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How An Anonymous Pamphlet At Oxford University Became A Bible For Cocktail Recipes

oxford night caps richard cook

The world of mixology would be nothing but for the bartenders and mixologists who came centuries before us and dared to invent delicious drinks. Modern mixology stands on the shoulders of these giants and the risks they took to create unique flavours with spirits. We go down the history lane to throw light on one such cocktail book that led to many others in its stead.

The Book

In 1827, Richard Cook published the Oxford Night Caps - Being a Collection of Receipts for Making Various Beverages Used in the University. Quite a mouthful the title is, isn't it? But this text is considered a crucial piece of knowledge that contributed to our world culturally. It is an extensive collection of cocktail recipes and sheds information about which tonics and nightcaps were popular among the University of Oxford's 19th-century students. It has the recipes for various popular cocktails such as Port Wine Negus, Classical Sherbet, and Red Punch.

The Importance Of Oxford Night Caps

Richard Cook, himself a scout at Oxford had published a pamphlet, not a book, in 1827, that totalled only 43 pages. It was a notable document for students belonging to the prestigious university which provided them with the knowledge to make delicious cocktails in the University Halls. It was also meant for people who wanted a sneak peek into the booze-filled ambience of social clubs in the university. Oxford Night Caps was the first popular publication dedicated solely to mixed drinks.

The book has gone through multiple editions, considering the availability of more ingredients and techniques. It is particularly famous for its recipes for punches and possets. And infamous for having a series of ecclesiastically-named drinks. From the Bishop (a hot port punch spiced with lemon, cinnamon, cloves, mace, ginger, and all-spice) to the Lawn Sleeves (named after the odd-shaped sleeves of a Bishop’s garment; it is a variation of a Bishop with madeira or sherry instead of port and includes “calves-feet jelly”) to the Cardinal (claret rather than port)  and the Pope (champagne instead of port). Oxford Night Caps publication is historic considering there were barely any books on mixology of cocktail-making. It can be deemed as an antecedent to modern cocktail books.

About The Author

The Oxford Night Caps was published anonymously, possibly because a document on the hedonistic booze-filled lifestyle of students would be perceived negatively. However, those close to the author knew it was his handiwork. 

Richard Cook was a scout at Oxford, which means he was privately hired by a student as a valet and a housekeeper. It appears he was popular among the university crowd, quite a character who was fondly remembered by students. He was not only known for being a faithful and erudite scout but also a famous homespun philosopher and bagged the nickname 'Cicero'. It is believed that he would write undergraduates’ rhetoric essays for a fee. His learnings in literature are reflected even in Oxford Night Caps.

Richard 'Cicero' Cook made an indelible mark by creating what could be called a 'butler's guide to cocktails'. His publication is very easy to read and simple to follow. And it stands as one of the key documents in mixology and is rightly preserved in that manner.

While it is normal to learn about spirits and cocktails and enjoy them, it is key to consume alcohol moderately. One must serve and drinks responsibly for good health and to stay out of harm's way. If you know anyone who finds it difficult to control their alcohol consumption, please refer them to a professional.


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