Cocktail history is a slippery thing. Memories concerning anything that occurs while imbibing, especially if those memories concern the practice of imbibing, can be full of loopholes, black holes, misrememberings (both for good and ill) and pretty much anything else that can make makes something seemingly straightforward veer into the realm of murky. Inebriation is the always the culprit--that is a given. But I'm sure a contributing factor is that at the time no one is aware that history is happening. Maybe I am too cynical, but I doubt that John Collins, famous for creating a superbly refreshing, timeless libation, was consciously trying to acquire a place in the annals of cocktail history when he was making and serving his famous punches at Limmer's Hotel. He was just a man at a specific time and place doing a job. The only reason we know what we do about Mr. Collins is because someone cared to write it down and somebody else (David Wondrich) cared to find it. We are not so lucky with other cocktails, namely the Martini. The origins are unknown because when people were first drinking them, little as written about them. Can we really blame them? At the time it was just an amazing new drink. I know that when I sit at a bar, I am not thinking, "The next cocktail I order could be the next classic that will be remembered long after I am dead. Maybe I should write about it so that the origin story can be easily found." Okay, I lied. I am a blogger--of course I think that.
The Aunt Emily's story has some elements that are concrete, as there are concrete elements in the story of the John Collins, and also some that are more elusive, like the Martini's non-story. So basically, this cocktail's history poses more questions than it answers. At least to me, these loose ends are more curious and interesting than the drink itself. But we will get to that. Charles Baker ran into this drink in Havana, Cuba and noted that it was the "creation of Sloppy Joe, in Havana, Years before His Spot Got to Be a Sort of Half Way House for Every Itinerant American on the Island." Without any specific details from our friend Mr. Baker, it is almost impossible to piece together the information to properly date Baker's statement, or even when he was in Cuba for that matter. Here is what we do have: Sloppy Joe's opened in the early 1920s, and from looking though the indexes of two Sloppy Joe's cocktail manuals, I have been able to determine that the Aunt Emily was served sometime after the 1932-1933 season and sometime before 1935. Since Jigger, Beakerand Glass was published in 1939, Baker must have visited Cuba sometime between 1933 and 1939 and had this drink. Alas, there is no way to be sure that the Aunt Emily wasn't created or served even earlier than that and just didn't make it into the cocktail guide. So far pretty straightforward, right?
Shake ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Notes on Ingredients: I used Boulard Pay D'Auge Calvados, Bellringer gin, homemade grenadine and apricot brandy.
When I was putting this drink together, somewhere before the apricot brandy but after the Calvados, I realized I had made a drink that was almost exactly the same only a few weeks before. After a bit of searching, I realized that the Aunt Emily is the identical twin of another classic drink, the Golden Dawn--same ingredients, same proportions. The only difference is that in the Aunt Emily the grenadine is added to the drink instead of sunk in with a cherry afterward. In Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, Ted Haigh tells us that the Golden Dawn was named the "World Finest Cocktail" in a contest in 1930. To make things even more complicated, the Golden Dawn has two different published versions. The proportions for drink as printed in the Cafe Royal Cocktail and UKBG Guide to Drinks match the equal proportions of the Aunt Emily. The version as printed in the New YorkTimes and the Times (London)is slightly different--the amounts of gin and Calvados have been increased, and the orange juice and apricot brandy have been decreased.
The question becomes: Did the Golden Dawn or the Aunt Emily come first, or did they just spring into being almost simultaneously on two different islands thousands of miles apart? What makes the whole thing even more curious is that in Diffordsguide7, published in 2008, the Aunt Emily is listed with same proportions as the Times recipe for the Golden Dawn. Ah the twists and turns of history. But if there is a connection, I can't find any. Red herring, anyone?
Combine all ingredients except the pomegranate grenadine and shake like crazy in an iced cocktail shaker; strain into a cocktail glass. Drop a stemless cherry with no pick into the drink as garnish. Dribble a little real pomegranate grenadine through the drink. Do not stir.
The aroma of this cocktail is full of apricots and apples. On first taste, I noted that it tasted, well, fruity. The flavors of the orange juice and Calvados created the backbone of the drink, with the dry botanicals of the gin becoming more pronounced on the swallow. This drink was very dry, but it had an unexpectedly thick texture. I believe this was because I used homemade apricot brandy, which also contributed a nuttier flavor as I included the pits in my recipe. My overall impression was that this drink was a bit too sweet, but the flavor combinations were unusual and not unpleasant.
In my opinion, this drink does not rank high among those in Baker's book, but there have definitely been worse. If I made this again, I would definitely follow the Times version/modern version of the Golden Dawn/Aunt Emily and increase the spirits and decrease the apricot brandy and orange juice.