The Algonquin

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A classic drink, the Algonquin is a pairing of pineapple juice with Rye whiskey and a bit of dry vermouth.


Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)

Dorothy Parker, “The Flaw in Paganism” in Death and Taxes (1931)

When talking about this cocktail Michael Jackson, the Whiskey expert, quips that “Wouldn’t Dorothy Parker have agreed that liquor is quicker?” (Jackson 137).  And she might have, considering that she became increasingly dependent on alcohol, relying upon her spirits to provide some sort of inspiration by acting as a literary muse.   The allusion here is to the American poet and satirist, who was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group which met in the similarly named hotel, the place from which the cocktail itself (supposedly) derives its’ name and origins (Haigh 44).

To me, the Algonquin is like the Gibson, originating from the bar and drinking establishment which was the meeting place of various intellectual elite.  The Algonquin Round Table, at the Algonquin Hotel, supposedly met for lunch every day for ten years, from 1919 until 1929.  Among these members, besides Parker, were Robert Benchley, George Kaufman, and Edna Ferber (Ibid 45).  These various writers saw their jokes, ideas and wisecracks disseminated throughout the country through various newspaper columns, many of which were written by themselves.  They acted as a sort of productive intellectual factory, sharing ideas prior to publishing them, and engaging in enterprises that blurred the line or writer and performer, with their play No Sirree!  Despite the seeming brevity of the group in the grand scheme of things, this de facto and makeshift club of writers retains its’ fame years after it broke up, even though the cocktail itself is not well known.

For the drink, Gary Regan was trying to figure out the history and origin of the cocktail: his findings are interesting, since it suggests that the cocktail which we accept as the vintage / original recipe first appears in the 1980s (Regan 204).  It seems that earlier versions of the drink, in the 1940s and 50s, were made of either sherry and port, or a concoction of blackberry brandy, Benedictine, rum and lime juice (Ibid).  Either way, these recipes are drastically different from the one we take as the Algonquin.  And although it is technically not a “cocktail” from Jerry Thomas’ viewpoint since it lacks bitters, the Algonquin is still a classic mixed drink, one with the connotation that is made to “inspire literary witticisms” (Jackson 137).  But this version, which inspires such sharpness of tongue, may not actually be from that period at all, given what the sources are telling us.  Haigh’s claim that it originates from the hotel, and the club, is probably correct-I mean it is Ted Haigh-but still, like Gary, I’m not finding any other sources in the relative time frame of the groups’ gatherings for the recipe we currently accept.

When mixing up the drink, personally, I find flavors to blend together as it warms up.  On the immediate sip after being chilled, the rye and vermouth dominate, with the pineapple lightly flowing on the background of the tongue.  As the drink warms up, it gets quite a bit more fruit notes, and the rye’s subtle intricacies come out in full force thanks to crisp nature of the pineapple.  Though, don’t let the drink get too warm, since it slowly fades into a liquid that seems to lack any unification.  As such, I think that the drink is best drunk at a moderate pace.  If I had to choose a rye for the job, I would go with Sazerac 6 year or Rittenhouse Rye 100 if you want a higher alcohol content.   The spice and fruit notes of the Sazerac blend exceptionally well with the fruit notes prevalent in the pineapple juice, and contrasts nicely with the vermouth’s herbal nature.  The Rittenhouse however, works a different angle: it attacks the pineapple with cherry, oak, and maple notes, giving into a little bit of a brown sugar flavor, helping to bring the drink into a tropical style while retaining the sharp grain notes of the rye.

Despite the fact that most recipes for the cocktail see it strained into a cocktail glass, interestingly, Jackson writes that is to be served over ice in an old fashioned glass (Jackson 137).  I believe that this is probably not a historical phenomena, but rather just a product of the way in which Jackson enjoys his cocktails, especially those involving fruit juice.  For instance, when writing about how to serve a Bronx cocktail, he gives the option of serving it up, or over ice in a rocks glass  or the Monkey Gland (Ibid 148, 196).   However, when going through the book, we see a lot of drinks which do not follow the same trend, so it may very well be attributed to personal preference.

The Algonquin:

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
3/4 ounce pineapple juice

Combine the ingredients in an iced cocktail shaker, shaking until chilled, straining the mixture into a cocktail glass.  If desired, garnish with a brandied cherry.

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

Jackson, Michael.  1995.  Michael Jackson’s Bar and Cocktail Companion: The Connoisseur’s Handbook.  Originally published 1979.  Philadelphia: Running Press.

Regan, Gary.  2003.  The Joy of Mixology: The Consummate Guide to the Bartender’s Craft.  New York: Random House.