Apricot brandy is the star of this show.
The Charlie Chaplin cocktail is a little like its namesake: a little quirky (sloe gin and apricot brandy, you say?), and it has stood the test of time — the equal parts recipe below goes back over 100 years.
Look around the web and you’ll find that this recipe for the Charlie Chaplin cocktail dates to pre-Prohibition times. Journalist and writer Albert Stevens Crockett penned a book, Old Waldorf Bar Days in 1931, as a love letter to the bar at the old Waldorf Astoria in New York — the original buildings, separated by Peacock Alley, were knocked down in 1929 (the Empire State Building would later rise in its place). But it was also a love letter to a way of drinking that Stevens Crockett felt had been lost throughout the dry years of ‘the noble experiment’, from the 1919 ratification of the 18th Amendment to the US constitution, that prohibited ‘intoxicating liquors’, to its repeal via the 21st Amendment in 1933.
In part six of Stevens Crockett's book, titled Concerning the Curriculum, his affection for the cocktail and the bartenders at the Waldorf is laid bare.
“Well, certain of those bartenders knew how to make, and did make, two hundred and seventy-one different kinds of cocktails. They knew how to compose, and did compose, four hundred and ninety-one different kinds of mixed drinks. Those two hundred and seventy-one varieties of what was once the great American drink, one which carried the name of our people all over the world; those over four hundred more varieties of picklers than the most ambitious American pickler of his age was ever able to advertise-and which pickled more people-deserve, if by name only, to live in history. For their nomenclature belongs to it. It is not only part of our chronicles as a nation, but an index to certain social, industrial and artistic achievements of an age.”
Stevens Crockett sure liked a cocktail. And he goes on to talk about how the drinks at the Waldorf picked up their names — oftentimes, from the stars of the stage and screen. After the play Zaza opened in New York in 1898, starring Leslie Carter in the lead role as a prostitute-turned music hall entertainer, it was celebrated with a cocktail at the old Waldorf:
“Mrs. Leslie Carter must have heard, when she helped put Mr. Belasco large on the theatrical map, that ‘Zaza’ made one of its biggest hits in the form of an invention of a Waldorf barman. The Zaza cocktail was somewhat milder than the Salome, for only one- third of its content was Old Tom Gin, that being allied with two-thirds Dubonnet and two dashes of Orange Bitters.”
Stevens Crockett then goes onto write, “And Charlie Chaplin had a cocktail named in his honor when he began to make the screen public laugh.”
And what a drink the Charlie Chaplin is still. Although you can mess about with the proportions in the drink — bump up the sloe gin, perhaps, add a little sugar if you need — it comes across perfectly as an equal parts drink.
It’s one of the few truly delicious classic cocktails to call for sloe gin, which is usually lower in alcohol and sweetened, and it helps if the bottling you use is a little higher in proof. But the real star of the show is the apricot brandy — we’ve used the quality bottling from French producer Joseph Cartron here — which brings the drink together, and gives it a moreish tang which will have you asking for another round.
Charlie Chaplin recipe
- 1 part sloe gin
- 1 part Joseph Cartron Apricot Brandy
- 1 part fresh lime juice
Shake all ingredients hard with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Said to be invented at the Old Waldorf Bar at the Waldorf-Astoria before Prohibition took hold in 1920, and appearing in Albert Stevens Crockett’s book, Old Waldorf Bar Days in 1931.
Joseph Cartron Apricot Brandy is made from apricots grown on the Mont du Lyonnais, northwest of the French alps. There's a rich, ripe apricot aroma — it smacks of the real thing — and notes of stone fruits to be had. The addition of cognac provides the palate greater weight and length, giving it a little extra oomph when mixed in cocktails.