A History Lesson With Booze ®

The Great Smog of London

This week in 1952, the worst smog ever descended upon London, killing at least four thousand people... and providing the inspiration for this week's cocktail.

(Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

The History Lesson

The British invented crumpets, the Beatles… and smog.

The word was coined in 1905 to describe the clouds of coal smoke and fog shrouding U.K. cities. And on December 5, 1952, the Brits also gave us the worst single example of smog pollution ever.

A cold fog blew into London that day, hit a high-pressure system, and got trapped over the city. The smoggy air sat there for days. And millions of Londoners made it worse — the weather was so cold, they all fired up their coal-burning heaters.

The stew of soot and fog got so thick in some places that people couldn’t see their own feet. Soon the pollution stretched hundreds of miles. They called it “The Big Smoke.”

A tugboat on the Thames near Tower Bridge in heavy smog, 1952. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A tugboat on the Thames near Tower Bridge in heavy smog, 1952. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Planes were grounded. Trains stopped running — and so did ambulances. Which was kind of an issue for folks who already had breathing ailments. At least 4,000 of them eventually died. Analysts today put that number at more like 12,000. Londoners knew it was getting bad when undertakers started running low on coffins.

Afterwards, England passed a bunch of clean air laws. But they took a while to work. Another “Big Smoke,” in 1962, claimed around 700 lives.

The Booze

The Smog Cutter


Mixed up by Murray Drysdale, bar manager at Hawksmoor Spitalfields bar in London.


  • 30ml (1 ounce) Hayman’s Old Tom Gin
  • 15ml (1/2 ounce) Hine VSOP Cognac
  • 10ml (1/3 ounce) Laphroaig 10 Year Old Scotch Whisky
  • 10ml (1/3 ounce) Cruz del Mar Cream Sherry
  • 20ml (2/3 ounce) Orange Marmalade
  • 20ml (2/3 ounce) Lemon Juice
  • 5ml (1/6 ounce) Orgeat
  • Splash of egg white

Served straight up. Dash peychaud’s bitters as garnish.

Bonus Cocktail

The 52 Gin Fizz

Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com

Recipe┬áinvented by Martin Ball, bartend at MatchBar in London’s Clerkenwell district:


In a shaker, add:

  • 2 1/2 ounces Beefeater gin
  • Dash of passion fruit juice, aka “Dash of Pash”
  • Sweet-and-sour syrup – 3/4 oz. lemon juice and 3/4 oz. sugar
  • 1/2 egg white for “cloudy” effect
  • 1 bar spoon Islay whiskey for a “smoky” finish


Shake violently (to get egg white frothy) and strain into highball glass over ice.