Transport your guests to another era with these seven classic retro cocktails.
“I like bars just after they open for the evening. When the air inside is still cool and clean and everything is shiny and the barkeep is giving himself that last look in the mirror to see if his tie is straight and his hair is smooth. I like the neat bottles on the bar back and the lovely shining glasses and the anticipation. I like to watch the man mix the first one of the evening and put it down on a crisp mat and put the little folded napkin beside it. I like to taste it slowly. The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar—that’s wonderful.” – Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
Before your guests arrive, there’s nothing quite like sipping a quiet cocktail. We have a few throwback suggestions that are as classic as Chandler’s admiring prose.
The Charlie Chaplin was a popular cocktail named after the silent slapstick Tramp and served at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. It’s a warming winter drink based on sloe gin — the red liqueur made of plum-like blackthorn fruit steeped in gin. Should you have access to the shrub by all means make your own but Canadian liquor stores have started to import retro sloe gins like Hayman’s.
How to: Equal parts apricot brandy, lime juice and sloe gin.
Alcohol production actually increased during American Prohibition’s 13 years, according to experts like drinks writer Christine Sismondo (we loved reading her cultural history of taverns, saloons and speakeasies America Walks into a Bar). To take the edge off bathtub gin, Harry McElhome of Harry’s New York combined it with lime cordial and you can bet it was sipped by the patrons at Texas Guinan’s night clubs, too. For a patriotic take, mix things up by exploring one of the many terroir spirits from the boom in Canadian-made craft gin. In Quebec there’s Distillerie du St.-Laurent, Cirka, Madison Park and my personal favourite for a gimlet, Distillerie Mariana’s foraged Canopée Gin Forestier is resinous with juniper as well as pine (all available at the SAQ), Ottawa’s North of 7 distillery has one called Triple Beam, Nova Scotia is tongue-in-cheek with Willing to Learn. There’s no reason not to go coast to coast: in B.C., from distilleries like Victoria Spirits, Longtable, or Ampersand in the Cowichan Valley and and over on the Rock, Newfoundland Distillery Company produces a London dry style with juniper and cloudberry as well as one with mineralic seaweed botanicals.
How to: Equal parts gin and Rose’s lime cordial. In the absence of lime cordial, use fresh lime juice and simple syrup.
There are many recorded French 75 recipes, including the 1930 landmark The Savoy Cocktail Book. For an of-the-moment update that embraces the current trend for Asian spirits, Toronto microdistillery Yongehurst Distillery’s new Japanese-style Kasutori Shōchū is made from distilled rice and koji that’s fresh pressed then still-soaked in sake. At 35% ABV it’s a stronger western take on shochu that offers more variety: it can be lightened up with warm water or green tea, or sipped as a variation in the main spirit of a classic cocktail.
How to: Flip Bogey and Bergman’s French 75 into a Japonais 75 by substituting gin with shochu. Fill a cocktail shaker with 2 oz shochu, 1 oz fresh lemon juice. Shake, strain into a coupe and top up with Champagne.
In Casablanca, admirable Francophile Humphrey Bogart says he’ll water his garden with Champagne before he’d let the Germans drink any of it. He and Ingrid Bergman sip French 75s but we think he would have done the same with any French spirits still left in the bar at Rick’s Café. So let’s have a French Mule, the gallic variation of the Moscow Mule Rick would surely have made, had he heard of yet. No, he doesn’t come from Russia: According to one tale, Smirnoff Vodka invented it in 1941 with Jack Morgan, owner of Los Angeles Cock ‘n’ Bull, who was trying to market his ginger beer. Another version has it that émigrée Sophi Berezinski was laden with 2,000 copper mugs (from her father’s copper factory back home) and needed to find a buyer. This was at a time when America had little interest in vodka — the holdover from Prohibition was a prevailing taste for whiskey and gin cocktails. However the ingredients came together, they are refreshingly delicious.