Today at The Drunkard’s Almanac we’re getting ready to mix the Django Reinhardt Cocktail in honor of his birthday on January 23. Something of a rarity in these pages, it’s a low ABV drink suitable as an aperitif. That makes it perfect for lazy day drinking and less likely to cloud your afternoon than several Martinis at lunch. The recipe is also dead simple.
But first we need to clear something up. Django Reinhardt has no relation to Jamie Foxx and the character Django Freeman in the movie Django Unchained. Our Django of interest today is still pretty much a badass in his own way, but he didn’t sling a Colt 45. Rather, he was a pioneering jazz guitarist, and he did it with only two good fingers on his left hand.
Django Reinhardt was born in Belgium as Jean Reinhardt in 1910. He was a Romani, a Gypsy so to speak, and Django was the Romani nickname by which he became known. He spent most of his youth in Romani encampments on the outskirts of Paris where he found an affinity to music and began playing the violin, banjo and guitar. By the time he was 15 he made a living playing music in cafes.
Django’s talent was widely recognized and drew international attention by the time he was 17. The British bandleader Jack Hylton even traveled to France to hear him play and offered him a job on the spot.
But that didn’t quite work out. Before he started with Hylton’s band he knocked a candle onto some extremely flammable cellulite that his wife used to make artificial flowers, which started a fire that burned more than half his body. He was hospitalized for 18 months and doctors wanted to amputate his badly damaged right leg. He refused and was eventually able to walk again using a cane.
The damage to his left hand was of more consequence to a guitarist. The ring and little fingers of his left hand were so burned they were useless for anything other than chord work. But he could still pick out lightning fast melodies with his two good fingers and created an entirely new style.
The Jazz Career
Then he learned about jazz and met Stéphane Grappelli, a violinist with similar interests. They formed the Quintette du Hot Club de France and it became the hottest European jazz group. They were soon signed by Decca Records in the US and played all over Europe.
Then WWII broke out. He spent most of the war in Paris and was fearful of Hitler’s Romani genocide. He was even captured when he tried to flee, but a jazz-loving German officer allowed him to return to Paris.
Once the war was over he played in the UK and did a tour in the US, debuting as a special guest soloist with Duke Ellington and later bringing down the house at Carnegie Hall.
And he did all this with two working fingers on his left hand. Unfortunately, he found it hard to adjust to the postwar world and went back to Romani life. He developed a reputation for not showing up to concerts but continued to play in Paris clubs.
Then at the age of 43 he died unexpectedly of a stroke.
The Django Reinhardt Cocktail
When we look at the recipe we see it’s in the sours family – spirit, citrus, sweetener – but unlike others uses something low proof as the base. As a low ABV recipe it is suitable any time, whether instead of a mimosa at brunch or a way to start the cocktail hour with something light.
Finally, a note on vermouth. If what you have at home is a dusty bottle opened ages ago and sitting on a shelf……throw it away and buy a new bottle. Vermouth is made from wine and not distilled. If not refrigerated after opening it will go dank in relatively short order.
- Double Old Fashioned glass
- 3 oz Dry vermouth
- ¾ oz Fresh lemon juice
- ¾ oz Simple syrup
- 2 Orange slices
- Garnish Orange slice
- Add lemon juice, simple syrup and 2 orange slices to your trusty shaker.
- Muddle to break down the orange slices.
- Add vermouth to the shaker.
- Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
- Strain into double Old Fashioned glass filled with fresh ice.