What we drink today is most assuredly not what we drank yesterday or a decade ago or a century ago. Ingredients go in and out of fashion, as do the fickle tastes of the imbibing public. But in today’s boisterous cocktail culture, we find ourselves returning to the past to unlock its forgotten treasures. Some drinks have fallen by the wayside for a reason. Perhaps the recipes are too sweet for the present-day palate. Maybe the necessary ingredients are defunct or, worse yet, ersatz versions of their original selves.
Luckily, the flood of craft ingredients, particularly the reimagining or resurrection of historic liqueurs, makes it not only easy but downright enticing to revisit recipes that have been lost in cocktail lore or simply passed out of fashion. For instance, Tempus Fugit Spirits offers high-quality, historically inspired versions of crème de menthe, crème de cacao and crème de noyaux.
Likewise, many classic brands have reintroduced old recipes to the American market due to the demand. Both Luxardo and Lazzaroni bottle their own versions of amaretto, the former being drier and more vanilla-forward and the latter being the only recipe made from an infusion of Amaretti di Saronno cookies. Luxardo also makes a juicy cherry-forward brandy. And of course, you’ll need to seek out the classics—Drambuie, Bénédictine—that are just that for a reason.
This ’70s flashback was characterized by a syrupy sweet profile that quickly went out of fashion once palates craved something more sophisticated. Yet a bit of tinkering with proportions and ingredients makes for a guilty pleasure worth drinking. Jeffrey Morganthaler’s version, which balances out the sweetness with cask-proof bourbon, takes the bones of this potentially cloying cocktail and allows the amaretto to shine without overpowering the palate.
With scotch, sweet vermouth, and Bénédictine as its only ingredients, the Bobby Burns is something of a riff on a Manhattan but definitely distinctive in its own right. And despite the somewhat twee name, in honor of Scottish poet Robert Burns, the cocktail is delicious. While The Savoy Cocktail Book (Girard & Stewart, $14.29) offers the recipe with Bénédictine, David A. Embury suggests Drambuie in his 1948 cocktail book, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (Mud Puddle Books, $40).
The combination of cognac, crème de cacao, and cream might lead the Brandy Alexander to resemble a boozy chocolate milkshake. At its best, it’s a frothy nutmeg-topped sipper ideal for brunch or the holiday season. Like the Amaretto Sour, it enjoyed major popularity in the 1970s, although it was created in the early part of the 20th century. A riff on the original Alexander cocktail, which called for gin, the brandy recipe shows up in Hugo Ensslin’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks (Mud Puddle Books, $19.95) from 1917. Brandy works just fine, but if you use a good cognac, the drink will show its true colors.
Depending on where you order one, this drink can span the greenish rainbow from a soft minty hue to a scary Day-Glo deep green. Like so many other drinks on the sweet end of the spectrum, the Grasshopper enjoyed serious popularity in the 1970s. In actuality, it was created roughly five decades before, most likely in the 1920s, by Philibert Guichet Jr., then owner of Tujague’s in New Orleans.
The restaurant still serves the drink, which it makes with white and green crème de menthe, heavy cream, white crème de cacao and a brandy float. (If you like the brandy/mint combo but could do without the cream, then try a Stinger.) The latter inclusion of brandy, which isn’t always used, hints at this drink’s malleability. Modern bartenders have been playing with it for a while, adding everything from Chartreuse, cognac and fernet to personalize the flavor and tame the creamy sugar buzz it offers.
Everyone should order one of these at least once in their lives. Come on, it’s named after a rodent. The Pink Squirrel has a good deal in common with the Brandy Alexander and the Grasshopper with its crème de cacao and cream. Where it differs markedly is in the inclusion of crème de noyaux, a once popular but relatively forgotten liqueur that is similar to amaretto. The red color of the liqueur usually comes from cochineal, which doesn’t affect the singular herbal-meets-bitter almond flavor.
If you appreciate a good Manhattan—a rye Manhattan specifically—then the Remember the Maine will most likely find a home in your drinks repertoire. The cocktail comes from Charles H. Baker, Jr’s. The Gentleman’s Companion (Echo Point Books, $21.95) from 1939 and is notable for its additions of cherry liqueur and a touch of absinthe. While the original recipe calls for Cherry Heering liqueur, Luxardo Cherry Sangue Morlacco liqueur offers an even more intense marasca cherry flavor.
Until recently, fassionola syrup, which was used in many old Tiki drinks including the Hurricane, was lost to the past. The Jonathan English Company bottled it in the 1950s, and modern bartenders have either created house-made versions or substituted passion fruit syrup. Recently, Cocktail & Sons’ Max Messier bottled a seasonal version of it with local New Orleans strawberries, as well as pineapples, mango, passion fruit and steeped hibiscus flower syrup.
The little-known Cobra’s Fang was created at Don the Beachcomber and also uses falernum, which has seen its own resurgence in recent years. An amusing side note: The Wikipedia entry for the Cobra’s Fang suggests using Hawaiian Punch drink mix in place of the fassionola. Ignore that advice.
British bartender C.A. Tuck created this drink, naming it for the 20th Century Limited train which ran between Chicago and New York City from 1902 until 1967. The recipe was first published in the Café Royal Cocktail Book (Jared Brown, $17.95). Now, we know what you’re thinking. Gin and crème de cacao? On paper, it might sound awful; in practice, it’s an entirely different prospect, especially with the subtle elements of Tempus Fugit’s white crème de cacao. The original recipe called for Kina Lillet as well, which no longer exists. Cocchi Americano is an efficient substitute; for a less bitter profile, you could use Lillet Blanc, as many modern recipes do.
Cocktails don’t come much easier than the Rusty Nail, which has been around since the late 1930s. Just stir a couple of ounces of scotch and a dose of the honeyed and herbal Drambuie in a rocks glass with a chunk of ice, and you’re done. A lot of recipes suggest equal parts, but you’re better off starting with two ounces of scotch and a half ounce of Drambuie, tinkering until you find your personal ratio. No matter how you drink it, you’ll be channeling the Rat Pack in no time.