The Fizz: A Sour Cocktail with Bubbles
When you get deep enough into the alcohol world, you begin to realize that most topics can be viewed through a taxonomical lens, meaning that most “things” (whether you’re talking spirits or cocktails) can be traced back to other, more essential or ancestral “things,” usually due to mitigating factors such as time, technology, and geography (or terroir).
So when I started thinking about Charlie’s question, the first place I looked was to the history books, and the closest thing to a primary historical source we have in the cocktail canon is Jerry Thomas’ “Bar-Tender’s Guide,” which has several editions. I was able to pull up a PDF of the 1887 edition, published 2 years after his death (which I’ll link to in the show notes) – and I think there’s a pretty compelling argument for this being perhaps the most definitive edition, since it contains the sum total of The Professor’s wisdom, which he was able to refine over several editions of the book.
The First Historical Mention of the “Fiz”
In it, we have several mentions of a drink called a “Fiz” (spelled with only one “z”). There’s the Brandy Fiz (made, obviously, with Brandy), the Gin Fiz (made with Holland Gin – what today we’d call Genever), and the metallic duo of the Silver and Golden Fiz (both made with Old Tom gin – which is normally sweetened). The real difference between these last two is that the Silver Fiz was made using the addition of an egg white, and the Golden Fiz was made using an egg yolk. Down the road, a further twist called the “Royal Fizz” would be made using the whole egg.
Characteristics of a Fizz
I like this debut for the fizz category because it’s tight. Four drinks all made using the following spec:
A little bit of sugar
A little bit of lemon juice (or lime, if you have it)
A standard pour of a spirit (be it brandy, genever, or Old Tom gin)
Ice for mixing
And some sort of carbonated water to top
This is the type of cohesion you’d expect in a drinks category, and to me, the impressive thing is it exists right from square one. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out a couple differences between these recipes that reveal a little bit of Jerry Thomas’ technical genius.
One is the way that ice is employed. In the brandy and gin fiz recipes, you’re using one lump of ice in the mixing process, whereas in the silver and golden fiz recipes, you’re instructed to use 2-3. Why might this be?
Well, for one, we’ve got the egg, which adds a bit more volume to the drink, which is perhaps worthy of another lump of ice (whatever the hell a “lump” amounts to). This is just basic physics – the more stuff you need to cool down and dilute, the more ice you’ll need, roughly speaking.
But then there’s the fact that the Brandy and Gin Fiz cocktails call for 1 TEAspoon of powdered sugar, whereas the Silver and Golden Fiz cocktails call for 1 TABLEspoon of granulated sugar. If there’s one thing that old tymey bartenders have over us, it’s their deftness with different sugars used outside of a simple syrup format. And this is a perfect illustration of that point. Jerry Thomas knew that in order to dissolve a larger quantity coarser sugar and beat up an egg, you needed more dilution and more solid agitants- and that’s exactly how he designed the drinks.