Looking Inside the Cooler: Charles Baker's Colonial Cooler

Our friend Charles Baker certainly knew how to get into a couple of scrapes. He outlines many of them in his tales, but perhaps none is so memorable as the time when his boat ran out of gas and left him stranded on his way to Sandakan in North Borneo. And while considering that his stories are often fabulous and detailed, being rescued by a man in a g-string and headdress has made this tale infamous. The drink associated with the tale, the Colonial Cooler,  is often overlooked. Fortunately, the Charles Baker scholar, St. John Frizell, has resurrected it. Of course perhaps resurrection is the wrong word since he has hardly changed it. It certainly is tasty as written.

When I first pondered this cocktail, I was immediately taken by the combination of gin, sweet vermouth, an amaro, bitters, and a sweetener. As I had been playing with amari in the Martinez, I was easily led astray, thinking that the club soda was a mistake. What I missed in understanding this cocktail had much to do with the overlooking the nature of a cooler. Coolers were defined by their inclusion of ginger beer and citrus. While the Colonial Cooler doesn't really look like a by-definition cooler, looking at the recipe through that lens made more sense. In fact as soon as I saw that Frizell decided to add cucumber, I saw how much the Colonial Cooler resembled the Pimm's Cup, another very notable Cooler.

Colonial Cooler (adapted from St. John Frizell's recipe)

1 1/2 ounces gin
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 tsp Cointreau
1 dash Angostura bitters
1/4 ounce Amer Picon*
1 sprig of mint
1 ounce of club soda

Shake ingredients, except club soda, and double strain into a high ball or Collins glass filled with ice. Top with soda and garnish with a sprig of mint, slice of pineapple, or slice of cucumber. 

Notes on Ingredients: I used Beefeater gin, Cocchi di Torino sweet vermouth, and Bigallet for the Amer Picon.

*Frizell omits this part of the original cooler, but I added it back in.Also of note, Frizell calls for splitting the sweet vermouth between Cinzano and Carpano Antica. Also, he adds a sprig of mint to the shaking tin in addition to garnish. Cucumbers are also listed as an optional ingredient.

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