Cooperstown Cocktail

By Lesley Jacobs Solmonson

1.5 oz Leopold’s Gin
0.75 oz Dry Vermouth
0.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Orange Bitters
2-3 Mint Leaves

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Gently shake with ice and strain into a coupe
Garnish with a sprig of mint

* * *

I must confess, baseball as a sport does not rank high on my “important” list.  I have never watched the World Series.  I do not have a favorite team.  In fact, the only way I generally know that the season is upon us is when Baskin-Robbins features my favorite ice cream flavor “Baseball Nut” on its menu.   Now, before you shun, shun the nonbeliever, let me offer this to save myself – I may not be a lover of the sport of baseball, but I am a die-hard believer in its mythology.

In “Myths to Live By”, author Joseph Campbell speaks of “the prospect of unfathomed wonder to which all myths and rites – in the way of great poetry and art – introduce and unite us.”  Campbell’s work has, for all intents, shaped our modern view of mythology and, while baseball didn’t figure into any of his writing per se, the symbolism and power of baseball as its own myth – the collective roar of the crowd, the underlying patriotism, the magic of the open field – surely fit into Campbell’s world view.

The mythology of baseball encompasses scandals and triumphs.  It has given birth to heroes and villains.  It is as American as apple pie (mythic in its own culinary right).   One could argue that the power of baseball lies in its ballparks or its players or its various memorabilia, but for me and certainly for the men in my life, the nexus of baseball’s mythology can be found in Cooperstown.

For the uninitiated, Cooperstown is an idyllic village – there is but one stoplight – in New York’s Catskill Mountains.  Immortalized in the Leatherstocking series by author James Fenimore Cooper of “The Last of the Mohicans” fame, this bucolic spot was named for Cooper’s father and once enjoyed the distinction as “hops-growing capital of North America” (now you’ll find breweries, wineries, and cider mills).  It’s also home to a thriving arts community, the stunning Lake Otsego (dubbed “Glimmerglass” by Cooper), and over a dozen antiques shops should that be your pleasure.

These elements alone lure thousands of visitors to the bucolic location, but for the Solmonson men – my husband David and his brother Steve, who have indeed admired Glimmerglass and even been known to do some antiquing in their time – there is only one real reason to visit Cooperstown.  Cooperstown is home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.  And, for two boys of Nordic descent, raised on a judicious combination of Midwestern earnestness and Rockwellian idealism, Cooperstown is most surely their Valhalla, a literal field of dreams where baseball is not just a sport but a symbol of American determinism and spirit.  In fact, one might say that Cooperstown could be seen as a sort of Solmonson rite of passage, one that I firmly expect my son to experience as well.  From brother to brother, from father to son.  In this day and age, it doesn’t get any more mythic than that.

Along with being home to the Hall of Fame, Cooperstown – more specifically, its neighbor Cherry Valley – had, until recently, also been the home to the Cooperstown Ball Cap Company.  For 23 years, the Cooperstown Ball Cap Co. made, quite simply, the best damn baseball caps in the world.  David has more than ten of these fine chapeaux. The first and only ball caps that I have ever worn were from Cooperstown, courtesy of my husband.   Before he was born, my son already had his first infant-size cap.  Recently, David and I learned that Cooperstown had closed its doors and we mourned the loss of yet another mom-and-pop shop done in by globalization, the Internet, the economy, take your pick.  To our delight, we learned soon after that the company has reformed as the Ideal Ball Cap Company (the site isn’t fully functional yet) and that they will continue to produce an assortment ofschoolboy, sporting (everything except MLB), and armed forces toppers.  Score one for the little guy.

In his writings, Campbell is fond of quoting Shopenhauer, who observed that, while our lives often seem to have no clear direction, once we look back on them, we see a distinct pattern as if written by a novelist.  For the Solmonsons, Cooperstown is clearly part of that pattern.  And so, to my thinking, there is a beautiful serendipity in finding the Cooperstown Cocktail, as lovely a dovetailing of baseball and mixed drink – two Solmonson passions – as ever there was.

David Wondrich recently noted, “there is no generally accepted, classic ‘Baseball Cocktail’.”  Luckily, the Cooperstown Cocktail fits the bill nicely.  Tom Bullock’s 1917 book “The Ideal Bartender” offered a recipe of Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, and mint.  As described in the 1935 reprint of the Old Waldorf Astoria Bar Book, it’s a “Bronx, with fresh Mint”, thus adding dry vermouth and orange juice.  Wondrich’s version substitutes orange bitters for the OJ, making it more akin to a perfect martini.  With the addition of the mint, it’s a refreshing quaff before, during, or after baseball season.

In a way, when we started this cocktail blog, David and I were heeding Joseph Campbell’s advice to “following our bliss” and, in turn, crafting our own mythology – a mythology firmly built upon the belief that “if we mix it, they will come”.

Esoterica:  Whilst in Cooperstown, if baseball isn’t your thing, why not visit the Dollhouse Hall of Fame?


3 responses to “Cooperstown Cocktail

  1. Hi Lesley,
    I am fairly new to blogging. Only about three months. I stumbled on your post this morning from Tastespotting. I saw the title Cooperstown Cocktail and had to see what this was about. I was immediately drawn to your style of writing and your knowledge and explanations of baseball. My son is on a travel team and we will be in Cooperstown the week of June 4th. We are coming all the way from Southern California and we are so excited to be there. Thank you for this little post that I found so wonderful. We will definately look into getting one of the greatest ball caps in the world.

  2. Loved the writing in this post. I live in Cooperstown and run the website for the Mixology Hall of Fame here.

    The Cooperstown Cocktail isn’t a very tasty one, I must admit.

    But, here’s some more historical tidbits I had found.

    The following was provided to me by David Wondrich, leading cocktail historian, author and co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail.

    It is an article from the Cooperstown Glimmerglass in late 1934:

    The Cooperstown Cocktail Recalled

    The last issue of “The Winged Foot,” official organ of the New York Athletic club, contains the following article which will doubtless bring up old-time memories to some of our readers:

    “Named in compliment to Craig Wadsworth and his friends, reminiscent of the best types of thorough-going American sportsmen who lived in Cooperstown, N. Y, during the turn of the century is the Cooperstown cocktail.

    “This cocktail was brought to our notice one day recently, listed on an old list in the club’s grill by Charles Wadsworth Hakes, scion of the old Wadsworth family and a cousin of the popular New York Senator by that name.

    “Hakes says the Cooperstown Cocktail received official recognition at the old Waldorf bar which used to draw a lot of prosperous young sportsmen from that “richest and prettiest town up-state.” He and his closest friend in the club, Edward A. Higgins, who also boasts of Colonial ancestry, share the belief that such old sporting tradition (in beverages) bears keeping alive.
    “Hakes is from Cooperstown and Higgins hails from outside of Saratoga. Native sons of the vicinity of Cherry Valley in the club will appreciate the Cooperstown, which is similar to the Bronx, with a sprig of mint added before being shaken.”

    -Steve B.

    • Steve — thanks for the article; that’s very interesting.

      While I’m inclined to agree that the Bronx-like Cooperstown might leave something to be desired, I do enjoy Wondrich’s spin, which is what we’ve used here. Even the Waldorf saw fit to skip the orange juice.

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