Crisp, botanical, bracing, bold—all of these are terms that can be used to described the Alaska. A close relative of the Martini, the Alaska was developed in the early 1900s, though the origin of its name remains a mystery. Originally, the recipe called for Old Tom Gin, a sweeter, barrel-aged gin historically used in the Martinez. By the Alaska’s publication in “The Savoy Cocktail Book” in 1930, however, the Old Tom was replaced with a London dry gin, and has remained so since.“It dances between spirit-driven and citrus-forward,” says bartender Keli Rivers. “It’s good, moving from one side of the spectrum to the other.”
Like a Martini, the Alaska is a straightforward drink to construct, with only gin, yellow Chartreuse and a dash of bitters needed. However, each ingredient is a potent elixir on its own. Yellow Chartreuse is less commonly used in cocktails than its green brethren, and is sweeter and a bit less botanical, though still a deeply herbaceous spirit. Orange bitters add further complexity and botanical notes, as well as a bit of aromatic citrus that is amplified by the lemon zest garnish.
This simplicity in execution, though, means that the gin choice for the drink is crucial. This is not a cocktail where a bottom shelf brand can slip by unnoticed. And while the “best” gin for the drink is up to your personal taste preferences, the overt botanical nature of the yellow Chartreuse means a cleaner, more juniper-focused gin is a good pick. Plymouth, Tanqueray, Sipsmith, Ford’s and Bombay are all solid English gins that go well in an Alaska. Aria and St. George are excellent examples from the United States, and Japan’s Roku Gin fills in nicely.
While the simplicity of the drink is part of its charm, some drinkers find it too bracing and botanical. One alternative recipe that sometimes appears on cocktail menus includes an addition of amontillado sherry. It’s a smaller amount, sometimes a quarter ounce or even as a spritz over the surface. Either way, the oxidized wine adds a rich nuttiness to the drink and helps smooth out the more acerbic qualities.
- 1 1/2 ounces gin
- 1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse
- 1/4 ounce amontillado sherry (optional)
- 1 dash orange bitters
- Garnish: lemon peel
Add the gin, yellow Chartreuse, orange bitters and (optionally) sherry to a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled.
Strain into a chilled coupe or Nick & Nora glass, then express the oil of a lemon peel over the drink and garnish with that lemon peel.