As a freshly minted bartender, still learning the ropes at PDT, the neo-speakeasy where I worked, I spent a lot of time studying a Rolodex of cocktail recipes. This was the late 2000s, a time when smartphones were only accessible to well-off early adopters, so I mean a literal Rolodex—an acrylic box that contained alphabetical-ordered, plastic-sheathed notecards with hundreds of recipes, from original PDT drinks to long-forgotten classics.
One of these was the Air Mail. It’s an elegant concoction of rum, lime, honey, and sparkling wine that I would introduce to any bar guest of mine who liked a French 75 and perhaps wanted to try something “off menu.” It eventually ended up in my then-boss Jim Meehan’s excellent PDT Cocktail Book.
Our Rolodex had precious little space to detail the origin story of the drink, but a peek at the cocktail tome The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails reveals the drink first appeared in print in a 1930 pamphlet issued in Cuba by Bacardi. Aside from that, there are few details as to the drink’s original creator.
I checked in with Jim to try and trace how this drink ended up in his first book. He said that he discovered the cocktail during his days behind the bar at Gramercy Tavern, when he was exploring drinks with alternative sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. He also wanted to find cocktails that were “sticky” in peoples’ memories. He was looking for “nostalgia machines like the Aviation that evoked a time of wonder.”
“It’s got it all,” he told me. “There’s room for improvisation with the Champagne and honey.” And I agree. In my view, this drink is a riff on the French 75, which leaves the door open to a high degree of variation. I’ve seen the Air Mail made with a blend of light and dark rums; topped with alternative sparkling liquids like beer or sparkling water; and reformatted into a long drink over ice in a highball glass.
A highball is actually the original recipe, according to The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, but when I asked Jim about this, he said, “It’s not going to be bad as a highball, but it makes more sense to me in a coupe.” A coupe is now the definitive version, as far as I am concerned, but it’s just a matter of style. If you like the highball version, do you.
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