Sunday, November 21, 2010

MxMo: Forgotten Cocktails

This month's Mixology Monday is hosted by Rock and Rye, and the theme is "Forgotten Cocktails". Contextually, Dennis of Rock And Rye is referring to cocktail recipes that may be of old age and, even better, underrated!

I have just the candidate, and as one of my favorite cocktails, I've been waiting to post it for quite a while.

The mythology behind the Oriental cocktail is that the recipe was loosed upon the world when an American engineer shared it with a Filipino doctor as repayment for his having saved his life from some tropical disease, as first mentioned in the Savoy. I personally find cocktail histories to be untrustworthy and dull, and so I'll stop here. Let's get on with the drinking.


1.5 oz rye whiskey
.75 oz orange curacao*
.75 oz sweet vermouth**
.5 oz lime juice

Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. No garnish.

*Triple sec, if you must
**Try to use a sweet vermouth that isn't overpowering. I find that certain brands, such as Martini & Rossi, are veritable herbal assaults on the tongue, and just a bit too much. If your vermouth is too strong, it will upset the balance in the drink.

What separates this from many other obscure vintage cocktails is the flavor. Erik at the Underhill-Lounge remarks that it has a "very modern" taste, and he's right. As I've mentioned before, whiskey and lime is a fairly uncommon combination, which is what might lend to the drink's modern flavor. Furthermore, as Erik also points out, the amount of sweet and sour in the drink is high, such that the whiskey isn't exactly singing the lead.

It's the struggle between each ingredient in this recipe that makes it so interesting. Nothing is accenting and complementing the other here; instead, it's like a flavor free for all, where each is vying for your attention. It's an unusual dynamic for a cocktail, but it proves that it can be done, and in an entertaining way.

A variation on this recipe is the James Joyce which replaces the rye whiskey with Irish whiskey, constructed by the legendary Gary Regan.

James Joyce

1.5 oz Irish whiskey
.75 oz curacao/triple sec
.75 sweet vermouth
.5 oz lime juice

Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Chuck Taggart declares this drink to be superior and more complex than the Oriental, but I don't agree. (Probably because I used the balmy Jameson as my whiskey.) For me, this variation throws the Oriental's balance a little out of whack, as the subtler whiskey recedes to let the fruit and the sweetness take over. Regardless, it's still a fascinating drink, but in a different way.

Lastly, I have my own variation, which I daresay is my favorite version so far. One simply replaces the Oriental's rye with bourbon...



1.5 oz bourbon
.75 oz curacao
.75 oz sweet vermouth
.5 oz lime juice

Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. No garnish.

This drink tips the recipe's balance ever so slightly into the "sweet" direction, thanks to the bourbon, but I feel it's not too much. If you use something on the sweeter side, like Knobb Creek or Woodford Reserve, you'll find a deep spiciness appear in the drink causing you to praise whatever god you worship (or lack thereof).


  1. Nice post ... a three-fer. The Oriental is a fine drink and building it out over three drinks - that would be a fun night. I actually prefer the James Joyce myself but call me weird.

  2. I had sort of remembered making the rye version and liking it, but last night, I reached for some rye and was all out! So I made the James Joyce and really, really liked it, as did my housemate.