The East India Cocktail
And its various variations
It was the name that first attracted me to The East India Cocktail; indeed, it seems that it is the unusual name that has kept this cocktail alive for so many years.
The drink has been around since the 19th Century and is mentioned by Harry Johnson in 1882 as being a favourite of the English living in various parts of East Africa. It is likely that the East India (also known as the Bengal) was created by an American bartender in one of the many American bars in one of the many grand hotels of the area.
But it is the many variations of this cocktail created over the years that truly holds my interest. In the following paragraphs, I shall look at four of these recipes in turn.
Recipe #1: Harry Johnson’s 1882 New and Improved Bartenders Manual – Stirred
1 tsp Red Curacao – (Hard to find, so I used clear)
1 tsp Pineapple Syrup
2 or 3 dashes of Boker’s Bitters (Again, hard to find, so I used Angostura)
2 dashes Maraschino
1 Wineglass of Brandy
This drink has a mellow smoothness with a sweetness that matches the rest of the drink and isn’t over-powering. All of the ingredients in the drink can be tasted, even the Maraschino. In comparison to the other variations, the golden clarity of this, because it isn’t shaken, reminds me more of the orient.
Recipe #2: Mr. Boston’s Mixed Drinks (1940) – Shaken
1 1/2 oz Brandy
1/2 tsp Pineapple Juice
1/2 tsp Curacao
1 tsp Jamaican Rum
1 dash Bitters
Notable differences are the transition to pineapple juice and the addition of Jamaican Rum. This drink was the least satisfying of the four, although shaking makes this drink very cold. This version is not as smooth as the first and is less sweet; but, really, it just lacks flavour.
Recipe #3: Vintage Cocktails & Spirits (2004) – Shaken
3 oz Brandy
1/2 oz Raspberry syrup
1 dash of Angostura Bitters
1 tsp Curacao
1 tsp Maraschino
A rather sweet and complex concoction, there really is a lot more going on in this recipe; it substitutes pineapple syrup for raspberry syrup, which changes the drink somewhat. It is more drinkable than the others and the raspberry and maraschino complement each other nicely. Despite all of this, I can’t help but have a nagging feeling whilst drinking it that I’m not being true to the original.
Recipe #4: Sloppy Joe from The Art of Mixing Drinks (1948) – Shaken
1 oz Port
2 oz Pineapple
1 dash of Grenadine & Curacao
I would be a terrible liar if I said that I was looking forward to this. Although not, in truth, an East India Cocktail, it shares some characteristics with it. Also, due to the high ratio of pineapple juice, David Embury suggests this may not actually be a cocktail, but I shall not wade into semantics.
Shaking the pineapple juice gives the drink an incredibly foamy head; surprisingly, the port and the pineapple work rather well together (never thought I’d say that!), but the brandy is lost. This is a very smooth drink and very, very different, but, with its creamy finish, is actually quite tasty. I wouldn’t advise using your best cognac, though.
There are some avenues of the East India Cocktail that I have not explored as of yet: the likes of the East India #2 and the West India Cocktail will have to wait for another day. In addition, with no olives to hand, I wasn’t able to try one of those as an alternative garnish in Johnson recipe; all of this will require further investigation, so watch this space…
If you enjoyed this article perhaps you might like Part Two.