pay to cut it.  He also experimented with various means of insulation.  Sawdust was free, a waste product of the lumber industry, and was effective.  He started shipping ice around the globe, and Calcutta became his most lucrative market.  The British colonialists there must have discovered they prefer their Gin and Tonics cold.

Tudor’s fortunes were up and down at various times, but he died rich and his company flourished up until the 1930s when electric freezers came into being.  Oops, harvested ice was now obsolete and denizens of Havana were no longer chilling their drinks with chunks of Walden’s Pond.

Some folks might think he just taught people in the tropics to enjoy cold drinks or make ice cream, but let’s consider what happened with cocktails.  The original cocktail was defined as a spirit, sugar, bitters and water.  No ice, but the emergence of ice was a game changer.  Ice even made it out to the Wild West, where it was used in saloons in towns like Tombstone that we visit for the Revolver cocktail.  We owe this guy, as it became the modus operandi well before electric freezers were available.

So what to do about Drink of the Day?  We need something symbolic of the era, and for which ice is a defining concept.  Fortunately, such a drink exists:  the Sherry Cobbler.

So what are cobblers?  They’re shaken drinks served with a straw, typically in a goblet or Collins glass over crushed ice, and emerged in the 1830s when the ice trade became widespread.  Cobblers likely got their name from the “cobbled” ice used, and also introduced the cocktail shaker and straw to the drinking armamentum.   Spirits used vary, but in the 19th century it was all about the Sherry Cobbler.  Sherry is a fortified wine from Spain first developed in medieval Spain.  By the mid-19th century as trade across the Atlantic improved sherry was seen in the U.S. as foreign, fancy and affordable, and the Sherry Cobbler was the most popular drink of the time.  The drink was also a hit in England, no doubt due to the influence of Charles Dickens who described it as a “wonderful invention” in his serialized novel Martin Chuzzlewit.

A Sherry Cobbler is really nothing more than sherry, sugar, fruit and a bunch of crushed ice.  Fruit garnishes were also seen as important, often using enough fruit to make Carmen Miranda blush.  Other wines and spirits were tried, but the Sherry Cobbler remained the most popular and is our Drink of the Day.  Other versions exist – you can actually use almost any wine, or whiskey – but we encourage you to try this.

Sherry Cobbler

Sherry Cobbler

While the classic cobbler calls for crushed ice, some modern interpretations simply use ice cubes. You can go either way, but bear in mind that if using cubed ice you may wish to reduce the amount of sugar by a bit. The recipe here is the simple, classic version, modified to use simple syrup for convenience. Instructions for using a spoonful of sugar are also included, and if you like feel free to add a few berries to the shaker to add their flavor direct to the drink.
5 from 1 vote

Equipment

  • Shaker
  • Goblet or Collins glass
  • Straw

Ingredients
  

  • 4 oz Sherry
  • ¾ oz Simple syrup (alternatively, use 1 tablespoon of sugar.)
  • 2 Slices orange
  • Garnish: mint, berries, assorted fruit.....go wild.

Instructions
 

  • Fill glass or goblet with ice. If you would like to use crushed ice simply place ice in a folded kitchen towel and whack with a mallet or skillet to crush.
  • Add Sherry, simple syrup (or sugar) and orange slices to shaker.
  • Shake until frosty cold.
  • Strain into ice filled glass.
  • Garnish with wild abandon with whatever fruit is available. Berries are particularly popular.
  • Drink through straw.
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