The Southside Fizz is the most crowd-pleasing cocktail I know. It is crisp and refreshing incarnate. People don't just like it, they LOVE it.
Admittedly, a more accurate name for my here recipe would be a "Southside Fizz with cucumber". The original recipes from in the 19-teens only have mint, cucumber is a 21st-century addition, and I think it's essential. That's the version I fell in love with it was first introduced to me in my early Clover Club days. Don't get me wrong, it's still a delicious drink with just mint (quite literally a gin Mojito), but I look at it like pizza. Plain is great, unless pepperoni is on option.
Further confusing things, there's similar a version of this cocktail that includes cucumber called an "Eastside". But that is normally served straight up like a Gimlet and without soda water, which is why I'm not using that name here (it's my site, I can do whatever I want!). I delve into the minutia below. Bottom line, make this drink now and worry about what to call it later.
2 oz gin
¾ oz lime juice
¾ oz simple syrup
8-10 mint leaves
3 cucumber slices
chilled soda water
In a shaker, muddle the mint and cucumber with the simple syrup. Add the lime, gin, fill with ice and shake. Fill a collins or highball glass with ice, pour in 1-1½ oz chilled soda water, and fine strain the cocktail into the glass. Garnish with a cucumber slice and mint sprig.
For more details on maximizing the deliciousness of cocktails with soda water, check out the Collins technique section on the Tom Collins page.
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Close Relatives of the Southside Fizz (with cucumber):
Traditional Southside Fizz
Omit the cucumber.
Omit the cucumber and soda water and serve straight up in a coupe or Martini glass. Visit the Southside page form more.
Omit the soda water and serve straight up in a coupe of martini glass.
The History of the Southside Fizz
There are 4 drinks that are grouped under the Southside umbrella, the variances between which boil down to whether they have cucumber, soda water, both, or neither. What follows is the story of what those divisions are and how they all came to be. After writing it, I gotta say I realized is a bit like chasing one’s tail. But dog’s never know they are chasing their tails, and even if they did, it’s clearly still fun.
Everything stems from the Southside Fizz which, as I mentioned above, did not originally have cucumber. The first book to list a recipe was Hugo Ensslin’s 1917 “Recipes for Mixed Drinks’ (it also contains the first Aviation recipe and an early iteration of the Toronto). The presiding theory is that the name has something to do with the Southside of Chicago, but then again, a lot of cities has South Sides. The drink appears in multiple books over the ensuing decades. All the recipes read relatively similarly to today, with minor deviations, Southside is often split into two words, lemon juice is usually called for instead of lime (I personally like lime for it’s added bite, but using either, or both, doesn’t fundamentally change the drink) and mint isn’t specified to be muddled but rather “added” at the end somewhat like a garnish, giving it a much subtler impact. Still, it’s essentially the same drink.
Once we hit mid-century the Southside Fizz follows the same storyline as pretty much every classic cocktail created before prohibition: darkness in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and resurrection by the craft cocktail movement at the dawn of the 21st-century. When the drink resurfaced it looked a bit different. In Dale DeGroff’s 2002 Craft of the Cocktail, it’s just called Southside, one word, and with no “Fizz”. The recipe calls for lime, and for the mint to be muddled.
He attributes the recipe to the 21 Club, which started as a speakeasy during prohibition and emerged as one of the crown jewels of NYC nightlife during the 20th century. Dale references the 1999 book “21: Everyday was New Year’s Eve”, which cites excerpts from the bar’s early archives that make some pretty outlandishly false claims, including the club being the birthplace of the Bloody Mary and Ramos Gin Fizz. I don’t blame Dale though, this was 2002, there was far less known about cocktail history at this time, he was one of the only games in town.
But the biggest shift in the Southside’s evolution came courtesy of another one of the big games in town at that time: Sasha Petraske, perhaps the biggest influencer of the modern cocktail renaissance. At his bar Milk and Honey which opened in 1999 Petraske reformatted the Southside as a Gimlet, served up and without soda water. This version is more bracing, concentrated and a very different drinking experience. Naturally, he simply called it a “Southside” since the Fizz was removed.
Why did Petraske make this shift? We’ll never know, he tragically passed in 2015. But according to this great Vice Munchies article from Al Sotack which cites many top bartenders on the front lines during this transitional era, he likely thought nothing of it, no one was paying attention to cocktails back then the way they are now. He probably just altered the drink to his tastes.
But this personal tweak had large ramifications. Because of Petraske’s and Milk Honey’s enormous impact, this Gimlet-ized version is how many drinkers and bartenders first experienced the Southside. Flash-forward to today, and it is recognized as a standard classic. Petraske’s efforts effectively split the drink in two, so now we have the Southside and the Southside Fizz. With the former actually being more widely known. Not that I'm complaining, two drinks are always better than one.
The Eastside - Enter Cucumber
If if were up to me to pick one ingredient that symbolized the modern craft cocktail movement, out of all the worthy candidates - rye whiskey, mezcal, Fernet Branca - I’d probably go with cucumber.
I think muddled cucumber was one of the great evolutionary leaps of the cocktail renaissance. Like cavemen discovering fire. Who can forget the revelation of that first time you had cucumber in a cocktail, it was at once unexpected and perfectly harmonious, as we had been using it all along. It’s evocatively fresh, but not sweet, profile spearheaded and popularized the addition of savoriness to the cocktail flavor spectrum. Today because it has become so ubiquitous works with just about anything, I often call cucumber the bacon of the cocktail world.
We’ll never know who first muddled cucumber into a cocktail, and it isn’t like there was no precedent. Brits had long been using it in Pimm’s Cups. But there’s no question that the ingredient caught fire in the early 2000s. One key figure we can point to is George Delgado who is credited with creating the Eastside cocktail in 2004 while working at Libation in NYC. Here lies further confusion. As I said above, today the Eastside is known a Gimlet with mint and cucumber (or a Petraske Southside with cucumber). But Delagado’s original recipe was actually served in a tall glass topped with soda water, exactly the recipe I have above.
Thanks to Robert Simonson, the NY Times drinks writer and author of “A Proper Drink” which chronicles the modern cocktail age, we know what happened. It appears the Eastside morphed into a Gimlet style drink again at the hands of Mr. Petraske, like the Southside Fizz before it. This was done by way of bartender telephone. The head bartender at Libation, Chad Solomon, brought the Eastside to the Flatiron Lounge - another groundbreaking cocktail bar, opened by Julie Reiner my now partner at Clover Club, in 2003. From there Christy Pope, Solomon’s girlfriend, brought the drink to Milk and Honey where it underwent the transformation. This Gimlet version is now, as Simonson puts it, “strongly associated with the Sash Petraske empire”, and if you google Eastside cocktail, that’s what you’ll find. Curiously there’s the alternative “Fizz” version has disappeared. Which is ironic because that’s my favorite one.
There’s plenty more to the story. As I said above, in my early days at Clover Club in 2008 when I had nothing to do with the menu, I was introduced to the Southside Fizz as a drink with cucumber. Why, I don’t know, but at this point I don’t think it really matter, and to be honest I don’t really care (I know that’s not a very respectful things to say to a reader who’s just listened to you ramble on for 1000 words. I apologize, thank you for reading. You deserve a drink.). There are four versions of this mixture of gin, lime sugar and mint: with mint served up, with just mint served collins style, with and mint and cucumber served up, or with mint and cucumber served collins style. All are delicious. Make the drink however want, and call it whatever you want. That’s clearly what everyone else does.