Your Guide To Drinking This Weekend: Satan’s Whiskers

Halloween lends itself to a devilish drink. Get the recipe and history for Satan's Whiskers!

Satan's Whiskers also satisfies our bent toward incidental dramatics. As if its name weren't inviting enough to well-mannered rogues, this drink has two versions: straight and curled…We contend that the "curled" Satan's Whiskers is more diabolic, but The Alchemist insists that that's far from the case…We sip our Satan's Whiskers curled if it's still light outside and straight if it's not. Inevitably, we end up contemplating how such a nice drink could have been dubbed with such a portentous name. We'd blame the Temperance Society, but with Ambrose Bierce, Master of the Macabre and all-around cynical wag, defining "teetotaler" as "One who abstains from strong drink, sometimes totally, sometimes tolerably totally" in his The Devil's Dictionary of 1911, who's to say that someone like him didn't name the drink out of spite.

Paul Harrington 

It is the time of year when thoughts turn to Jack-O-Lanterns and plastic vessels lugged by costumed urchins, energized by the quest for free candy. Adults too, turn their thoughts to the licentious opportunity presented by concealed identities and copious drink at house parties and bars alike. By now, the choice has probably been made between Batman and Hulk, betwixt Slutty Nurse and Slutty Witch. The parties have been scheduled and the next morning Advil laid in.

The choice of Halloween cocktail is paramount. You could muck about with pumpkin and try to incorporate its stringy mass into a cocktail or lean on the complex, massively potent and ingredient heavy Zombie. You could try dry ice in a punch bowl or reach for an easy drinking El Diablo. But, before those options, consider the Satan’s Whiskers Cocktail, a surprising and easy going drink, one suited for a quick bracer before taking the kids around the block, but also for drinking en masse with work looming the next day.

From the Depths of Hell or Simply, The Bronx

It seems apparent that the Satan’s Whiskers is a variation on a favorite cocktail of the early 20th Century, The Bronx. It is perhaps inevitable that some of the other boroughs of New York clamored for a cocktail of their own after the success of The Manhattan, with The Brooklyn - a very nice mix of Rye, Dry Vermouth, Maraschino and the nearly impossible to source Amer Picon - being far better and far more delicious than the Bronx, which is simply a Perfect Martini (equal parts sweet and dry vermouth), tarted up with some orange juice. While not offensive, the Bronx is lacking, but it was incredibly popular in its day; President Taft once scandalized the nation by having one with his breakfast and it was deemed one of the ten most popular cocktails of 1934 by Burke's Complete Cocktail & Drinking Recipes. On the flip side, Esquire put the Bronx on its list of the 10 Worst Drinks from 1924-1934.

To make a Bronx, a couple ounces of gin are shaken up with a half ounce each of sweet and dry vermouth, along with an ounce of fresh orange juice. Its problem is that it doesn’t know exactly what it is. Is it a stout cocktail, as indicated by the two full ounces of gin, or is it a mid-afternoon bracer, as evidenced by the restoring, vitamin C boosting properties of an ounce of OJ? The drink is a bit of a muddle, pleasant enough but not remotely compelling.

In contrast, The Satan’s Whiskers, which first appears in print in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, manages to nail the balance by cutting back both the gin and juice, while adding a couple of additional ingredients and embracing its role.

Curled or Straight?

Thankfully, the recent fashion for bartenders of a certain sort to sport heavily waxed, curled mustaches is waning into the recent history of pretentiousness. But the Satan’s Whiskers occupies a rare place in mixological history in that in its first published recipe, it appears in two versions, delineated by a specific ingredient choice.

It is impossible for us to know if Craddock developed the drink himself. Certainly The Bronx from which it comes existed for a few decades before Craddock took pen to paper, but given the two versions on hand, we can assume the cocktail had been around for a bit before the Savoy went to print. Craddock cribbed heavily from other sources to flesh out his book, and while there are any number of drinks with variations (See Corpse Reviver #1 and Corpse Reviver #2 for example) in it, a certain sort of dry wit occasionally pops up in the otherwise orderly Savoy that feels like authorial voice, and offering a drink called the Satan’s Whiskers Cocktail in versions “Curled” and “Straight,” rather than the more usual #1, #2, etc formulations, feels like Craddock making an inside joke, and makes an indirect case for the drink being his alone.

So what makes one curled and one straight? An ingredient not present in the Bronx, and one that makes all the difference in the Satan’s Whiskers: orange liqueur. In the “curled” version, the recipe calls for orange Curaçao. In the straight version, Grand Marnier is used in place of the Curaçao. The straight version, with the heavier cognac base of the Grand Marnier, is a bit portentous, and, as Paul Harrington has noted, perhaps more suited for nighttime or after dinner sipping.

Some Quick Notes on Ingredients

All of the major ingredients in the Satan’s Whiskers have been covered before.  But in general, because the proportions of the drink rely heavily on vermouth and orange liqueur, make sure you’re pouring the good stuff.

There is so little gin in a Satan’s Whiskers, that the choice of brand is not paramount. Choose a good quality London Dry and have at it.

For vermouth, Dolin is great for both the sweet and dry, Noily Pratt work well for the dry, and Martini and Rossi for the sweet. Cinzanao will do if it’s all you have on hand, and, as always, Stock and Gallo should be avoided.

The orange liqueur is trickier. For a Satan’s Whisker’s, Straight, use Grand Marnier or Royal Combier. Anything else will be disappointing.

For the Curled, Cointreau has long been the choice for those who can’t get their hands on the real Marie Brizard, but the moderately more dry Combier (not the Royal version) is better, and the Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao is better still.

Don’t Neglect the Bitters

The last, final and often neglected ingredient in a Satan’s Whiskers is orange bitters. Some sources leave the bitters out entirely; others suggest using plain old Angostura. Don’t. The bitters here act as a bridge between the herbal notes of the gin and vermouth and the fruit of the orange liqueur, while referencing the citrus botanicals in the gin. Regular Angostura doesn’t have the flavor profile to achieve these aims, and no bitters at all would be like cooking without seasoning. Almost any brand of orange bitters will do, though a mixture of the normally too mild Fee Brothers and the far more assertive Reagan’s No. 6 is magic in a Satan’s Whiskers.

There is however, some disagreement about how much orange bitters to use. Ted Haigh calls for a whopping teaspoon of the stuff, which seems rather excessive, and other recipes vary between a dash and three. Two dashes seems to be a good number; it keeps alive the brightness of the gin and juice, while enhancing the botanicals in the gin and vermouth.

To Curl or Not to Curl

Great minds can disagree on which is better, the Satan’s Whiskers, Straight or the Satan’s Whiskers, Curled. Most seem to prefer the drink straight, but I am firmly in the curled camp. But, as the drink seemingly originated with both versions, no one is wrong on this account. Try it both ways and see which you like best.

Two Recipes

Satan’s Whiskers, Curled

½ oz. London Dry Gin
½ oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
½ oz. Dolin Sweet Vermouth
½ oz. Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
½ oz. Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
1 dash Fee Brother’s Orange Bitters
1 dash Regan’s No. 6 Orange Bitters

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Shake until very cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a fresh cut orange twist, expressing the oils over the glass.

Satan’s Whiskers, Straight

½ oz. London Dry Gin
½ oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
½ oz. Dolin Sweet Vermouth
½ oz. Royal Combier or Grand Marnier
½ oz. Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
1 dash Fee Brother’s Orange Bitters
1 dash Regan’s No. 6 Orange Bitters

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Shake until very cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a fresh cut orange twist, expressing the oils over the glass.


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Previous Installments:

Irish Coffee

The Jack Rose

The Lion's Tail

The Mint Julep

The Negroni

The Aviation

The Sazerac

The Mojito

The Last Word

The Ramos Fizz

Bucks, Mules and Their Ilk

The Pegu Club

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