There are plenty of garnishes that offer more than just a pretty face, adding in some essential flavor or aroma without which a cocktail wouldn’t be whole. A Martini’s olives, a Gibson’s onion, a flamed orange peel. But some garnishes have historically taken their quest to impart flavor and aroma, and theatrically teetered into the realm of the rococo.
Enter the Horse’s Neck. While we don’t know the name of the creative genius who first twirled a peel around the inside of a highball, we do know it eventually wound its way into the Horse’s Neck cocktail, one of the few drinks in the classic canon to be named after its garnish, whose graceful curves resemble those of a horse’s long neck.
Tracing back at least as early as the 1890s, the original non-alcoholic combination of ginger ale, ice and lemon peel was later upgraded by the addition of bourbon or brandy (technically ordered as a “Horse’s Neck with a Kick”)—its looping accoutrement adding a touch of citric cut and bitterness to balance out the sweet concoction. The cocktail was a mainstay in the American and English drinking scene and pop culture throughout the first half of the century, making cameos in everything from Fred Astaire films to James Bond novels. (Ian Fleming notoriously referred to it as “the drunkard’s drink,” though he was purportedly a fan.) As William Grimes writes in Appetite City, the one place where the equine cocktail seems to have been noticeably absent was at a lavish and much-discussed 1903 party for the New York Equestrian Club—a missed opportunity for which the host was ridiculed in the Town Topics scandal pages afterwards.
In the 1960s, it displaced Pink Gin as the official drink of Royal Navy officers, and still holds the title today. So whether on land or sea, in a Horse’s Neck or really any damn highball cocktail you please, embrace the spiral. While many prefer a thicker spiral cut made with the use of a regular knife, we always opt for the dainty elegance of the thin spiral by way of the channel knife. If you own one (they’re available at just about any kitchen store), you can spiral everything from oranges to limes to apples. Here’s how:
1.) Grip the bottom of the fruit with one hand securely. Beginning at the top of the fruit, use your other hand to press the channel knife into the fruit, while firmly working your way around it. (Be sure to apply a decent amount of pressure so that the knife does not slip—it’s sharp and has impaled many a bartender before.)
2.) As you work your way around the fruit, keep about a centimeter to a 1/4 inches of space between the peels, so that you yield a peel long enough to wrap the length of a Collins glass.
3.) Add the peel to a glass of ice water for 30 seconds, to stiffen the peel’s coil, and then drop it into the glass while securing one end at the top of the glass.
4.) Use a bar spoon to push the coil to the edge of the glass, add ice to the center, and add liquid. Voila!