Friday, April 25, 2014

Cocktail of the Week: The Charlie Chaplin

There’s no business like show business. It is truly dissimilar to any other enterprise with which I am familiar, as the old song says. For that reason, the Charlie Chaplin – the first cocktail named for a movie star – has always fascinated me, even though I’ve never seen it on a menu and have yet to hear anyone even order one. I knew when I started this quixotic quest that the Charlie Chaplin lay near the end of it. Considering this is the centenary year of his film debut, I should have featured it around Charlie’s birthday on April 16. But I’d already promised to make you a Millionaire in honor of tax day. As it happens, the two drinks are mighty similar.

Chaplin was at the apex of his popularity when the cocktail was created at New York’s Waldorf Hotel sometime prior to 1920. As Albert Stevens Crockett wrote in the 1935 edition of The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, show biz sired many a libation. “The stage, whether or not it drove men to drink in those days, certainly inspired much drinking, and successful plays often stood godfather for bartenders’ conceptions ... Charlie Chaplin had a cocktail named in his honor when he began to make the screen public laugh.” Odds are slim that the Tramp himself tried this tipple. Chaplin’s father Charlie Sr., a music hall performer whom Charlie later wrote he was “hardly aware of,” was an alcoholic who died of cirrhosis at age 37. Early exposure to the consequences of excess was likely a factor in Chaplin’s limited drinking; he resisted the theatrical tradition of buying rounds for the company, which contributed to his reputation for being tight with a buck. Still, it was a drunk act that first brought him fame and led him to America and the movies. Exhibit A: his classic “One A.M.” (1916).

The recipe as cited in Crockett’s book is equal parts lime juice, sloe gin and apricot brandy. Throw in rum and you’ve got the Millionaire. Well, one of the Millionaires, anyway. Surprisingly, I preferred the Charlie Chaplin to its boozier cousin. The lime and apricot brandy are paired to better effect, and the sloe gin gracefully takes center stage. It bears repeating: use Plymouth Sloe Gin when making this drink. You want the refreshing, astringent tartness of sloe berries to be unfettered by sweeteners and buttressed by an undercurrent of sour. The Charlie Chaplin makes a fine spring drink. I’ve seen variations that call for lemon juice. In light of our ongoing lime crisis, that may not be a bad idea.

With the Mary Pickford and the Charlie Chaplin done, only the Douglas Fairbanks remains on my mission to sample every cocktail named for the original founders of United Artists.

The Charlie Chaplin

¾ oz. Plymouth Sloe gin
¾ oz. apricot brandy
¾ oz. lime juice

Shake. Strain. No garnish.

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