Winston Churchill is one of the most famous world leaders of all time, and he is also one of the most famous whisky drinkers. His taste for scotch was so well-known that legendary barman Joe Gilmore mixed up this whisky drink with sweet vermouth, Cointreau, and lime juice in honor of the prime minister at the Savoy hotel’s iconic American Bar in London.
Churchill’s relationship with whisky began out of necessity, by his own account. “When I was a young subaltern in the South African war, the water was not fit to drink,” he said during a visit to the U.S., according to journalist and presidential daughter Margaret Truman. “To make it palatable, we had to add whisky. By diligent effort, I learned to like it.” Like it he did: Churchill drank Scotch whisky throughout the day, starting at breakfast time. When then-president Harry Truman offered him bourbon on a train ride, the prime minister reportedly had the train halted until a subordinate could pick up the nearest bottle of scotch.
Barman Joe Gilmore was a legend in his own right. He worked at The Savoy hotel’s American Bar, the oldest surviving cocktail bar in London, from 1940 to 1976. There, he is said to have made drinks for celebrities including Neil Armstrong, Ernest Hemingway, and Frank Sinatra, but Gilmore had a particular fondness for Churchill: The prime minister enjoyed his own entrance at The Savoy and kept his own bottle of scotch behind the bar. Churchill even gifted Gilmore a cigar, which the bartender saved until it crumbled.
Churchill did not, in fact, care much for cocktails, but that didn’t stop Gilmore from crafting a drink in honor of the statesman. For Churchill’s eponymous cocktail, Gilmore combined the politician’s beloved Scotch whisky with sweet vermouth, Cointreau, and fresh lime juice. The first printed recipe for the drink appeared in Esquire magazine in 1939.
The spirit-forward scotch drink is sometimes called a Churchill Manhattan, but aside from the sweet vermouth used, it bears few similarities to its New York-named predecessor, which false tales have attributed to Churchill’s own mother. Besides calling for Scotch whisky rather than the Manhattan’s rye, it adds orange-flavored Cointreau and also lime juice, necessitating it be shaken rather than stirred as a Manhattan is. Churchill famously drank Johnnie Walker Red blended Scotch whisky, and that would be a fine choice to use here, but you can also try it with any blended scotch you happen to have on hand.
The resulting drink is a fitting homage to one of Scotch whisky’s most fervent supporters.
1 1/2 ounces blended scotch whisky
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth (preferably Dolin rouge)
1/2 ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed
Add all ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled.
Strain into a chilled coupe glass.