Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Myth of the Mickey Slim

June 9th, 2010 · 16 Comments

Last week, the long discussion spurred by this post led one of our most trusted readers to offer this startling factoid:

Bizarre note: there was a cocktail in the 40s and 50s called the Mickey Slim that was made with gin and a pinch of DDT.

Sure enough, The Tubes abound with mentions of this lethal-sounding tipple. The ostensible recipe is here, along with a caveat to try replacing the DDT component with absinthe in case you value your life.

The Mickey Slim sounds like such a mixological abomination that we had to stop and ask ourselves: Could it all be a hoax? Our brief investigation follows.

We started in the laziest way possible, by checking out the sources cited in the drink’s Wikipedia entry. There’s really just one, 2001’s The Dedalus Book of Absinthe (released stateside as The Book of Absinthe: A Cultural History). The tome’s brief discussion of the Mickey Slim can be read here; however, there is no footnote or endnote, so it’s not clear where the author found this piece of trivia.

Try as we might, we found virtually no mention of the Mickey Slim prior to the publication of The Book of Absinthe. We searched a galaxy of databases, from ProQuest to JSTOR to PubMed, but came up more or less snake eyes. The only thing we could dig up was a lone mention in the TV listings section of the June 28, 1992, edition of The Observer. It comes in a summary of a BBC2 documentary called “Goodbey Mrs. Ant,” which can be viewed in its entirety here. The reviewer’s lead sentence goes:

There used to be a cocktail called a Mickey Slim which was gin with a pinch of DDT, guaranteed to make you feel on top of the world.

We watched all of “Goodbye Mrs. Ant,” but didn’t hear a single word about the Mickey Slim. That means the entire story of the Mickey Slim traces back to an anonymous TV summarizer for The Observer. Is it possible that this person simply riffed off the Mickey Finn, thinking no one would ever bother to check his or her facts?

This isn’t to imply that DDT wasn’t alarmingly common back in the day. But as far as we can tell, oral consumption was inveighed against as soon as the insecticide hit the civilian market. It’s hard to imagine the bartenders of the day ignoring those warnings.

As always, of course, we’re open to proof to the contrary. Anyone have a vintage Mickey Slim recipe lying around? If so, please let us know. In the meantime, though, we’ll file the cocktail in our “Debunked” file, alongside the fur-bearing trout,


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16 Comments so far ↓

  • Captured Shadow

    Nice work on that one. It reminds me of this “Straight Dope” column on the rule of thumb

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Captured Shadow: One of my pipe dreams is to become the new “Cecil Adams” after he dies/retires (whichever comes first).

  • Jordan

    It’s one of those stories that sounds so good you want it to be true.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: Yeah, I hear you. I was kind of disappointed by the lack of evidence. I was really hoping to unearth a ’40s newspaper story that sang the praises of the Mickey Slim.

  • A cocktail with gin and DDT? Slim chance « Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub

    […] cocktail with gin and DDT? Slim chance MicroKahn worked to track down the facts:  Was there really a cocktail called a Mickey Slim that consisted of gin and […]

  • Jon H

    The Tim Powers novel ‘Declare’, a sort of alternate-history fantasy espionage story, has a scene with Kim Philby in Berlin in 1948, taking a swig of gin and insecticide, which in the story acts as a ‘djinn repellent’.

    (Shortly afterward, Philby goes to observe the Soviets near the Brandenburg Gate, as they do something with a djinn they’d captured.)

    Presumably this was based on something Powers had come across in his research, though it might have only been an urban legend.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jon H: Thanks for the ref on the Powers book. Pub date seems to be 2002, so maybe he picked up the tale from the absinthe book.

    As an ardent fan of Midnight’s Children, I’m strongly in favor of any and all puns that riff off gin/djinn.

  • Teri Ryan

    Guys, I hate to be a party pooper, but DDT has never killed one person. All I ask is that you ask yourself this: Is what I believe about DDT due to what I have been TOLD, or due to my own research?

    Hard Science says it’s not. My own personal experience says DDT tastes like powder and it is the ONLY pesticide I would drink.

    Oral consumption WAS not prohibited, as a matter of fact, both Ely Lily and Bayer Pharmaceuticals used it.

    The Bitman’s study from which most of this hogwash belief is founded was debunked.

    Meanwhile, billions of people in Africa have died from Malaria. I’m not asking you to believe me, but should it interest you, find out for yourself.

  • Regi Firehammer

    Teri’s absolutely right.

    Biggest most disastrous hoax in history.


  • Jukka Kervinen

    The “Goodbye Mrs. Ant”, which is part 4 of the documentary series Pandora’s Box by Adam Curtis does indeed mention Mickey Slim at 04:28, http://www.archive.org/details/AdamCurtis_PandorasBox

    “In American bars there was a drink which was called a Mickey Slim and it was a good gin with a spot of DDT in it. And this was supposed to give you a feeling of happiness and merriment”

    Also in a segment starting at 16:10 entomologist Gordon Edwards actually eats DDT from an old DDT box.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jukka Kervinen: Kiitos for tracking that down. But I’m still not convinced–that mention is still only second-hand, told several years after the fact. The only thing that will convince me of the Mickey Slim’s existence is primary source documentation–an article or other published citation from the ’40s or ’50s in which the consumption of Mickey Slims is recorded.

    Free Microkhan hat to anyone who can supply such proof!

  • Paul

    After encountering the story straight from Adam Curtis’s documentary, which led me to Wikipedia, which led me here, I’ll take up your challenge. But I haven’t gotten very far.

    I believe the interview clip Curtis used is from a 1974 BBC1 documentary called ‘The Rise and Fall of DDT,’ which also aired in the second season of PBS’s NOVA. The man with the story is George Alexander Campbell, a chemist who supposedly introduced DDT to the British authorities in 1942.

    I can’t find a recording of either the BBC or PBS broadcast, nor can I prove that they didn’t also get the footage from somewhere else. I’m going off a magazine summary here too– this one in the BBC’s Listener magazine.

    Their slightly lengthier transcript (in a show summary wonderfully titled ‘American extremes’):
    “George Campbell, who helped initiate DDT production in Britain, said: ‘In American bars, there was a drink, called Mickey Slim. If [sic] was a good gin with a spot of DDT in it, and this was supposed to give you a feeling of happiness and merriment. You can see this in the behaviour of flies if they are subjected to DDT. Their first effort is to fly about, as though they were full of the joys of the spring, and then they gradually die off.'”
    – “Out of the Air.” Listener [London, England] 12 Sept. 1974: 332.

    So no free hat for me. I agree that this was probably just a bit of storytelling that was tied up in the concerted efforts in the 1970s to brand DDT as harmful to humans. From the way he told the story, I have to assume Campbell was sympathetic to these efforts, because he was certainly playing into them by suggesting that DDT could affect a human’s nervous system in the same way as a fly’s.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Paul: Thanks for the valiant attempt. At this point, all that’s really going to convince me of the Mickey Slim’s existence is a vintage cocktail recipe. Here’s to hoping that a reader come through with a scanned version one of these days…

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jerry: Nice find, but can’t consider this a primary source–1974 would still be at least two decades past the alleged cocktail’s peak. Also, the text is paywalled–any way you can post the citation here? Might at least provide some clue as to its source. Maybe there is a pot of gold at the end of this research rainbow…