The Knickerbocker Cocktail, Circa 1850

The term Knickerbocker was a slang reference to Dutch settlers in New York that wore “Knickers” rolled up to the knee.  In 1809 Washington Irving (under the nom de plume Diedrich Knickerbocker) wrote the satirical A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty further solidifying the usage of the word.  Nearly 100 years later the Knickerbocker Hotel opened on the corner of Broadway and 43rd as one of the great luxury hotels of its time. And… in How to Mix Drinks, A Bartenders Guide published by Professor Jerry Thomas in 1862 we have drink #184 the Knickerbocker cocktail.  Though no one is quite sure of the drinks origins prior to Jerry Thomas’ publication, it is a drink that has been around almost as long as the word itself, surviving in the shadows, still a great among the cocktails of the golden age.

As it is raspberry season, we decided to share with you this classic cocktail. It precedes the Daiquiri and fruited Tiki drinks by a longshot, rivaling the best of them in ripe, seasonal fruit appeal.  In researching the Knickerbocker we start at the beginning with Jerry Thomas’ original recipe.  It is inspired by fresh raspberries, rum, lime and a few subtle nudges.  Continuing an online search we find dozens of variations, some so far from the original that they hardly resemble the beauty and simplicity of the drinks true origins.

Below we offer you the original Jerry Thomas recipe from 1862.  Note that it calls for a small wine glass of Santa Cruz rum.  Any well-bred golden rum (we like Plantation 5 Year from Barbados) will do. Also, as the recipe suggests, if the cocktail is not sweet enough, one should put in a bit more Raspberry syrup.  We found the drink was more palatable to this age with near double +/- the syrup. The thing that brings the whole drink together is the “ornament with berries”.  We poured the shaken mix, ice and all into a hefty tumbler adding 5-6 fresh whole raspberries.  We then served it with a small spoon instead of a straw with which to enjoy the steeped berries. It brings a playful, refreshing edge and texture to the drink.  The Knickerbocker translates well to this century and is a great summer icebreaker for company before dinner.  Below I offer you the Original Jerry Thomas Recipe as well as our own suggested revision for contemporary drinking



Knickerbocker (Thomas’ Recipe)

(Use small bar glass)

  • 1/2 a lime, or lemon, squeeze out the juice, and put rind and juice in the glass
  • 2 teaspoonfuls of raspberry syrup*
  • 1 wine-glass [2 ounces] Santa Cruz rum
  • 1/2 teaspoonful of Curacao

Cool with shaved ice; shake up well, and ornament with berries in season. If this is not sweet enough, put in a little more raspberry syrup.

How to Make Fresh Raspberry Syrup


  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1 pint of raspberries


Put sugar in water and boil until sugar is dissolved.  Add fresh raspberries, reduce heat and simmer till reduced by 1/2.  Cool and strain syrup (pressing out raspberries), Keep refrigerated.
Revised Knickerbocker Recipe

In a Cracked Ice Filled Cocktail Shaker Add:

  • 2 Ounces Barbados Gold Rum
  • ½ Lime Juiced (save the peel for garnish)
  • 1 Ounce Raspberry Syrup
  • ½ Ounce Orange Curacao
  • 6 Fresh Raspberries


Pour all the liquid ingredients into the shaker with ice, Shake until frothy. Pour everything into a large tumbler.  Stir in 6 fresh raspberries.  Flag with a generous lime peel.