Monkey Gland

October 7th, 2010  |  Published in absinthe, fall, gin, halloween, recipes, seasonal  |  3 Comments

Once upon a time, when I was a young cocktail-nerd-to-be, I picked up a book called Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by the good Doctor Cocktail. Turning its charming and informative pages, I was completely drawn in by the sheer strangeness of it all—drinks with odd names and even odder ingredients, drinks the same age as my grandparents (or older), alluding to fads of yesteryear with the occasional scandalous double entendre for good measure. It was weird and wonderful, and five years later it still is.

The Monkey Gland was one of the first drinks from the book that we tried, primarily because we had to know what a drink called the Monkey Gland would taste like. Which “gland” was it named after, and who had tasted the thing to find out? Or was it some weird innuendo we were chronologically ignorant of? The drink turned out to be a pleasant, perky little thing, sort of a brunch pick-me-up—a far cry from the drink’s inspiration.

Credited variously to Harry McElhone of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris and to Frank from the Ritz, Paris, the drink is first codified in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. Its name, however, begins ten years earlier in the work of one Serge Voronoff. A doctor in France, Voronoff had studied eunuchs and believed that the secret to male vitality was testosterone. (You won’t be faulted for picturing Jimmy Johnson in those awful Extenze commercials at this juncture.) In the years before the manufacture of artificial hormones extra testosterone was hard to come by, so Voronoff made the best of what he had to work with—he turned to the most human-like creatures he could find and began implanting slivers of monkey testicles into the, uh, glands of Frenchmen looking for a little pre-Viagra boost. Yes, you read that right. It’s amazing what people will do in the name of science and sex. Regardless, I can promise you that the drink is much, much better than the procedure sounds.

1½ oz London dry gin
1½ oz fresh orange juice
1 tsp grenadine
1 tsp pastis or absinthe

Shake all ingredients well over ice, strain into a cocktail glass and serve.

Light and refreshing with just a hint of some exotic spice, the Monkey Gland is a sweet, friendly little cocktail. Even drinkers who don’t care for gin would be surprised by the mellow way the flavors coalesce, and though some have found a full teaspoon of absinthe to be too much, I find it to be the perfect amount. There are also recipes which substitute Bénédictine for the absinthe, but on this matter (and others), I defer to the opinion of the good Doctor and use the absinthe.

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  1. Mike Rasbury says:

    October 7th, 2010at 6:46 pm(#)

    The history of this drink is far too bizarre for me to resist.

    Not much of a dry gin drinker, but I’ll go anywhere there’s absinthe. Can’t go wrong with grenadine or oj, either.


  2. Kim says:

    October 9th, 2010at 3:19 pm(#)

    Nice write up!

    My experience with the Monkey Gland has always been a confused one. On one hand, I really want to like it, but on the other, I come away feeling strangely empty and yet over powered by the herbaceous absinthe, but maybe it’s just a matter of timing. As you pointed out, brunch time seems like a perfect, if slightly debauched opportunity.

    Orange juice seems so rarely used in the classic drinks (just the Bronx and Satan’s Whiskers come to mind) and in both cases something funny happens with the vermouth if one isn’t careful. But this got me thinking, perhaps there’s more trickiness to mixing with oranges than lemons and limes.

    Either way sounds like a Monkey Gland in my future, you know, just to check…

  3. Marleigh says:

    October 14th, 2010at 8:48 am(#)

    Mike—It is pretty strange, but the drink really is quite good. I wouldn’t say it’s one of my all-time favorites, but I just love telling the story at parties. ;)

    Kim—Thanks! I find that you don’t get quite the same funk from vermouth if you keep it in the fridge and use it quickly (as well as buying the best vermouth you can, now that we can get decent vermouth in this country!). And as for debauchery, a lot of cocktails were invented as hair-of-the-dog remedies (i.e., Corpse Reviver #2) after a late night with a bowl of punch. But when drinking early in the day I think, as my dear friend Matt Rowley says… it’s New Orleans somewhere!

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