In the shaker: Duos and trios

From the Black Russian to the Grasshopper, duos and trios may only have few ingredients, but these simple serves make up for it with rich history. Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller look into their origins

Every now and then we love to reflect on the beauty of simplicity. We also love to remind the world how much Europe contributed to the development of the cocktail and mixed-drink opus – incredible pioneers such as Harry Johnson, Willie 'The Only William' Schmidt, George Kappeler, Harry Craddock and Fred Kaufman were born on European or British soil.

Proud of his European heritage, The Only William once stated that it was not entirely true that the best fancy drinks were of American origin, adding: 'The finest mixed drinks and their ingredients are of foreign origin. Are not all of the superior cordials of foreign make?' Thus begins the tale of the duos and trios family of compounds.

Red Snapper
Red Snapper

One, two, three
Veteran bartender and author Gary Regan coined the phrase 'duos and trios' to describe mixtures that basically call for two ingredients (spirit plus liqueur) or three (spirit plus liqueur plus cream) in his seminal 2003 work The Joy of Mixology. The Dubonnet Cocktail, Rusty Nail, Stinger, and Golden Cadillac, all immediately come to mind.

But think a bit further. The classic pousse-café or layered drink appeared long before these modern classics in the guise of the Brandy Champarelle (curaçao, Yellow Chartreuse, anisette, and cognac) from the 1880s and the varying array of Corpse Revivers that originated during the 1860s, the most outrageous of which was Louis Fouquet's Corpse Reviver that layered grenadine, framboise, anisette, raspberry liqueur, white crème de menthe, Green Chartreuse, cherry brandy, prunelle, kümmel, guignolet (a wild cherry liqueur), kirsch and Curlier Cognac. Shooters are the direct descendants of these elaborate and complex constructions. Yet Harry Johnson also found inspiration from this pattern of mixing spirit with liqueur when he crafted the Irish Cocktail during the 1880s, stirring dashes of absinthe, maraschino, and curaçao with Irish whiskey topped with an accent of Angostura bitters.

Classic serves
A changing consumer palate and the downright ease of mixing simpler drinks with fewer ingredients gave birth, at the turn of the century, to more familiar recipes such as the Brandy & Bénédictine (aka: B&B), the Grasshopper (crème de menthe, crème de cacao, and cream), and Alexander (gin, white crème de cacao, and cream). When Harry Craddock returned home to England in 1920, he brought with him a repertoire of simple duo and trio executions to the American Bar at The Savoy. One of his duo creations, the Alaska, blended gin and Yellow Chartreuse with a hint of orange bitters, and his White Cargo took a page from the same book of thought, combining gin with vanilla ice cream and a splash of white wine if needed.

A classic duo with incredibly long legs was born in Brussels in 1949, when bartender Gustave Tops crafted the Black Russian at the bar of the Hotel Metropole in honour of the American ambassador to Luxembourg, Perle Mesta. The mixture married the rising appeal of vodka with another relative newcomer in the liqueur world – coffee liqueur. Naturally, its trio sibling the White Russian was delivered a short time after when it appeared, in 1965, in a California newspaper insert. Its revival in recent times is wholly due to its appearance in the hands of 'The Dude' in the motion picture The Big Lebowski. We could give you some entertaining reasons why a study of duos and trios is long overdue. Small carbon footprint in times when imported fresh ingredients come at a premium is one that comes to mind. Or the utter joy of pure playfulness as you reach to your back bar to experiment with the myriad possible and probable pairings. Either way, what extraordinary bliss!

Irish Cocktail
From Harry Johnson’s New
Improved Bartender’s Manual,

Glass: Cocktail
Garnish: Olive and lemon peel
Method: Fill up a glass with shaved ice,
add ingredients, stir and strain into a
cocktail glass. Add a medium-sized
olive, then squeeze a piece of
lemon peel on top.

60ml Irish whiskey
2-3 dashes absinthe
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 dash maraschino
1 dash curaçao

White Cargo
From The Savoy Cocktail Book,
by Harry Craddock, 1930

Glass: Coupe
Garnish: None
Method: No ice is necessary. Shake until
thoroughly mixed. Add white wine
if the concoction is too thick.
(We add a grating of
nutmeg on top for complexity.)

1 part London dry gin
1 part French vanilla ice cream


Black Russian
Gustave Tops, Hotel Metropole,

Old Fashioned
Garnish: None
Method: Pour the ingredients into an
Old Fashioned glass filled with ice cubes.
Stir gently.

5 parts vodka
2 parts coffee liqueur

Red Snapper
Festival time may well be best known for G&Ts, but there's nothing more rejuvenating in the light of an albeit late morning than a Red Snapper. The Bloody Mary's more richly complex sibling, this drink is simple to make as a glass to be savoured in your tent or yurt. It is also a fabulous party piece made in multiples by the pitcher. Build the following in a highball glass: 50ml Sipsmith London Dry Gin, the juice from a lemon wedge, six dashes of Worcestershire sauce and three dashes of Tabasco, with a couple of cubes of ice. Add tomato juice. Stir to blend. Garnish with a sprinkle of celery salt and a grating of fresh black pepper.

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