I hate the name, too.

In 1907, while San Francisco was still in shock from the devastating earthquake that had struck just a year before, a group of women from the Ladies Outdoor Art League of San Francisco formed an Anti-Frisco committee, labeling the nickname for the city “obnoxious,” and seeking to have the term stamped out.

They largely succeeded. During my very short time living in San Francisco right after college, I learned that only small children and rubes call the city by this overly familiar nickname. It’s the kind of thing you hear in old black-and-white movies, the kind of term that makes you cringe slightly with the overbearing corniness of it all.

Still, the cocktail’s not bad.

I have no idea where this drink came from; it kind of appeared from the mists of time, as far as I can tell, and started cropping up in bar guides at least as early as the 1930s (“Cocktail Bill” Boothby’s World Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, 1934 edition, is the first place I found it — if anybody has it earlier, chime in). Like other, earlier versions I’ve seen — Stork Club, Trader Vic, etc. — Boothby’s drink was somewhat simpler, and much duller, calling for simply a dose of whiskey (some places specify rye, others bourbon, others simply “whiskey”) touched with anywhere between a quarter- and three-quarters of an ounce of Benedictine, that deeply herbaceous French liqueur, and goosed with a twist of lemon. Before long, lemon juice crept in to tame the Benedictine — the Esquire Drinks Book from 1957 and David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks list similar recipes, with a 6:2:1 rye-to-Benedictine-to-lemon ratio.

A more modern interpretation is in Paul Harrington’s Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century (from which I cribbed the part above about the Anti-Frisco Committee). Harrington ramps up the lemon, and makes his an 8:3:1, rye to lemon to Benedictine drink.

I like a version somewhere in the middle; a good dose of lemon keeps the cocktail tart, but the Benedictine is good for the challenge. If my recipe isn’t to your liking, try another version — perhaps the more herbally robust Embury-style drink from above, Harrington’s version with its toned-down liqueur, or the version currently being served at Eastern Standard in Boston, which uses the standard 2:1:1 measure for this cocktail. If you find a version you like, be sure to specify that if you order it out (and post it in the comments) — because god knows you won’t want to use the name.


  • 2 ounces rye
  • 3/4 ounce Benedictine
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist, or with a lemon wheel.

(and this is also an opportune time to remind everybody that just three days from now is Mixology Monday, theme is Exotic Drinks, hosted by Meeta at What’s For Lunch, Honey? Do please join us.)

5 Responses to Frisco

  1. oooh…yummy. i like your ratio just fine, but i think would like a more muscular rye presence even better…say, 4:1:1 instead of your 8:3:3. keeping the lemon juice & benedictine equal partners seems to be a very good idea…good balance between sweet & sour.

    –cz, looking forward to crisp autumn days and “stone fences” in the evening

  2. (Mostly) Booze-Related Blogs We Read Every Day…

    Ever noticed how drinking booze inflates someone’s self-importance and makes them feel like they’re the center of the universe? That’s how we feel every day, and our Editor in Chief in particular spends his time strutting around like a peacock……

  3. Recipe ratios are meaningless, unless a rye brand is specified. A recent tasting of 14 American ryes underscores the diversity of flavor profiles. A 4:1:1 will better work with some brands, an 8:3:3 with others.
    Different strokes…..!

  4. This looks like an interesting drink to try. I recently took the Red Hook recipe and substituted B̩n̩dictine for maraschino, and it was quite a different drink Рvery spicy!

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