The Bizzy Izzy Highball Is A Century-Old Cocktail Overflowing With Secrets

It's got a buzz-worthy name, but you may be hard-pressed to find a bartender who can whip together a Bizzy Izzy without first checking "The Ideal Bartender." The 1917 book by Tom Bullock, still widely considered a go-to source for classic cocktail recipes, is at least partially responsible for the 21st-century cocktail renaissance — but not every drink on Bullock's original roster was part of the resurgence that saw the return of vintage concoctions like the Stinger and the Old-Fashioned. Some, like the Bizzy Izzy, slipped by unnoticed — at least until recently.

Like New York bartender Hugo Ensslin's 1916 cocktail guide, "Recipes for Mixed Drinks," Bullock's book serves as a window into U.S. drinking habits in the years just prior to Prohibition. Both became sources of inspiration nearly 100 years later, when bartenders searching for creative ways to wow their 21st-century patrons turned to the past for ideas and discovered that people love a drink with a solid backstory. Finally, in recent years, the Bizzy Izzy got its turn in the spotlight, but some aspects of the original recipe remain shrouded in mystery.

Mystery is part of its history

leading the local newspaper to report tales of the 26th president's drunken antics when members began to take notice of his prowess behind the bar. One popular story from the time alleges former President Theodore Roosevelt, a club member and regular bar patron, was particularly fond of Bullock's handiwork, leading the local newspaper to report tales of the 26th president's drunken antics. Roosevelt swung back with a libel suit, insisting he never indulged in more than a few sips of his cocktails, but the paper retorted, "Who was ever known to drink just a part of Tom's?" The court sided with Roosevelt — and Bullock's reputation as a bartender extraordinaire spread far and wide. While Roosevelt was partial to Bullock's Mint Julep, other patrons may have enjoyed his fruit-forward concoction, the Bizzy Izzy.

Some cocktail historians posit Bizzy Izzy's long tenure in obscurity stemmed from a lack of clear direction. It's a relatively complex drink, but unlike other recipes in Bullock's book, the entry for the Bizzy Izzy shows ingredients but lacks specific instructions. It's listed as a highball, but there's no mention of seltzer water, a defining characteristic of highballs in general. Shaken or stirred? No one really knows for sure. Sherry is a key ingredient, but with so many varieties, we have no way of knowing exactly what Bullock used. In light of the lingering questions, it's no wonder modern-day bartenders searching for inspiration might have skipped over the Bizzy Izzy in favor of a recipe accompanied by clear instructions.

A modern-day interpretation

As the cocktail renaissance gained momentum, the new takes on vintage drinks once considered cutting-edge became more commonplace, so bartenders at the forefront of the movement began a push to discover the what's-next cocktail. Some cocktail aficionados suggest the Bizzy Izzy's reliance on sherry, a tricky spirit in its own right, may have deterred more than a few bartenders from experimenting with Bullock's recipe, but eventually, some brave soul took on the challenge and discovered a tasty blend.

Al Sotak, a veteran bartender and partner in Brooklyn, New York's Jupiter Disco, began experimenting with the Bizzy Izzy back in 2009. A self-proclaimed fan of Bullock's "The Ideal Bartender" — he says the book had a major influence on his career — Sotack was intrigued by the original recipe and decided to give it a whirl. Riffing off Bullock's ingredient list calling for a blend of whiskey, sherry, pineapple syrup, and lemon juice, Sotak replaced the pineapple syrup with fresh pineapple juice, added a few drops of bitters, and topped it off with seltzer, telling Punch in 2018, "It's a wonderful cocktail, but it also strikes me as a fairly modern cocktail."

 Sotak's interpretation of Bullock's Bizzy Izzy recipe calls for a blend of rye whiskey (he uses Wild Turkey 101), amontillado sherry, pineapple juice, lemon juice, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters all topped off with a splash of soda water. Garnish the shaken — not stirred — cocktail with a lemon wheel and enjoy.