The Southside, a tangy cocktail made with mint, citrus juices and secrets, is an old-line favorite. It appears in the spring at tailgates in the Maryland hunt country and is still stirring at late-summer, white-shoe gatherings.
Once served almost exclusively at private clubs, the cocktail has entered the public domain. Anyone of age now can enjoy a Southside by simply buying a mix and adding ice, rum, gin or vodka, and perhaps some club soda. Membership not required.
Recently, I bought a bottle of Lindsay's Southside Mix, then compared the beverage it produced with the Southsides of Andy Ervin, the 85-year-old bartender at the Elkridge Club, and George Lee, the 87-year-old former bartender at the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club.
Ervin gave me a recipe that closely resembles the version of the drink he created at the Elkridge Club. Lee provided me with a bottle of a Southside mix that he sells. Both men were gracious, but when I pressed them on specifics, they just smiled. Certain things about the Southside, they said, should remain mysterious.
This country-club cocktail supposedly traces its origin to the bootlegging joints on the South Side of Chicago. During Prohibition, illegal gin made on the city's South Side was flavored with citrus juices and sugar to cover up the flaws in the hooch. Or so one story, told in 2004 to a National Public Radio reporter by a retired Long Island, N.Y., bartender, goes.
Ervin, born on Baltimore's east side, said he began making the drink 46 years ago, when he started working at the Elkridge Club. "There were no mixed drinks here, when I came," Ervin told me. "So I started experimenting."
I met Ervin in 1986 when I wrote a column proposing that his Southside replace the black-eyed Susan as the official drink of the Preakness. The folks at Pimlico Race Course failed to heed my advice and horse racing in Maryland has since been on the skids.
When I called Ervin recently to check the recipe, he invited me to the Elkridge Club to taste his work. His Southside was gorgeous, silky and refreshing. He let me in on one of his secrets. When he makes his mix, he pulverizes the entire mint, cutting stems as well as leaves. "The stems have the flavor," he said. He would not, however, divulge the ingredient that gives the drink its green glow. "It is a simple thing," he said with a smile. "But it is a secret."
Lee's Southside mix was golden rather than green. He uses mint leaves, not stems, he told me when I stopped by his Woodlawn-area home to pick up a bottle. After retiring from bartending duties at Green Spring in 1985, Lee continued to make his Southside mix and sells it at $20 a quart. He has a loyal following. "There is no other Southside," said Stiles T. Colwill, an interior designer and longtime fan of Lee's mix. "All the rest are pond water."
The proportions of Lee's mix, rum and club soda are crucial, said another fan, J. Michael Flanigan, an Antiques Roadshow appraiser. "When the drink looks like muddy water, you know it is right," Flanigan said.
Barbie Hargrave told me she is delighted that Lindsay's Southside Mix, named after her husband, is no longer put together in their Baltimore County home. When the couple started making the mix, about six years ago, their home was overrun with mint, she said. Now the mixture is bottled at a commercial plant.
The Hargraves are Baltimore-area natives. He went to Boys' Latin and Hofstra University; she went to Notre Dame Prep and Villa Julie College. They met at the Mount Washington Tavern. They drank Southsides. Drawing on their familiarity with the drink, they devised a recipe for the mix and began selling it at area liquor stores.
When Barbara Hargrave and her husband go to a party, they usually bring a bottle of their mix to give to the party hostess. If they don't, Barbie Hargrave said, the hostess will ask: "Where's the Southside mix?"
Andy Ervin's Southside
Makes enough for four 12-ounce cocktails
1 "heavin' handful" of mint cuttings (about 2 cups)
3 ounces fresh-squeezed lemon juice
4 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice
8 tablespoons granulated sugar
8 ice cubes
Place every ingredient, except the rum, in a blender or food processor and run on high until mint is chopped, about 30 to 60 seconds.
Strain, pouring mixture into a pitcher.
For each drink, fill a 12-ounce glass with ice. Add 4 ounces of mint mixture and 3 ounces of rum. Stir well. Top with a shot of dark rum.
Trying out the mixes
On a recent scorching summer night, I made these three versions of the Southside. I used Mount Gay Rum and filed this appraisal.
Andy Ervin's Southside:
Made from a recipe that mirrors the one he uses at the Elkridge Club. Gorgeous green marriage of rum, mint, lemon and lime juice and sugar served on ice. The minty mix is a mess to make; you have to do a lot of squeezing, pulverizing and straining, but it delivers heavenly mint and fruit flavors.
George Lee's Southside:
Made with a George Lee's Original Southside Mix ($20 a quart), which Lee sells from his home. (Order at 410-281-1049.) A tart, tangy treasure with smooth lemon flavors that dance with the rum. Blends well with club soda for alcohol-free drink. Make with a shot of the mix and a shot and a half of rum; top with club soda, garnish with lime and stir. My very close second.
Lindsay's Southside Mix, $12 for a 32-ounce bottle:
Web site at www.southsides.com accepts orders and lists area liquor stores that sell it. (The recipe is on the site and bottle.) A pretty pale-green color, but the citrus flavors were metallic.