Since famed cocktail super-historian David Wondrich tells us that it dates back to 1905, clearly the Modern Cocktail hasn’t been particularly modern for a very long time. Indeed, at least up to now, it’s been an absolute obscurity, one that I personally hadn’t encountered until last week. And Wondrich is definitely right that it hasn’t been making its way into your better bars the way so many other of the better rediscovered cocktails have in recent years. He seems to chalk it up to the odd hodgepodge of ingredients, and that may well be correct.
In any case, I agree with him that the Modern Cocktail might not be any more newfangled than an Old Fashioned, but it is amazingly rich and delicious. Let’s keep it simple this week and just get right into it.
The Modern Cocktail
1 or 1 1/2 ounce Scotch whiskey
1 or 1 1/2 ounce sloe gin (probably Plymouth Sloe Gin)
1 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
1 dash absinthe (I use an eye dropper; a shaker bottle might be ideal)
1 dash orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (fun garnish)
Combine the liquid ingredients and easily dissolved sugar in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake quite vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Contemplate the likelihood that even having easy access to ice must have seemed incredibly modern at some point.
Basically, there are two versions of this drink, one containing an additional ounce of booze. It’s a bit less sweet and rich, but it also has more booze in it, so there’s that. If you find the version with just one ounce of Scotch and sloe gin to be a little much, it might also seem a bit lighter and less cloying or intense. It also fills up a big glass nicely. (The picture above is of the big version.)
I tried this drink with a few different Scotches, including Glenfiddich, Grants and Dewars. All three were dandy, so it’s possible that you might do just as well-off going with with slightly less expensive brands as with the pricier ones. Scotch tends to be one of the least used boozes in cocktails, but this particular combo seems friendly to the slightly smokey flavor we all know and love.
On the other hand, you definitely want to stick to a really good sloe gin for this, which as a practical matter probably means most of us will be using Plymouth Sloe Gin. There are other brands in existence that look like they’d be pretty good. However, the only other brand I’ve found in local stores here in the L.A. area is much cheaper but also kind of disgusting, to be frank. Still, if you can find another good brand, or are a big enough DIYer to make your own, more power to you.
Quick update: As of the night before this post went live, Plymouth Sloe Gin seems to have disappeared from a number of my usual liquor sources…tragically delaying my plans for next week’s drink. What gives?