Victorian Jobs: The Cocktails

We’ve all been there. Very few of us have not had the urge to ask “What if?”, and wonder where we would be in life if we had taken a different path.

What if I had gone to Art School after all?

What if I had been more serious about becoming an accountant?

Should I have listened to that guy with the van full of taxidermied possums that time, who said we could make a fortune in Mexico?

So, I was stopped in my tracks recently, when I saw this list of unusual jobs posted on social media.

It is from the 1881 British Census – a list of job titles given by British subjects under the category of “Occupation.” They are intriguing – maybe arresting.

What, for instance, is a Beef Twister? Or, for that matter, a Random Waller? If you think hard enough, a Waller makes sense – someone who builds walls. But randomly? I’m not entirely sure about what a Cow Banger does, though I suspect it was done in a slaughter house. And a Proprietor of Midgets? Surely, he must have worked in one of the oddest corners of the entertainment industry.

I think it’s a fairly profound (and a bit unnerving) statement about my own professional journey, that my second thought upon seeing this list – after “I wonder if Fish-Benders have a union,” – was that every one of these would make a solid name for a cocktail.

And so, here we are.

Pseudo-Victorian Cocktail #1 – Colourist of Artificial Fish

Even though there is nothing in this job title that explicitly says so, when I read Colourist of Artificial Fish, my mind goes immediately to brightly colored (coloured) tropical fish. This is a riff on a drink called a Rainbow Paradise, but using passion fruit cocktail instead of pineapple juice, and an injudicious amount of gin. The sweetness of the grenadine is tempered somewhat by the addition of citric acid.

The key to this drink is its dramatic layers.


1 oz. Grenadine
¾ tsp. Citric acid
Crushed ice
4 oz. Passion fruit cocktail
2 oz. Gin, preferably Death’s Door
1 oz. Gin
½ oz. Blue curacao

Thoroughly mix the grenadine and citric acid. Pour into the bottom of a tall Collins glass.

Gently fill the glass ¾ of the way full with crushed ice.

Dry shake (meaning, without ice) the passion fruit cocktail and gin, then gently pour it over the back of a large spoon, to make a layer on top of the grenadine.

Rinse your shaker, then dry shake the second installment of gin and the blue curacao, then pour it gently over the back of your spoon, to form a third layer, on top of the passion fruit.

Take a picture of this drink before the layers mix too much. Excitedly call your wife in to look at it.

Drink this cocktail to blunt the pain caused by how unimpressed your wife is with this spectacular bit of barmanship. Use a straw to drink the different layers, or stir it vigorously for a more gestalty experience.

A note on the ingredients:

Citric acid is the ingredient in sour candies that makes them sour, without changing the overall character of the other flavors. At this time of year, you can find it in many supermarkets or health food stores because it is often used in home canning. It can also be purchased online.

You have passed by passion fruit cocktail dozens of time in your supermarket or bodega and never noticed it. It usually comes in a cardboard carton and is probably on the top shelf in the juice aisle. It is a Prince Among Juices, and it will change your life.

Gin? Really?

Yes. Gin, and a lot of it.

If there is any alcohol that characterizes 19th Century England, it is gin. Dickins and Hogarth loved to document the thousands of underclass Victorians who drank themselves to early graves with cheap gin. My original intent was to celebrate this by using the cheapest, rot-gut gin I could find in all these cocktails, but when I discovered Death’s Door, made in Wisconsin, there was never really any choice in the matter. The name is perfect, and not incidentally, it is very good gin; it has a clean taste and aroma, with pronounced juniper notes.

Pseudo-Victorian Cocktail #2 – Fifty-Two Years an Imbecile

This job title speaks to me. I am currently fifty-six years old, so if one was to give me the benefit of the doubt through the age of four, they could probably be excused for describing me as such.

This drink is closely related to its better-known cousin, the Village Idiot. Where a traditional Idiot features a combination of gin and vodka, 52Y uses apple brandy to give it a more rounded flavor. Traditional lemonade has been replaced with lemon syrup and seltzer.


1½ oz. Gin
1½ oz. Apple Jack or other apple brandy
2 oz. Lemon syrup (see below)
5 oz. plain seltzer

Shake the first three ingredients over ice.

Pour into a Collins glass.

Add seltzer and stir gently.

Garnish? What are ye? Some sort of fancy lad?

Okay, ONE perfect cocktail cherry, but that’s it.

Years ago, my wife and I sprang for dinner out at a fancy restaurant with a tasting menu with wine parings. I had always been a little skeptical about the whole pairing-wine-with-food thing (Yes, okay. I know. But at this point, you must have realized that I have the tastebuds of a rhinoceros.), but it was a true revelation. Pairing the right food with the right drink can be magical.

What’s my point?

Pair Fifty-Two Years an Imbecile with an Indian snack mix. Why does it pair so well? I have no idea. Like all things magical – love, or the laughter of a small child, or Kung Fu Hustle – this must be taken on its own merits.

Lemon Syrup


1 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons gave me ∼1½ cups)
1 part (by volume) granulated sugar
pinch of salt
Zest of 1 lemon

Combine lemon juice, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, until the sugar dissolves completely, 1-2 minutes.

Remove from heat. Add lemon zest. Cover and steep for half an hour. (Don’t let it go much longer than that, or the solution will start to go bitter.)

Strain, bottle, and label.

Pseudo-Victorian Cocktail #3 – Electric Bath Attendant

While this job sounds like utter madness – like getting into the tub with a toaster – it was a real thing. The Victorians were great believers in the miraculous powers of electricity. Doctors frequently prescribed low-voltage electrocution for any number of ailments, particularly in women, because who could tell what was going on with them at the best of times? Needless to say, these doctors were almost exclusively male.


¼ – 1/3 of a fresh jalapeño (depending on how much authority your particular jalapeño has)
3 slices cucumber (∼25 gr.)
1½ oz. celery syrup (see below)
2 oz. gin
5 oz. Extremely bubbly club soda, like Topo Chico Mineral Water

Muddle the jalapeño and cucumber in the bottom of a cocktail shaker.

Add ice, celery syrup, and gin. Shake vigorously.

Strain into yet another Collins glass.

Add club soda and stir gently.

Celery Syrup


1 part water
1 part (by volume) Granulated sugar
1 part (by volume) finely chopped celery

Combine all three ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.

Cook over medium heat for five minutes.

Remove from heat and cover.

Let the celery steep for several hours, or overnight.

Strain, bottle, and label.

Bonus Pseudo-Victorian Cocktail – Turnip Shepherd

Make a gin and tonic with goat cheese gin (you do still have goat cheese gin, don’t you?) and Fever Tree Aromatic Tonic.

Garnish with pickled turnip strips.

The key to this drink is the garnish. When you first taste your goaty gin and tonic, your reaction will be, “Uh.. I don’t know…”. But then, THEN you eat a strip of pickled turnip and the world makes sense again.