Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass.
Shake with crushed ice and strain into a coupe.
Garnish with an Orange of some sort.
* * *
“Rollin down the street, smokin indo, sippin on an Orange Blossom
Laid back with my mind on my money and my money on my mind”
You remember that Snoop Dogg classic, right? Of course you do, but probably not the bit about the Orange Blossom, which, technically, is what Snoop was drinking. A fifty-fifty mix of Gin and Orange Juice, the Orange Blossom was a Prohibition classic. And, since 12 Bottle Bar is all about bringing you classic libations, the Orange Blossom had been noodling around on my list for a while now. There is just one thing, however, that’s been keeping it off the site: it kinda sucks.
All things considered, the Orange Blossom would have been perfect for our list of cocktails. It’s quick to throw together, and we’ve got all the right ingredients. But think about it — just Gin and Orange Juice. It’s really just a bland way to get drunk. Which brings us back to Prohibition. The bathtub gin made during the reign of the 18th Amendment (1920 – 1933) was hardly real gin. Neutral spirits were made from whatever was laying around, and juniper flavoring was mixed in. For the most part, it was pretty nasty stuff. Still, when you’ve got to get your drink on, you’ll settle for just about anything. Bathtub gin was cheap, quick (it required no aging), and plentiful. Mix it with some fruit juice to hide the taste, and well, the Orange Blossom was born. In 1934, the year after Prohibition was repealed, Esquire magazine proclaimed it to be one of the Ten Worst Cocktails of the decade (see the full list at the bottom).
So, there would be no Orange Blossom on 12 Bottle Bar. But what if I could improve it? There’s the Orange Glory, which turns up on a handwritten page shoved into a 1900’s edition of Cocktail Boothby’s American-Bartender. The Glory adds half the white of an egg. I’m all for egg white in my drinks, but its job is usually to smooth things out. I don’t know if I could stomach smooth on top of insipid. So, I got around to thinking about perking up the Orange Blossom a little bit. A little Orange Liqueur couldn’t hurt anybody, right? And what about a few drops of Orange Flower Water to brighten up the bouquet? As it turns out, someone was at least eighty years ahead of me.
My typical method for researching a cocktail is to find it in one of my books, then to peruse contemporary volumes for variations. After that, I’ll work chronologically both backward and forward to see if I can roughly pinpoint the lifespan of the drink. The Opal appears in just two of my volumes — the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) and Boothby’s World Drinks and How to Mix Them (1934). An animal of a completely different stripe, but also called The Opal, appears in the 1891 reprint of William Schmidt’s The Flowing Bowl. Other than that, it remains relatively obscure.
For my money, the Opal is the drink the Orange Blossom should have been. Is it the greatest thing I’ve ever tasted? No, but it does have a place. That place is brunch. The light yet balanced quality makes for a perfect Mimosa replacement, especially if Champagne fills you up. It’s also a drink that efficiently does the job of lighting you up while leaving you staring at the bottom of the glass wondering where it all went. After drinking one, I wanted another, which is as good a testiment as any to the success of a cocktail.
The thing I like best about the Opal is that it’s a good base with which to play. If I were to put it on a menu, it would certainly be in Spring, when Pixie Tangerines are in season — substituting their incredible nectar for the orange juice. A few drops of Absinthe replacing the Orange Flower Water probably wouldn’t hurt either. Adjust the sugar to taste. It’s also good to note that the drink can be made in batches, as the Savoy suggests, which is always handy.
If I do ever happen to have Snoop Dogg by for brunch, however, it’ll be back to gin and juice.
Esoterica: Around the 1950s, the Orange Blossom was replaced by an even more insipid alcohol-delivery device: Vodka and Orange Juice. The Screwdriver.
The Esquire Ten Worst Drinks of 1924-1934: Bronx, Alexander, Pousse-Café, Sweetheart, Orange Blossom, Pink Lady, Clover Club, Fluffy Ruffles, Pom Pom, and Cream Fizz.