1.5 oz Remy Martin Cognac
2 tsp Sugar
1.5 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Raw Egg
In a mixing glass, combine sugar and lemon juice, stirring to dissolve sugar
Add brandy and egg, then shake without ice to emulsify
Fill mixing glass with ice and shake again
Strain into a goblet filled with ice
Top with ginger beer, stirring gently to combine
A little dusting of cinnamon or nutmeg on top is nice
* * *
Are things better left alone? Should things stay the way they’ve always been, or is change an inevitable force of nature? The cocktail world is certainly at odds with itself on the subject – on one hand, committed to resurrecting arcane alchemy while, simultaneously, embracing new science and ideas. If things never changed, we might all still be living in thatched cottages and playing ball games like longue paume. Fortunately, we evolve – taking the best (and sometimes, the worst) of what came before and building upon it, creating an ever-changing foundation that will continue to grow and mutate while retaining its core integrity. What I’m really talking about with all this is, of course, tennis.
Most sources put the origin of tennis at somewhere around the 12th century – probably in France, which makes a lot of sense if you consider that when a Frenchman lobs a projectile at you – in a sporting fashion, of course – he’s likely to accompany his action with a cry of “Tenez!” (Roughly meaning “Take this!”). For the bulk of its history, tennis was a men-only distraction enjoyed within the walls of one’s castle or club. Now, the important things you should note from that last sentence are “men-only”, “walls”, and “castle or club” because up until the Victorian Age, the game of tennis was a rich man’s sport played indoors.
Upon the death of King George IV in 1830, English law mandated a new election. George had lived an extravagant lifestyle, and people began clamoring for change. Indeed, in the 1830 elections, the Tories (those who put the king above the constitution) lost much ground to the Whigs (who put the constitution above the king), and the latter party, under the leadership of Lord Grey, set out to see the change through. It was the Reform Act of 1832 that was considered to have laid the ground for modern British democracy. The act essentially sought to remove much of England’s political corruption and transfer power from the nobility to the ordinary man while also broadening the size of the electorate. What it accomplished, wittingly or not, was the creation of the British middle class.
During the reign of Queen Victoria, who took the throne just five years later (1837), the fertile soil of the middle class was well watered and tended. Around the world, the Industrial Revolution was building new fortunes and, if not fortunes, discretionary income where it had not existed before. As acceptance in the established social circles involved more than money, of course, the affluent members of the new middle class took it upon themselves to create their own lives of leisure.
Take for instance, Harry Gem, a lawyer, and his friend and Spaniard, JBA Perera, a merchant. Gem was the founder of Birmingham’s Bath Street Racquet Club, and it was Perera, a member, who suggested (somewhere around 1859) that the game of “rackets” or “pelota” could, with a few minor modifications, be enjoyed just as easily outdoors on Gem’s croquet lawn. By 1872, Gem and Perera has moved to Leamington Spa and founded, along with two local doctors, the Leamington Lawn Tennis Club – the first such club in the world. Not only was lawn tennis less expensive to play, it was open to all comers, regardless of income bracket or sex – in short, ideal for the middle class.
It’s an old saying that success has many fathers, and the origins of lawn tennis are not without different individuals claiming credit. Gem and Perera’s chief rival for the “Inventor of Lawn Tennis” title, is Walter Wingfield, who in 1874, introduced a game called Sphairistike (a Greek term, although Wingfield was Welsh) to the All England Croquet Club. The new sport caught on with such fire that by 1877, the club had changed its name to the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club and introduced its first Lawn Tennis Championship. The championship was played, of course, on All England’s grounds, just off Worple Road in Wimbledon.
It should come as no surprise that the Lawn Tennis Cooler was introduced in Cocktail Boothby’s American Bar-Tender of 1891 as “a new and popular beverage”. Lawn tennis fever was circling the global with a vengeance. How fast? If you consider the dates above, it may surprise you to learn that there is an account of outdoor tennis being played – by a woman, no less – in the Arizona Territory of 1874. That fast. Of course, a proper lawn was a rarity in 1870’s Arizona, so people began to play on whatever surfaces they had. In his rules for tennis, Wingfield advised simply that people play “on a lawn, on ice, or in any suitable sized space either in or out of doors”. And they did.
While proper grass provided the beginnings for lawn tennis, over the past century, new surfaces – namely clay and hard court – have been accepted. Of the four major Grand Slams (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open), only Wimbledon is still played on grass, with the French opting for clay while the Aussies and Yanks prefer hard courts. Much of the reasoning behind the changes has to do with practicality – proper grass courts, such as at All England, are a nightmare to maintain and an army of security guards are on staff to protect the precious lawns from all intruders, particularly female foxes, whose urine can wipe out a court in seconds.
Each court type demands, as you might expect, a different style of play. Grass is considered “fast” with balls traveling quickly and having low, unpredictable bounces. Clay is said to be the polar opposite of grass – slow with predictable physics. Play on hard courts, which are subject to their man-made compositions, varies widely. Over the years, this has led to players who either develop mastery of different playing styles for various courts or those who falter – and even avoid – certain types of courts. While some say that tennis should only be played on grass, others contend that the differing surfaces build better champions. Others, like the All England Club, have decided to level the playing field by making their grass more like clay.
The change happened in 2001, when All England tore out its existing courts of 70% perennial rye (unfortunately, not the whiskey-making kind) and 30% creeping red fescue and replaced them all with 100% rye. The goal was a more durable and maintainable court to withstand the demands of modern tennis; the result was a slower court with higher bounces – more like clay. This, of course, changed the game, setting the stage for the 2008 Wimbledon defeat of grass champion Roger Federer by clay master Rafael Nadal. Had the grass remained the same as a decade before, Federer would most likely have gone on to be the first man since the 1880s to have won a sixth consecutive championship at Wimbledon. But change is evolution, and without it, the world would have been denied the Nadal-Federer match-up that most claim to be the greatest game of tennis ever played.
Boothby’s recipe for the Lawn Tennis Cooler changed over the years as well. The version I present here is an amalgam of the original 1891 version, a 1907 version, and a bit of my own input. I only own a reprint of the 1891 book, but I was curious to compare it to the later variation, which substitutes lemons for the original limes (both call for the juice of two fruits) and which calls for less ice in the shake (the original asks for a glass full for shaved ice, shaken until dissolved).
It wasn’t until I was first making the drink that I realized that it is essentially a precursor to the Snowball, which puts the taste very much in the Orange (well, lemon) Julius camp. While the Lawn Tennis Cooler is thinner and a bit more tart than a Snowball, it’s a grand testament to the use of eggs in summer drinks. I’ve never been a huge fan of Flips – a class of drinks which calls for spirit, eggs, sugar, and spice – but I do love these “evolved” Flips, which finish off the drink with lemonade or ginger beer.
Whether in tennis, cocktails, or in life, change is inevitable. Change for the better or change for the worse – it’s all part of evolution. Of course, no matter how much the world churns around me, I’m going to hold fast to the belief that a Lawn Tennis Cooler sounds much tastier than a Hard Court Cooler. Or, for that matter, a Sphairistike Cooler.
One note: Before offering your guests drinks with raw egg, please remember to ask if anyone has an allergy to them.