Almost any cocktail with Jamaican rum is going to catch my eye these days. Partially because I love the intense flavors, but mostly because I need no excuse to bring out the Smith and Cross. Recently, I started thinking, what happens if I run out. I hate to even utter it out loud, but the truth is with consumption comes exhaustion. Someday my cupboard may indeed be bare, and I certainly can't count on the liquor stores in Washington--oh, the number of times they've let me down. And of course, no adequate substitute exists for Smith and Cross's funky hogo flavor. Or does it? I remember once sitting at the bar at Vessel, and I ordered a Palmetto, one of my favorite cocktails. Oddly enough the entire bar was out of dark Jamaican rums. So, Jim Romdall set off to replicate the flavors by blending other rums. It was completely amazing, though I don't remember how he did it. I do recall that is was a wonderfully tasty Palmetto, and it did capture much of the flavor of Jamaican rum, or at least what is able to shine through the intense flavors of Carpano Antica. Fortunately, I am not out of Jamaican rum and do not need to replicate his efforts. Instead I am just going to try to create a Smith and Cross-like taste using the Jamaican rums I have on hand. Though perhaps I will just create an entirely different monster in the process.
But why choose the Millionaire? Is it anticlimactic to admit to randomness? Or perhaps not complete randomness. How about a happy accident? I was poking around the Internet, looking for arrack sour recipes, and somehow, there it was just waiting for me. The citrus element initially provoked my interest, but the sloe gin-rum combination sealed the deal. It also gave me a chance to use my homemade apricot brandy.
The earliest recipe I could find for a Millionaire cocktail is in Jacob Straub's Drinks (1914), though it is not the same Millionaire. Straub's version, which also appears in many other cocktail volumes from the 1920s, includes orange bitters (Straub only), rye whiskey, grenadine, curacao, an egg white, and sometimes a bit of pastis (Vermiere 1922). The Jamaican rum variation does, however, appear two years later in Hugo Ensslin's 1916 cocktail book, Recipes for Mixed Drinks. His recipe calls for equal parts of Jamaican rum, apricot brandy, and sloe gin, with the juice of one lime and a dash of grenadine. Thank god Ted Haigh re-envisioned the proportions when he included his version in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. By 1930, another version of the Millionaire had turned up. In the Savoy Cocktail Book, Harry Craddock includes two Millionaires: Ensslin's rum version (#1) and a second version of absinthe, anisette, gin and an egg white. Straub's whiskey version is strangely absent. It will turn up again in William Boothby's 1934 reprint of World Drinks, which collects all three versions. This whiskey version seems to have had the most staying power as it crops up in other cocktail manuals during the forties: Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide (1947), which collects all of the previous recipes and then some, Esquire Handbook for Hosts (1949) and David Embury's Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948). Notably in both Embury and the Esquire Handbook, the whiskey version is the sole Millionaire. It is notable, however, that Embury does toss aside the rum version in a sentence. And these are just the mentions I can track in the volumes I own. The Jamaican rum version doesn't seem to crop up many places beyond 1940. Ted Haigh notes that he found the rum version in The How and When published in 1937, where it was listed as the fourth variation. Haigh explains that when he changed the ratios, he was attempting to dial back the sweetness from the liqueurs and amp up the rum while balancing the citrus. His variation proved too tart for my palate, so I cut back the lime juice a little.
1 1/2 ounce Jamaican rum
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 apricot brandy
3/4 ounce sloe gin
Shake ingredients with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Notes on Ingredients: I used Plymouth Sloe Gin and a homemade apricot brandy. I used 1 ounce Appleton with 1/2 ounce Wray & Nephew overproof.
The aroma was full of the funky Wray and Nephew as well as the lime and apricot. I could also detect a richness that I attributed to the apricot brandy and the Appletons. Even with less lime juice, this drink was still quite tart as the lime and apricot were dominant. Despite the sourness, a considerable amount of richness came through as well. I am sure that the homemade apricot brandy was at least partially responsible. When I made my apricot brandy, I infused brandy with apricots, pits and all, and then sweetened it to taste. While this is not a true apricot brandy, as it includes barrel-aged brandy and all of its associated flavors, it does contribute a certain depth and nuttiness from the pits that a lot of apricot brandies do not have. A commercial apricot liqueur would add more sweetness and a crisp tartness without the richness and nutty flavors. The funky, brown sugar flavors of the rum were most prominent on the after taste. As the drink warmed up, the tart berry notes of the sloe gin became more apparent before the rum notes took over. Because I used the Plymouth sloe gin, which is not notoriously sweet, this added a nice dryness to the drink. All in all this was a very pleasant, tart drink, and though the ingredients seemed a bit strange on paper, they performed very well in the glass.
Post Script: Rum Conclusions
As I sipped on this cocktail, I was constantly aware of the funkiness of the rum. The richness of the Appletons with the vegetal, funky flavors of the Wray & Nephew do adequately approximate the taste of Smith and Cross, at least when it is mixed with citrus juices and other strong flavors. The substitution is only slightly lower in proof when mixed 2 parts Appletons to 1 part Wray & Nephew and will bring a similar strength when mixed (Smith and Cross, 100 proof, Combo 95 proof). I am not sure how this substitution would work in a more spirit driven cocktail.
When tasting them side by side, neat, the Smith and Cross is dryer, earthier and higher in proof than the substitute. Also I detect more of a molasses flavor. As far as the funky level, the two do seem within the same ballpark, at least to me. The Appletons/Wray & Nephew is milder and has more vanilla notes. The Wray & Nephew does, however, add a vegetal aroma and taste that provides a different sort of funky flavor than anything in the Smith and Cross, though it is by no means a bad addition. Of course no true substitute exists but when working within a cocktail, I think it would be close enough.
I got yer bitter right here, pal.
3 weeks ago