Drink of the Week: The Rose

The Rose.Perhaps the rarest of all experiences in my cocktailian explorations is discovering a new base spirit to build mixed drinks around. After all, most of us who drink to any extent have made at least a passing acquaintance with vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila, gin and brandy, and usually in about that order. With cocktails, you basically start out with at least some knowledge of most of the basic building blocks, so it’s definitely a kick to find a strong liquor that isn’t one of these.

This week’s drink is built around kirschwasser, also called kirsch. I first learned of its existence at a pretty advanced age the first time I saw Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger’s masterpiece of English cinema, “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.” If you’ve seen it — and you probably haven’t, so go use your Amazon Prime membership to correct that error now! — you’ll remember that career soldiers Clive “Sugar” Candy (Roger Livesey) of Great Britain and Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook) of Germany bond over kirshwasser during a series of increasingly cordial social meetings in the company of their respective ladyfriends.

Given the genteel setting, I always assumed that kirsch was a sweet but complex cherry brandy that was more like a cherry liqueur. In fact, it’s a species of what’s called eau de vie, unaged fruit brandies. It’s no sweeter than whiskey or cognac and pretty strong stuff — one of the brands I used for this was 90 proof — but the cherry notes are definitely there. The Rose is a classic cocktail featuring kirsch that’s appeared in a number of early cocktail texts, including “The Savoy Cocktail Book” and the revivalist booze bible, “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.” Having now tried it many times, I honestly can’t tell you why this drink is less popular than a martini or a Manhattan except for the fact that most of us have never even heard of its most important ingredient.

Let’s start changing that now.

The Rose

2 ounces dry vermouth
1 ounce kirshwasser
1 teaspoon raspberry syrup (or grenadine, in a pinch)
1 cocktail cherry (highly desirable garnish)

This one’s nice and simple. Just combine the vermouth, kirshwasser and raspberry syrup in a shaker or a mixing glass, stir or shake as you prefer, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the cocktail cherry and contemplate humanity’s eternal ingenuity in coming up with ways to take the fruit of the earth and use it to create delicious things that can get you all f*cked up.


Since kirshwasser isn’t exactly your most garden-variety spirit, you might not find a lot of brands. For whatever reason, I picked up Hiram Walker’s kirsch, which I expected to be a lighter version of something like a Cherry Herring but is more like what it actually is, an unaged cherry brandy — stiff and definitely not for faint of heart on its own. At the $20-plus price point, I might have gone with Luxardo’s take on this, though the honest labeling of “imitation cherry brandy” might throw some people off. Once I tried my first version of the Rose, liked it a lot, and decided this drink needed further exploration with a higher-end booze, I plonked down about fifty smackers for Schladerer Kirshwasser, which isn’t imitation anything and is good enough that you might consider drinking it neat or chilled straight up, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff style.

Because it’s the kirsch that dominates here, it’s not surprising that greater depth and complexity of the superior/more expensive brew makes for a somewhat more interesting and cherryrific cocktail. Still, I kind of love the Rose almost as much with the cheap stuff. As for my vermouths, I used Martini and Noilly Pratt Extra Dry, which were both fine and about the same. There might be more vermouth than kirsch in the drink, but it’s the strong stuff that dominates the Rose.

And finally, if you don’t have any raspberry syrup on hand from Torani, Monin or Smuckers (if you can find that one), a decent grenadine might also be just fine. When I tried it with Master of Mixes grenadine, it wasn’t quite the same drink, but it wasn’t bad.