The Jerry Thomas Experiment: Rocky Balboa on a Bender
Every week, we tackle the weirdest recipe we can find in Jerry Thomas’s Bartenders Guide. Turns out they did things differently back then.
Recipe #165 in the Bartenders Guide is described as a “delicious French café drink.” Cafés, apparently, used to be a lot different back in the 1800s, because after making it and drinking it, we can safely say that you won’t be seeing it at your local Starbucks any time soon.
The first step was to “fill a small wine glass halfway full with Maraschino liqueur.” If that doesn’t seem shocking to you, just mention the notion to your local bartender and watch him or her squirm. We’d never seen a cocktail recipe that called for more than an ounce of the sticky sweet liqueur, which is typically used only as a modifier. This recipe called for approximately three ounces. But we put our faith in Mr. Thomas and filled three Champagne flutes (one for each staff member who volunteered to drink the finished product) halfway as instructed.
Next, the recipe read: “Put in the pure yolk of an egg.” While we have no problem with raw eggs in cocktails—we love a Ramos Gin Fizz or a Rum Flip as much as the next imbiber—we usually like to mix them into the drinks rather than simply plop them in whole. But before we could crack an egg, we hit a snafu.
Reading ahead we saw that Thomas instructed us to, “surround the yolk with vanilla cordial.”
Alas, there was no vanilla liqueur in sight. We decided to improvise and make our own.
The first step was to make a vanilla simple syrup with equal parts water and white sugar, and two raw Madagascar vanilla beans that had been halved and scraped.
We cooked our syrup on a hot plate in the photo studio and, unlike past Jerry Thomas experiments, no one complained. As the vanilla bean scent wafted lazily around, it stirred up memories of fresh-from-the-oven pies melting scoops of ice cream.
We stashed the syrup in the refrigerator to cool, then strained the vanilla beans out. For our cordial we added a 2:1 ratio of vanilla syrup to Wray & Nephew overproof Jamaican rum. With our cordial finished, we returned to our eggs. We cracked them over a bowl and gently separated the whites, trying to keep the yolks perfectly intact. Tilting the first Champagne flute, we slid the egg yolk into the glass. It floated, a yellow orb in a sea of cherry liqueur.
Then we slowly poured our vanilla cordial into the flute, coating the egg yolk. We repeated the process with the other glasses.
The final step was to dash a touch of cognac onto the egg. Dashing cognac out of a full-sized cognac bottle proved more difficult than dashing bitters, but, thanks to some arm strength and thumb pressure, we got it done.
The Pousse l’Amour was finished.
Despite the lack of instructions from the Bartenders Guide, we decided the drink should be sipped at first and then, in Rocky Balboa fashion, finished by downing the egg. The challenge was to not break the yolk in the drink or on your face.
The first sip wasn’t bad.
There was a touch of the funk from the rum-based syrup at first, followed by soft ripples of cherry and vanilla. It tasted like a stale slice of cherry pie onto which someone accidentally spilled a glass of vanilla vodka.
While the liquid part of the drink was pleasant enough, the raw egg yolk egg taunted us with every sip, sliding closer and closer to our lips.
Eventually, only the yolks remained. Just do it, we told ourselves. It’s protein. It’s good for us.
And one after the other we did.
Two of us refused to chew the yolks, swallowing them whole instead. The cold, wet eggs slid down our esophagi with a couple of gulps.
One brave Supercall staff member, Nick, chewed and broke his yolk. Nick is glutton for punishment. In the past, he was downright gleeful about drinking a Whopperrito milkshake. He was not so pleased with this decision, though. Here is his reaction:
And, just like that, we had conquered the Pousse l’Amour.
Nick: “It was terrifying.”
Justine: “I’m actually not angry at this drink.”
Dillon: “I really didn’t want to do that.”
We’re still not entirely sure what Jerry Thomas was attempting to achieve with the Pousse l’Amour, but we think he would be proud of our valiant execution.