Café Royal, London, England, 1937
Drinking seasonally just makes sense, and for my money in the winter months, there’s nothing like a brisk gin cocktail that matches the cold outside. Sure, hot drinks like Hot Buttered Rum, Irish Coffee, or Hot Toddy are comforting, but frosty-cold gin is reality-affirming in a weird way. Like walking through a snowy pine forest in shorts.
As the 19th century turned into the 20th, French aperitif wines known as quinquinas (say it “keen-keen-uz”) or kinas were all the rage. Similar to vermouths, they use cinchona bark (the source of quinine) for the bitter element in lieu of (or in addition to) vermouth’s wormwood. Quinine is the famous anti-malarial agent administered to British troops serving in India via healthy portions of Gin & Tonic (tonic being sparkling water spiked with a syrup of quinine and citrus peel). Although effective, bracing, and refreshing, the Gin & Tonic isn’t the friendliest flavor. Enter the kina: a sweet, citrusy aperitif wine delicious enough to enjoy on its own before dinner – with its sweetness tempered by just enough bitter quinine. The kina brand you choose will affect the sweetness of your finished cocktail: if you like it drier, go with Tempus Fugit’s Kina L’Avion d’Or. For a sweeter drink, try Lillet Blanc. Right down the center is Cocchi Americano. Like vermouths, keep kinas in the refrigerator after opening and use within a couple weeks. Also like vermouths, they’re great on the rocks before dinner.
This cocktail dates from the Café Royal Cocktail Book, published in 1937 – the height of the Art Deco movement. Apparently it was named by its creator, British bartender C.A. Tuck, for the luxurious 20th Century Limited passenger train that operated between New York City and Chicago. I can’t find any evidence the drink was actually served aboard the train as part of its cocktail program (it doesn’t appear on the dining car menus from the period), but it certainly would’ve fit. It’s similar to the Corpse Reviver #2 – sleek and mysterious, with a hint of chocolate on the back. Luxurious and sophisticated, I have yet to serve one to anyone who didn’t love it.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Vegetable peeler
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirit: London Dry Gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray)
Liqueurs: Kina (recommended: Kina L’Avion D’Or, Cocchi Americano, Lillet Blanc), Crème de Cacao (white) (recommended: Marie Brizard)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Lemon twist
Ritz Bar, Paris, France (1920s)
The American craft of the cocktail hit what many consider its “Golden Age” in the years just before Prohibition. Wouldn’t you know it? Right when things were getting interesting, the squares come along and blow the party – forcing the really great bartenders overseas to places like the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London and The Ritz Hotel Bar in Paris. This drink comes from the Ritz and was one in a family of “Corpse Reviver” drinks intended as hangover cures: easy on the palate, a little sweet, simple to mix. The original Kina Lillet in this recipe is no longer available – substitute Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano for a close-enough approximation. Or, if you can find it, try the excellent Tempus Fugit Kina l’Avion d’Or. Corpse Reviver #2 is a reliably successful (and gentle) arm-twister for those friends of your who say they hate gin – serve one of these and watch their eyes light up.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Triple sec (recommended: Cointreau, Combier), Kina (recommended: Kina L’Avion D’Or, Lillet Blanc, Cocchi Americano), Herbsaint
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Cherry (recommended: Luxardo, Filthy)
Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.
In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
3/4 oz London Dry gin
3/4 oz triple sec
3/4 oz kina
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/8 oz Herbsaint
Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with a cherry pierced on a cocktail pick.