This Gin Cocktail is perfect for when you need a little liquid courage

This Gin Cocktail is perfect for when you need a little liquid courage
Courtesy of Food & Wine

During the War of 1812, the British may have burned down the White House, but they did at least give us a cocktail.

By the early evening of June 1, 1813, Captain James Lawrence was dying, and he could tell from the shouts above deck that the British had boarded his ship. Lawrence gave what would be his stoic final order to the USS Chesapeake: "Don't give up the ship. Fight her till she sinks." It was a brutal defeat for the USS Chesapeake, but Lawrence was a military man, so he gave what would become his stoic final order.

Despite the fact that a suicide pact is quite appealing when you are already bleeding to death, I think that's missing the point. It was widely considered a brave act of command. I suppose that one can argue that it is an act of valor to commit oneself to suicide when you are already bleeding to death. It is true that the Chesapeake was indeed surrendered, within the hour, but this is not the point at all. I believe that “Don’t Give Up the Ship!” became a rallying cry for the fledgling U.S. Navy during the War of 1812.

A matter of fact, there does not seem to be an answer to the question of what gin, Fernet Branca, orange liqueur, and Dubonnet have to do with any of those things. If there ever were, they seem to have been lost to history, and indeed, the answer may never be known. It appears that Lawrence's fateful encounter in 1945 was preceded by a cocktail called this cocktail, which appeared 130 years later in Crosby Gaige's Cocktail Guide and Ladies' Companion, published 130 years after Lawrence's fateful encounter in 1945.

As it appears to be nearly identical to the Napoleon Cocktail, which appeared in the Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930, but with a new name and no mention of its origin, it appears to be almost plagiaristic. For some time, this cocktail languished in cocktail purgatory, until around 2004, when it was unearthed and reanimated at Seattle's Zig Zag Cafe along with a number of other great drinks.

There is something surprising about the fact that it did not make more of a splash back in the '40s. It had just ended the war and perhaps it wasn't the right time to talk about applications for Italian liqueurs, or perhaps tastes had already dried out, and people had simply stopped talking about cocktails like they used to. There are a number of reasons why the Don't Give Up the Ship is a drink you'll never forget, just like the command it refers to. It is a stirred gin cocktail you can drink all year round.

The Fernet Branca is such a problem child that it's hard to get it to play nice with you in the first place, and the flavors layer perfectly together to make it a true treasure. Clean, deep, and bright, it hits you right on the nose with its gin offering a strong, broad-shouldered structure, the vermouth and orange liqueur giving a slight sweet taste, and the Fernet sparkling like a firecracker at the end.

The cocktail is refined and robust, a serious drink that can be deployed as liquid courage, or whenever serious drinks are required. Imagine, for example, that the British had just seized your ship and were trying to take it over. Try one, maybe after dinner, on a mild evening in late summer, and see if you can sink her.


Don’t Give Up the Ship

  • 1.5 oz. London Dry Gin
  • 0.5 oz. Cointreau
  • 0.5 oz. Fernet Branca
  • 0.5 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1-2 dashes orange bitters

Adding all of the ingredients to a mixing glass, add ice, and stir for 15 to 20 seconds. Strain off the ice and serve in a footed coupe or cocktail glass garnished with the orange peel.


Courtesy of Luxardo

You can make this classic Gin cocktail here, which you must follow in order to succeed. If you prefer to use your New Western-style gin, which is distilled with seaweed, I don't mean that it won't be good, but based on all my testing, I think you should use a gin that is big, robust, and juniper-forward, like the London Dry Style Gin, which is distilled from seaweed, and is distilled with seaweed. Among the brands available to you are Tanqueray, Beefeater, Bombay Dry, among others, which you can choose from.

If you would like to accept substitutes at Fernet Branca, please keep in mind that there is a rule against it. You are welcome to accept substitutes if you wish, but I am unable to guarantee that they will work at Fernet Branca. A great example of a Fernet that is not well known at all is Fernet Branca, one of the few Fernets available today. Despite this, few people are aware that there are still dozens of Fernets available. It is a very unique Fernet.

Italian bitter liqueurs (Amari) are known for their bitterness, saffron aroma, and peppermint finish, which is characteristic of the subcategory. It doesn't matter which Fernet you choose, I am sure you'll be happy with the result. The Branca Fernet is the most popular Fernet, but you can try it with any Fernet you like. I am sure you'll enjoy it at the very least.

I think most recipes, including the original recipe itself, call for Orange Curacao, a brandy-based beverage as opposed to Triple Sec/Cointreau, a vodka-based beverage. However, I think Cointreau is a great choice despite this. Furthermore, it has a crisp sweetness and a juicy profile, as well as a clean appearance, which reminds me of the perfect bartender who is always there when you need him and disappears when you don't. As delicious as Grand Marnier and other brandy based liqueurs are, the difference here is that the liqueurs make a significantly different drink from those based on brandy, which means that they make a significantly different cocktail from those with brandy as the base.

The original Sweet Vermouth drink, which you can find at Zig Zag Cafe, has a slight variation in proportions and ingredients from the one I gave you above. I think it is important to point out that there are two versions of this drink. Besides using orange curacao as a part of the cocktail, the original also contains Dubonnet, a French aperitif that is not sweet vermouth.

The Dubonnet is more fruity and raisin-like, whereas sweet vermouth-especially Carpano Antica, one of the best, is intensely plummy and vanilla-like. In practice, however, the two are very different.

Two cocktails are presented here, both of which are remarkably similar but quite different as well. This cocktail is a delicious, low-toned winter cocktail with hints of vanilla and oak from the curacao brandy. It uses the original ratio, which calls for a little less Fernet and liqueur, along with Dubonnet and orange curacao. In a way, it is more meditative and deeper.

My favorite version of the cocktail, however, was the one I first encountered, with the above ratios, sweet vermouth and Cointreau, and I love it very much, because it has brighter, cleaner, less lingering flavors, and is therefore more appropriate at all times of the year. If you don't mix and match, the recipe will keep you satisfied regardless of whether you make it to its specifications or not.

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