A smooth charmer from a legendary mixologist
We love to toast special occasions. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Fridays. We’ll drink to them all.
Including leap year. And since that comes around just once every four years, it calls for a special cocktail, don’t you think?
Lucky for us, bartender extraordinaire Harry Craddock felt the same way. So in 1928, he invented the Leap Year Cocktail (at London’s Savoy Hotel, where he was working at the time). His creation is a slightly sweet—but totally delectable—Martini-like drink.
Once you taste it, you probably won’t wait 4 years to have another.
Recipe: The Leap Year Cocktail
This drink features a tongue-tingling mixture of gin, sweet vermouth, and Grand Marnier, with just a hint of fresh lemon juice. It’s slightly sweet, but the lemon balances that nicely.
Despite the touch of sweetness, this makes a superb before-dinner drink. It’s refreshing and excites the palate for the food to come.
We adapted our recipe from the version that Harry Craddock published in his Savoy Cocktail Book.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves one.
- 2 ounces dry gin
- ½ ounce sweet vermouth (Italian vermouth—the red stuff)
- ½ ounce Grand Marnier liqueur
- ~2 dashes lemon juice (about ¼ teaspoon; but see the Notes—you may want a bit more)
- lemon twist for garnish (optional; may also substitute lemon slice)
- Combine all ingredients (except garnish) in a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice. Shake vigorously until well chilled (10 to 20 seconds).
- Strain into a cocktail glass, preferably one that has been chilled. Garnish (if desired) and serve.
- Our recipe suggests shaking this drink (which is the traditional way to make it). But you could stir it if you prefer.
- The mixologist “rule of thumb” says to stir a drink when all the ingredients are clear. That’s because shaking introduces small bubbles, which can make a drink cloudy. If some ingredients are opaque, however (think citrus juice), it’s easier to mix cocktails by shaking (and you won’t notice the bubbles).
- This drink does include one opaque ingredient (lemon juice)—but not that much of it. And all the other ingredients are clear. So you may elect to stir it.
- In any case, remember that cocktail rules are made to be broken.
- Speaking of lemon juice, how much to use in this drink? The original recipe called for a dash (about an eighth of a teaspoon). We like to use at least 2 dashes (¼ teaspoon). And sometimes we even double that (to half a teaspoon or more). So feel free to experiment.
- Most brands of gin you’ll see at liquor stores are the dry variety—which is what you want for this drink. Any name brand works. We’re partial to Beefeater, but the highly aromatic Hendrick’s would be a fun choice for this cocktail. Plymouth gin would also be tasty.
- For sweet vermouth, we generally use Martini and Rossi. But there are lots of interesting vermouths on the market these days, so it’s worth experimenting with brands.
- Our usual disclaimer here: Kitchen Riffs is totally noncommercial, and we’re not compensated for mentioning brands. We recommend only what we like and buy with our own money.
- Although the Leap Year Cocktail is slightly sweet, it’s not as sweet as the original Martini. Seriously. In the 19th century, Martinis were made with sweet (not dry) vermouth and Old Tom gin (which is sweetened). So they were much sweeter than the “classic” Martini we know today.
- Leap year, as we all know, has 366 days instead of the usual 365. The extra day (February 29) is known as leap day.
- We add a day to the calendar every 4 years because our solar year (the period of time it takes for the sun to return to exactly the same position, as viewed from Earth) is actually about 365 days and 6 hours long. So adding an extra day every 4 years allows the calendar to line up (more or less) with the solar year.
- For those of us in the US, it’s always easy to remember when leap year will arrive—it coincides with presidential election year. This election season, we suspect many people will be in particular need of a cocktail. Or three.
- Harry Craddock, the inventor of the Leap Year Cocktail, was a legendary barman. Originally from the United Kingdom, he moved to the US and became an American citizen. But he returned to Britain during the Prohibition era and worked at the famed Savoy Hotel. Craddock helped introduce American-style cocktails to the UK. He also created several famous drinks, including The Corpse Reviver #2.
- Craddock published The Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930. It remains in print today, and is an excellent source of classic cocktail recipes.
- Craddock created the Leap Year Cocktail on February 29, 1928. It was an instant hit—particularly among the romantically inclined. According to The Savoy Cocktail Book, the Leap Year “is said to have been responsible for more proposals than any other cocktail that has ever been mixed.”
Leaps and Bounds
“Leapin’ lizards,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “This is one tasty drink.”
“Smooth too,” I said. “My heart leaps up when I behold it.”
“I thought the mix of ingredients sounded odd at first,” said Mrs K R. “But Harry Craddock knew his stuff. So I took a leap of faith.”
“Well, we always leap at the chance to try a new drink,” I said.
“And rarely bother to look before we leap,” said Mrs K R. “Because what would be the fun in that?”
You may also enjoy reading about:
Corpse Reviver Cocktail
Income Tax Cocktail
Twentieth Century Cocktail
Last Word Cocktail
Or check out the index for more