The Sherlock Holmes Cocktail

For Dr. Joseph Bell's birthday

Your cocktail calendar entry for: December
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The Sherlock Holmes cocktail is Drink of the Day on December 2.  You see, it’s Dr. Joseph Bell’s birthday.  He was a Scottish surgeon and lecturer at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh.  That may sound rather unremarkable, but there’s another important fact:  he was the inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes character.  The Sherlock Holmes recipe itself is a variation on the Whiskey Sour, a tried and true cocktail.

Joseph Bell and Sherlock Holmes

Bell was born in 1837 and earned his medical degree in 1859.  He distinguished himself as a brilliant doctor,  and emphasized the importance of making small, close observations to his students.  He’d do things like pick a stranger and deduce their occupation and recent activities, and this led to him becoming considered a pioneer in forensic science and pathology.  Yes, Scotland Yard really did bring him some cases.

One day in 1877 Bell got a student at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary named, you guessed it, Arthur Conan Doyle.  Doyle went on to become a physician, but quickly abandoned the profession.  Instead he wrote all the Sherlock Holmes (and other) stories and was open about the Holmes character being based on Bell.

Holmes, of course, is brilliant.  In his own modest words, “I am a brain, Watson.  The rest of me is a mere appendix.”  But he was also not without his faults.  He had varying degrees of dependence on alcohol, tobacco and cocaine.  He did at least have good taste, and was a connoisseur of French wines, particularly white Burgundy from Montrachet and Meursault.

Back then tobacco consumption was an ordinary sort of thing, and the pipe and deerstalker cap became trademarks of the Holmes image.  Holmes would sometimes declare a particularly puzzling mystery a “three pipe problem.”  Close to the same thing for cocaine, which was legal at that time.  If you weren’t already aware, the “7 percent solution” refers to a cocaine injection Holmes took regularly.  Historians have debated whether Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was also an enthusiast, but the evidence is inconclusive.

Sherlock Holmes Cocktail

It turns out our protagonists were largely doing their drinking before much of the American-invented cocktail phenomenon had made it across the ocean.  The U.K. didn’t use many distilled spirits beyond Scotch whisky or various brandies from France.  So We could mix up a simple Old Fashioned or just pour some whiskey into a glass, but cocktail hope is not lost.  There is indeed a Sherlock Holmes cocktail.

It’s no surprise that that Sherlock Holmes was also a tea aficionado.  His favorite was Lapsang Souchong, which is a rather exotic black tea, smoke-dried over a pinewood fire.  The recipe calls for it, but let’s face it:  you can employ whatever ordinary tea you may have around.  Just skip the green tea, that’s an entirely different animal.  What you might also notice is that the Sherlock Holmes recipe is a Gold Rush cocktail with some tea added, which itself is a variation on a Whiskey Sour.

Sherlock Holmes cocktail

Sherlock Holmes Cocktail

Inspired by the intrepid sleuth, the Sherlock Holmes cocktail makes good use of some of his favorite ingredients: whisky and tea. While the recipe calls for Holmes' favorite tea, and its smoky flavor is best, you should feel free to substitute any black tea you have around. We don't know the origin of this drink, but when you get down to it, it's a variation on a whiskey sour.
4.41 from 5 votes


  • oz Scotch Whisky You really want a single-malt Islay Scotch here, preferably something quite peaty like Laphroaig.
  • 1 oz Chilled brewed Lapsang Souchong tea If you've got it. Otherwise just use an ordinary tea (but not green tea).
  • 1 oz Honey syrup Just mix equal quantities of honey and warm water to create syrup.
  • ¾ oz Fresh lemon juice


  • Add all ingredients to your trusty shaker.
  • Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
  • Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
  • Drink.
  • Solve unsolvable crime.


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