Widow’s Kiss

When I was about four years old, I fell madly in love with Jacqueline Kennedy. My older brother had a children’s book about JFK that was filled with photographs–Jack playing football; a gaggle of well-mannered, near-identical looking children clustered on some expansive Massachusetts lawn; PT-109. Our house was a house of books, and after I’d tired of Mammals do the Most Amazing Things! and Green Eggs and Ham, I’d find myself lying on the carpet, flipping through the photos of the Kennedys.

I had yet to start kindergarten, so it’s not surprising I found little of interest in most of the book. But on one of the first pages was a clear color spread: Black sedan convertible. Men in brightly colored shirts and Brylcreemed hair and women with scarves and cats-eye sunglasses, lining the street. Pearls and a pink pillbox hat. Dallas.

They were both smiling and waving.

She looked happy and beautiful in that photo, and to my four-year-old eyes, the color of her hair and the shape of her face made her look more than a little like my mother. I coveted that photo. In hindsight, it must have been jarring to my parents–Texans, both, and lifelong Democrats–to have seen their child staring in bliss at an image from that November day. But I had no idea of the weight that photo carried. I just loved the sweep of hair across her forehead as she squinted into the sun, one gloved hand raised in a wave to the adoring crowds.

The Widow’s Kiss

  • 1 1/2 ounces calvados
  • 3/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse (green works, too, but it’s a little more intense)
  • 3/4 ounce Benedictine
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

The Widow’s Kiss predates Camelot by a good 65 years. In Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails, Ted Haigh credits George Kappeler’s Modern American Drinks, from 1895, with first publishing a recipe for this drink. Harry Craddock, Patrick Gavin Duffy and “Cocktail” Bill Boothby all list the same recipe in their early 20th-century bar guides (though in Old Waldorf Bar Days, Albert Stevens Crockett lists a recipe calling for equal parts Parfait d’Amour, yellow Chartreuse and Benedictine, with the beaten white of an egg positioned on top and adorned with a slice of strawberry).

Built upon the heady foundation of calvados, and with the complex aromatic firepower of not one, but two venerable herbal liqueurs, the Widow’s Kiss is a drink to nestle into. In his book, Haigh calls the Widow’s Kiss the most evocative drink ever, a cocktail suited for late fall edging toward winter. On a chilly November evening, post-Dallas, post-Watergate, post-Florida, post-9/11, and not-yet-post-Iraq, there’s no small amount of satisfaction to be found in a drink that calls up a honeyed past, and provides a moment’s distraction from the bitter present.

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8 Responses to Widow’s Kiss

  1. Yeah, the monk factor adds an extra ruminative layer to the drink. Deep, deep stuff.

    Thanks for the note, and kudos for keeping Doc a regular presence on the ‘net.

  2. Found this one in the Doc’s book as well. Had everything (green, not yellow, still good!) and tried it. WOW! This one is in regular rotation on my home bar and so far everyone has come back for two or more.

  3. Syrupy! You can actually see the syrupy-ness when you’re pouring the drink, which made me a bit tentative, and justly so. Still a good tipple, but I have to deduct half a star due to the syrup. Good call on it being a cold weather cocktail; that was one of my first impressions, as well.

  4. Just remembered a similar drink I mixed a little while ago that someone obviously came up with as a less syrupy alternative:

    Widow’s Kick

    2 oz applejack
    1/4 oz Bénédictine
    1/4 oz green Chartreuse
    1 dash Angostura bitters

    Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Lemon peel garnish.

  5. This article had a big influence on me (I was researching beverages with Chartreuse years ago). I now make the Widow’s Kiss at the holidays every year. In fact, it’s time to bring the bottles out of the basement.

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