Corn Popper Cocktail

The Corn Popper

1 Pint Corn (Georgia or Maryland).
1/2 Pint Cream.
The Whites of 2 Eggs.
1 Tablespoonful Grenadine.

Fill highball glasses half full of this mixture and fill up with Vichy or Seltzer.

This is another of the recipes Craddock (or the Savoy editors) cribbed verbatim from Judge Jr.’s “Here’s How”.

The recipe in “Here’s How” includes the following recommendation, “Don’t get near a fire after one of these!”

Being the literalist that I am, and knowing that most of the commercial “corn whiskey” is of questionable merit, I was thinking I would use some semi-vintage J.W. Dant Bourbon I found at a liquor store. It’s the only whiskey I have that actually tastes like corn.

However, I decided to double check on “Corn”, so consulted “Moonshine” (Link to his excellent book on the subject) historian Matt Rowley in regards to the Corn Popper.

He replied:

Now you’ve drifted into some interesting semantic territory rather than merely obscure ingredients.
In the Savoy book, some things are what they seem – absinthe is generally that, despite variations in style. So is applejack (usually). “Corn” is a shorthand code, especially a post-prohibition work, merely for illicit spirits (often, but not necessarily, whiskey) that may be made from nearly any ingredient except fruit, but including sugar, wheat, rye, “ship stuff,” sorghum, cattle feed, mule chop, and, on occasion, corn.

Just like “The South” is used as a false badge of authenticity when attributing origins to quite local corn whiskey, “corn” itself is a suspect appellation.

Shake loose that notion that “corn” is ever really corn whiskey. Unfortunate, but there it is. From the 1920’s through the late 1990’s, sugar formed the backbone of American off-the-books distilling. It was cheaper, faster, and more profitable to make sugar spirits than corn. When the price was right, you could call it whatever you want.

Also, there is and was such diversity in manufacture from unregulated distillers that November’s corn was rarely the same as August’s (which may, in fact, be more prone to being an ersatz whiskey because the harvest wasn’t in yet). Even today’s new wave of home distillers who are very serious about their brandies and absinthe will bump their corn with table sugar.

Add to that regional flavor profile variants, the effect of water on the flavor profile (both in fermenting mash and cutting the distillate), and the taste and sugar content variability of pre-prohibition heirloom maize among genuine corn and you quickly find that a cocktail specifying “corn” might as well specify “liquor” as an ingredient.

As you’ve noted, the nationally available commercial examples of corn whiskey are, well, less than inspiring and I’ve yet to find one I’d recommend as anything than a learning experience.

If all you have available is commercial corn liquor, try the corn popper with bourbon (or white dog if you can lay your hands on some) – it’s probably not a bad place to begin even though most corn – real or not – tends to be clear, uncolored, and often unaged whiskey. This is not the time to break out your finest as you wander into Delmarva milk punch territory.

Well, alright, then. With that in mind I set about re-doing the recipe for a single serving.

The Corn Popper

1 1/2 oz clear, pungent, liquid of unknown origin
1 egg white
3/4 oz Cream
1 teaspoon Grenadine (homemade)

Measure ingredients into cocktail shaker. Seal and shake well. Break seal, add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into collins glass. Top with selzer or sparkling mineral water.

Corn Popper Cocktail

The drink has a nice flavor of yeast and malt. Reminded me a bit of a very potent malted egg cream.

Also, interesting, that the drink really isn’t very sweet. I was being pretty generous in using a whole teaspoon of Grenadine, as Savoy/Judge Jr. only call for a tablespoon of grenadine in a pint of liquor and a half pint of cream.

This probably betrays some weakness of character on my part; but, I was having a Unibroue Maudite later in the evening, and thought, you know, topping up the Corn Popper with Maudite instead of sparkling water might be kind of nice.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.