Any student of the cocktail worth his or her salt will have heard of the Cobbler. Cocktail savants in on the recent revival of pre-Prohibition libations will have undoubtedly come across it as well. And if you aren’t in the know, allow me to introduce you to one of 19th century America’s greatest potable inventions.
A Cobbler is a simple thing; alcohol – usually wine, a dash of sugar and a hefty load of pebbled ice shaken to perfection then topped off with seasonal fruit. There are a million and one variations on it but the Sherry Cobbler is the one that spawned the rest. It was a logical progression in the nation’s budding cocktail boom during the 1800s. Sherry was an affordable import from sunny Spain which Americans drank with great gusto during the 19th century. With the US wine industry still in its early days, stateside wine drinkers had to look to the Old World to slake their thirst and the low-cost Sherry was a favorite. Take a popular beverage and marry it with new novelties in the world of drink, the straw and ice, and suddenly you’ve got a major hit on your hands. The Sherry Cobbler reigned supreme in an era that saw the birth of many celebrated American classics. One of the original shaken cocktails, it dominated bar tops in the States for decades and even became a hit in countries where expats gathered.
So ubiquitous today is the straw that it’s curious to think that a hundred and fifty odd years ago it was actually quite innovative. This modest invention was at least part of the Cobbler’s appeal; sip your drink without a cascade of ice pouring down your front. And ice, ice was the soul of the Cobbler. It isn’t any wonder that the Cobbler was invented in the 1830s, around the same time as America’s ice trade began emerging in a big way. A formerly hard to come by commodity, ice became much more accessible thanks to the harvesting of natural ice from ponds and lakes in New England. The pebbled ice which makes up one of the cornerstones of the Cobbler is believed by some to have been the very thing to inspire its name. More importantly, it helped to establish the common use of ice in cocktails. The drinking world hasn’t been the same since.
During the height of the Cobbler’s popularity, the US was one of the largest consumers of sugar, much of it coming from Cuba. Once a luxury good, sugar became widely available; it was cultivated throughout the Caribbean and in parts of mainland America with the demand for sugar helping to drive the transatlantic slave trade.
Cobblers fell out of favor when Prohibition reared its ugly head, the recipe gathering dust until the recent interest in cocktails of yore saw it plucked from out of the shadows and placed on cocktail lists across the nation. Though it hardly holds the same status as it once did, this venerable libation is well deserving of its comeback. It embodied an era, helped establish the direction and development of the art of mixing drink, and beyond all that, is absurdly refreshing and easy to make when the temperatures start to rise.