February 26 is Jackie Gleason’s birthday, so in honor of The Honeymooners we’re mixing the Honeymoon Cocktail. Gleason’s birthday is not an occasion to be taken lightly at any publication known as The Drunkard’s Almanac. Known affectionately as The Great One, it’s unclear if he was really that or The Great Drunkard. Either way, the Honeymoon cocktail recipe is an early 20th century classic, a variation on a brandy sour.
Born in Brooklyn as John Herbert Gleason, he became an actor, comedian, writer, and even composer. We might actually have him to blame for “mood music”. His first album Music for Lovers Only still holds the record of 153 weeks on the Billboard Top Ten Chart.
He didn’t start out with that sort of success, with his father abandoning the family and his mother passing away when he was 19. He got into doing comedy at mean spirited clubs where miners and truck drivers would heckle the act and polished his insults and comedy chops. By the time he got back to New York he was more than ready for Club 18, where big shots and celebrities went to be insulted by young, brash comics. It was the lifeblood of the club, and Jackie took to it like a rabid dog.
Of course, this came with drinking. To Gleason, coming from his meager background, being a classy guy meant picking up the tab no matter what. And drinking all night. He spent a lot of time at Toots Shor’s Nightclub in New York, where he became good friends with Toots. And hung out there with legendary drinkers like Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and Orson Wells.
For the rest of his life he was a serious boozer, a champion in the annals of functional alcoholics, a man known to hit the booze before, during and after work.
Back then there were fledgling TV networks and in 1950 one named the DuMont Television Network hired him to host Dumont’s Cavalcade of Stars variety hour. This was soon renamed The Jackie Gleason Show and became one of the most popular on television.
Gleason worked on developing any number of characters with his team of writers at the show. The most popular one, by far, was the irascible bus driver Ralph Kramden. That character emerged from a crazy husband vs. smart wife skit that one of the writers dubbed The Honeymooners.
The Honeymooners became so popular that Gleason decided to make it a separate series. The show follows the life of New York bus driver Ralph Kramden (Gleason), his wife Alice, Ralph’s dimwitted sewer worker and best friend Ed Norton, and Ed’s wife Trixie. You can find it all on YouTube or other streaming services. Of all the characters Gleason portrayed in his comedy sketches, none was more popular than the bus driver Ralph Kramden.
The show went on to become a television icon in syndicated reruns. In 2000 a statue of Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden was installed outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. If you’re looking, it’s on the west side of Eighth Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets.
The Honeymoon Cocktail
Before we mix the actual Honeymoon cocktail in honor of The Honeymooners, we should note that Gleason himself was largely a straight whiskey or Scotch guy. So if that’s how you roll it’s entirely appropriate to pour a bit in your handy glass and have it straight. But please don’t consume an entire bottle in one sitting as he was wont to do.
The Honeymooner first appeared in Hugo Ensslin’s 1917 book Recipes for Mixed Drinks. Ted Haigh in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails notes that it became a signature drink at the Brown Derby restaurants in Los Angeles.
The drink itself is really a variation on a brandy sour. The base spirit is apple brandy, with the sweet side of the equation consisting of equal parts Benedictine and Curacao. Lemon juice, as usual, is the sour.
- Nick and Nora or coupe glass
- 2 oz Calvados or other apple brandy
- ½ oz Fresh lemon juice
- ½ oz Curacao or Cointreau
- ½ oz Benedictine
- Garnish: lemon twist
- Add all ingredients to your trusty shaker.
- Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
- Stream an old Honeymooners episode.