Next in our Around the World in 50 Classic Cocktails series, we’re celebrating one of the most exquisite sloe gin cocktails of all: the Charlie Chaplin.
The arrival of sloe gin season is always something worth celebrating – and this year, we have a specific recipe in mind to accompany our festivities. If you haven’t already met, we’re pleased to introduce you to the Charlie Chaplin. With its glimmer of Old Hollywood, its deep ruby colour, and its wonderfully rich body, this autumnal serve is perfectly suited to chilly evenings.
First devised at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York sometime before 1920 – just prior to the start of Prohibition – the Charlie Chaplin was named in honour of one of Hollywood’s first A-listers, who was at the height of his fame at the time.
Was it a favourite serve of his? Though Prohibition made imbibing more difficult for the everyman, for the silver screen’s famous faces, it wasn’t difficult to get a drink – and Chaplin certainly knew how to make merry. Nevertheless, it’s unclear if he was a regular sipper of the concoction, or if it was simply commemorative.
In 1935, two years after Prohibition was finally repealed, the recipe was set down in the hotel’s companion cocktail tome: Old Waldorf Bar Days, penned by Albert Stevens Crockett. In its original guise, the Charlie Chaplin was fruity, citrusy – and very sweet. Crockett’s version of the cocktail famously featured a 1:1:1 ratio of sloe gin, lemon juice, and apricot brandy, making it an easy recipe to remember (but also best suited to consumption in moderation).
Of course, since Prohibition our tastes have evolved, and many early twentieth-century cocktails now taste excessively sweet to contemporary palates. In our version of the classic below, we’ve tweaked the ratios, and have cut down the apricot brandy. The resulting cocktail is still sweet and berry-rich, ideal for autumnal sipping, but features enough lemon juice to add some balancing tartness and astringency.
Like your cocktails even drier? Never fear – home bartenders can choose to leave out the simple syrup, or even sub out half of the sloe gin for London dry, which will cut down on the sweetness and bring a bit of juniper to the fore. Some contemporary recipes also recommend swapping out the lemon juice for a hit of tropical lime, if it’s warmer climes you’d like to evoke.
But no matter what you prefer, don’t hesitate to get a bit adventurous with the Charlie Chaplin. Though Chaplin himself might not approve, he may never have quaffed the original version, anyway. Bottoms up!
The Charlie Chaplin
35ml Sipsmith Sloe Gin
25ml freshly squeezed lemon juice (or lime juice)
15ml apricot brandy
5ml simple syrup
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill with very cold ice. Seal and shake until blended. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.