AKA Smith and Kearns, this tastes like a boozy chocolate egg cream
This drink goes by many names. It’s often called the Smith and Kearns, the Smith and Kearn (or Kern), or the Smith and Currans. Different monikers, same drink.
But its proper name is the Smith and Curran. That’s because it was named after two oilmen, Wendell Smith and James Curran. Over the years, people apparently misheard “Curran” as “Kearns.” Hence the differing names. But no matter what you call it, this is a great drink.
More cocktail history later. Right now, let’s learn how to make one of these lovelies.
Recipe: The Smith and Curran Cocktail
This drink combines crème de cacao with cream (or half-and-half, which is known as “half cream” in the UK) and a bit of soda water. Crème de cacao comes in white (clear) and dark (brown) versions. They taste much the same, so you can use either one. We think this cocktail looks better when made with dark crème de cacao, so that’s what we use.
Many recipes substitute a coffee liqueur (like Kahlua) for crème de cacao. That’s not the original recipe, but it’s a might tasty variation. So substitute away, if that’s your preference.
BTW, this isn’t a particularly “strong” drink. Crème de cacao typically has an alcohol content of about 50 proof, and Kahlua about 40 proof. So you’re not going to get tipsy on one or two of these.
We first learned about this drink (and its history) from an Eric Felten article in the September 23, 2006 Wall Street Journal. We like Felten’s recipe, and haven’t changed a thing.
This is a drink that we “build” in the glass rather than mix in a shaker (see Notes).
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves one.
- 2 ounces crème de cacao (light or dark, though we think the dark looks better; may substitute Kahlua if you prefer)
- 1 ounce cream or half-and-half (cream is the original and tastes better; see Notes)
- ~½ ounce seltzer or soda water (you may want a bit more; this is very much to taste)
- Fill a tall glass or a small rocks glass (10 ounces is the perfect size; see Notes) with ice. Add the crème de cacao, then the cream. Add the seltzer, then stir briefly—enough to mix the ingredients, but not so much that you lose all the fizz from the seltzer (see Notes).
- Serve with a straw.
- A 10-ounce tall glass will allow about an inch of headroom—the space between the top of the drink and the rim of the glass—once the glass is filled with ice and the ingredients are added. You can get by with an 8-ounce glass, but you’ll be filling it close to the rim. A larger glass will work, though you’ll be left with a couple inches of headroom.
- If you like tall drinks and don’t have 10-ounce glasses, you may want to purchase a few. It’s really the perfect size for many drinks.
- The original recipe for this drink specified cream, and we think that version tastes better than one made with half-and-half.
- That said, however, if you substitute Kahlua for crème de cacao, we think the drink tastes better with half-and-half. And increase the amount to two ounces—the flavor is better balanced.
- Do stir the drink enough to mix all the ingredients. The pictures show the drink minimally stirred (because it’s prettier that way).
- If you stir too much, you may diminish the fizziness of the seltzer. If that happens, just add an additional splash of seltzer before serving.
- Any good liquor store carries crème de cacao. DeKuyper is the brand you’re most likely to find, and it is decent quality. A bottle costs around $10 to $12. Marie Brizard makes a crème de cacao that’s a step or two up in quality, though it costs at least twice as much as DeKuyper. But if you like crème de cacao and use it a lot, Marie Brizard is worth seeking out.
- BTW, as always when we mention brands, we recommend only what we like. We buy our booze with our own money, and nobody compensates us to mention a brand.
- When mixing most cocktails, we add the ingredients to a container, shake or stir them, then strain into a serving glass. It’s different with “built” cocktails: For these, we add ingredients directly to the serving glass, one at a time (sometimes stirring them a bit).
- The origins of most cocktails are sketchy at best. But we know exactly where and when the Smith and Curran Cocktail was invented: It was at the Blue Blazer Lounge in the Prince Hotel in Bismarck, North Dakota. In 1952.
- As Eric Felten notes, North Dakota experienced an oil boom during the early 1950s. Oilmen crowded into the state, hoping to strike it rich. Bismarck, the state’s capital, housed headquarters for many of the oil operations.
- Wendell Smith and James Curran were partners during the North Dakota oil surge, and their office was on the second floor of the Prince Hotel. But they spent plenty of time downstairs drinking at the Blue Blazer Lounge.
- One day in 1952 they challenged the bartender at the Blue Blazer—Gebert “Shorty” Doebber—to come up with a soothing “hair of the dog” concoction for them. Seems they had stayed too late at the Blue Blazer the night before, oversampling Shorty’s wares. So they were feeling poorly the next day.
- The Smith and Curran is what Shorty devised. It quickly became a favorite drink of the oilmen who crowded into the Blue Blazer daily. And because oilmen tend to travel, they spread word of the drink around the world. So these days, anywhere you find oilmen, you’ll probably find the Smith and Curran (under one of its many names).
- As Felten observes, this may seem like an odd drink for oilmen to adopt. Petroleum is a rough and tough business, after all, populated by rough and tough people. The kind of people you’d think would turn up their noses at a sweet, frothy drink without a lot of booze. Go figure.
Happy New Year
“Wow,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Boozy chocolate milk.”
“Sure beats Ovaltine,” I said.
“And perfect for starting the new year, especially with oil prices below $50 a barrel,” said Mrs K R.
“Though the oil men who made this drink popular may not be too pleased,” I added.
“Well, they can drink this to console themselves,” said Mrs K R.
“So win win,” I said. “Shall we have another?”
“Yup,” said Mrs K R. “I like to start the year well oiled.”
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