Cocktail of the Day: Widow’s Kiss

A fabulous drink, spicy with a hint of sweetness, served to me courtesy of my friend Dr. Cocktail and Dave Wondrich of Esquire magazine, whom I was very pleased to finally meet last weekend.

We really like the yellow variety of Chartreuse, a little lower in alcohol and a little mellower in flavor (fewer herbs in the mix), which among many other things goes well in Doc’s Lemony Snicket Cocktail in the summer and this — an old, old friend — in the fall and winter. We had one of these on a chilly evening recently as well, and in the photo below is a line of miniature version we made in January for a friend’s birthday dinner. (Sorry about the fake cherries, they were all we had on hand.)

Seven Widow's Kisses

The Widow’s Kiss

1-1/2 ounces Calvados (or Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy).
3/4 ounce Bénédictine D.O.M.
3/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.

Stir with cracked ice for no less than 30 seconds; strain into a cocktail glass.

If you’ve read Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh’s marvelous book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, you’ll remember his wonderful description of this drink:

As the scene opens, you are up in your grandmother’s attic opening the dusty steamer trunk she brought from Europe in 1914. You reverently turn back layer upon layer of old lace and brocade … unveiling a packet of old love letters tied in silk ribbon. Ancient dried rose petals flutter down from between the envelopes.

This is what the Widow’s Kiss is like. Sweet, complex and darkly golden, thought-provoking and introspective. It is a cocktail of fall turning toward winter, and it wins Doc’s award as the most evocative drink ever. Have one by the fire.

Or in front of the space heater, as the case may be. (We couldn’t afford the house with the river rock fireplace.)

UPDATE: Eric Felten did an interesting article on this drink in his Wall Street Journal column back in 2008 in which he also described it as “way too sweet for modern tastes.” I strongly disagree — although I dislike overly sweet cocktails this one’s perfectly balanced and must not be futzed with. (That said, I can’t take anything sweeter than this.) He offers a different proportion which I have tried, but I must say I greatly prefer the original. If you can’t tolerate this much liqueur in a drink, you might want to try his version:

The Widow’s Kiss 2008
(modern adaptation by Eric Felten)

2 ounces Calvados.
1/2 ounce Bénédictine D.O.M. liqueur.
1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
2 dashes Angostura Bitters.

Stir and strain, cherry garnish.