Friday, January 04, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Lucien Gaudin

First, the man. Then, the drink.

Gaudin was a fencer from France. He would become the most successful Olympian in his nation’s history, although he was denied the opportunity to prove himself in that competition for years. In 1904, when Gaudin was 18, France did not field a team. Four years later a foil event, Gaudin’s strong suit, was not in the official Olympic program. It would be in 1912 in Stockholm, but the French fencing team withdrew over a rules dispute. In 1916, the world had more pressing matters to attend to. Gaudin was finally able to represent his country at the 1920 Games, where despite a foot injury he won the team foil silver. He had a better showing in Paris in 1924, where the hometown boys took the team golds in both épée and foil. But his greatest triumph came at the 1928 Olympiad, when at the relatively senior age of 42 he claimed the individual gold medals in the same two events, as well as a team silver in foil.

A mere six years later Gaudin was dead, committing suicide using barbiturates. The reasons why remain murky; either he faced financial ruin or he sustained a thumb injury while sparring with a novice fencer that would prevent him from competing in the sport he loved. (Personally I prefer the second, more tragic explanation, but I’m a print-the-legend kind of guy.) At the time of his death he was referred to as “probably the greatest swordsman of all time,” and his passing was “a bit like tearing a page in the history of French sport.”1

It was at the height of his 1928 fame that a drink was created in his honor; only fitting, since Gaudin was the toast of la belle France. Thanks to Ted Haigh’s book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, his namesake lives again. The Lucien Gaudin owes a lot to the Negroni. It owes even more to the Cardinal, which is a Negroni made with dry instead of sweet vermouth. The Gaudin’s innovation is the addition of Cointreau, its crispness like a blade wielded by a master.

The Lucien Gaudin

1 oz. gin
½ oz. Cointreau
½ oz. Campari
½ oz. dry vermouth

Stir. Strain. Garnish with an orange twist.

1 Loose translation courtesy of Google and not my dodgy high school French. But if you want to ask where the autobus is, I’m your man.