Tin Can Telephone Cocktail

In honor of the first phone call

Your cocktail calendar entry for: March
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The Drink of the Day for March 10 is the Tin Can Telephone.  It’s the anniversary of the day in 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell made the very first phone call to  his assistant, Thomas Watson.  History records this as “Mr. Watson – come here – I want to see you.”  We’re a little disappointed that he didn’t ask for a drink but will give him credit for inventing all kinds of things.

The Tin Can Telephone cocktail seems appropriate not only for its name.  Its audio fidelity is probably equivalent to Bell’s first efforts and you can make one at home.  Just the right kind of recipe for hours of family fun.

Alexander Graham Bell

Our protagonist was born on March 3, 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland.  He wasn’t much for school, leaving a decidedly undistinguished record marked by absenteeism and lackluster grades.  Bell liked the sciences but was indifferent to everything else.  He also had attacks of what his mother called “musical fever” in which listening to music got him so wound up he couldn’t sleep.  He’d be left with a headache in the morning.  His ever-loving mother, at least, prescribed a little beer to help.

But he was a prolific inventor.  At the age of 11 he invented a device to separate wheat from its husk and in his teens made a talking doll that said “mama.”  It was apparently convincing enough that his neighbors started hunting for an abandoned baby.

By 1874 the telegraph had become widespread and building new lines was expensive.  Western Union contracted with inventors like Thomas Edison to find a way to send multiple signals on each line.  Thus, when Bell mentioned to some wealthy patrons that he was trying to send multiple tones on a telegraph line they got behind him.

Bell didn’t know how to do it yet, but he met Thomas Watson, an experienced electrical designer.  He hired Watson as his assistant and they started working on a multi-reed device.  It turned out that wasn’t necessary, because when Watson accidentally plucked one of the reeds Bell heard the overtones necessary to reproduce speech.  You know what soon happened.

Bell had competitors vying for the patent rights he had gained due to simultaneous development.  In perhaps what goes down as the most litigated patent in history, the Bell Telephone Company fended off 587 court challenges to its patents.  But nobody was successful in establishing priority over Bell’s original patent.

Tin Can Telephone Cocktail

The Tin Can Telephone cocktail is a variation on the classic Marconi cocktail.  We mixed that one for World Radio day on Guglielmo Marconi’s birthday.  The Tin Can, like the Marconi, starts with apple brandy and sweet vermouth.  It stretches our definition of Negroni variations a bit through the barspoon of Benedictine, but we’ll still put it in that family.

The Tin Can Telephone was created by Fred Yarm, the author of Drink & Tell: A Boston Cocktail Book and his website cocktail virgin slut.  He apparently got to thinking about how well bitter liqueurs based on gentian root pair with sweet vermouth.  He liked the results of basically adding Salers Gentian Liqueur to a slightly adjusted Marconi, but decided to add some earthy chocolate notes with a bit of Benedictine.  We think it rings our bells.

While we’re on the subject of gentian liqueurs, there are several available.  Suze, which we’ve used in the White Negroni, the La Tour Eiffel and the Mountain Suze is the best known.  Salers is another excellent brand and used by Mr. Yarm.  These gentian liqueurs are popular aperitifs in the Alpine regions of Europe, perhaps because they’re made from local plants.

tin can telephone cocktail

Tin Can Telephone Cocktail

A variation on the Marconi cocktail, the Tin Can Telephone recipe brings a gentian liqueur like Salers to the front and adds earthy chocolate notes with a bit of Benedictine.
4 from 2 votes


  • 1 oz Laird’s Apple Brandy
  • 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 oz Suze or another gentian liqueur like Salers
  • 1 barspoon Benedictine
  • Garnish: lemon twist


  • Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
  • Add ice and stir to chill.
  • Strain into pre-chilled Nick & Nora glass.
  • Express twist over drink and add to glass.
  • Drink.
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