The Horse’s Neck

Horse's Neck

Beside the cocktail is a combination zester and channel knife

proposed by: Jonathan

reviewed by: David

This week’s drink is a Horse’s Neck, which dates back to the 1890s and was once popular in the British Royal Navy as a drink for officers. At Naval cocktail parties the stewards might offer pitchers of gin and tonic and Horse’s Neck and ask, “H-N or G&T, Sir?” The following recipe is included in the “Old Guard Cocktailschapter of Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All:

1 lemon

2 ounces bourbon

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Ginger Ale

Carefully peel the zest from the lemon in one continuous spiral with a channel knife.  Coil the zest around a bar spoon or chopstick to encourage a bouncy spiral.  Place the lemon zest in the bottom of a chilled high ball glass, hanging the end of the coiled garnish over the side of the glass.  Fill the glass with ice.  Add the bourbon and bitters and top off with ginger ale.

There is quite a bit (pun intended) of conjecture and speculation about the origins of The Horse’s Neck, but what seems to be true is that the original Horse’s Neck was just ginger ale, a few dashes of bitters, and the long garnish of lemon rind for which the drink is named. The addition of bourbon or brandy made it a “Horse’s Neck with a kick.” There are other versions made with specified bourbons and many of those have their own name. The use of a true Kentucky Bourbon, for instance, is called a Kentucky Gentleman.

I decided to use a form of brandy instead of bourbon since last week’s cocktail was bourbon based. I went with Laird’s Applejack thinking that apple and ginger was a good combination. I also have the good fortune of living in an area with an excellent regional ginger ale – Blenheim. Blenheim comes in a standard but still spicy version and the even more spicy hot version. I went with the standard which had plenty of kick to complement the Applejack kick.

Here’s David’s review:HN.David.cropt

Perhaps it’s too early in my relationship with cocktails to say I’m in love, but a Horse’s Neck is the sort of drink I could see ordering all the time—uncomplicated, distinctive, and refreshing. I shared the drink with my wife and mother-in-law during a visit to Louisville after a hot day wandering around the Kentucky State Fair, and it seemed the perfect relaxer after all the parking hassles and crowd weaving. I even made a non-alcoholic version for my daughter that substituted ice tea for bourbon, and she seemed to enjoy it.

I’m a bitter person but not a bitter drinker, so I’d never tasted Angostura. The balance just a few drops added to the sweet spiciness of the ginger ale surprised me. For me, it really made the cocktail. Jonathan’s version sounds much more exciting than mine—I created the drink with Kentucky bourbon and regular Canada Dry—but I’d serve this cocktail to guests even in a pedestrian version. It’s a great balance between the familiar and new.

The lemon strip presents an exotic touch, but I’m not sure its purpose extends beyond aesthetics. Perhaps if you added a twist of lemon or kinked the string tightly before placing it in the glass—I wrapped mine loosely around a wooden spoon handle—it might influence the flavor profile of the drink, but I don’t think so. That said, creating one string from cutting around and around the lemon provided a great pre-drinking challenge. I wouldn’t want to handle a channel knife afterward.

pork rindsMy mother-in-law suggested pork rinds as the snack of choice to accompany our libations—she even hung one on the edge of my glass—and, oddly enough, their saltiness seemed a contrasting but chummy complement. And, wouldn’t it be fun to serve pork rinds in a genteel setting and make people eat them?

David’s verdict: Someday a Horse’s Neck might become my signature drink. At my funeral, someone might say, “And he would always order those damn Horse Necks and explain exactly how he wanted them”… in an endearing way, of course.

Jonathan’s verdict: Already predisposed to like Blenheim Ginger Ale, I thought the addition of bitters, lemon and Applejack offered a noticeable complexity. This is a pre-meal type of cocktail so forget the food pairing.

Next Week (proposed by David):

Besides being the state cocktail of Louisiana (since 2008) and described by Wikipedia as “perhaps the oldest American cocktail,” the Sazerac is my son’s consistent cocktail choice and quite popular in fancy restaurants these days. Everywhere we go together seems to prepare its own variation using exotic bitters and different anisette substitutions for the original Absinthe. I’m going to try it with Pernod (or Herbsainte, if I can find it) and Peychaud bitters, named after Antoine Amédée Peychaud, a Creole Apothecary who created it around 1830 in Haiti. Like Angostura, it’s also a gentian-based bitter, but sources describe it as lighter, sweeter, and more floral.

By choosing a rye-based drink, I know I’m not straying far from the brandy-cognac-bourbon theme of the last two weeks, but part of the appeal to me is the drink’s history—if it IS the original American cocktail, don’t we have to try it? Also, it’s jealousy. When my son orders a Sazerac, I wish I were so savvy. My fancy beer suddenly looks gauche.

So next week, it’s a Sazerac.

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