Proposed by: Jonathan
Reviewed by: David
The Monkey Gland cocktail may be one of the most often referenced drinks other than the true classics. Obviously that has something to do with the intriguing name and the odd history of the drink. It only takes a cursory search to determine the drink was originated in the 1920’s in Paris and that the name is derived from a strange surgical procedure. Dr. Serge Voronoff had surmised that male virility diminished with age. His hypothesis, apparently, was that an increase or addition of testes could reverse that trend and he was known for a surgical practice of grafting monkey testicles into male patients. He was correct in the sense that an increase in testosterone could have positive effects, but not in the idea that surgically implanted monkey parts would do that.
As an aside, I find it interesting that the more of the times led to calling the monkey testes by the more benign term “glands.” There are certainly terms that would be more accurate although they may be considered “…so profound and disgusting that decorum prohibits listing them here.” That Douglas C. Neidermeyer quote (Animal House 1978 and I could not resist sneaking it in) is my way of saying that a drink called Monkey Nuts, Monkey Balls, Monkey Testicles, or Poor Damn Monkey would be far more correct.
The thing that goes unexplained in the history of the drink is why a bartender decided to name a drink after the popular surgical technique. A previous drink from the same era that we tried, the French 75, was named after a World War I artillery piece, but that seemed to be tied to the force with which the drink hit. In this case, the drink could just have easily been named after the jazz explosion, Bohemian lifestyle of prohibition fleeing expatriates or the popularity of cubism in Paris of the 20’s.
There are a few variations on the recipe for the Monkey Gland, but the one I used came from the book referenced last week: Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh. It is as follows:
1.5 ounces dry gin
1.5 ounces orange juice
1 teaspoon pomegranate grenadine
1 teaspoon absinthe
The recipe was another chance to use some of the skills and ideas that we have tried in other cocktails. The first is that the absinthe is used to flavor the ice or coat the cocktail glass (Sazerac), the orange juice is best fresh squeezed (numerous citrus cocktails) and the grenadine is better when homemade (the La Marque).
The other thing that needs mention is that there is also a popular sauce called Monkey Gland Sauce. It is really a glorified ketchup, and is popular with steak. As the true carnivore in this endeavor, I felt the need to cook some up to enjoy after the cocktail. There are a number of recipes available, but all of them use chutney and none that I found specify what kind. Since this sauce is popular in South Africa I used an English style plum chutney which was excellent, but I can imagine a chunkier chutney (like our sister Alison’s pear chutney) would be even better.
Here’s David’s Review:
Though any mention of “Monkey Glands” seems an absolute turn-off, I enjoyed this drink. Fresh-squeezed nearly-any-fruit seems wonderful to me, and Gin, well, I’ve yet to find a sweetness it couldn’t moderate and/or complicate. All of which is to say, I was a sucker for this cocktail from the start.
Except for the name. I don’t like to think of surgery when I’m drinking, especially not on my nether regions.
The hidden secret of this cocktail may be the absinthe—it’s an odd thing I’ve noticed about absinthe, when you notice the taste, it seems a mistake, but when it’s some part of the mystery or what you’re drinking, the anise adds so much. I’d say that’s the case here. Only a splash—in my mind—makes this drink.
Or perhaps, sometimes, a cocktail is about chemistry. The sour, acidic addition of citrus gives this drink an edge. What if a drink relies entirely upon pH, the unbalanced attack of a flavor one side of neutrality?
My son is home from college, and I shared this drink with him and a friend. I loved it just as the recipe described it, but they enjoyed it more when I changed proportions, adding more orange juice to compensate for the alcoholic contribution of gin. The potency appealed to me, but you might try experimenting with proportions. One beauty of cocktails is subtlety—the slightest change can make a big difference.
Clearly, I’m no food writer—I have to rely on a very limited vocabulary in communicating exactly what these drinks taste like—but I liked this one. I guess you will have to try it for yourself to understand why. Or why not.
But the name, please.
Jonathan’s take: I suggested that this week was a choice between surgery or the cocktail. Really glad that I chose the cocktail, it was fantastic.
David’s take: Fruit always seems to contribute so much for me, and, in this case, the fresh orange juice was a delight in itself. Add alcohol, what’s not to like?
Next Week (proposed by David):
You can read into this choice if you like, but I’m going to propose a drink called The Suffering Bastard that uses gin, bourbon, lime, ginger ale, and bitters. It’s one of those drinks touted as a “hangover remedy” (though this cocktailian would recommend Gatorade, coconut water or—hey, whattayaknow—water). Technically, this is a drink for a warmer season, but here in Chicago we like to pretend.