A history of sweet cocktails for ladies, on the occasion of the Cosmopolitan’s 25th anniversary.
Photo by Jupiterimages/Thinkstock.
Girl drinks, also known as chick drinks and girlie drinks, exist primarily to serve and to overserve persons eager to know the fun of catching a buzz while staying ignorant of the bliss of tasting liquor. This article represents an independent-study tool for readers seeking to refine this basic understanding along lines that are personally potationally meaningful. The key is to keep your definitions fluid but your taxonomy strict, remembering for instance that some so-called girl drinks are frat shooters in drag, and that others, if you listen closely to their accents, are androgynous tropical coolers transplanted to temperate latitudes.
One popular girl-drink style—frou-frou and fructose—arrives on the taste buds with the subtle flair of Kool-Aid Man presenting a hostess gift. Take the Angry Feminist, please—a girl drink from the cocktail list at a bygone vegan restaurant in Manhattan. The Angry Feminist calls for tarragon-infused organic vodka, Bonny Doon raspberry wine, triple sec, orange juice, and a pineapple-wedge garnish. I presume the drink is angry that one of her closest culinary cousins, the Purple Hooter, is a favorite of Nevada brothel whores.
The Angry Feminist is not to be confused with the Feminist Cocktail, which exemplifies a second girl-drink subgenre—cutesy and sucrose. Perhaps you've enjoyed a drink made in the tradition of The Savoy Cocktail Book? Well, the Feminist is more in line with the Beatles’ “Savoy Truffle.” It’s such a zany candy bar of a highball—rum, amaretto, peppermint schnapps, and Kahlúa, topped with ginger ale—that it simply must have been named with a slight sexist twirl of the mixologist’s moustache.
Girl drinks in a third major category—regressively lactose—involve milk or sweetened condensed milk or light cream or heavy cream or your roommate’s half-and-half or in a pinch your grandson’s Similac. Because they are associated with girls of a certain age, they are sometimes referred to as ladies’ drinks. Because they overlap with cocktails from the dairy genre favored by screen eccentrics, these milkmaid drinks are sometimes referenced by overworked television writers, who give them to supporting characters in lieu of a personality trait (cf. C.J. Cregg’s grasshopper on The West Wing and Raj’s on The Big Bang Theory).
Girl drinks come in a numbers of flavors, textures, and archetypes, it is plain to see. Same goes for the dolls and guys who order them. Yes, the girl-drinking community counts among its pillars many young women who really need to be carded, but it’s highly diverse in terms of demographics, sensibility, and tolerance for alcohol. Some girl-drinkers have been smacking their lips at the same post-prandial Pink Squirrel every weekend for decades on ends, and lemminglike others unthinkingly sip the flavor of the week. Some are novice drinkers, who, getting into the spirits on a rare occasion, simply ask the bartender for “something sweet,” which is his cue to lower the Malibu boom. And some are novice drunks upon whom banana daiquiris act as with shinobi stealth and a clinically degenerate lack of remorse, blasting them to the bathroom stall, where penitently they kneel, sobbing oaths and swearing curses while their friends hold their hair.
Sometimes the girl-drinker is an ombibulous literary type employing the time-management technique of snapping up the first cocktail that comes into view. The noted anthropologist Cindy Adams recorded one such girl-drinking episode in the New York Post a few years back when she teased Salman Rushdie for pounding pre-prepared Cosmopolitans out on the town. To his credit, the novelist offered the gossipeuse a correct response: "Look, it's what they've got. I'm easy."
The Cosmopolitan—which, as we shall see, this year celebrates its 25th anniversary—is a uniquely special girl drink. As the girliest popular cocktail in living memory and the buzziest girl drink in recorded history, it ranks as the third-girliest drink of all time, I hereby posit.
The second-girliest drink of all time is the Jackie O, which was originally conceived as a Mother’s Day brunch special at Upstairs on the Square in Cambridge, Mass. Vodka-based and bubbly-topped, blending six fruit flavors, the Jackie O is served, in its most austere version, in a glass frosted with pink sugar.
The girliest drink of all time is sweet and pink and garnished with a flower. Concocted for a benefit thrown by Eve Ensler, it entered the journalistic record when described by Eric Felten in the Wall Street Journal in 2006. Very obviously, the girliest drink of all time is the Vagini. Its creator, a cocktail consultant named Kim Haasarud, described the Vagini to me as a riff on the Cosmopolitan incorporating sparkling rosé. This news arrived somewhat to the disappointment of my editrix, who had wondered if the recipe calls for a dash of fish sauce.
Haasarud took pains to state that the organs she most closely associates with the Vagini are the tongue and the cheek. “Many women today have pretty sophisticated palates,” she believes, and I agree. It should of course go without saying that a great many persons in skirts are more knowledgeable about single-malt scotch than any given poser in a kilt. It should, but it does not, which is why you are reading this sentence, which exists to mollify the freelance interrogation experts of the gender-crimes division of the thought police. The urgent queries of that crowd ring among a multitude of other questions, for girl-drink enthusiasts are an inquisitive lot: Where did the girl drink come from? Where is it going? Can you help me find my shoes? Please allow me to sketch a timeline. The chronology below intends to debunk some stereotypes, to rebunk others, and to repair the singular damage wrought by frozen mudslides.
1878: The Ladies’ Blush
Start with 2 ounces of Old Tom, which is sweetened gin. Add 1 teaspoon of crème de noyaux, which is a sweet almond-scented liqueur, and 1 teaspoon of white sugar, which also tends toward the sweet side, plus five drops of absinthe. Shake this with ice and strain it into “a coloured glass, the rim of which has already been dampened with lemon juice and dipped in white sugar.” The book American and Other Drinks touts the ladies’ blush as a "favourite drink among the fair sex," neglecting to cite its popularity with aspiring hyperglycemics.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.