While compiling the list of "The 25 Most Influential Cocktails of the Past Century," which I posted about on Wednesday, there was one drink that I thought clearly deserved to be on the list, but which is likely unknown to most contemporary drinkers under its original name: the Kangaroo.
The Kangaroo first started cropping up in drink-recipe books and on bar menus sometime around 1950. It was based on vodka, then a relatively new spirit behind American bars; many bartenders, initially uncertain about how to use the new booze, started working with it by simply taking gin-based drinks that were already in circulation and instead making them with vodka (so, for example, the Orange Blossom, made with gin and orange juice, begat the vodka-based Screwdriver).
Not surprisingly, somebody, somewhere took what was at that time the most popular gin-based cocktail, the Martini, and tried making it with vodka, dubbing the new mixture the Kangaroo. (Why? Who knows.) The drink shows up by that name in several books from the 1950s (the recipe here is from the Esquire Drink Book, from 1956), but within a few short years three things happened: the drink's vermouth content dropped (today it's typically made with no vermouth whatsoever); the lemon-twist garnish was frequently abandoned in favor of a green olive (or multiple olives stuffed with garlic cloves, blue cheese and god-knows-what, as is often seen today); and perhaps most significantly, the Kangaroo appropriated the name of the gin-based cocktail from which it was derived.
Today, this new name is usually what you use to order this drink in a bar, though in craft bars around the world, some bartenders and cocktail aficionados are increasingly adamant about using that name only in reference to the gin-based classic.
Recipe adapted from The Esquire Drink Book, 1956
- 1 1/2 ounces vodka
- 3/4 ounce dry vermouth
- Lemon twist for garnish
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir well for 20 seconds; strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist a piece of lemon peel over the drink and use as garnish.