Once you understand basic cocktail recipe structure (without going off on too deep a tangent, it boils down to two general categories: sours and aromatics, first outlined in detail in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David Embury), you can take any classic cocktail and in the words of Mr. Embury, "roll your own." The Airmail is a prime example of this, whereby you take a classic cocktail and swap out one or two ingredients for other ingredients in the same category in order to create a new classic. Viewed in this way, a drink like the Margarita is really just a Sidecar with tequila instead of cognac, lime juice instead of lemon, and salt instead of sugar on the rim. And in the case of today's recipe, the Airmail can be viewed as a Daiquiri with honey instead of sugar and topped with Champagne; a French 75 with rum in place of gin, honey instead of sugar, and lime juice in place of lemon; or a Honeysuckle with lime juice instead of lemon and topped with Champagne. And suddenly cocktail geneology becomes a lot more clear.
Depending upon which old cocktail tome you consult, you will get a different recipe for the Airmail, with variations in proportions, type of rum to use (dark or light), and even the type of glassware in which to serve the drink (coupe or collins glass). I recently had a conversation with Greg Boehm, owner of Cocktail Kingdom and a man with a huge collection of classic cocktail books, and he explained that the Airmail was actually first created by the folks at Bacardi (or at least their corporate mixologist) and was featured in a Bacardi recipe pamphlet published in the 1930s. The recipe featured in the PDT Cocktail Book, however, comes from a quirky wood-block covered book--yes, the book's cover is actually made of two wood blocks bound together--called Here's How, published by W.C. Whitfield in 1941. Under the recipe it notes, "It ought to make you fly high."
1 oz Banks 5 Island Rum
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz honey syrup (2 parts honey dissolved in 1 part hot water)
1 oz Moet Imperial Champagne, to top
lime wheel (garnish)
Tools: shaker, strainer
Glassware: chilled coupe
Method: Shake everything except the Champagne and strain into a chilled coupe. Top with the Champagne and garnish with a lime wheel.
If you like the classic Daiquiri or the French 75, or if you're one of those cocktail nerds who's actually had a Honeysuckle, then you're sure to enjoy the refreshing Airmail cocktail. It is a wonderfully light, off-dry aperitif cocktail that allows you to sip more than one without feeling like you’ve taken the plane too high.
*This post is part of a series in which Payman takes on the task of making and writing about every cocktail featured in the PDT Cocktail Book, as well as providing an awesome photo of each drink taken by Vanessa Bahmani Photography.
**Got a question? He can be found on twitter @paystyle, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply drop him a comment below.