At his prime, the Gilded Age financier John Pierpont Morgan was the quintessential stogie-chomping big-city boss—and he had the high-class drinking habits to match.
As a member of the Zodiac Club, an elite private dining group, the banker was known to organize 10-course tasting menus with endless bottles of Château Latour, Clos de Vougeot, Moët and Cognac flowing. He filled his private cellars with the best vintages from the Rhône, Burgundy and Bordeaux. The beverage offerings aboard the Corsair, his custom-built, steam-powered pleasure yacht, were of an equal caliber—rare wine, brandy and Scotch bearing his personal label were doled out by bespoke bar tools into monogrammed glasses.
“Whatever Morgan did,” read a 1949 Harper’s feature, “he did in a big way.”
As Morgan’s rise coincided with the birth of the American cocktail, it’s no surprise that a number of drinks were linked to his legacy (and penchant for boozing). An oft-repeated anecdote recounts how Morgan would toast the closing of the New York Stock Exchange with a Manhattan in hand at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. But there’s another, far more obscure drink that traces its genesis to Morgan: the Alamagoozlum.
This kitchen-sink recipe, which first surfaced in print in the late 1930s, calls for just about every bottle on the backbar: Jamaican rum, genever, Chartreuse (green or yellow) and Curaçao, shaken hard with gomme syrup, half an egg white, two ounces of water and a half-ounce of Angostura bitters. The end product is a full seven-and-a-half ounces of viscous garnet-colored liquid, meant to be poured between three to five glasses—a party punch with a wicked left hook.
But the only thing stranger than its name and construction is determining where on earth the drink came from.
Charles H. Baker’s The Gentleman’s Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask, published in 1939, is commonly credited with unleashing the Alamagoozlum upon the unsuspecting public. The entry is titled “J. Pierpont Morgan’s Alamagoozlum, the Personal Mix Credited to that Financier, Philanthropist, & Banker of a Bygone Era,” followed by the recipe and a qualifier from Baker. “To tell the truth,” he writes, “this is no exotic from a far land, but is such a tasteful and sound cocktail that we append it here, standing on its own legs and its own merit.”
While no other contemporary cocktail books feature the Alamagoozlum, Baker’s entry is not actually the first time the drink is mentioned in print. A 1935 column in The Indianapolis News suggests a “Plantation Alamagoozlum” as a homeopathic remedy (“They say rum is an excellent preventive of colds and chills”), though there is no full recipe, nor any mention of Morgan, who died in 1913. Morgan is, however, name-checked in a 1937 edition of the Louisville, Kentucky, Courier-Journal, in which columnist Sam W. Severance describes a package he received from an unnamed reader in Kingston, Jamaica, containing a booklet of drink recipes. “Just reading about some of the drinks makes me thirsty, especially that Alamagoozlum, described as the personal cocktail of the first J. Pierpont Morgan,” says Severance. (The Kentuckian goes on to criticize another section in the booklet that instructs readers on how to make Mint Juleps without bourbon; this is also a feature of The Gentleman’s Companion, raising at least the possibility that Baker himself was the unnamed reader.)
The word “alamagoozlum” appeared even earlier than the drink’s genesis. It’s referenced in newspapers as early as the 1870s, when it was used as a fanciful nonsense term, à la “abracadabra,” or as a fill-in when the proper noun couldn’t be mustered, like “whatchamacallit” or “thingamajig.” The variant “Allemagoozelum,” meanwhile, leads to another curious place: Pennsylvania, during the height of the 19th-century oil boom. There, in the 1860s, an Irish immigrant named David W. Kenney drilled an oil well in northwestern Venango County, declared the desolate environs “Allemagoozelum City,” and appointed himself its mayor.
What does any of this have to do with Baker, or, for that matter, Morgan? For one thing, Baker would’ve likely been familiar with the oddball self-appointed mayor of Allemagoozelum City. Though raised in Florida, the author came from an old Pennsylvania family—Pittsburgh, to be exact. Kenney’s startup city was located a couple hours outside of the so-called Steel City. Morgan, for his part, was the founder of U.S. Steel and made much of his fortune in that industry. Is it possible that Baker—the only person tying Morgan to the Alamagoozlum—conjured the whole thing up, from the elaborate backstory to the ludicrous drink that comes with it?
It would hardly be the first time a cocktail’s origin story had been fabricated to lend credence to a new recipe. But there’s a reason these tall tales persist. Even writers who seemed skeptical about Baker’s claims couldn’t resist repeating a good story. “This cocktail is supposed to have been a specialty of the elder Morgan,” writes David A. Embury in his 1948 classic The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, “which goes to prove that as a bartender he was an excellent banker.”