Broken Spur

Many of Charles H. Baker, Jr.’s cocktail formulas are of interest not so much because of the cocktails themselves, but because of the stories that accompany them. I wish copyright law didn’t preclude my reproducing the entire tale that accompanies Baker’s recipe for the Broken Spur. Suffice it to say that Baker enjoyed this cocktail during a visit to China, his account of which begins with this doozy of a sentence:

Imagine Peking then, just before Japan had screwed up brass enough to defy Britain, and the rest of Europe’s Legations, and ours too by the way!—and had quietly occupied most of Imperial North China while everyone sat back like a lot of spineless ostriches with head in sand, and another lot of spineless men who violated their own sacred signatures behaved like a lot of schoolboys playing grownup around the League of Nations table at Geneva playing dice with an unfortunate and colorado maduro gentleman named Haile Selassie, whom no one much had ever heard of before.

That’s a lot of geopolitical commentary for a cocktail book! If you want to know what the hell Baker is talking about, I’ll refer you to Wikipedia’s entries about Japan’s 1937 takeover of Beijing, as well as Italy’s 1936 slaughter of Ethiopians, after which the League of Nations declined to adequately sanction Italy. Oh, League of Nations, you sure were an ineffective body of international governance. (Baker’s account sounded almost noble to me until I realized that he was writing just after World War II to condemn Japan and Italy. Not exactly controversial.)

Anyhow, the story of this drink, translated from Baker-ese: He and his fiancée tried it during a 1932 visit to Beijing, at a crazy buffet dinner held at a Buddhist temple and hosted by an American diplomat. The end. There, I sucked the life right out of it. Nobody ever accused me of being a travel writer.

“The drink!” I can hear you yelling. “Tell us about the drink!” Okay, okay:

  • 1/2 jigger gin (3/4 oz Beefeater)
  • 1/2 jigger Italian vermouth (3/4 oz Carpano Antica Formula)
  • 1 jigger port (1 1/2 oz W. & J. Graham 10-Year Tawny Porto)
  • 1 tsp anis del mono or anisette (1/8 tsp Luxardo Anisette)
  • Egg yolk

Shake with ice (I did a dry preshake), then strain into a coupe glass and dust the top with powdered ginger.

With all that buildup, I wish I could say nicer things about the Broken Spur. Alas, it was merely okay—not awful, not great. At least I had the good sense to tone the anisette down to 1/8 tsp this time.

The main problem seems to be that port and Italian vermouth just don’t go together that well. On the other hand, Carpano Antica Formula is awfully robust stuff; maybe this drink would be better with Dolin or some other milder vermouth?

Broken Spur: ★★★☆☆ 

2 Responses to “Broken Spur”

  1. Ben Bennett says:

    Are you sure about the publication date? My 1992 Derrydale Press reprint edition says that the original publication date was 1939 (so just before WW II).

    The wikipedia article on him makes for interesting reading. He married into a fortune… and was on the around the world cruise where he met his fiancée whilst working as a publicist for the cruise line. Certainly not the impression I got from the book.

    • Jeff says:

      Ben, you’re absolutely right about the publication date. At some point after I wrote this, I realized that the 1946 copy I have is a reprint of the original 1939 edition.


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