A drink I picked up from the classic Savoy Cocktail Book, the Oriental has become a reliable mid-week (or weekend) hit for me, making me giddy every time I take that first sip, with its balanced nature and life-saving qualities. Oh, if you don’t know, as the Savoy tells it, “In August, 1924, an American engineer nearly died of fever in the Philippines and only the extraordinary devotion of Doctor B. saved his life. As an act of gratitude, the engineer gave Doctor B. the recipe of this cocktail (the Oriental).” Hence the life-saving nature of this drink. And, isn’t it always good when a drink comes with a built-in story, to start off those bar conversations that are so memorable (if a bit hazy in hindsight here and there). I love it. If you ever want to impress that certain someone, or just goof it with pals while soaking in the pleasures of being off work for a while, then the Oriental is a good drink to order up or make up and swill up.
It doesn’t hurt if you can embellish the story a bit as well. Lead up to the fever by giving the engineer a little more history (maybe he’s your uncle? maybe he was building a bridge to save a village from extinction? maybe he wears a jaunty hat?), and bring in the jungles of the Philippines, and then the engineer slowly succumbing to the fever, with the mosquitoes buzzing around his head like little planes around King Kong, and the lights getting dimmer, and dimmer, and dimmer, the darkness creeping and the fever rising and our brave engineer (who looks a bit like George Clooney) descending into his fate . . . and then the tent flaps rise and the mysterious Doctor B walks in, surrounded by sunlight. Cut to the next scene where the engineer is making the Doctor the Oriental for the first time, and then sliding the recipe across the table as the Doctor’s eye’s gleam with thankfulness (he’s on his third Oriental by now, and the gleam is partially backed by that third round). It’s enough to make you tear up a bit. Or is that tear just because you’ve been waiting to get the recipe for so long? The following is how I make them. I tried experimenting with different orange liqueurs and such, but kept coming back to that basic curaçao, which isn’t quite as sweet (and the drink can be a tad sweet for some anyway, so it’s good to keep a handle on it). Be careful with the lime juice pour as well, as it tends to want to take over (those fresh juices are always a little, well, fresh). I even experimented with subbing in Aperol (that invigorating Italian afternooner) for the curaçao one time, and while it wasn’t a bad drink, it was different enough to where it was actually a different drink. But fun to play with.
1-1/2 ounce rye
3/4 ounces sweet vermouth
3/4 ounce orange curaçao
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1. Fill a cocktail shaker half way with ice. Add everything. Shake well.
2. Strain the mix into a cocktail glass.