East India

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A fantastic and true cocktail, the East India cocktail is a rather old concoction with several variations.


Found originally in Harry Johnson’s Bartender’s Manual, this cocktail appears in many different places, including but not limited to Meier’s work, Embury’s and Craddock’s.  The drink has several variations, all of which are interesting spins, but I will concentrate on the version using pineapple syrup, which I find to be one of the most original and quaffable variations.  Ted Haigh writes that the drink was named for the eastern part of India, meaning the entire geographic space that is what we might refer to as the Indies, specifically for the colonial acquisitions of the British Empire (Haigh 116).

In many respects, the cocktail is a generic Brandy Cocktail with a few modifications to increase the palatability of the drink.  As Wondrich writes in Imbibe!, the cocktail was named for location in which the cocktail was quite often imbibed, that being the “English living in colonial East India” (Wondrich 210; Johnson 62).  This establishes that the cocktail was known to the English, and was a widespread cultural phenomenon, but it raises a question as to how the native population, id est the colonial subjects, received the cocktail, especially considering quite often that the colonial subjects worked in these environments and clubs, and might be familiar with the tastes and distinctive past times of the English colonists.  We know for instance that the rise of the cocktail as a strong cultural phenomenon in Japan was the result of American occupation after the Second World War.  In such a way, it brings up the question over how drinks such as the Singapore Sling, which originated in Singapore, an English colonial possession, are in many ways cultural byproducts, syncretic objects, established due to the result of the import of cultural phenomena.

Likewise, you see this drink using pineapple syrup, a flavor which is somewhat common, but at the same time, rare.  The pineapple is an interesting study of physical exchange of agricultural products, and the syncretic import of objects into new environments, creating new uses.  Pineapples, which originate from the New World, were brought back to the Old World thanks to Columbus’ trip to the “Indies.”  In other words, the drinks that we take for granted now a days, the flavors and profiles, are the results of colonial and thus, globalist expansion.  Originating from South America, the pineapple was grown in India due to the climate.  But in order for it to even arrive, it had to be imported.  This simple fact probably can explain the use of pineapple syrup in the East India cocktail, in the sense that the drink is a product of colonial trade networks and availability of products.

In any case, the cocktail versions there are a few versions that use pineapple juice instead of pineapple gomme syrup (these being Craddock and Embury, and I’m sure others).  I think it is interesting that these versions are from American authors.  Even if Craddock was located in London when the book was published, he had learned drinks prior to the advent of the Prohibition, and still had pineapples available to him.  In a sense, the American’s love of pineapple and this cocktail coincide temporally with American interests in Hawaii (the land of the king of all fruit-pineapple).  While the cocktail in its’ syrup version predates this interest, the versions provided by Craddock and Embury do not.  Pineapples were an interesting colonial trade commodity, so it seems likely that there is something going on in the consciousness of the creators to change to pineapple juice rather than cordial.  However, it is likely that pineapple juice though, used during this time frame, was sweetened and canned, similar to a cordial; yet the insistence that Embury and others has on fresh juice (even in the case of a pineapple), puts that into a dubious light.

One of the variations, despite having in earlier sources a different name, id est the East Indian cocktail, is sometimes referred to as the East India cocktail.  Made with sherry and dry vermouth, this is a very different, but yet quite excellent cocktail with a very light flavor.  Furthermore, there is a variation that uses Jamaican rum, which I find fantastic.  Essentially, just add in a touch of rum to finish off the drink. The major other variation is rather common, which is found in Craddock’s and Embury’s versions, which I think make for a fantastic, if not more fruit driven, cocktail.  In their versions, there is no maraschino, and the pineapple gomme syrup is replaced with juice. Also of note is the variation Meier gives, which loses the curacao and uses only the pineapple syrup as a sweetener.

The cherry adds little to this drink, so feel free to skip it; but the lemon twist is somewhat essentially, especially if you up the sweeteners for Johnson’s version.  Wondrich notes that Peychaud’s bitters may be appropriate, since the drink calls for Boker’s bitters, which are not readily available everywhere. 

East India (Johnson’s style):

2 ounces of brandy
1 teaspoon pineapple syrup
1 teaspoon Maraschino liqueur
1 teaspoon curacao

2 dashes Peychaud’s or Angostura bitters

Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice; stir until chilled.  Strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a cocktail cherry (optional), and express the aromatics of a lemon peel over the drink.

East India (Embury / Craddock):

2 ounces of brandy
1/4 ounce pineapple juice (you may substitute Maraschino)
1/4 ounce curacao

1 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine the ingredients in a shaker with ice; shake to chill, straining into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon or cherry. 

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Clarke, Paul.  2009.  “30/30, #16: the Saratoga Cocktail.”  The Cocktail Chronicles.  Originally published May 1, 2009.  www.cocktailchronicles.com/2009/05/01/3030-15-east-india-cocktail/.

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

Embury, David A.  2009.  The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.  Originally published 1948.  New York: Mud Puddle Books, Inc.

Johnson, Harry.  1888.   Bartender’s Manual or How To Mix Drinks of the Present Style.  New York.

Meier, Frank.  1934.  The Artistry of Mixing Drinks.  Reprint of original.  Paris: Fryam Press. 

Wondrich, David. 2007. Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. New York: Penguin Group.