Eagle Cocktail

National Golf Day

Your cocktail calendar entry for: May
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May 10 is National Golf Day so that means we’ll be mixing up the Eagle cocktail.  We’re not here to promote golfing – we don’t do it ourselves – but the proverbial 19th hole is always a good place to be.  From what we understand it’s standard practice to carry a flask full of bourbon onto the course to celebrate a good shot.  But we figure it’s better to drink something a bit more refined.  Something that should help you see two-under par whether you’re on the course or not.  And we’ve got that with the Eagle cocktail, a pre-Prohibition classic variation on the martini.


There’s not a lot to know about golf.  It involves using primitive instruments to fling a tiny ball into a faraway hole in the ground.  What’s important, though, is who came up with the first truly pithy quote describing this ridiculous pursuit.

What we’re talking about here is something along the lines of “Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”  Unfortunately, it’s not clear to whom we can attribute this proper summary.

Variants of this quote have been attributed to Winston Churchill or Woodrow Wilson for decades.  But the earliest example may have occurred before anyone listed to either of them.  In 1892 the London humor magazine Punch published in an article entitled “Confessions of a Duffer.”  An anonymous author observed that, “The object is to put a very small ball into a very tiny and remotely distant hole, with engines singularly ill adapted for the purpose.”

Woodrow Wilson got into the mix in the 1930s.  In 1935, an article profiling Dr. Gary Grayson, the White House physician, describe him suggesting golf to President Wilson for get some exercise.  Wilson did, and Greyson fell victim to his own orders.  Everyone else wanted to talk business on the links so he had to take up golfing with Wilson.  Grayson described Wilson’s definition of golf as “An ineffectual attempt to put an elusive ball into an obscure hole with implements ill adapted for the purpose.”

It wasn’t until 1974 that the British journalist Alistair Cook attributed the pithy remark to Winston Churchill.  He quoted Churchill as saying, “Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

The Eagle Cocktail

The quote attributed to Churchill matches what we first wrote, but as should now be obvious it’s uncertain who first uttered the thought.  We’re fond of the Churchill version for its imagery, but we’ve already celebrated Winston Churchill Day with the Savoy Hotel Special and quoted him on the subject of the British Royal Navy when we mixed grog.

So we’re stepping away from Sir Winston and going straight for a golf term to land on the Eagle cocktail.  After all, if golf is going with an avian them to denote getting the ball in the whole in fewer than the proscribed number of strokes we might as well go for the two-under eagle rather than the relatively pedestrian birdie.

The Eagle cocktail itself has a convoluted history.  It was first printed in 1905 at the Hoffman House in New York.  Then Prohibition hit.  Everyone forgot about it until 1933, when Canfield’s Beverages published the well-titled book Lest We Forget.

Just to add to the confusion, ‘Cocktail Bill” Boothby’s World Drinks and How to Mix Them was published by in 1934 with an entirely different recipe.  Boothby’s version was really a modified Aviation cocktail in which simple syrup substituted for Maraschino liqueur and an egg white was added for froth.  We’re going with a Canfield’s 1933 version translated into modern measurements here as drinks frothed with egg white just aren’t the best for a flask when you’re out on the golf course.  Interestingly, the original recipe calls for an olive garnish as an option, in line with what we described in our TED talk on olives in cocktails.  That makes sense, considering it’s really a variation on the classic martini.

eagle cocktail

Eagle cocktail

Enough of these and you'll be two under par. From the 1934 post-Prohibition cocktail recipe book Lest We Forget, the Eagle is really a variation on the classic gin-vermouth combination that makes up a martini. It brings extra flavor into the mix through a small dose of absinthe and Angostura bitters, and is kept in balance with a tiny bit of simple syrup.
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  • Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
  • Add ice and stir to chill.
  • Strain into pre-chilled Nick and Nora glass.
  • Decide if you want to include the olive garnish and proceed accordingly.
  • Drink.
  • Rinse and repeat.


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