Friday, March 07, 2014

Cocktail of the Week: The Claridge

Another Rubicon crossed, another benchmark bottle acquired.

Page through any vintage cocktail book, like the ones I cite incessantly, and apricot brandy appears with regularity. The drinks calling for it remain, for the most part, obscure. But everything old is new again in the cocktail renaissance. I’ve had several impressive drinks using the spirit, some classic and some contemporary. Possession being proof of commitment to the cause, the time had come for me to pick up some of my own. It was an easy decision to make now that Giffard’s once difficult to find Apricot du Roussillon (like Marie Brizard and other notable brands, technically a liqueur and not a brandy) is available in area supermarkets. I bought it mainly so at some point I could make both the Charlie Chaplin and the Douglas Fairbanks, thus completing the trifecta of tipples named for the founders of United Artists. But my first homemade apricot brandy cocktail had to be accessible – and, more importantly, consist of other ingredients I already had on hand.

Enter the Claridge. Its namesake, surprisingly, is not the London hotel that was birthplace of the Hanky Panky and current target of a nasty takeover fight. Instead the cocktail hails from the Continent; gaz regan relays its Parisian provenance. The Savoy Cocktail Book includes both the Claridge and a drink with the identical recipe called the Frankenjack, likely after a New York speakeasy called Frank and Jack’s according to Erik Ellestad of the essential Savoy Stomp.

Proportions vary depending on the recipe, but the ratio of ingredients (gin, dry vermouth, triple sec, apricot brandy) remains 2:2:1:1. There are differing schools of thought on the garnish: lemon twist, cherry, or none. I went with the first. Like gaz I’m a “hog for bitters” and tossed in a dash per his suggestion. The resulting cocktail was a lovely, delicate rose of a drink, balancing the flavors of apricot and orange with the aid of a hint of Angostura.

Mentioning the Claridge on Facebook brought admirers out of the woodwork. Cale Green of Seattle’s Sun Liquor said the drink was “amazing” with an apricot eau de vie, or “water of life” in French, a purer essence of the fruit made by distilling fermented apricot mash. I stopped in at the Zig Zag where several compatriots raved about that preparation of the drink sans bitters. Every day’s a school day, as my friend Ray Banks says, so I ordered a Claridge with eau de vie. The drink was a marvel, extremely dry with a fruit taste both pronounced and crisp.

And yet ... for the first time, I preferred the cocktail I made at home. The bitters and the brandy gave it more character, even if it was a bit raucous and rough-hewn. That’s a sign I’ve developed as a cocktail enthusiast more impressive than any bottle I own: I’m starting to like my own drinks.

The Claridge

1 oz. gin
1 oz. dry vermouth
½ oz. triple sec (I used Cointreau)
½ oz. apricot brandy
1 dash Angostura bitters (optional)

Stir. Strain. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at