Bengal Cocktail

Darcy O'Neil :: September 14, 2008 4:04 PM

Everything that is old will eventually become new again. This seems to be prove true in the cocktail world right now. For a period of time, old cocktail book would sell for pennies, now they can reach stratospheric prices on places like eBay. Locked within these books are many of the original cocktail creations from the 1800's which provide a wealth recipes and ideas for creative bartenders. One of these lost recipes is the Bengal Cocktail.

The latest find, in my quest for historical recipes, is the Bengal Cocktail. According to an April 4th, 1889 article in the New Haven Register this cocktail came into existence, in New York, in January 1889.

If you are a keen study of vintage cocktails you might notice that the recipe for the Bengal Cocktail seems to be a modified Martinez Cocktail. There are a few important differences though, the first being the ratio of gin to vermouth. In the Bengal (2:1), it is the reverse of the Martinez (1:2). This higher ratio of gin is more to my liking.

The other differences are the use of absinthe and Old Tom Gin. Since absinthe can be fairly aromatic, the few drops are enough to make a difference. The Old Tom gin is basically sweetened London gin. Since I don’t have any Old Tom on hand, I just add a small amount of sugar (¼ tsp).

Bengal Cocktail

1 Dash Maraschino
3 Drops Absinthe
2 Dashes Orange Bitters
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 oz Old Tom Gin

Instructions: Combine all of the ingredients into a shaker glass packed with ice. Stir until very cold and strain into a wine glass (port glass if you have one).

In the newspaper article they don’t specify sweet or dry vermouth. I’m going to make the assumption that they were using sweet. Why? Because this looks like a modified Martinez and that is what it uses. But, at some point I’ll try it with dry vermouth and see which is better.


The flavour of this drink is mostly vermouth and gin. I used Punt e Mes, which is stronger than something like Martini and I tried DH Krahn gin, slightly sweetened to substitute for Old Tom. The orange bitters are present.The absinthe can be detected, but only after a minute or so. A decent cocktail that follows in the footsteps of the Manhattan and Martinez.

How much is in a dash? This is an often debated topic and Michael at A Dash of Bitters has a good discussion about it. According to another site, there are 36 dashes in an ounce (30ml). That means one dash is roughly 0.8ml. Now, there are ~20 drops in one milliliter, so that means a dash is roughly 16 drops, which is still a very small quantity. 

When I was looking for confirmation on what a dash was, I noticed a lot of people stating that 5, or so, drops would be a dash. But that seemed odd considering the recipe calls for 3 drops of absinthe. I’m going to say that 15 drops is a dash, which is only 0.75 ml and that is 1/6th-ish of a teaspoon.

Of course it is also Mixology Monday and our host is, so head on over there and check out what others are writing about.

Fix the Pumps
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