Drink of the Week: The Leap Year Cocktail

The Leap Year Cocktail.As I’ve been busily harvesting Harry Craddock’s “The Savoy Cocktail Book” for cocktails, I’ve managed to ignore a number of holidays and special events, including Valentine’s Day, the Super Bowl and, I suppose now, my personal Super Bowl, Oscar night. However, all of those occur every year.

Leap Year is obviously a different story. It would have been an act of sheer idiocy to have ignored Craddock’s Leap Year Cocktail, and the embarrassing truth is that’s very nearly what happened. I’m glad to say, I re-stumbled over the drink in the nick of time, and it’s as good a way as any to wrap up this series of Craddockian posts.

In any case, as we are told, the Leap Year Cocktail was invented by Mr. Craddock for celebrations held at London’s Savoy Hotel on February 29th, 1928. Craddock claims a large number of marriage proposals were associated with the drink. That might be impressive until you remember, as numerous other cocktail bloggers have already pointed out, that 2/29 was traditionally the only day when it was once considered appropriate for a woman to propose a marriage to a man, rather than vice versa.

Of course, we’re sorta kinda almost beyond a lot of those outdated gender roles, and women are now free to risk the humiliation of a rejected proposal. So, I suppose, Leap Year in the here and now doesn’t mean much more than getting an additional day to get our taxes ready. As for the recipe Craddock debuted 88 years ago this Monday, it’s definitely not bad, but I’m not going to get married to it.

The Leap Year Cocktail

2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
1 dash (or more) fresh lemon juice
1 lemon peel (garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add your lemon peel garnish. Craddock wrote that you should “squeeze your lemon peel on top,” but I’m not sure what that means. You can do the traditional lemon twist thing instead, if you like.


I tried this drink with a number of gins and a few different sweet vermouths. There’s only one type of Grand Marnier, though. If I had more time, I might have tried this with another orange liqueur like triple sec and/or Cointreau.

Such gins as Bombay Dry, Plymouth and Gilbey’s all worked fine; the result was pretty consistently floral and bittersweet, a decent combination that, even so, failed to knock my socks off. I noticed a marked improvement when I switched up my vermouth from Martini and Dolin’s and went with wonderfully bittersweet Carpano Antica, which blended more harmoniously with the bittersweet flavors in the Grand Marnier. I’m not sure if that version of the Leap Year Cocktail was worth a marriage proposal, but it certainly wasn’t a bad proposition.


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Drink of the Week: The Improved Poppy Cocktail

The Improved Poppy Cocktail.Today’s drink is very possibly the most obscure cocktail yet that we’ve explored from Harry Craddock’s post-prohibition classic, “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” and I sense that most of the people who care about such matters would say it’s obscure for a reason. In fact, they would probably agree that the Poppy Cocktail, which contains no poppy or poultry products, is nevertheless pure poppycock.

Here’s the thing: cocktalians may occasionally be alcoholics, but they are rarely chocoholics. I, however, love chocolate. In fact, I’m having some right now. So, when I stumbled over a chocolate flavored drink that, lacking any heavy cream or non-liqueur sweetener, was actually also not horrifically fattening, I was not easily dissuaded.

Nevertheless, I had to reluctantly agree that, as written, the original recipe — two parts gin, one part creme de cacao — was simply bleh, lacking any backbone. Still, perseverance payed off and I figured out a way to make it pretty darn good with just a dash of the right product. I’m sure many of you might have already guessed where I’m taking this, but let’s get started anyway.

The Improved Poppy Cocktail

2 ounces gin
1 ounce creme de cacao (brown or white)
1 or probably 2 dashes chocolate bitters

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Say a silent prayer of thanks to the Aztecs for using cacao to make, what else, an alcoholic beverage!


So, yes, we can’t really blame Harry Craddock for not thinking of using chocolate bitters in his Poppy Cocktail as they were likely not widely available or perhaps were not even really an idea back in 1930. Nevertheless, they are absolutely what’s needed to save the Poppy Cocktail from entering the scrap bin of cocktail history. For one thing, they actually turn this drink into a proper cocktail in the strictest sense because it now contains bitters. Vastly more importantly, they give it the balance it requires to be a decent drink for grown-ups.

I often compare bitters to the bass in an audio sound mix. A few year back, I found myself growing vaguely disenchanted with my Yamaha home theater system until I realized I was forgetting to turn on the subwoofer. The sound was tinny and lacking depth without it, but with it, my music and movies sounded just about right. The same is true of a Manhattan, an Old Fashioned and, very definitely, a Poppy Cocktail, when it comes to adding bitters.

My bitters, by the way, were Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate, but I did experiment with plain old Angostura. The cola-esque flavor of the default non-chocolate based bitters didn’t quite hit the bulls-eye, but it was way better than using no bitters at all. I wonder why Harry Craddock didn’t think of that.

As for the base spirit, the Improved Poppy Cocktail worked well with Gilbey’s and Bombay Dry Gin, though I’d give a slight edge to the slightly less dry Plymouth Gin. More important was my choice of a creme de cacao which, like creme de menthe, is pretty much just flavoring and alcohol. There’s nothing wrong with my white Gionello’s, but my dark Hiram Walker Creme de Cacao doesn’t only look more chocolatey, it’s tastes that way too. Not surprisingly, it further improved the Poppy Cocktail.



Drink of the Week: The Fernet Branca Cocktail

The Fernet Branca Cocktail. I think it’s fair to say that probably no one really likes martinis as beginning drinkers. Vodka martinis might go down a bit easier than gin, but to neophytes, martinis taste pretty much like straight booze, and not in a good way. No wonder most of us start with rum and Coke, screwdrivers, the hated (by me…even when I was drinking them) Long Island Ice Teas, and my early favorite, Kamikazes (I’ll probably do that one eventually). Indeed, the only reason I developed my early affection for vodka martinis, which later graduated to gin, was that I really love olives and found green ones tasted extra-delicious after soaking in alcohol for a bit. So, it was sort of refreshing to find that I can still acquire a taste, as this week’s drink did not go down well initially.

I wasn’t alone. Frankly, the Fernet Branca Cocktail doesn’t seem to have many fans. I got it from Harry Craddock’s classic Savoy Cocktail Book, which regular readers will note I’ve been referring to a lot recently. Still, this particular drink is more esoteric than most. Indeed, the only online reference I could find was a 2008 post from Erik Ellestad’s Savoy Stomp blog. Ellestad’s project (still ongoing as far as I can tell) is to make every cocktail in Craddock’s recipe-filled tome. He didn’t seem overly fond of this one. Still, I got to sorta like the drink named for perhaps the ultimate cult liqueur.

The Fernet Branca Cocktail

3/4 ounce Fernet Branca
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth (or, maybe, Punt e Mes)
1 1/2 ounce gin

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with tons of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail shaker. Sip slowly, perhaps toasting St. Patrick, who was not only the patron saint of the Irish, but also of second chances.


Harry Craddock promotes this drink as a hangover cure, and it’s true that Fernet began its life as a stomach medicine. Nevertheless, my initial reaction was that, while it might not be an effective cure for hangovers, it was probably nasty enough it might prevent future ones by discouraging you from drinking at all.

I tried it again. This time, though, I used one of my favorite ingredients, Punt e Mes, a delicious vermouth with more of a bitter edge than most brands. I seemed to like it better now. Was the chocolatey bitterness of the Punt e Mes somehow cancelling out the more acrid/medicinal flavor of the Fernet? Well, then I tried it again with good ol’ sweet Noilly Pratt and I found I liked it better still. I guess I was just getting used to it.

Now, will the Fernet Branca Cocktail ever become a personal go-to drink for me the way a martini is now? I really don’t think so. Still, it is a way to acquaint ourselves with the many odd, and I do mean odd, flavors of Fernet.


Drink of the Week: The Clover Club (The Rasp-Wiki Take)

The Clover Club (again). If you have a deep aversion to déjà vu, I advise you to take a break from today’s and, yes, next week’s posts. (I haven’t decided yet about the week after that!)

You see, I’ve always been fascinated by how seemingly very small changes in cocktails can make very big differences. I also was, to be honest, fairly embarrassed to find out at close to the last minute last week that the Clover Club recipes I got from two bonafide cocktail book classics, Harry Craddock’s prohibition era Savoy Cocktail Book and Robert Hess’s vastly more recent The Essential Cocktail Guide, could be seen as  minority takes on the drink.

It turned out that most of the presumably classic recipes I found online, such as the one featured on Wikipedia, suggested rather strongly that raspberry syrup, not grenadine, was the default sweetener/pinker-upper for this refreshing, too little known cocktail treat. I basically had to try this version out, and so we have today’s pinker, tangier take on the Clover Club.

What’s the difference between a little grenadine or a little raspberry syrup? I’ll tell you on the flip side.

The Clover Club (the Rasp-Wiki Take)

1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2-3/4 ounces fresh lemon juice
1 egg white
1/4 ounce raspberry syrup

Once again, we combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, sans ice. Once again, we shake the luke-cool concoction to properly emulsify the egg. Once that’s done, we add some ice and shake again, very vigorously, to add much needed ice water to the mix. Then, it’s naturally time to strain the drink into a chilled cocktail glass. Our toast? How about to second (and third) chances?


So, which is better, the grenadine or the raspberry syrup iteration? If I had to choose, I think I’d go with last week’s grenadine. This raspberry adds a delightful tang I really enjoyed, but it was less sturdy in the sense it doesn’t really stand up to as much variation. Last week, I found my favorite version employed 3/4 of an ounce of lime juice although (a bit less) lemon juice was just fine. This time around, I’m counseling readers to skip the lime completely. For me at least, it just didn’t work. Lime juice has some additional flavors that just don’t blend with the raspberry.

My favorite version of this drink, however, did use the entire 3/4 ounce of lemon juice, which I suppose is odd given my tart-phobia. I’m guessing there’s something about the dryness of the lemon juice blending with the tangier raspberry-derived flavor. Ultimately, it’s a mystery.

And, speaking of mysteries, yes, will be trying another ever-so-slight variation of this week’s beverage next week. Next time around, we introduce something entirely new…a garnish! Stay tuned.


Drink of the Week: The Clover Club (The Hess/Craddock Take, Modified)

The Clover Club. Sometimes the difference between one drink and another is miniscule. Take a Martini and put a cocktail onion in it instead of an olive or a lemon twist and it is miraculously transformed into a Gibson. On the other hand, recipes for the same basic cocktail can have vary so dramatically that you wonder how the results can even be compared, much less go under the same name.

That’s what I’m realizing right now as I’ve been spending the week trying variations on a recipe I first found in Robert Hess’s 2008 The Essential Cocktail Guide and then found in Harry Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book. Things got interesting when, too late for today’s post, I turned to my old pal Google and found that there is another version of today’s drink that might be a completely different taste experience entirely because of a difference in one key ingredient. I can’t dismiss it either because all signs point to it being every bit as much a classic, whatever that may mean, as today’s recipe. So, I guess we’ll have to revisit today’s drink again next week, except it won’t really be the same drink. Work, work, work.

In the meantime, here is my take on a drink which apparently goes back to a club for gentlemen — presumably no ladies allowed — in pre-Prohibition Philadelphia. As far as I’m concerned it’s a crime to deprive either gender of this liquid delight.

The Clover Club Cocktail (Craddock, Hess, Westal)

1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice or 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/4 ounce grenadine
1 egg white

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake without ice to properly emulsify the egg white. Then add ice and shake again to properly chill the concoction. Strain into a frosty-cold cocktail glass and toast the endless wonder and complexity of life and cocktails.


The Craddock recipe calls for the juice of 1/2 lemon or an entire lime — and goodness knows why bartenders in the day thought that was an acceptable instruction given the obvious reality that lemons and limes don’t all yield the exact same amount of juice. The vastly more recent Hess recipe calls for simply 3/4 of an ounce of lemon juice, but that came out a lot more tart than I like. It was time to play around with the proportions.

While using a mere 1/4 ounce lemon juice yielded too simple a drink, I found that 1/2 an ounce was darn nice. On the other hand, a full 3/4 ounce of less aggressively tart lime juice was the nicest of all. I could have gone for a slightly sweeter drink, but I found that cutting the lime juice down to 1/2 an ounce only resulted in a less lively beverage.

At least that’s what I thought. I certainly would never discourage anyone from adjusting the lemon or lime juice upwards or downwards to their taste. I will say, however, that you have to use some lemon or lime juice because, if you don’t, you’ll have a Pink Lady on your hands. I’m saving that one for some time when out of citrus completely.


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