The Gentleman's Companion

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East India Cocktail

As you may have noticed by now, I’m more than happy to fiddle with Baker’s drinks in the name of palatability. However, I’ve tried to stay as close to his recommended garnishes as possible. That’s meant no garnish at all for the most part. Some of Baker’s drinks, though, call for very specific garnishes, not all of which are the easiest things to find in 2010.

Case in point: Green maraschino cherries.

Let’s take a trip in the Maraschino Wayback Machine, shall we? Traditionally, a maraschino cherry was a regular old red Marasca cherry, preserved in maraschino liqueur. (You can still buy preserved cherries made like this, and you should—they’re superb. Try one in a Manhattan!) However, thanks to America’s, shall we say, lax food and drug laws in the early 20th century, not every maraschino cherry fit this description. A jar of “maraschino cherries” might well have contained nothing but dyed lumps of mysterious cellulosic indigestibility, preserved in sodium metabisulfite and floating in a brine of pure orphans’ blood. Okay, I made that last part up, but seriously, people: It was a bad scene.

The point is that even before Prohibition, maraschino cherries didn’t necessarily have much to do with maraschino. And once Prohibition started, all maraschino cherries sold legally in the US had some artificial origins. The process for a legitimate “imitation maraschino cherry” went something like this:

  1. Take a delicious, not-too-reddish cherry—a Queen Anne cherry, say.
  2. Bleach the living daylights out of it. Apparently this is now done with a salt brine. Delicious!
  3. Soak the bleached cherry in sweetener for a month.
  4. Dye the cherry a truly alarming shade of red.
  5. Roll around, Scrooge McDuck-style, in all the money you’ve made by peddling this terrifying product.

Of course, the manufacturers of these cherries didn’t want to keep calling them an “imitation” product. Which brings us, with many elisions, to the Food and Drug Administration’s current policy, in place since 1940 (a year after Baker published his book):

The term “Maraschino Cherries” is regarded as the common or usual name of an article consisting of cherries which have been dyed red, impregnated with sugar and packed in a sugar sirup flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor.

Whew, I’m glad we sorted that out! But wait, didn’t we start out talking about green maraschino cherries?

Here’s the thing: When you bleach a cherry, you can dye it any color you want, right? Apparently, in the halcyon days before World War II, you could easily buy “maraschino cherries” that were dyed green or even left white. Or so I infer from the fact that The Gentleman’s Companion calls for green and white maraschino cherries as garnishes.

I’ve had no luck whatsoever finding white maraschino cherries—they seem to be a vanished breed. Green maraschino cherries are pretty scarce, too, but it turns out that you can buy them on the Internet. So, of course, I did, slavish Baker acolyte that I am.

Which brings us back to the East India Cocktail:

Stir with ice, then serve in Manhattan glass. Garnish with green cherry.

After all that, I wish I could say this was a fantastic cocktail. Alas, it was really, really bad. Just excruciatingly awful. Dry sherry and dry vermouth do not play together well at all, as it turns out. And it certainly didn’t help that the painstakingly acquired green cherry was kind of mealy and just not very good in general.

I suppose it’s possible that this cocktail would work better with a sweeter sherry, or just a different one. For now, though, I will be steering far, far away from the East India Cocktail, and trying to ignore my anticipatory dread over the green-cherry-garnished cocktails that lie in my future.

East India Cocktail: ★☆☆☆☆ 

Posted by on November 17, 2010.

Categories: 1 Star, Baker Drinks, Cherry, Orange Bitters, Sherry, Vermouth (French)

3 Responses

  1. Another possible way to salvage this drink: Use Dolin Blanc, a sweet white vermouth, in place of Noilly Prat.

    by Jeff on Nov 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm

  2. All I can say is that looks like a radioactive cherry corpse floating in said cocktail. Ack.

    by kevin on Nov 18, 2010 at 10:06 pm

  3. Wow. I admire your fortitude. I don’t think I could have made myself drink that cocktail, let alone eat the bloated green corpse floating in it.

    by Ben Bennett on Mar 24, 2011 at 6:26 pm

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About The Gentleman's Companion

This weblog documents one man’s ill-advised quest to sample every drink in The Gentleman’s Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask, by Charles H. Baker, Jr. That man is Jeff Williams, an amateur bartender in San Francisco, California. When he is not making drinks, he enjoys lazing about in the park and writing […]more →