Named after a famous French virility enhancer. Really.
Let’s not beat around the bush about how this cocktail got its name. Back in the 1920s, there was a French surgeon by the name of Serge Voronoff who developed a procedure for grafting monkey testicle tissue (glands) onto the, um, “glands” of male humans. The aim was to enhance the men’s virility, bring back their lost youth, and promote longevity.
This inventive procedure gained widespread notice. Everyone heard about it, including Harry MacElhone, owner of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. So when MacElhone created this drink, circa 1923, he called it the Monkey Gland Cocktail—no doubt hoping that some of the surgery’s virile glory would rub off (so to speak).
The surgery didn’t work (you’re surprised, we know). But the cocktail? It’s a transfusion of pleasure. And you don’t need a medical professional to administer it.
Recipe: The Monkey Gland Cocktail
The Monkey Gland is a bracing mixture of gin and freshly squeezed orange juice, livened up with a jolt of grenadine and a kiss of absinthe.
Grenadine adds sweetness to this drink, in addition to providing a nice pink tinge. You should use real—i.e., pomegranate—grenadine, not the ersatz stuff that liquor stores usually stock. Commercial brands (such as Rose’s) offer attractive fluorescent color (and the hue is oddly compelling, I admit), but they’re made primarily from artificial flavors. You’re better off making your own Homemade Grenadine. It’s easy and takes just minutes.
The original recipe for this drink specified equal measures of gin and OJ. That’s a nice ratio, but I prefer two parts gin to one part juice, so that’s what my recipe reflects. Feel free to change it as you wish. In the Notes, I offer an alternate recipe that substitutes Bénédictine for absinthe.
This recipe takes a few minutes to make, and serves one.
- 2 ounces gin (use “London” dry gin; see Notes)
- 1 ounce orange juice (freshly squeezed is best, although in a pinch you can substitute good-quality store bought)
- 1 teaspoon grenadine, preferably homemade (increase the amount if you prefer a sweeter drink)
- 2 dashes absinthe or pastis (about ¼ teaspoon, but increase to ½ teaspoon if you really like the flavor of anise; see Notes for discussion on brands)
- twist or slice of orange as a garnish (optional)
- Add all ingredients (except garnish) to a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake until well chilled—about 20 seconds or so.
- Strain into a cocktail glass, preferably chilled, and garnish with a twist or slice of orange, if desired. Serve.
- When a cocktail recipe specifies gin, it’s usually understood these days to mean London dry gin—which is also the type most commonly found in liquor stores. Any good name-brand dry gin will work well in this drink.
- In addition to London dry, you might see Dutch or Belgian gin (sometimes called jenever or genever), which is made from malt rather than grain. There’s also Old Tom Gin, which has a sweeter taste. Both of these varieties are less common than London dry.
- Absinthe is an anise-flavored spirit. For years, it was illegal in the US and much of Europe (one of its ingredients was thought to be psychoactive and addictive). It’s now legal again—and usually quite high proof (100+).
- Grande Absente is a nice brand of absinthe—and it comes in conveniently small bottles. My liquor store carries the 100 ml size for about $10. That’s perfect for making a drink like this, where you use just a bit of absinthe. (A full size bottle of this brand is pricey.)
- I often substitute Pernod for absinthe—mainly because it’s my favorite brand of pastis. But there are other good brands out there. If in doubt, ask the friendly sales people at your liquor store what they recommend.
- BTW, different brands of absinthe and pastis have different levels of sweetness, so you may need to adjust the quantity of grenadine in this drink accordingly.
- Because absinthe was illegal in the US (and much of the world) for decades, some bartenders started substituting Bénédictine liqueur in this cocktail. If you’d like to try that variation, just replace the absinthe with Bénédictine. It changes the character of the cocktail a bit—but it’s a pleasant change, and one you may prefer.
- There are some who suggest this drink can be served on ice (on the rocks). But straight up (shaken with ice, then strained into a glass) is the way most people prefer this drink.
- Serge Voronoff was born in Russia, but emigrated to France as a young man. His “monkey gland” procedure was highly respected. Until it wasn’t. As medicine advanced during the 20th century, his methods came to be seen as an embarrassment—and Voronoff became an object of ridicule.
- But while the world believed in his surgery, he was hot stuff. He treated over 500 men in France alone, plus thousands more in clinics he set up around the world. Many of his patients were prominent men (they included the chairman of a Fortune 500 company and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the modern Turkish republic).
“Say what you like about Serge Voronoff, he inspired a great drink,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “I’d even call it, well, rejuvenating.”
“Makes me feel like a new man,” I said. “I like mine straight up.”
“It’s amazing how word of Voronoff’s, um, procedure spread so quickly way back then,” said Mrs K R.
“Yeah, they didn’t have email, so they couldn’t send out ‘male enhancement’ spam,” I said.
“No TV either,” said Mrs K R. “So they couldn’t run blanket ads with some guy pulling a truck out of the mud, and doing other manly stuff, courtesy of a ‘lifestyle pill.’”
“Well, this drink certainly enhances my lifestyle,” I said. “Plus, it gives new meaning to the word ‘cocktail.’”
“Maybe you should mix us another?” suggested Mrs K R.
“Sure thing,” I said. “We both like a stiff one.”
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