The Savoy Cocktail Book was first published in 1930 and it’s been in print ever since, apart from a brief break during the second World War. Lots of the drinks remain relevant today, although there were far fewer ingredients back then than we’re used to today.
I did a bit of analysis and about a third of the recipes in the book are more or less versions of the martini. There are also some undrinkable ones in there, to the extent the author sometimes says you should mix the ingredients as described and then pour it straight down the sink.
Historically speaking it’s the most important English cocktail book, and any collector would have it in their top 10 must-haves. It’s a lovely item, beautifully laid out with art deco illustrations by a guy called Gilbert Rumbold.
I remember first seeing it at the American Bar at the Savoy, when a wonderful chap called Peter Dorelli – who is still a dear friend – was head barman.
He had about 30 years there, so at various points when the book was being updated they called on him to add a few recipes. I picked up one of his copies from the bar and fell in love with it. It’s easy to get your hands on, with copies from the 80s and 90s available for less than a pound online.
The one I was pictured with is a signed edition from 1931, which I picked up for a song – about £400, when I’ve seen them go for as much as $6,000. I’ve never been tempted to cash in, though, I’m more of a collector than a seller. I have about 200 in total; it’s one of my vices.
At least I can kind of justify it as a work expense – I look after Portobello Road Gin’s Ginstitute. We do sessions where people can come and learn about the history of gin in our recreated gin palace and museum. At the end they get to create and distil their own gin recipe, which we keep on file so they can reorder at any time, and they can take away a bottle of our own Portobello Road gin, too.
People often ask me why gin is so popular now, but if you actually take a step back and look at it from a historical standpoint, gin was always England’s favourite drink, it’s just there was a blip from about 1960-2000, when everyone had a brief love affair with vodka. So it’s not suddenly fashionable again; it’s retaken its rightful place.