Drink of the Week: Alaska


I know of no earthly connection between this somewhat sweet martini alternative and the 49th U.S. state. Its history goes back to the turn of the 20th century – long before Alaska was granted statehood in 1959 — and it appears in Harry Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book. That seems to be all there is – except a lovely drink. I recommend the Alaska when you just want a small, easy to make potent potable with a softer and sweeter flavor.

My reason for choosing the Alaska this time is that my bottle of Yellow Chartreuse, which I discussed ad nauseam in my last post, was near empty and breathing its last. I wanted something good but simple for the bottle’s transition to the great liquor cabinet in the sky. I thought it might be a long time before I bought any more Chartreuse but the shortage that was driving the price sky high seems to be easing.

So, fellow cheapskates, maybe wait a bit for the price to drop more to make this drink at home, or you could try it at a bar. It’s not on a lot of cocktail menus but, if nothing looks good, any decent bartender armed with Yellow Chartreuse should be able to whip up a decent Alaska.

1½ ounces gin (probably London dry or Plymouth, but old Tom-style is an option)
½ ounce Yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes orange bitters
1 lemon twist

Combine the gin, Chartreuse, and bitters in a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Stir vigorously for as long as it takes to achieve your preferred level of dilution. Strain into a well-chilled small cocktail glass such as a Nick and Norah. Sip and consider the lovely word “herbaceous.” It cools the mouth, or whatever.


You will get more or fewer herby flavors depending on your choice of gin and it’s good fun to try this cocktail with different expressions. Some posts warn about using bottom-shelf brands but I’m sure this would be fine with something like Gordon’s. The decent but modest flavor profile will simply let the Yellow Chartreuse dominate, and that’s not a bad thing.

I used Bombay Dry, Bombay Sapphire, and Tanqueray’s Rangpur gins. Bombay Dry mostly stayed out of the way and let the Chartreuse play lead. The more outspoken Sapphire threw more of itself into the drink; I’m not sure whether I preferred that or not. As I expected, however, the citrus flavors in Rangpur complimented both the herbals and the orange bitters very well.

Now, I should note that the oldest known Alaska recipe called for old Tom-style gin, which is notably sweeter than the gins most people are used to. (It’s also sometimes more of a light whiskey color.) Many writers seem to prefer old Tom, but my take is that the Alaska is the right amount of sweet with a London dry, and sugar-fortified gin might be too much. Also, I don’t have any old Tom on hand right now and I don’t feel like buying it. Try it if you’ve got it.


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