The Improved Cocktail was originally more a template than a recipe. It was originally a way to take a basic cocktail and... well ... improve it, by adding another ingredient.
The origins of the word "cocktail" are lost to history, but the first definition of it we find in print comes from an 1806 newspaper from upstate New York. A cocktail is called "a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters."
You made it by dissolving the sugar into the water, adding the spirit and bitters, and stirring. This eventually became the basic template for the Old Fashioned. While the modern Old Fashioned is normally a whiskey drink, the original cocktail could be made, as noted, from "spirits of any kind."
Bartenders then branched out, subtly, from there. If you took that original cocktail and rubbed a piece of lemon peel around the rim of the glass, that was a Fancy cocktail. If you took the original and added a hit of curaçao or maraschino liqueur to it, you had an Improved.
The Improved Gin Cocktail is a thing of beauty, but you need the right gin. Your preference should be for Hollands Gin, otherwise known today as genever. Bols Genever is relatively easy to find these days, but other bottlings include offerings from Anchor Distilling Company and Boomsma.
Genever is rich and malty, and no matter which liqueur you use, you'll find that it enhances the malty taste. The Improved Gin Cocktail tastes like nothing other than an odd but delightful marriage of gin and malt whisky.
Unlike the Old Fashioned, the Improved is served up.
Note: To make simple syrup, combine 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Cool before using. Simple syrup will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- 2 ounces genever
- 1/2 teaspoon simple syrup (see note above)
- 1 teaspoon Cointreau (or maraschino liqueur)
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Lemon peel, for garnish
Combine genever, simple syrup, Cointreau (or maraschino), and bitters in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir well to chill, about 15 seconds.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist a piece of lemon peel over the drink and rub around the rim of the glass.