Last time we looked at the history of cocktail legend Harry MacElhone and his famous Harry’s New York bar in Paris. This time I’m going to introduce you to a Harry M creation that is largely overlooked and, at least in my opinion, is actually better than some of his more famous creations. Some dispute exists as to whether the Sir Walter is named for Sir Walter Raleigh or Sir Walter Scott but to me the latter is a slam dunk as Harry was, like the latter, a Scotsman and very likely wanted to honour the godfather of the English language blockbuster novel with a drink bearing his name. Furthermore the Sir Walter is an interesting drink with a split base and a slightly peculiar formula.
Codified in the Savoy Cocktail Book as 1 teaspoon of grenadine, 1 teaspoon curacao, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/3 brandy and 1/3 rum the Sir Walter makes little sense as it implies just half an ounce of each of the spirits and I think a typo found it’s way into this (as with the Aviation). More modern versions call for three quarters to an ounce each of the rum and brandy and single teaspoons or quarter ounces of the rest. I’ve played with the more modern formula quite a bit and made it just a touch bigger (probably because I like it so much* and I found it was gone too quickly) and present here my preferred version. One of the tricky things with the Sir Walter is the choice of rum. It simply falls flat with some rums and while Havana Club 3 is often called for – and, indeed, works rather nicely – I found good old Mount Gay Eclipse to be particularly synergous with the cognac and is more likely to be the style (Barbados) of rum originally used. The flavour of the cognac should be clearly present with the rum playing more of a supporting role so avoid your more forceful rums in this case. Pick a decent cognac too but not necessarily a pricey one – for me my go-to Courvoisier VS fits the bill perfectly – and a quality curaçao and grenadine too. These are all ingredients that you will frequently see used in older cocktails where it seems there was a narrower range of liqueurs and syrups than we enjoy today. Curaçao and grenadine were probably the two most common sweeteners the Golden Age bartender reached for when they wanted to balance out a sour. Harry took a light touch with the sweet and sour components here, letting the sprits shine through and I think it was a genius move which I’ve tried to respect with my grown-up version. Made with care the Sir Walter is a cracking little drink that should be far better know than it is.
1.25oz / 37ml cognac or brandy.
1.25oz / 37ml Barbados or Cuban rum.
0.25oz / 7.5ml fresh lemon juice.
0.25oz /7.5ml grenadine (pref. homemade).
0.25oz /7.5ml curaçao (pref. Pierre Ferrand – definitely not blue!).
Shake with ice and double strain into a chilled stem glass.
Toast Sir Walter Scott The Wizard of the North.
*The fact that he lived just down the road from where I grew up does no harm to my liking for this drink either.