Hints of violet add zest to this aromatic drink
It’s back to school time (again).
Last month we featured The Harvard Cocktail. So it’s only fitting that we now highlight a drink named after Harvard’s great ivy league rival, Yale University.
Especially since November is when many US colleges meet their traditional foes on the football field to decide which school gets bragging rights for the year.
In the spirit of unbiased research, we’ll drink to both sides.
Recipe: The Yale Cocktail
This drink has evolved considerably over the years—and there are numerous recipes. The original (which dates to at least the 1890s) called for nothing but gin and bitters. Then dry vermouth joined in, and the drink became Martini-like.
Over the years, the standard recipe evolved to include Crème Yvette, a violet-flavored liqueur. Yvette had a purplish hue, so the drink evoked Yale’s school color: Blue.
Crème Yvette went out of production during the late 1960s. But crème de violette (also violet-flavored, as the name suggests) made an admirable substitute. Although its flavor isn’t quite as complex as Crème Yvette, it works perfectly in this cocktail.
Now Crème Yvette is back on the market—so you can use either one in this drink. Their flavor is reasonably similar.
But be aware that some distillers produce violet liqueurs with a hue that is more reddish than purple—one that is in fact suspiciously close to crimson, Harvard’s school color. So if you want to be authentic (at least in terms of appearance), search for a brand that looks bluish-purple. BTW, we tested this drink using both a reddish Crème Yvette and a bluish-purple crème de violette. For the pictures that accompany this post, we used the version with crème de violette.
Our favorite recipe for this drink comes from the Yale Alumni Magazine. BTW, they use Crème Yvette for their recipe—and one with a crimson hue, no less. The horror!
This recipe serves one, and takes about 5 minutes to prepare.
- 2 ounces dry gin
- ¾ ounce Crème Yvette or crème de violette (see Notes)
- ¼ ounce maraschino liqueur (see Notes)
- ¼ ounce dry vermouth
- dash of orange bitters (see Notes)
- lemon twist or wedge for garnish (optional)
- Place all ingredients (except garnish) in a mixing glass half-filled with ice. Stir briskly until well chilled (20 to 30 seconds).
- Strain into a cocktail glass, preferably one that has been chilled. Garnish (if desired) and serve.
- Why stir rather than shake this drink? Because the ingredients are clear. Shaking can introduce small bubbles, which make a drink cloudy (although the cloudiness disappears quickly). Cloudiness isn't a problem when some ingredients are opaque (think citrus juice). But it can be unattractive with clear ingredients. With that said, we often just shake drinks that “should” be stirred.
- Some recipes for this cocktail leave out the maraschino liqueur. We’ve tried the drink with and without, and prefer it with.
- If you’re not using maraschino liqueur, we have a couple of recipe suggestions for you. The first calls for 1¾ ounces of gin, ½ ounce dry vermouth, ¼ ounce Crème Yvette or crème de violette, and 1 dash of bitters. The second calls for 2 ounces of gin, ⅓ ounce of dry vermouth, ⅓ ounce of Crème Yvette or crème de violette, and a dash of bitters.
- Maraschino is a colorless, dry (i.e., not sweet) Italian liqueur made from Marasca cherries, including the crushed cherry pits. It was developed at a Dominican monastery in Venetian Dalmatia during the 16th century. It began to be called Maraschino about 200 years later, when industrial production began.
- Not every liquor store carries maraschino liqueur (the Luxardo brand is the most common one found in the US). If yours doesn’t, find a better liquor store. Or ask the store to order it for you.
- If you still can’t find maraschino liqueur, don’t try to substitute juice from a jar of those fluorescent red maraschino cherries. The flavor (and color) bear no resemblance to those of the liqueur.
- As noted above, Crème Yvette and crème de violette both include violet flavoring (among other ingredients). Crème de violette tends to be a bit sweeter. Crème Yvette’s flavor seems a bit more complex (at least to us), and has some hints of blackberries.
- We bought both to taste-test for this cocktail. If you want to buy only one (a rational decision), we would suggest crème de violette. It’s probably the more versatile of the two (you can use it in more drinks).
- In addition to being nice cocktail ingredients, both Crème Yvette and crème de violette can be consumed neat as after-dinner drinks.
- BTW, we’ve read that Crème Yvette was named after Yvette Guilbert, a French cabaret singer, actress, and author. You may have seen her image in paintings—she was a favorite of the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
- Some recipes for the Yale Cocktail specify blue curaçao (an orange flavored liqueur). At the time these recipes were developed, bartenders were having a hard time obtaining Crème Yvette and crème de violette. So they substituted blue curaçao mainly because it was the “right” color. Unfortunately, the resulting drink is not very tasty (in our opinion, at least); we don’t recommend it.
- Orange bitters work best in this drink. But Angostura bitters will work in a pinch.
- Harvard and Yale aren’t the only colleges that have inspired cocktails. There are also drinks named after Dartmouth, Penn, Columbia, and Brown, among others.
- Yale University is located in New Haven, Connecticut. It was founded in 1701, making it the third oldest institution of higher learning in the US.
- Originally, it was called the Collegiate School. But in 1718 it was renamed to honor a (sizable) gift from businessman Elihu Yale.
- Like Harvard, Yale was founded to train ministers. The curriculum was similar to other colleges of the time—heavy on religious subjects and classical languages (Greek and Latin). Over time, as new fields of study developed, Yale broadened its curriculum and became more secular. Nowadays, of course, it is a world-class university.
“Mmm,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, sipping from a crimson-hued glass. “Nice.”
“Mine too,” I said, tasting my bluish-purple tipple. “Let’s trade glasses so you can try it.”
“Yum,” said Mrs K R. “This drink could become my nemesis. Sort of a purple people eater.”
“The color is not quite the true blue of Yale,” I said. “But for drink purposes, close enough.”
“Besides—at least in days past—most of the students at Yale were probably born to the purple,” said Mrs K R.
“True,” I said. “The school has always appealed to blue bloods.”
“So which of these versions do you like better?” asked Mrs K R. “I vote for the one with crème de violette.”
“The one with Crème Yvette is my slight favorite,” I said. “But emphasis on slight. I won’t go purple with rage defending it.”
“I’m sure our cat, Kitty Riffs, would prefer the one with crème de violette,” said Mrs K R. “It’s her favorite color—PURRple.”
“In any case, they both have a bit of a kick,” I said. “So we better limit ourselves to one round.”
“Yup,” said Mrs K R. “We don’t want to wake up in a purple haze.”
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