The Yale Cocktail: Progenitors and More

There’s this great article in the Wall Street Journal about drinks named after Ivy League schools where a bartender in 1930s San Francisco is reported to have told a reporter,

The bartender knew the times were changing when some Ivy League toffs wandered in: “You’ll think I’m kidding,” the saloon-keeper told Delaplane, “but I got an order couple nights for a Yale Cocktail!”

The Wall Street Journal keeps going, talking about how nearly all of the Ivy League schools had their own cocktail, all except Penn and Dartmouth. And then it gives recipes for the Harvard and the Princeton cocktails. But where is the Yale? The first one it mentions is conspicuously absent.

Why Different Versions of One Cocktail Recipe?
I had to look up the Yale cocktail, and I found several variations. As the Wall Street Journal recipe says,

Sadly, these drinks have been all but forgotten, and in the rare instance where one persists — the Yale — the cocktail has become a parody of its former self.

What is in the version we have now? Go to a site like Cocktail Times and you can find this recipe:
Yale Cocktail
Ingredients:
– 2 oz Gin
– 1 oz Dry Vermouth
– 1 tsp Blue Curacao
– 1 dash Bitters
Glassware: Cocktail Glass

Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass. 

Blue curacao? I bought a bottle of that stuff about fifteen years ago and ended up getting rid of it after five. Everything I put it in tasted like ass. I’m not joking. It is horrendous evil stuff, only meant to make things blue. Seriously: a liqueur whose sole purpose in life is to make stuff this weird shade of blue. Pretty, yes, but not exactly appetizing.


What Exactly is Creme Yvette? 

The WSJ goes on

Cocktail books of the ’30s and ’40s record many variations on the Yale theme. There’s a Yale Cocktail made of gin, orange bitters and Angostura. There’s one that calls for gin, dry vermouth, orange bitters and a dash of the sweet, colorless cherry liqueur called Maraschino; another uses sweet Old Tom gin and sweet vermouth. But go to the Yale Club in New York these days and ask for a Yale Cocktail and you will get a drink of gin, dry vermouth and (in honor of the university’s colors) blue curaçao.

Yes, a lot versions indeed. The author here agrees with me:

I’m not a fan of curaçao that is blue — an unnatural hue for an orange liqueur. And as it turns out, the blue curaçao is just an unfortunate substitute for a long-defunct ingredient. The bluish Yale Cocktail once got its color from Crème Yvette, a liqueur flavored with violet petals, vanilla and spices. Happily, there is at last an acceptable substitute. Among the Austrian liqueurs being imported by Haus Alpenz is a crème de violette that restores the Yale Cocktail to a place of subtle taste and elegant dignity (a status impossible for any drink that relies on blue curaçao). Let’s hope they lay in a bottle at the Yale Club.

 Creme Yvette really is an interesting liqueur. Yes, it turns stuff to a pale blue-ish color, and is used most often in the Aviation cocktail. This version of the Yale Cocktail is very different.

The Original Yale Cocktail Recipe
Yale Cocktail (courtesy of Haus Alpenz)
Stir in an iced cocktail shaker until well-chilled:

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1/3 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1/3 ounce Creme De Violette
  • dash bitters

Strain into an iced cocktail glass.

This version is good. A bit sweet, a bit dry, but very interesting. I love the color and the way the Yvette plays with the standard martini.


The Middle-Aged Version of the Yale Cocktail
My favorite version of the Yale Cocktail is a different recipe entirely:
Mix with ice:

  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • 3/4 oz dry vermouth
  • 1 dash maraschino
  • 1 dash sugar syrup
  • 3 dashes orange bitters

and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

But why is this version so different from the others? I have a hunch. When my 1945 edition of Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide came out, which is where I got this recipe from, incidentally, both creme yvette and old tom gin were probably hard to find. How does this recipe author approximate those flavors? Maraschino and orange bitters for the creme yvette (which is really not the same thing, but it is an interesting substitution), and gin plus sugar syrup for the old tom gin, which was always a little sweeter than London dry gin.

This drink is a bit sweet, a bit bitter, but it’s all kinds of delicious. I love the orange and the tiny bit of cherry flavor, and I love the way it adds sugar to the regular martini recipe. Unlike anything else, but sugar and gin work.

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