I remember the first time I ran across the Lucien Gaudin cocktail. It was years ago now, when I first acquired my copy of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. I was newly obsessed with Campari drinks--not that this has changed over time--and this one seemed like one that I needed to try. I did, but the cocktail failed to make an impression. It was fine, just not memorable.
When people talk about the Lucien Gaudin cocktail, they usually focus on the man, Lucien Gaudin. Yes, he was a fencer, but not just your average fencer. He dominated the sport and is still tied as the record holder for best Olympics performance in French history for his performance in the 1920, '24, 1and '28 Olympics. While all of this is incredibly impressive and worthy of remembrance, I would wager that the reason why most cocktail writers focus so much attention on the man and not the cocktail is because the drink fails to impress on its own merits.
The Lucien Gaudin cocktail was first printed in an obscure French drinks manual, Cocktails des Paris, published in 1929. Its creation is credited to a man named Charlie of Cheval-Pie, who won the cup of honor for the drink in 1929. A couple tomes after that remember it, but not many. Until Ted Haigh brought it back, this drink seemed destined to be forgotten.
I have revisited the drink several times over the years. I have never been able to crack the mystery of why this drink has come back from the depths of cocktail history. I have tried making it with different products to find that perfect harmony. I have swapped out the Campari for Luxardo bitter. I have utilized myriad gins and vermouth. I have even used different curacaos instead of Cointreau and changed the proportions. Nothing seemed to matter. The drink just falls flat for me, its flavors muddied. Recently I saw a variation online that made me want to revisit the Lucien Gaudin. Boy, was I glad that I did.
Lucien Gaudin (variation by Ken Gray, NYC)
1 1/2 ounces Old Tom Gin
1/2 ounce Luxardo bitter
1/2 ounce Giffard Curacao
1/2 ounce cocchi americano
Stir ingredients and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
The changes aren't really that monumental--a softer gin, and a bittersweet fortified wine. These two new ingredients alter the drink from forgettable to delicious. Instead of straying into the hard to conquer land of dry and herbal, the roundness of the combination of tom gin and cocchi makes the the Campari and orange liqueur pop. The end result is balanced and tasty--a drink worthy of remembering.
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