A 19th century classic with smooth (but complex) flavor
As summer fades into fall, we’re looking for weightier cocktails – but ones that still remind us of sunny summer days.
Enter the East India Cocktail. Its name reflects the glory days of the British Empire, when India was the jewel in the crown.
And the drink’s flavor? Well, that’s the real jewel.
Recipe: The East India Cocktail
There are several versions of this cocktail, but all contain some ratio of brandy, orange curaçao, and maraschino liqueur. The wild card seems to be which sweetener to use. Most versions call for pineapple syrup. But we favor Ted Haigh’s recipe from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, which substitutes raspberry syrup. We think it has a brighter, cleaner flavor.
Haigh’s recipe calls for a hefty 3 ounces of brandy. That’s a lot, so we usually split one drink between the two of us. Your mileage may vary.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare and serves one (or two).
- 3 ounces brandy or cognac (see Notes)
- ½ ounce raspberry syrup (see Notes)
- 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier (or another orange curaçao; see Notes)
- 1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
- 1 to 2 dashes Angostura bitters (to taste)
- garnish of a maraschino cherry or lemon twist (optional)
- Place all ingredients (except garnish) into a cocktail shaker half filled with ice. Shake vigorously until the contents are very cold (about 20 seconds).
- Strain into a cocktail glass (or two, if dividing the drink), preferably one that’s been chilled. Garnish, if desired, and serve.
- It’s traditional to shake this drink – even though the cocktail “rule” says to stir when all the ingredients are clear (as is the case with this drink). But that just proves once again that rules are made to be broken.
- A recipe for this drink first appeared in print (as far as we know) in Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Bartender’s Manual, published in 1882.
- The “east India” in the cocktail’s name didn’t mean eastern India. Rather, it meant all the British colonies and territories in what the British called the “East India” region – including India, of course, but also Burma, Malaya, Singapore, and so forth.
- The British referred to their Indian subcontinent holdings as “Hither India,” while those in southeast Asia were “Further India.”
- As noted above, most versions of this drink call for pineapple syrup. You could probably substitute pineapple juice. But if you want to make pineapple syrup, here’s how: Bring a cup of water to a boil. Stir in 1 cup of sugar (you’ve just made simple syrup). Pour the mixture into a bowl, then add a cup of finely cubed pineapple. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Then strain the mixture into a glass container (pressing down on the pineapple to extract as much juice as possible).
- Prefer to use raspberry syrup, as we do? We have instructions for making homemade raspberry syrup in our post about the Clover Club Cocktail. You can also purchase commercial raspberry syrup.
- Orange curaçao is an orange-flavored liqueur that originated in the island nation of Curaçao (hence its name). You can buy generic curaçao, but we generally use Grand Marnier (a premium brand). It has very good flavor – and we always have it on hand.
- Which brandy to use when making this drink? A higher quality brandy will make a better-tasting drink, of course. But we generally opt for moderately priced bottles when using brandy as a cocktail ingredient (something that costs $20 or a bit less). Ask the friendly folks at your local liquor store for recommendations.
“Can’t resist this drink,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “It’s like a bright, shiny object.”
“A gem of a drink,” I said. “Pure sparkle.”
“Cocktails are a girl’s best friend,” said Mrs K R.
“Is that a request for another round?” I asked.
“Why not?” said Mrs K R. “We’d both treasure that.”
My Mrs K R – she leaves no stone unturned.
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Straits Sling Cocktail
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Pegu Club Cocktail
Improved Holland Gin Cocktail
Doctor Funk Cocktail
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