With August upon us, it's time to think longer drinks, both in the sense of the height of the glass and the time a cocktail takes to make. Perfect in both regards is the Gin Fizz.
This classic from the 19th century, with its frothy mix of gin and lemon juice, makes a great summer time thirst quencher (even in the morning). Furthermore, vacationers (and you should be vacationing by now) have the leisure its construction requires.
Your Fizz drinks are of long duration in preparation not because they are so complex—although there are enough recipe variations to fill a book—but because of the time (not to mention muscle power) it takes to shake them into creation.
The fizz factor comes, in part, from being treated something like how the shaking machine at the paint store treats a can of semigloss latex. You rumba with this drink until your arms are weary and the metal shaker is so cold you can hardly hold on anymore (actually, if you're smart you'll wrap the shaker in a towel).
The Gin Fizz (or Fiz as it was originally dubbed) has a history going back at least to Jerry Thomas's seminal cocktail treatise Bar-tender's Guide, The Bon Vivant Companion (1887 edition). But it really hit its stride about the dawn of the 20th century. New Orleans is now considered the ancestral home of the drink. In the Fizz's heyday, Eric Felten reports in his excellent How's Your Drink, "whole scrums of men whose only job was the shaking of Fizzes" would man the bars of the Big Easy.
Simplistically, the drink is gin, lemon juice, sugar and seltzer water. You mix the first three in a shaker with ice and do the aforementioned dance, pumping it over your shoulder. When you think you can't shake any longer, go a little longer. Strain into a tall glass over ice (or without if you down them quickly). Top with soda water and enjoy.
To make it fizzier—or, in point of fact, frothier—make a Silver Fizz. This includes an egg white, which will meringue as you shake. (So frothy that you may even dispense with the soda water.) If you're worried about heath hazards from ingesting raw eggs, use the powdered kind or the pasteurized stuff that comes in a carton.
After the Silver Fizz, the variants take off. Substitute egg yolk for egg white for a Golden Fizz. Use a whole egg and you have what's called a Royal Fizz. Bring on sparkling wine in place of seltzer for a Diamond Fizz. (Fine tune with Champagne, and it's basically a French 75, unless you're a purist who believes a 75 should be made with Cognac not gin.)
The most complex version is the Ramos Gin Fizz, named for a New Orleans bartender, Henry C. Ramos. It includes cream and lime juice as well as lemon and orange-flower water.
The variations go on and on, especially when you consider that just about any base spirit—vodka, whiskey, rum, brandy, Tequila—can replace gin. (The cocktail theorist David A. Embury lists 30 Fizzes in his well-thought-out The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.)
The drink was most likely conceived with Old Tom gin (a sweeter spirit more common in the nineteenth century), but today's ubiquitous London Dry and Plymouth gins work just fine. Holland gins are a little iffy—unless your thinking Nolet-as being clean and fresh aren't their forte.
Of course, we shouldn't forget the familiar Sloe Gin Fizz. Sloe gin is not technically gin (it has no juniper), but rather a liqueur made from infusing grain alcohol with sloe berries, a kind of wild plum. Nevertheless it makes a very good—if fruitier—Fizz, and is just as thirst quenching—which, after all, is the whole point.
Silver Gin Fizz
2 oz. gin
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice (or to taste)
1 tsp. simple syrup or 1 tsp. powdered or granulated sugar
1 egg white
Shake gin, lemon juice, sugar and egg white with ice. Keep shaking. Strain into highball (or taller) glass (ice optional, it should be very cold at this point). Add a splash of soda. Garnish with lemon slice and/or cherry. Pour into mouth.