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How to Build a Cocktail, Visualized

Cocktail Construction Chart (1974), US Department of Agriculture Forest Service (via National Archives)
Cocktail Construction Chart (1974) (detail), US Department of Agriculture Forest Service (via National Archives)

Back in 1974, a curious construction-style chart of cocktails was made by some employees of the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service. It somehow found its way into the National Archives, which happens to have just opened a Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History exhibition, and although it’s not part of the show it was recently shared on the US National Archives Exhibits Tumblr. With clear hatching and carefully measured lines, the chart explains the proportions and ingredients of building popular drinks as if they were architecture.

Cocktail Construction Chart (1974), US Department of Agriculture Forest Service (via National Archives)
Cocktail Construction Chart (1974), US Department of Agriculture Forest Service (via National Archives) (click to enlarge)

reporter with Esquire reached out after the chart made the internet rounds this week and found it was apparently mixed in with some architectural drawings and kept by an archivist who likely found it odd enough a Forest Service project to keep. While you can download a high resolution image of it at the National Archives to potentially display for your own mixology purposes (although that martini does seem to go heavy on the vermouth, and the rum & cola light on the spirits), it’s interesting to put in the context of visualizing mixology. Jerry Thomas is arguably the founder of modern mixology, having developed the showmanship alongside the formulas in the 19th century (his signature blue blazer drink involved tossing flaming alcohol back and forth between metal cups until it formed a blue flame). When he published his How to Mix Drinks, Or, The Bon-vivant’s Companion in 1862, it included a glass for a “pousse l’amour” diagramming brandy, vanilla cordial, and maraschino alongside.

Harry Johnson with The New and Improved Illustrated Bartenders’ Manual; Or: How to Mix Drinks of the Present Style in 1888 had a different take, including some illustrations of his style of mixing drinks for a party of six, as well as the elaborately garnished cocktails as they looked completed. Later for the armchair amateur in the 20th century, liquor companies often used slide rule charts as a marketing tool, so that you could pull out a piece of paper or plastic that would illustrate the proportions. Generally diagramming the drinks is kind of redundant to the recipes, but the 1970s Cocktail Construction Chart is an enjoyable look at all the different components that you don’t see once your drink is shaken or stirred. And it offers this sound advice for explorers into mixology: “No matter what you mix, take care — the drink you mix may be your own!”

Cocktail Construction Chart (1974), US Department of Agriculture Forest Service (via National Archives)
Cocktail Construction Chart (1974) (detail), US Department of Agriculture Forest Service (via National Archives)
Cocktail Construction Chart (1974), US Department of Agriculture Forest Service (via National Archives)
Cocktail Construction Chart (1974) (detail), US Department of Agriculture Forest Service (via National Archives)
Vintage Bols Cocktail slide (via rekeninstrumenten.nl)
Vintage Bols Cocktail slide (via rekeninstrumenten.nl)
Vintage Blundell Harling cocktail mixer slide rule (via sliderulemuseum.com)
Vintage Blundell Harling cocktail mixer slide rule (via sliderulemuseum.com)
Illustration from 'How to Mix Drinks, Or, The Bon-vivant's Companion' by Jerry Thomas (1862) (via Google Books)
Illustration from ‘How to Mix Drinks, Or, The Bon-vivant’s Companion’ by Jerry Thomas (1862) (via Google Books)
Illustration from 'How to Mix Drinks, Or, The Bon-vivant's Companion' by Jerry Thomas (1862) (via Google Books)
Illustration from ‘How to Mix Drinks, Or, The Bon-vivant’s Companion’ by Jerry Thomas (1862) (via Google Books)
Illustration in 'The New and Improved Illustrated Bartenders' Manual; Or: How to Mix Drinks of the Present Style' by Harry Johnson (1888) (via Google Books)
Illustration in ‘The New and Improved Illustrated Bartenders’ Manual; Or: How to Mix Drinks of the Present Style’ by Harry Johnson (1888) (via Google Books)
Illustrations in 'The New and Improved Illustrated Bartenders' Manual; Or: How to Mix Drinks of the Present Style' by Harry Johnson (1888) (via Google Books)
Illustrations in ‘The New and Improved Illustrated Bartenders’ Manual; Or: How to Mix Drinks of the Present Style’ by Harry Johnson (1888) (via Google Books)

View the Cocktail Construction Chart online at the National Archives

h/t Kottke

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