East India House Cocktail

December 6th, 2010  |  Published in brandy, cognac, fall, liqueur, recipes, seasonal, yuletide  |  8 Comments

Now that December is underway and the first day of Christmas is only a week away, it’s time to focus on cocktails for the holidays. After all, this time of year is when most of us do the bulk of our entertaining, and with all that going on who has the time to comb through books looking for cocktail recipes? Well, besides me—but that’s the sort of thing I enjoy doing.

Entertaining has been on my mind recently; I compiled some tips for organizing a cocktail party over on Menuism and I’m busy planning my own dinner party for Saint Lucia Day. It can be a daunting task to get it all done, and I’ve been busily bookmarking recipes since early November with the ultimate goal of making December run smoothly—and hopefully just a little bit tipsy as well.

The East India House Cocktail comes from Charles H. Baker, Jr.’s sadly out-of-print The Gentleman’s Companion: Being an Exotic Drinking Book or Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask, a book full of great recipes and formulas gleaned from Baker’s travels around the world. Born on Christmas Day in 1895, Baker was a well-known gourmand and writer who traversed the globe reporting for magazines like Esquire and Gourmet (itself now sadly out-of-print), and the culinary contents of those stories became the basis for his first and second Gentleman’s Companions. This recipe is taken from the 1946 edition—or at least from the transcribed copy that I feel fortunate to possess.

2 oz cognac
1 tsp pineapple syrup (purchase here or here)
1 tsp orange curaçao
1 scant tsp maraschino liqueur
3 dashes Angostura or orange bitters

Shake all ingredients well with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel and serve.

Robert Hess has said about this drink that it has a wonderful, approachable flavor, “suitable to both beginners as well as experienced drinkers.” I have to concur—it is smooth and fruity but not too sweet, with a lovely spice character from the Angostura bitters. It has a light body and a pretty amber-red color that just screams “Christmas!” when paired with the lime garnish. Further, the ingredient list is short and simple and I am willing to bet that this would make a killer punch. One 750mL bottle of cognac would make enough punch for twelve people or so (more if your guests aren’t big drinkers), but be careful with the sweeteners when you increase the servings. The amount of sugar in a single cocktail tends to taste excessive when made en masse. Either way, this one is sure to be a hit.

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  1. John says:

    December 6th, 2010at 11:17 pm(#)

    While the original volume is technically out of print, the reprint “Jigger, Beaker and Glass: Drinking Around the World” is readily available. As Robert Hess notes in his review on the Amazon page for the latter, “this book is a faithful reprint (all except the title and cover :-) of the classic ‘The Gentleman’s Companion’, first published in 1939.”

  2. Frederic says:

    December 7th, 2010at 7:25 am(#)

    The recipe predates Baker. Harry Johnson wrote about it in the 1880s. Definitely a great drink!

  3. Marleigh says:

    December 7th, 2010at 7:35 am(#)

    It is a great drink. Baker didn’t claim to be the first to print it, so far as I know—he himself said in the 1939 edition that he collected this in 1932 from The Royal Bombay Yacht Club, but this is the version of the recipe he published.

  4. Tim Etherington-Judge says:

    December 7th, 2010at 10:20 am(#)

    I put this on the house list at the Harbour Bar at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai which seemed appropriate seeing as it sits alongside the imposing Royal Bombay Yacht Club building. So if you’re in Mumbai you should pay them a visit and have one in the oldest bar in India.

    It’s a fabulous drink and proved hugely popular, even in a world of Mojito’s and Caipiroska’s.

  5. Ken says:

    December 7th, 2010at 3:25 pm(#)

    Are there any acceptable substitutes for the Pineapple Gum? Can an easily-acquired Torani or Da Vinci Pineapple-flavored syrup make a successful version of this intriguing recipe?

  6. Marleigh says:

    December 8th, 2010at 8:06 am(#)

    Hi Ken,

    Though I don’t mind Torani syrups in my coffee, I’ve had very mixed results with them in cocktails. The only major syrup brand I’ve been happy with is Monin, but it is harder to find.

    Ted Haigh has a recipe for making your own pineapple syrup, though, and it isn’t terribly difficult:

    4 cups cane sugar
    2 cups water
    1 small pineapple

    In a bowl or 2-quart jar, combine sugar with water and stir. Skin and cube a small pineapple and add the fruit to the sugar mixture. Let stand for 24 hours. Remove the pineapple cubes, lightly pressing them with a hand juicer or other method to squeeze some juice into the mixture. Stir to dissolve any residual sugar and pour the resulting syrup through a tea strainer or cheesecloth-lined funnel into a 1.5-liter bottle. Add a small dash of spirits (any distillate of at least 80-proof) as a preservative. Keep refrigerated for up to a month.


  7. Frederic says:

    December 8th, 2010at 12:05 pm(#)

    In a pinch, I’ve added an equal volume of sugar to pineapple juice, heated it (microwave if a small volume) with stirring until the sugar dissolved. While not exactly the same flavor as the extraction Marleigh provided, it will give an approximate flavor especially when it is a minor constituent in drinks.

  8. Jeff says:

    December 8th, 2010at 10:12 pm(#)

    “Transcribed copy”? Could you possibly have a copy of St. John Frizell’s transcription? If so, I’d be very interested in talking with you further…

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