This week we’re making a drink named after the fanciest college in America, the Sarah Lawrence! Sorry, no, it’s the Harvard. Plus there’s a shameless plug for a new book called The Cocktail Dictionary.
In January 2019, I started writing, with help from Adam and Annie, a weekly cocktail column for this blog. The first entry was the Brooklyn. Since then I was asked by Mitchell Beazley to do The Cocktail Dictionary, part of a series of booze books like The Whisky Dictionary, The Tequila Dictionary, you get the idea. And now it’s here! It’s an A-Z of drinks with entries on shaking, ice, equipment etc. Not only are the words top quality but it has witty illustrations by George Wyesol.
Anyway, that’s enough shameless plugging. Let’s talk cocktails. This week we’re making the Harvard, part of a series of old time drinks named after Ivy League universities such as the Princeton, the Yale, and erm, the Brown. It’s rather like a Manhattan but made with Cognac instead of bourbon, and then diluted with a splash of soda. The Harvard may actually predate the Manhattan, however. Many cocktails were originally made with brandy. Cognac was king in the 19th century but its preeminence among spirits was destroyed by phylloxera, the vine-eating louse that wrecked Europe’s vineyards. British drinkers switched to blended Scotch whisky and American cocktail enthusiasts switched to bourbon or rye. So the Harvard is a little taste of what Americans were drinking in the 1880s.
As with all cocktails, there are lots of ways to make it. In some recipes, the Harvard is just a Manhattan but made with brandy instead of bourbon or rye, and very nice it is too made like that. According to David Embury in his Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), if you use orange bitters it’s a Harvard but if you use Angostura, it’s a Delmonico – try asking for that one in your local bar. Other versions call for sugar syrup, lemon juice and even grenadine (!) which sounds much too sweet. Harry Craddock in The Savoy Cocktail Book (1935) makes his with half brandy and half vermouth with a dash of sugar syrup and two dashes of Angostura. But earlier still, George J. Kappeler Modern American Drinks (1895) was adding a splash of soda which is how we’re going to do it today. It makes it more accessible than a Manhattan and the dilution brings out the fruit in the brandy. You could even, in the summer, up the soda quotient and serve it as a Highball-type thing. But the evenings are getting cold now, so we’re not going to do that.
Traditionally Cognac would have been used but I’m using Janneau VSOP Armagnac which is very fruity and with a wine-like tang. It’s a very superior brandy for the money. Instead of Italian vermouth, I’m using Gonzalez Byass La Copa from Spain. This is made with PX sherry so it’s really quite sweet. Too sweet, I find, to drink on its own but works beautifully in booze-heavy cocktails. You really don’t need any sugar syrup. After a bit of experimentation, I found that adding the soda in two stages kept some fizz without warming up the drink. Finally bitters, the recipe in the book doesn’t call for bitters, but it’s a nice addition. Angostura or orange, it’s up to you.
Right, got your ingredients ready? Let’s Harvard! Oh, and here’s a final plug for the book: The Cocktail Dictionary: An A–Z of cocktail recipes, from Daiquiri and Negroni to Martini and Spritz by Henry Jeffreys is published by Mitchell Beazley, £15.99. Totally shameless.
60ml Janneau VSOP Armagnac
30ml Gonzalez-Byass La Copa vermouth
Two dashes of Angostura bitters (optional)
30ml soda water (ideally chilled)
Add the first three ingredients and half the soda, a splash, to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Stir for 30 seconds until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupette or Martini glass, add another splash of soda water and garnish with an orange twist.