51. Golden Dawn cocktail

19 Feb

Drink! Drink of the dawn through thy every pore! / Drink! Drink of the hour to thy being’s core! […] Thy invention, science and tale and rhyme / Shall come like the souls from a higher clime. / They shall promenade in the golden dawn / Or like children sport on the dewy lawn.

— David C. Nimmo, Nature Songs (Detroit: Times Printing Co., 1915), p. 123.

The recipe for this light, fruity number is drawn from Bill Tarling’s Café Royal Cocktail Book:

¼ Orange Juice.

¼ Apricot Brandy.

¼ Calvados (Trou Normand).

¼ Gin (Booth’s Dry).

A dash of Grenadine to be added after the cocktail is poured out.

What Mr. Tarling neglects to tell his readers, though, is that this is no ordinary cocktail. As the winner of the inaugural international competition devoted to the mixological arts, which took place in London in 1930, the Golden Dawn not only made history but was also recognized as the best new cocktail of that year. From across the Atlantic, where prohibition still gripped the parched throats of Americans, the New York Times looked on enviously:

The world’s finest cocktail, compounded at the first international cocktail competition, held here this week was voted by jury connoisseurs to be the “Golden Dawn”, concocted by Tom Buttery, who presides over the fashionable cocktail bar at the Berkley and who, like some other celebrated mixers, is himself teetotaler.

This delectable drink consists of one part of orange juice, two of Calvados gin and one of apricot brandy, with a dash of grenadine, which provides the ruddy glow from which its name is derived. The competition was judged by a series of juries, each sampling only five drinks in order that their taste might not become jaded. Each jury consisted of six members—two representing the public, one trade representative, one maître d’hotel, one wine paiter [sic] and one representative of the press.

— “‘Golden Dawn’ Winner in Cocktail Contest”, New York Times, 21 September 1930, p. E3.

Clearly, the name of the drink is a nod to a poetic cliché, one that has adorned countless lines of uninspired verse since Homer (and generally rhymed with “morn”). Perhaps, too, it’s meant to convey a sense of grenadine-coloured optimism at the beginning of a new decade and at the bottom of the Great Depression (although that hopefulness would prove to be misplaced: the 1930s were not humanity’s finest hour). But there are several other instances in which the name “Golden Dawn” made the news around the time of the cocktail’s creation, and it’s possible that these too might have influenced Buttery’s decision, even if subconsciously.

In 1926 the Aga Khan bought the 61 ½ carat Golden Dawn diamond at an auction in London for £4950. A few hours later his wife died in a Parisian nursing home. Immediately, stories began circulating that the jewel was cursed: not only had its former owner, Captain Lucas, failed to find a buyer willing to pay a price close to the estimated value of the diamond (£75,000), and this after declining an offer of £40,000 some time before, but, ominously, 13 years had passed since the gem’s discovery in 1913 (“Golden Dawn Diamond is Seen as Unlucky, New York Times, 3 December 1926, p. 7).

One year later, in 1927, Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach wrote a little-remembered operetta entitled Golden Dawn, which in 1930 was made into an entirely forgotten Warner Brothers movie starring Vivienne Segal and Noah Beery. The story is set during British East Africa during the Great War: German and British colonists must unite against a common foe: the indigenous population, who are threatening to rise up against imperial rule. A young Englishman falls in love with an African girl, Dawn, who later turns out to be white (or at least of “golden” complexion): despite the machinations of the villain of the piece, “a cross between an ape and a nightmare”, according to the New York Times review, said Englishman not only conquers her heart but also reconquers her people’s territory. The film was shot in Technicolor—appropriately, I suppose, since skin pigmentation plays such a big role in the plot—but its attempted chromatic realism was undermined by “fickle color lenses” and a lack of attention to detail. That was most clearly visible in the performance of Beery, the bad guy, for whom the Times reserves most of its ire and “who chants in a deep bass voice and frightens the children into rapid retirement by simply putting in an appearance, speaks his lines with a Southern darkey accent, probably utterly foreign to East Africa. The direction of his part is crude and slipshod and in a close-up . . . the spectator is allowed to see where the brown paint, that otherwise makes him a native, has rubbed off and left his white skin exposed” (“Golden Dawn in Colors: Musical Talkie at Strand Features Vivienne Segal and East Africa”, New York Times, 26 July, 1930).

But who(m) am I kidding?  The cocktail is named for the sun-washed, rose-flecked auroral sky—and, like the break of the new day, it fills you with unalloyed good cheer and the quiet conviction that the best is yet to come.

Postscript. Ted Saucier’s Bottom’s Up lists two other cocktails called “Golden Dawn”. The first is by Walter A Madigan, the Beverage Editor of The Hotel Gazette, and which was runner-up in the International Cocktail Contest in London, 1939: 2 parts gin, 1 part orange juice, 1 part apricot brandy, dash of grenadine. In other words, it’s very, very similar to Buttery’s. The second comes courtesy of the New Hotel Jefferson in St Louis: 1/2 jigger lime juice, 1 jigger orange juice, 1/2 jigger Jamaica rum, 1 jigger bourbon, 1 teaspoon sugar; place in electric mixer and then strain into a glass with grenadine at the bottom (Bottoms Up [New York: Greystone Press, 1951], p. 113).


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