Drink of the Week: Tom Johnstone

Tom Johnstone For whatever reason, today’s DOTW is not known as “the Tom Johnstone” but is simply “Tom Johnstone.” I could wonder why, but that’s like asking why Chrissie Hynde’s band is “Pretenders” and not “the Pretenders.”

David Wondrich theorizes that the drink is named for a man “who used to write shows for the Marx Brothers.” Since I’m a pretty big Marxian myself and had never heard of Johnstone, I was forced to do a little research and found that, like certain members of the legendary comedy team, Johnstone — apparently a fairly successful songwriter, cartoonist, and adman — was himself somewhat overshadowed by a better known older brother, Will B. Johnstone.┬áIf this drink really is his creation, at least Tom Johnstone gets the distinction of having created a somewhat rarish thing: a hard to foul-up Scotch-based cocktail which allows bartenders a few options, depending on taste and what they’ve got on hand.

Tom Johnstone

1 1/2 ounces Scotch
1/2 ounce fresh lime or lemon juice
1/2 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth

This one’s easy. Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake or, if you must, stir with cracked or crushed ice, and strain into a martini glass.

I think what I like most about the Tom Johnstone is that nothing seems to ruin it. My recipe offers substantially more freedom than the canonical Wondrich take. That’s because I found myself liking other versions I found online a bit more, though none of them are even remotely bad.

For starters, even though I often OD on tartness from lemon juice, here I actually prefer it to lime. Also, unlike some other drinks I’ve worked with, this one also works almost equally well with no-name triple sec as it does with Cointreau, the more tart top of the line orange liqueur. I also used some very good Scotch and some pretty cheap Scotch. Both worked dandy.

Tom Johnstone, be you the little known co-writer of “I’ll Say She Is” or some completely unknown bartender, hanger-on, wastrel, or dipsomaniac, I salute you for a very nice mixed beverage. And now, Chico Marx, he who is forever unfairly overshadowed by Groucho and Harpo but not Zeppo, performs a medley that includes the very bouncy “Moonlight Cocktail” starting at 1:50.


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