Friday, June 13, 2014

Cocktail of the Week: The Culross

First, some news. I’m pleased to report I’ve joined the merry band of writers at online magazine EatDrinkFilms as cocktail columnist. Food, booze, and movies? Those are three of my favorite things! “Down the Hatch” – hey, like my book! – will be a monthly feature. My maiden effort honors the magazine’s Northern California roots by looking at the Meyer Lemon Whiskey Sour and the Frisco. Go read it and the rest of the issue while you’re at it.

Whenever I encounter an unfamiliar drink recipe and realize I already have the required ingredients, it’s something of an effort not to cry out “To the bar!”. I stumbled across one the other day while paging through The Savoy Cocktail Book – yes, I do spend my valuable downtime paging through cocktail books, usually in front of a roaring fire with a (rented) dog at my feet, and what’s it to you? – and decided such a voyage of discovery would make the ideal subject for the one hundredth Cocktail of the Week post. Champion, the loaner Labrador nestled by my slippers, barked his assent.

I’m going to repeat that. The ONE HUNDREDTH post. Surely that calls for a drink.

Why not the Culross? I’m not saying this cocktail is unknown. If it’s in Savoy, it’s on a menu somewhere. I’m saying that up to now it’s managed to miss me.

Its Savoy appearance seems to be its debut. No one knows where the name came from, although the Scottish village on the Firth of Forth would be a safe bet. The original recipe called for one-third each Bacardi rum, Kina Lillet and apricot brandy, along with the “juice of ¼ lemon.” Bastardized versions turn up in a handful of later books, often with a heavier pour of rum.

The ratio that was good enough for Harry Craddock would suffice for me. I made my usual substitution of Cocchi Americano for Kina Lillet, the additional snap of cinchona in the Americano a better match for what Harry poured in his day.

As for the juice of one-fourth of a lemon, who has the time to make such calculations in our hectic modern age? A few contemporary recipes upped the lemon juice to full partner, so in went three-quarters of an ounce like the other ingredients.

Drinking the Culross raised another question: Why isn’t this cocktail a perennial favorite? It’s woefully underrated, offering a lovely balance of sweet (brandy), sour (lemon juice), and bitter (Americano), with the rum as stabilizer. Some experts endorse making the drink with apricot eau de vie and I have no doubt it’s splendid in its drier way, but I remain an unabashed brandy partisan. And a Culross convert.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to return this dog while I can still get my deposit back.

The Culross

¾ oz. light rum
¾ oz. Cocchi Americano
¾ oz. apricot brandy
¾ oz. lemon juice

Shake. Strain. No garnish.

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