Cocktail Concocting Contest
When my older brother first presented this challenge, I knew that modifying an existing classic would be the surest route to success. It’s impossible to get excited about any task unless you’ve some passion to begin with. So, it had to be a cocktail I already adored. My favorite, the Martini, has been worked to death, and there’s so little to it that any variation is just that — there’s not much room for creativity when you’re dealing with something that is arguably the Zen ideal of a drink.
High on my list of personal favorites after the Martini is the Corpse Reviver №2. Like all classics there’s argument about who first made one and exactly when. It’s been around a long time; no one disputes that. It falls into the general category of a sour. It has a spirit — gin, which then plays against the sour/sweet ingredients. In this case it is lime versus Cointreau. The genius of the Corpse Reviver is that Lillet Blanc is added as to lower the alcohol and bring some bracing bitterness and vinous complexity into play. These four ingredients are suggested to be added in equal measure making it much simpler recipe to remember than many fancy drinks. A drop of so of Absinthe is usually added but doesn’t stand out as a distinct flavor. Curiously, no zest is called for. Perhaps in the case of this drink it would be gilding the lily.
My scientific training has taught me that when experimenting you only change one variable at a time. As much as I love gin in general and the way it plays against the citrus flavors specifically in this drink for the sake of science it had to go. It wasn’t hard to figure out what to substitute. Brandy is a known good companion to citrus so, step one substitute Cognac for gin. This was a surprisingly good drink! But never one to leave well enough alone a few nights later I subbed Meyer Lemon juice for the lime — sublime was the punning result. After some modest tweaking of proportions — Done and done.
The difficult part of this contest was that one also had to come up with a unique name for the newly minted cocktail. There were few if any other rules, but this one was clearly stated. My first thought was to call it The Penny Popper after that wonderful scene in “The Philadelphia Story” where the characters are all trying to recover from a bit too much frivolity the night before, and the uncle comes in with a pitcher of something restorative and when asked about its effectiveness replies, “It’ll pop the pennies off the eyes of a corpse.” I’d always been told that sours were originally used as morning after drinks to moderate the effects of a little too much fun, so this name resonated on several levels. Not the least of which is that “popping the pennies” is of course reviving the corpse.
For whatever reason I was also thinking that perhaps the name should pay homage to some beloved figure in literature. Of course, Walter Benjamin came to mind. Who else? But the more I thought the more I considered that The Walter Benjamin was far too serious a name for such a bright sunny drink. Then, I considered the title of his collection of thoughts on the birth of modern Paris titled The Arcades Project. Maybe I could call it The Arcade, or The Penny Arcade and meld my first attempt with these second thoughts.
None of these seemed right — naming is so difficult! I slept on it for a few days. I was then reading a letter from the English artist George Romney to his son written in 1790 within ten years of when the Palais Royale in Paris had been converted to an arcade. The first such arcade and the very origin of Benjamin’s musings on modernity. Reading this letter at this point couldn’t have been a coincidence. It was fate! Then as now the Palais Royale was a pleasant plant filled square surrounded with shops and cafes on the ground floor but at that time, according to Mr. Romney:
“The whole of the apartments over the shops are let to ladies of pleasure, whose windows look down upon the people walking in the arcade and square, which renders it one of the most licentious and splendid places in Europe.”
Splendid indeed it must have been. The idea of Las Vegas pales in comparison. I had discovered the name for my drink. So here in all its splendor is my concoction. With any luck at all may it lead to licentiousness as well.
The Palais Royale
1 oz. Cognac
1 oz. Meyer lemon
½ oz. Cointreau
½ oz. Lillet Blanc
1 or 2 drops Absinthe
This drink is equally good stirred or shaken and served up in a coupe, or if you please on the rocks in a highball glass. I, of course, prefer it up. A beautiful glass will add immeasurably to your pleasure. The quantity of lemon can and should be adjusted up or down a little based on how sweet or sour it may be. It’s unintentional that all the ingredients are French, but really now, are you surprised?