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Not every drink deserves to be included in the classics.

Writers of cocktail books tend to get this lesson intuitively—books can only be so big, after all—but one author who could never really accept it was a bartender named William Tarling, who in 1937 wrote the Café Royal Cocktail Book. In the preface he complains about the process of editorial pruning (“To compile this book of cocktails has been no easy task…and to keep the book within reasonable bounds it has only been possible to give a selection of the most suitable cocktails”) but nonetheless seems to achieve it in an enormous but manageable 800-plus-recipe volume. But when you get to the index, however, you see that he ultimately couldn’t help himself.

Paging through Tarling’s index is like walking into a hoarder’s living room. Even the word “index” is misleading—it’s not a list of cocktails in the book itself (you know, the way something useful might be) but is instead a list of seemingly every drink Tarling had ever seen or heard about in his life. “The following are the names of many Cocktails of which space forbids giving the recipes,” he says before launching into a torrent of drink names, an interminable litany of obscure cocktails completely free from context, details, or insight. There are 14 full pages of this, 150 names per page, all told some two thousand additional cocktails, and which he offers to sell the reader the recipes for a shilling each. The Café Royal is pretty good, but this index is so cheap and useless and arcane it’s tempting to just rip the back of the book off.

If you did, though, while you’d rid yourself of cocktails like the Ardent, Ardsley, Argosy, Armada, and Armour (none of which anyone’s ever heard of, mind you), you’d also lose the Army & Navy, this the first time the cocktail ever appears in print. Why or how the Army & Navy didn’t merit a position in Tarling’s main text is beyond me, as it’s better than 95 percent of the cocktails that did, but nonetheless, the Army & Navy, we know now, is a gin sour—a stout pour of gin with fresh lemon juice, whose acidity is balanced by the sweet almond syrup orgeat, and spiced with a couple dashes of Angostura Bitters. The orgeat adds a creamy texture while obviously avoiding cream, the cocktail remaining tart and bright, lightly piney and lightly floral, and to me reminds me of nothing so much as the first budding of the season, which makes it perfect for these nascent days of spring.

As for the etymology, suffice to say no one has any idea. We really don’t know much about this drink, aside from what’s in it. Most commenters cite the annual football match between the two branches of the military, or else point to the Army & Navy Club in Washington D.C., ignoring the fact that Tarling, the first person to print the name of the drink, was from England, where they have an army and vavy of their own. In any case, the only thing I can say for absolute sure about it is that the Army & Navy is a phenomenal little drink, delicious and resonant, and one, despite Tarling’s oversight, that deserves to be moved to the canon of classics where it belongs.

Army & Navy

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 0.75 oz. lemon juice
  • 0.75 oz. orgeat (almond syrup)
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake good and hard for eight to 10 seconds. Strain up into a cocktail glass or coupe, and garnish with a lemon peel or lemon wheel, or nothing at all. 

NOTES ON INGREDIENTS

Ratios: The first time we get the actual recipe for the Army & Navy is in 1948, in David Embury’s hugely influential (and, frankly, overpraised) The Fine Art of Making Drinks, where he outlines a recipe similar to the one above but calls it “horrible,” and proceeds to recommend 8 parts gin (2 oz.) to 2 parts lemon (0.5 oz.) and one part orgeat (0.25 oz.) This is a little too tart and a lot too strong and makes a very bad drink. Ignore him. Stick with the above.

Orgeat: Orgeat turns out to be the big variable in this drink. The orgeat determines the character. Orgeat generally comes in two main varieties, more almond-forward and more marzipan-forward, and in the Army & Navy I prefer the latter. It works with a wider variety of gin styles and blends better with the bitters. Of the ones I’ve tasted, I prefer Giffard, which has a clean and floral profile.

Gin: Some orgeats, like Liber & Co., really need an anchor and strongly prefer a gin with a deeper midpalate character like Fords or Bombay Sapphire. Others, like Giffard or Small Hands Foods, play along more easily with a variety of different brands.

Bitters: The bitters seem to have been added after 1948, as Embury doesn’t call for them. This is a somewhat controversial point but depending on the orgeat-gin combination the cocktail might not need them at all, though on the whole, most Army & Navys you try will benefit from a good dash or two. Try it without, and then add a dash and see how you feel.



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