It’s like liquid sunshine, dude
The Harvey Wallbanger is a refreshing mix of vodka, orange juice, and Galliano liqueur. Its sunny flavor is perfect for poolside sipping, and it makes an ideal brunch drink if you’re looking for an alternative to the Bloody Mary Cocktail or the Mimosa.
The Harvey Wallbanger was among the most popular cocktails of the 1970s. There’s confusion about how the drink originated (more on that later). One thing is certain, though. Its rise to prominence was fueled by a successful advertising campaign that featured a cartoon surfer in sandals. His slogan? “Harvey Wallbanger is the name and I can be made.” (Yeah, I know.)
Fortunately, this drink is tasty enough to live down those 70s associations. It’s also exceptionally easy to mix, and you can even lower the alcohol content if you choose. Which means you can enjoy two or three of these over a lazy afternoon, and still be alert and ready to party that night. Or be in shape to catch the big wave when it rolls in.
Recipe: The Harvey Wallbanger Cocktail
This drink tastes of OJ (freshly squeezed is best) with pleasing hints of vanilla and anise — the two most prominent flavor notes of Galliano. Most liquor stores, and many groceries, stock Liquore Galliano L’Autentico, which is what you want for this drink. There’s also a Galliano Vanilla, which (as the name suggests) has a more prominent vanilla flavor. You’re much less likely to see this version on store shelves in the US (and though some people like to use it in the Harvey Wallbanger, Galliano L’Autentico is what most drinkers prefer).
Vodka has no real flavor of its own, but it contributes most of the booze quotient to this drink. Although Galliano has a higher alcohol content (42.3%) than most vodkas (40%), you use less of it.
In the 1970s, the most popular recipe for this drink called for 1 ounce of vodka and ½ ounce of Galliano. Today, most recipes increase the vodka to 1½ or 2 ounces. If you’re just looking for a pleasant summer sipper, I suggest using 1 ounce of vodka. If you want something with more kick, try 1½ ounces. IMO, 2 ounces of vodka is too much in this drink (but if that interests you, pour away).
This recipe takes a few minutes to prepare, and serves one.
- 1 to 2 ounces vodka (to taste; see recipe headnote)
- 4 ounces orange juice (freshly squeezed is best, although supermarket not-from-concentrate works too)
- ½ ounce Galliano L’Autentico as a float (or use a bit less if you prefer)
- garnish of orange slice and/or maraschino cherry (optional; a cocktail umbrella is also lots of fun with this drink)
- Fill a tall glass (Highball or Collins; or if you’re feeling festive, a hurricane glass) with ice. Add the vodka, then top off with OJ.
- Stir briefly, then carefully and slowly pour the Galliano on top (it should literally float atop the drink – see Notes).
- Add straws and garnish, and serve.
- Whenever a drink is served with a float, you should always drink it with a straw. Otherwise, your first sip will be overpowered by the flavor of the float — which is not what you want at all. Don’t worry about not tasting the Galliano at first. It’s quite aromatic, so as you sip the drink, you’ll inhale its fragrance.
- Why float alcohol on top rather than mix it in? Well, as you sip the drink through a straw, the top float layer will gradually make its way to the bottom of the glass. By the time you get to the end of the drink, the ice will have melted (at least partially), diluting whatever is left. The float helps boost the flavor of the last few sips.
- Galliano is an Italian liqueur that was created in 1896. In Italy, it’s most often sipped as a digestif — an after-dinner drink. Its anise flavor is reminiscent of Sambuca, but the vanilla notes give it a different complexity. (It also has notes of other herbs, plus citrus.)
- In the US, Galliano is most often used as a cocktail ingredient. It’s rarely consumed as a digestif, though it’s sometimes drunk as shots.
- Other cocktails that use Galliano include the Golden Dream (which also uses Cointreau, OJ, and heavy cream) and some versions of the Blue Hawaii (which also uses lime juice, vodka, and blue curaçao). I owe you recipes for both of those.
- There’s a variation on the Harvey Wallbanger called the Freddie Fudpucker, which substitutes tequila for vodka.
- There’s also a drink called the Wally Harbanger. Despite the play on names, it’s very different from today’s cocktail. It does include Galliano, but the other ingredients are bourbon, lemon juice, and maple syrup or simple syrup.
Tell Me Another
There are lots of stories about how the Harvey Wallbanger originated. One says it was created in 1952 by famed mixologist Donato “Duke” Antone, who supposedly named it after a surfer that frequented his Hollywood establishment, the Blackwatch Bar. (Antone also claimed to have created other popular drinks, including The Rusty Nail — made with scotch and Drambuie — and the White Russian, which contains vodka, Kahlua, and heavy cream).
A competing story says the drink was created by newspaperman Bill Doner in Newport Beach, California. Doner supposedly was throwing a party and had only vodka, OJ, and Galliano on hand, so he mixed them together. One of his guests (named Harvey, of course) overindulged and began banging his head against the wall, blaming the drink for his condition.
Yet another story claims that a California surfer named (guess what!) Harvey liked to drink Screwdrivers (a mix of OJ and vodka) with a float of Galliano. One day, he had a few too many at his favorite watering hole and missed the door when leaving, instead walking head-first into a wall.
Colorful tales, huh? Maybe a bit too colorful — and suspiciously literal.
A more prosaic story says the Harvey Wallbanger was the brainchild of George Bednar, who worked as a marketer for Galliano (he also played football for the St. Louis Cardinals — now the Arizona Cardinals — from 1964 to 1965).
So which story (if any) is true? Well, Robert Simonson has done some major historical research on the Harvey Wallbanger — and you can find the results on his blog, or read an abbreviated version in a Saveur magazine article from December, 2012.
Simonson says that Duke Antone couldn’t have invented the drink in early 1950s Hollywood, since Antone was living and working in Hartford, Connecticut at the time. In addition, as Simonson notes, cocktail historian extraordinaire David Wondrich has shown that, around 1969, the Galliano folks commissioned a commercial artist named Bill Young to create that little cartoon character (the one mentioned earlier) as part of a marketing campaign to push sales of their liqueur. Simonson speculates that Galliano may also have commissioned Antone to develop an appropriate cocktail recipe around the same time. The various back-stories about the Harvey Wallbanger were probably made up for the amusement of bar patrons — who would be sure to pass them on (to the benefit of Galliano’s marketing program).
Is Simonson’s story the final word on the Harvey Wallbanger? Who knows? Too gnarly for me.
Guess I’ll have to console myself with another round of drinks. Sometimes life’s a beach.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Bloody Mary Cocktail
Bermuda Rum Swizzle
Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail
Fog Cutter Cocktail
Singapore Sling Cocktail