The Sunflower Cocktail

Van Gogh shoots himself

Your cocktail calendar entry for: July

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Moments ago you were probably pondering Van Gogh’s paintings and wondering what he drank.  Very timely, as it’s the anniversary of the day he shot himself, a bad move that resulted in his death two days later on July 29, 1890. Of course, an appropriate cocktail is required, and that’s the Sunflower cocktail.  We’ll get to the drink shortly.

Born in 1853, Vincent was a quiet and thoughtful child who liked drawing things. He became an art dealer, often traveling for that purpose, but became depressed when he was transferred by his employer to London. In ill health he moved back in with his parents and took up painting in 1881.

Sometime in 1886 he moved to Paris where he met members of the avant-garde, guys like Emilie Bernard and Paul Gauguin, and his paintings grew more colorful as he fell into the style that became most famous and represented most of his work when he moved to Arles in the south of France.

This wasn’t exactly all smooth sailing. Suffering from a variety of psychiatric issues, he worried about his own mental health but paid little to no attention to his physical health.

Frequenting cafés in Paris, he would paint them or their owners, hang out with other artists and sometimes pay his tab with paintings for the café. In these cafés Van Gogh would drink wine, beer, brandy, chain smoke and guzzle coffee, but he loved absinthe and it is certainly the drink most associated with him. He drank himself under the table and eventually left Paris for Arles.

It was in Arles that things really went downhill. Just before Christmas in 1888 he cut off his left ear and gave it to a woman at a brothel for safekeeping. People were concerned and the police had him admitted to a hospital. This didn’t seem to do much good, and he was in and out of the hospital three times and ultimately transferred to an asylum. Subsequent bouts of depression ended with him shooting himself in the chest on July 27, 1890.

So it’s not just great authors like Amis, Hemingway or Steinbeck that drank a lot, though Vincent may have been the biggest absinthe fan among them. Thousands of papers have been written about Van Gogh’s mental condition, but since they can’t exactly interview him there’s no definitive word.

Either way, that leaves us with determining the Drink of the Day. Clearly, absinthe is called for, though the question remains as to just how to use it. One could, of course, drink it just as Van Gogh himself did: dripping water over a sugar cube perched on a spoon above a glass with absinthe, until the cube has dissolved and the drink is suitably diluted. This, of course, is for lovers of the strong anise flavor that dominates.

If you’re like our Editorial Board you’ll prefer something with the unmistakable whiff of absinthe but less than its overwhelming flavor. We’ve used it that way elsewhere in such drinks as the Death in the Afternoon, the Savoy Hotel Special, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and the Sazerac, and will do so again today.

So keeping in line with Van Gogh, his productive period in Arles and his penchant for painting sunflowers we will name just that the Drink of the Day: the Sunflower cocktail.

Sunflower cocktail

The Sunflower cocktail

Invented by Sam Ross at Milk & Honey in New York, circa 2008, the Sunflower is pretty much a variation on a Corpse Reviver No. 2 in which elderflower liqueur replaces an aromatized wine like Cocchi Americano.  As usual, the recipe contains only ordinary pantry staples, but you’ve got a safety valve:  If you’re out of St. Germain elderflower liqueur just reach into the fridge for some Cocchi Americano (you really should keep an opened bottle there) and make a Corpse Reviver No. 2.
3.34 from 3 votes



  • ¾ oz Gin
  • ¾ oz Cointreau or triple sec
  • ¾ oz Elderflower liqueur St. Germain is what your trusty liquor store will have
  • ¾ oz Fresh lemon juice
  • oz absinthe


  • Rinse chilled cocktail glass with absinthe
  • Add all other ingredients to your trusty shaker
  • Add ice and shake until frosty cold
  • Strain into glass
  • Optionally, garnish with lemon twist
  • Drink
  • Rinse and repeat, but avoid sharp objects around your ears
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3 Comments. Leave new

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