Restaurants + Cocktails

Cocktails 101 | Pendennis

What is it about national elections that bring out the worst in our populace? Every four years: boorish behavior, name calling, general assholery all around. Affiliations be-damned, this makes us yearn for an across-the-board reinstatement of civility; mayhap a détente decided over drinks. The perfect libation to celebrate such a gracious occasion? The Pendennis Club Cocktail: an apricot-hued concoction decidedly bipartisan in its delightful sweet-tart balance and equanimity. It’s credited to one of Louisville, Kentucky’s most storied institutions of imbibery, the members-only Pendennis Club. Which also claims to be ground zero for the inaugural Old-Fashioned; one of my all-time favorite condiments, Henry Bain Sauce; and probably the best Derby season Mint Juleps in the city. In the spirit of generating congeniality, we’re particular fans of the club’s guiding philosophy: “It knows nothing of politics nor religion except that its members may or may not be of one persuasion or another. The Pendennis Club is a traditional gathering of friends, where decency, decorum, civility, good manners and the social graces are still very much in style.” Kind of like our own COLLECTIVE Lounge, but with dues, squash courts, and lots more seersucker.

in the spirit of conviviality and conversation, we stirred up a few (let’s be honest here, a lot of) drinks and got down to figuring out how to solve the problems of the world.

Perhaps because the Pendennis Club cocktail is made with gin in a commonwealth consumed with all things whiskey, the drink hadn’t been served there for generations. Says Jeff Watts-Roy, a friend and member of the club and serves on the food and beverage committee, “Most members have ‘their drink,’ and up until recently we didn’t even have a bar menu. Our bartenders free pour generously—at least 3 or 4 ounces—and it’s cheap.” (Four, maybe five–for really good booze–American buckaroos for a huge-ass, classic old-fashioned. Heavy sigh.) Long fascinated by vintage bar guides and Victorian-era travelogues, Watt-Roy looked to pre-Prohibition recipes ripe for revival when he curated the first menu for the club’s bar. He had an original copy of The Gentleman’s Companion: Volume II, Being an Exotic Drinking Book –subtitled “Or, Around the World with a Jigger, Beaker and Flask,” by Charles H. Baker, Jr.– which he’d purchased at a Boston bookstore while he was still in college. He says, “It had a recipe for ‘The Pendennis Club’s Famous Special’ but when I asked club members if they’d ever tried one, nobody had ever heard of it. When we put it on the menu people absolutely loved it. It’s one of the best cocktails in a class of great gin drinks.”

Theories abound about how a cocktail with a stiff, British gin backbone and New Orleans’s famously fuchsia-hued bitters (Peychaud’s) came to be named for a club situated squarely in bourbon country. Watts-Roy agrees with a scenario proposed by cocktail chronicler Toby Cecchini, who believes that the drink probably has an origin tale at The Juniper Club, founded in 1897 by Pendennis Club members as a presumably pretty posh private hunting and fishing camp in Florida. They came up with the refreshing gin-based Juniper Club Cocktail that’s a riff on a famous British officers’ club Pegu Cocktail, made in then-known-as-Burma with gin, orange curacao, lime juice and various bitters. Says my friend of these turn-of-the-last-century explorers, “All of these men were part of the larger ‘world traveling club’ and they were all hanging out in New Orleans,” rubbing elbows with the globe’s traveling elite. “Louisville and New Orleans have long been connected in culture and history through the river trade,” and Pendennis Club members traveled there often. It’s not hard to imagine the Juniper Club’s cocktail shimmying north and getting modified with a touch of French apricot booze–after all, Louisvillians are legendarily proud of their Francophile roots–in place of more tropically-sourced curaçao. Soooo…in the spirit of conviviality and conversation, we stirred up a few (let’s be honest here, a lot of) drinks and got down to figuring out how to solve the problems of the world. With grace and decorum at all times, of course…

The Cocktail Party is one political denomination we can all agree upon, no?

THE GIN: With a lineage tracing back to British mixology, it’s no surprise that crisp London dry-style gins work especially well in this cocktail. Watts-Roy uses Beefeater as a go-to, but said he recently made one with Bulldog gin: “The drier the better for this cocktail.” We also experimented with Bols Genever (arguably the closest thing available to original Dutch gin), which was a bit too sweet to stand up to the apricot in the cocktail on it’s own, but made for a really lovely bridge with a more dry-style gin when used in combination.

THE FRUIT: If you can get your hot little paws on some very good, dry, French apricot liqueur (as the original recipe calls for), it makes a great cocktail even better. “It’s definitely got more mojo going on if you use the good stuff,” says Jeff. Sweeter apricot brandies are more readily available in our part of the world, and will work in a pinch.

THE JUICE: Yes, you must use fresh-squeezed lime juice for this and every cocktail you will ever make. Forever and ever, Amen. Guh.

THE BITTERS: In any conversation booze geeks have about making this cocktail, there’s one non-negotiable constant: use Peychaud’s bitters. There’s just no way to replicate that delicate salmon hue and floral gentian nose without them. However, we got a little crazy and added a dash of homemade apricot-cardamom bitters to the mix with lovely results. New kid on the block, Honest John Bitters Co. (based here in SLC and launched this month) also makes a delightful NOLA bitters. Try ‘em out over at {the rest}. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Now. Crank up the Ragtime playlist and let’s shake some up. The Cocktail Party is one political denomination we can all agree upon, no?

The Pendennis Club’s Famous Special (From Charles Baker’s 1939 Gentleman’s Companion. This is the one served at the historic clubhouse, with the exception of the kumquat.): To 1 jigger of dry gin add ½ jigger of the best dry apricot brandy procurable. Squeeze in the juice of 1 lime or ½ small lemon (strained of course), and trim with 2 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters. Split a ripe kumquat, now available during the winter in most big grocery or fruit stores; take out the seeds and put the 2 halves in a Manhattan glass. Stir the drink like a Martini with lots of cracked ice and strain onto the golden fruit.”

The Watts-Roy Pendennis (Sourcing this unusual French apricot liqueur is worth the trouble, says cocktail revivalist Jeff Watts-Roy. This is the one he shakes up at home for ever-grateful guests.): To a cocktail shaker with cracked ice add 2oz dry London gin, 1 oz Giffard Depus Abricot du Roussillion liqueur, 1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice, 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters. Shaken vigorously 15 seconds, serve up in coupe. If garnishing, use a little lemon twist; the yellow really pops against the cocktail’s pink hue.

Pendennis Out West (We shook up this version in Darby’s Sugar House kitchen just before her crosstown move last spring with readily available ingredients in the Mountain West. NSFW, in the best damn possible way.): In a cocktail shaker with cracked ice combine 2 oz Beefeater gin, 1 generous dash Bols Genever, 1 oz fresh lime juice, 1 oz apricot brandy, 2 generous dashes of Peychaud’s bitters, 1 long dash apricot-cardamom bitters. Optional: 1 scant barspoon simple syrup for your friends who like things on the sweeter side. Shake it like a Polaroid picture, strain into a coupe or vintage pony wine glass. Garnish with mint and a kumquat.

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