The Monkey Gland

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With a somewhat grim name, the Monkey Gland doesn’t sound all that appealing, if you consider to what the name alludes.  But overall, it is a delicious, fruity drink, with tastes of juniper and anise, made of dry gin, orange juice, absinthe and grenadine.


“The professor was clearly visible crouching at the foot of the ivy-covered wall. As we watched him he suddenly began with incredible agility to ascend it. From branch to branch he sprang, sure of foot and firm of grasp, climbing apparently in mere joy at his own powers, with no definite object in view. […] Presently he tired of this amusement, and, dropping from branch to branch, he squatted down into the old attitude and moved towards the stables, creeping along in the same strange way as before […].

“It is possible that the serum of anthropoid would have been better. I have, as I explained to you, used black-faced langur because a specimen was accessible. Langur is, of course, a crawler and climber, while anthropoid walks erect and is in all ways nearer.”

 Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, in “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” (1923) (602-604)
One of the later works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” features prominently the characterization of a man as a brachiating beast, similar to a monkey, acting inanely and exotically.  Holmes deduces, as the reader can be assured that he shall, the cause of the ailment and the circumstances surrounding the mystery: Professor Presbury had been implanted in a weird method with a monkey gland, that being from a brachiating species, the black-faced langur.  This absurd, yet science fiction styled prose was one that is consistent with a nonfictional doctor, that being, Serge Voronoff.

Serge Voronoff was a strange Russian doctor and surgeon would would transplant monkey testicles into old men in order to “renew” their sex drive (DeGroff 92). Voronoff was an individual who became quite popular during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, attaining a sort of cult-like following.  The entire concept of xenotransplantation was big, and featured in various media forms, such as the Heart of a Dog, a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov which was written during the New Economic Policy period in Russia, and was not published until later.  The novel focused specifically on the effects of transplanting a deceased criminals’ pituitary gland and testicles into a recently stray dog, with the result of the dog becoming much more human.  Vonoroff experimented upon himself, injecting parts of dog and guinea pig testicles into himself, in order to try to retard aging (Wikipedia).    He eventually would do things such as transplant ovaries from monkeys to humans as well (Ibid).  However, he fell out of the public eye and favor  in the late 1930s, when it was revealed that his results and research were not verified, and in many cases, false (Ibid).  It was in the late 1940s that a noteworthy British surgeon, Dr. Kenneth Walker, demonstrated his methods were nothing more than that of “‘witches and magicians'” (Ibid).

The Monkey Gland is one of those cocktails with lots of various recipes.  For instance, in the cocktail book by Henry Craddock, it is listed as being one part orange juice to two parts dry gin, with three dashes of absinthe and grenadine each (Craddock 107).  Ted Haigh gives a recipe that is equal parts gin and juice, with one tea spoon each of pomegranate and absinthe (Haigh 212).  DeGroff calls for a relationship of 1 part grenadine, 4 parts juice, and six parts gin, with just a splash of absinthe, stating that this is Harry MacElhone’s original recipe (DeGroff 92).  As such, the recipe which I did was a modified version of Haigh’s, using a little less absinthe so as not to overpower the fruit flavors with the anise or other herbal flavors.  However, to make up for this, I used two things, an orange twist to express some extra orange oils over the drink, and give it a  more fragrant aroma, and then spray on a spritz of absinthe with an atomizer, giving it a little more fragrance of the anise, without overpowering the actual flavor.  In other words, since smell and taste are intrinsically linked, by augmenting the aroma, it provides more depth of flavor without damaging the other more lighter flavors of the drink.

The drink, according to DeGroff is the descendant of daisies, which were, as I talked about with the Brandy Daisy, spirits featuring juice and a a sweetener which quite often would be grenadine (Ibid 92).  It was produced originally by Harry MacElhone, and published in ABC of Mixing Drinks (1921) (Ibid).  The United States had already banned absinthe since 1921, so as the drink came here, many bartenders would replace the drink with Benedictine, which is also a sweetening agent, since it is a liqueur (Ibid).  Thus, the drink would taste rather different, since it wouldn’t capture the traditional anise flavor.

Since I have not discussed absinthe at all, I guess now is as good as time as any to discuss it somewhat.  The liqueur is an anise flavored liqueur which is different from other anise flavored liqueurs (think pastis) because it contains wormwood, also known as Artemisia absinthium, from which absinthe derives its name.  Furthermore, it contains green anise, which is European anise, from which it derives its flavor.  Absinthe quite often, because of the strong flavors and herbal nature, as well as a the high alcohol content, can function as bitters would in a cocktail.  Similar to pastis, it is always served diluted, because of its strong alcohol content and flavor.  Many times, bitters and absinthe share some of the flavor components. At least, this is how I understand it.

Known as la fee verte, the green fairy, absinthe was considered a medicine, just like wormwood originally was considered and used as a medicine during the middle ages (Ibid 13).  It was considered by many to be a primary cause for the spread of alcoholism in France, and a cause of suicide, hence why the liquor itself has had such a bad representation, combined with the idea that wormwood damages the nervous system (Ibid).  From 1907 through 1915, various places banned it: Switzerland, where it was originally made, in 1907; the United States in 1912; France in 1915.

Any causes for alarm about wormwood has now been proven unfounded.  Most likely, the insanity caused by absinthe were from unsound manufacturing processes that created quite a bit of by products that were hazardous to the health of the imbiber: this is common with any high proof distilled liquor that is now properly made and filtered (Ibid).  The recent rebirth of cocktails, classic ones specifically, helped demonstrate the safety of wormwood, and enable the production of absinthe once more (Haigh 98-99). 

An absinthe drip is a process of serving absinthe, in which, sugar is put over a spoon, in a quantity that satisfies the imbiber, and water is slowly dripped over the sugar.  Because of the slow drip, absinthe reacts similar to other products that contain anise, which has been dubbed as the ouzo effect.  This reaction causes the product to exhibit a louche, or demonstrate an opaque and cloudy nature that is the result of the anise oils dissolving through microemulsion.  In France, pastis water is consumed regularly, and exhibits that same clouding effect. 

The Monkey Gland:

1 1/2 ounces gin
1 to 1 1/2 ounces fresh squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon grenadine
1 teaspoon absinthe

Shake all the ingredients together with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with an orange twist.

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Craddock, Henry.  1999.  The Savoy Cocktail Book.  Originally published 1930.  London: Pavilion Books.

DeGroff, Dale. 2008. The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers.

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan.  1923.  “The Adventure of the Creeping Man.”  Originally published in The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes (1923).  In Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volume II.  New York: Bantam Books.

Haigh, Ted.  2009.  Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie and Beyond.  Beverly, Massachusetts: Quarry Books.

Wikipedia contributors. “Serge Voronoff.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serge_Voronoff (accessed March 21, 2010).