So ubiquitous was the cobbler during the 19th century that it launched its namesake three-piece shaker, ice and the straw into popular consciousness. And, despite falling out of favor during Prohibition, the likely American-born drink continues to find an audience some 150 years after its heyday by simply expanding on the classic, centuries-old template.
A mix of any spirit, sugar, crushed ice and fruit, the cobbler takes its name from the “cobbles” of ice over which it was traditionally built, which would’ve made it difficult to slurp on its own straight from the glass. The sherry-based version, quite possibly the first shaken drink, is most famously singled out in Charles Dickens’s The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, in which the main character reacts to his first cobbler—and its straw: “Martin took the glass with an astonished look; applied his lips to the reed; and cast up his eyes once in ecstasy. He paused no more until the goblet was drained to the last drop.” Both the drink and the straw, at the time, would’ve been considered very novel inventions indeed.
That the rise of the cobbler coincided with that of readily available ice in the 1830s is not insignificant, either: Their symbiotic relationship helped establish the primacy of the two items both stateside and across the Atlantic. In fact, in 1845, the Illustrated London News commented on the popularity of Massachusetts-harvested Wenham Lake ice, which was shipped to London in the latter half of the decade and was being used in the city’s taverns to make juleps, cobblers and other famous “American beverages of celebrity.” These drinks, as well as the ice itself, might “come into very general use,” the author suggests.
So how does a drink that spawned these central tenets of contemporary cocktail culture fall into relative obscurity? Blame it on low ABV drinks falling out of favor, as they did during Prohibition. But now, with the Noble Experiment so far in our rear view mirror, the American beverage of international celebrity is being rediscovered—as evidenced by the modern and worthy variations showcased here, alongside the classics.
There are plenty of bartenders who embrace the low-ABV nature of the original drink in their present-day riffs, like Dan Greenbaum, who builds on a base of amontillado in his Half Court Cobbler, adding Cynar for bitterness and honey in place of sugar; or Greg Best, who stacks sweet PX Sherry with Cocchi Americano and savory dry vermouth for his Suppressor #1. But in this post-Prohibition era, don’t be surprised to see boozier takes on the classic: genever and Jamaican rum bump up the proof in drinks like the I am… I Said and Keep Your Dreams A Burnin’, while the Mexican Gentleman gets a double dose of sherry (both PX and manzanilla), plus tequila and mezcal.
As Jerry Thomas notes in How to Mix Drinks, the cobbler must appeal to both the eye and the palate, and the Champagne Cobbler does just that, sticking to the original drink’s fresh berry-topped blueprint while swapping in sparkling wine for sherry. The Bacchanalia fits that bill, too, with its layered sangria syrup and Lambrusco, plus an ounce of rye whiskey, for a drink that pays a spiritous tribute to the cobbler’s American heritage.
Invented in 1984 by bartender Dick Bradsell, the Bramble is a modern classic set somewhere in between a cobbler and a sling. With gin as the base spirit, it retains the fruity drinkability of its predecessor when combined with lemon juice, simple syrup and the often hard-to-find crème de mûre. Riffing on Bradsell’s drink, the Bramble (Fresh) skips the blackberry liqueur altogether but keeps the fresh berry garnish, while the It’s So Easy swaps out fresh berries for orange citrus. The Shady Lane, a wholly contemporary riff, adds in aromatic shiso leaves to balance the sweetness of blackberry-lime syrup, capping it all off with Lillet Rouge and bitters.