The Great Apricot Smackdown

Okay, I have to stop now.

Call me a failure if you must, but I wasn’t able to power through every single one of the approximately 30 apricot-brandy cocktails that were submitted for the latest round of Raiders of the Lost Cocktail. I’m sorry — but the smell of apricots is coming out of my pores and my skin is turning orange; I may never be able to eat another piece of rugelach as long as I live. But before you come down too hard on me, keep in mind this twist on that ol’ biblical instruction: Let he who has methodically sampled more than 20 apricot-brandy cocktails without growing very sick of apricots cast the first stone.

Fortunately, I made it through most of the recipes (submitted here and here); since many people submitted more than one drink, I made sure to try at least one cocktail from each participant, so nobody’d be left out.

From this mix, there were a lot of winners. Before I give my top pick, here are a few observations:

  1. Apricot brandy and pineapple — who knew the combination could be so tasty? If you see these two flavors together in a recipe, go for it.
  2. Apricot brandy and pastis or absinthe — proceed with caution. I won’t say they’re mutually incompatible, but you need a very patient palate to handle this mixture.
  3. If a recipe contains apricot brandy, grenadine, and at least one and possibly two or more additional liqueurs, you’re likely to collapse in a diabetic coma before you finish the drink.
  4. If a drink calls for apricot brandy as a base, or in quantities of one ounce or greater, see point #3.
  5. Rum and apricot brandy kicks ass — check out the Periodista, the Jamaica Farewell and the Honi Honi for proof.
  6. There is a need in this world for more cocktails that use Pimm’s No. 1 as an ingredient, such as the Stardust. When matched against apricot brandy and with some gin and sweet vermouth along for the ride, the Pimm’s makes a mighty fine drink.
  7. I really wanted to like the Pisco-Apricot Tropical, from Charles Baker’s The South American Gentleman’s Companion. Fortunately, I’m accustomed to disappointment, so the fact that the drink didn’t work out wasn’t too much of a shock.
  8. Apricot brandy takes on strange and intriguing new characteristics when you use it in small doses against something herbal.

On this last note, I announce my choice for top drink of this round of Raiders of the Lost Cocktail: the Claridge.

Hailing from the Savoy Cocktail Book and suggested by two participants — Charlie Oat from the Connecticut School of Bartending, and Jay from Oh, Gosh! — the Claridge was a real eye-opener. It seemed promising enough, sure, but for some reason the apricot brandy, smoothed out and complemented by the Cointreau, really comes into its own in what otherwise would be a Fitty-Fitty martini. The liqueurs weigh in as more than mere flavor accents, but a big dose of botanicals from the gin and vermouth takes the flavor to another, very delicate plane. A lovely drink that I’m happy to have discovered through this little exercise; my hat is off to the two participants.

Claridge*

  • 1 1/2 ounces gin
  • 1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce Cointreau
  • 1/2 ounce apricot brandy

Stir well with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

* If you dig through the comments section in which the drinks were posted, you’ll see that Charlie used the Savoy measurements — 1 1/2 ounces each gin and vermouth, 3/4 ounce of each of the liqueurs — while Jay brought the liqueurs down a notch to 1/2 ounce each. I’m not sure why the change was made, but having tried the drink both ways, I liked the drier version printed above. Don’t take my word for it — try for yourself.

By long tradition — since last fall, anyway — the winner of this round hosts the next, and chooses the ingredient. Now that there are two winners, however, I’m not sure how to proceed. Jay has a blog while Charlie doesn’t (to my knowledge), so that seems to lend in favor of Jay hosting; perhaps the two gentlemen could agree on the next ingredient?

Anyway, that wraps up this long round of Raiders of the Lost Cocktail. I’m off to not think about apricots for a while.

15 Responses to The Great Apricot Smackdown

  1. “Let he who has methodically sampled more than 20 apricot-brandy cocktails without growing very sick of apricots cast the first stone.” lol!

    I’m not sure where the difference in recipe came from… I may have originally picked up on the Claridge in Difford’s Guide which perhaps has a different recipe. I know I didn’t personally make any adjustments. I’ll have a look around tonight and see. Glad you like it though. Well, liked, I’m sure you can’t stand it now…

    Perhaps Charlie would like to choose the ingredient and I will host the round on my blog? Charlie – drop me an email (address on my site) and we can sort something out.

  2. I can’t imagine that much apricot brandy in the same year, nonetheless tasting (insert small shudder here). The Claridge definitely looks great though; I’ll be trying it for sure. Thanks for weeding everything else out for me!

  3. Well, that’s an enormous Claridge. As far as I can tell, most Savoy recipes should be based on a 1/2 gill (2 1/4 oz) total volume or less. But, yep, it’s a pretty tasty drink.

    Once you get over your aversion to apricots, I’d suggest you try it with the Haus Alpenz Apricot Eau-de-Vie…

    Call it a “Frankenjack” if you want…

  4. This is one of those drinks where Craddock just calls for proportions, not actual quantities. While the recipe Jay and Charlie (and I) posted may be out of sync with the amount of other Savoy recipes, I’d hesitate to call a drink with 1 1/2 ounces of base spirit “enormous”.

  5. Not so sure. Eddie Clarke, the bartender who succeeded Craddock at the Savoy, in his book “Shakin’ in the Sixties,” bases his recipe volume on 2 six-out (5/6 of an ounce) measures. This amounts to a total pre-chill volume of total 1 3/4 oz of booze and mixer for all cocktails. Robert Vermeire, a European bartender bases his cocktails on a half gill measure, which is around 2 oz.

    I’ve no reason to suspect Craddock’s cocktails were bigger than either of these gentleman’s. In fact, almost all the volume based recipes in the Savoy fall right around Vermeire’s 1/2 gill measure.

    So, yeah, I’d say a total pre-chill volume of 4 oz, is around double the size of where a Savoy cocktail should be.

    I honestly don’t think the recipes are proportional, so much as representing portions of a standard measure. Probably the half gill.

  6. I wasn’t questioning Craddock et al’s classic measurements; I was questioning your present-day assessment that a cocktail with 1 1/2 ounces of base spirit is “enormous”.

    And I’ll have to give the Frankenjack a spin; though isn’t that taking liberties with a Savoy recipe? ;-)

  7. Taking liberties every time I make a Savoy Cocktail! Hey, there’s no way to tell what “Apricot Brandy” refers to when it is called for in a recipe. Could be Eau-de-Vie or Liqueur.

    There is an interesting dichotomy between “classic cocktails” and modern cocktails.

    Where everything in a modern cocktail is based on a shot of booze and adjusted from there.

    And generally in classic cocktails they are based on total pre-chill volume of mixer plus spirits.

    Where a classic “Fifty-Fifty” is kind of a mild cocktail. With an ounce of gin and an ounce of vermouth. A modern interpretation is still gonna have a standard pour of gin, plus the vermouth on top (and get served in a fish bowl).

  8. While I’d agree that a four-ounce pre-chill drink is at the upper boundary of the desired size for a cocktail, I maintain that describing such a drink as “enormous” or equating it with one of those 10-oz. fish-bowl monstrosities is introducing a dose of hyperbole into the equation that’s larger than the cocktail in question. ;-)

  9. I am *so* glad I hosted this nutty thing before it got popular. Tasting a dozen Benedictine drinks was more than sufficient for me — my hat’s off to you.

  10. I wouldn’t call it a fishbowl either, but it is a bit larger than what we usually make. What I ended up doing was increasing the recipe by 50%, using 2-1/4 ounces each for the gin and vermouth, and 3/4 ounces each of the liqueurs — that made two perfectly-sized drinks.

    My, what a superb cocktail. It’ll be in our regular rotation. (And yeah, it kicked the pisco drink’s butt. :) )

  11. I just thought I’d add, I’m guessing you haven’t tried this Apricot Liqueur

    http://www.shinluchu.com/

    It’s is arguably the 3rd most popular liqueur in Japan. #1 and #2 being Umeshu (plum wine) and Cassis. You can get all 3 in almost any drinking spot in Japan (and you can’t get Midori anywhere interestingly)

    Unfortunatly I haven’t been able to find Shinluchu anywhere in the west. I’ve checked about 24 stores in the SF bay area including all the Japanese and Chinese places I could find, no luck. I did bring home 3 bottles last time I visited.

  12. try
    1oz gin
    1oz dry vermouth
    1/2oz rothman & winter apricot liqueur
    1/5 oz cointreau
    a dash of orange bitters with an orange twist

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