You might not picture today’s tailgaters clanking coupe glasses, but by some accounts, the Army & Navy was invented to honor the centuries-old football game between the United States military and naval academies. Like many classics, however, this bright and nutty mix of gin, lemon juice, and orgeat has a vague backstory: The cocktail has also been tied to the The Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C., a members-only officers’ club where the Daiquiri was first served in the U.S. The club has no details on the Army & Navy’s origins but likely helped popularize the drink, which remains on its cocktail menu today.
However it came to be, the Army & Navy—essentially a Gin Sour riff that swaps simple syrup for almond-based orgeat—was first recorded in David Embury’s 1948 book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. Yet Embury didn’t recommend it as written: one part lemon juice, one part orgeat, two parts gin. “I have given the original recipe which, to my mind, is horrible,” he wrote. Embury suggested instead a boozier drink, using his 1:2:8 formula (one part sweet, two parts sour, eight parts base). The version below produces a more balanced take, dialing down the orgeat slightly from the original and adding aromatic bitters for an ideal mix of sweet, sour, and boozy.
The secret ingredient to this cocktail’s nutty complexity is the creamy and sweet almond syrup orgeat, which is typically made with blanched almonds, sugar, and orange flower or rose water. The opaque and gently floral syrup started appearing in cocktails in the 19th century, and by the 1940s became a supporting character in many Tiki drinks, lending its almond-tinged nuttiness to classics such as the Mai Tai and the Saturn.
In this cocktail, orgeat works as a sweetener and imparts an unexpected richness to the basic sour format. Opt for a high-quality bottle, or you can even make your own and switch up the base ingredient with hazelnuts or pistachios. A London Dry gin gives the drink botanical notes, but as with a classic Gin Sour, you can swap in a softer bottle like Old Tom or Plymouth if you prefer; you can also play with ingredient quantities to your choosing, adding more lemon juice for tartness or orgeat for creamy sweetness.
Whatever the drink’s true backstory may be, Army-Navy game day is as good an excuse as any to shake one up. And no matter which team you’re rooting for, everyone wins with this recipe.