In Wednesday's column, I wrote about brandy and how it's really seen better days as a cocktail ingredient. While nowadays it's unusual to find a cocktail menu that includes more than a couple of drinks with cognac or other brandies as a base, the spirit was once a major player in mixology: brandy served as a foundation in Colonial-era punches, cognac appeared as a star player in 19th century cocktails and their kin, and brandy played a major role behind the bar well into the 20th century.
Here's a brandy-based classic that dates to at least 1930: the Bombay Cocktail.
I first tasted this drink several months ago at Bar Agricole in San Francisco, where it's on the menu. The recipe appears in The Savoy Cocktail Book, compiled in London in the waning years of the great American drought (as many at the time considered Prohibition).
The Bombay Cocktail is a study in delicate balance; made with a foundation of brandy. Bar Agricole uses California-made Marian Farms brandy, but you can go at it with a good domestic such as Germain-Robin Craft Method brandy, or with a decent mixing cognac such as Pierre Ferrand Ambre or Martell VSOP—the Bombay Cocktail soothes the richness of the base spirit with a healthy dose of two types of vermouth, a touch of curacao to lend a subtle sweetness, and some absinthe for depth and character. Medium-bodied and full of flavor without coming on too aggressive, the Bombay Cocktail offers a glimpse at another time, when brandy was one of the regents of the cocktail kingdom.
- 1 1/2 ounces brandy
- 3/4 ounce dry vermouth
- 3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
- 1/4 ounce curacao or Grand Marnier
- 2 dashes absinthe (or substitute Pernod or other pastis)
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- Thin slice of lemon zest, for garnish
Combine liquid ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir well to chill, about 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Twist lemon peel over drink to express oils, and use as garnish.
mixing glass, bar spoon, strainer