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History Lesson: The Olympic Cocktail

My beloved patients, it’s summer again! You’ve tucked away your handkerchiefs, your comforters and your Irish Coffees until the first chill winds of autumn bring them back to mind. But now it’s sweltering, and though you’re reading this in the temporary respite of air conditioning, you know the weather’s hot fingers await your exit. Summer is a season where activities are best made simple. Cocktails, for instance! The complex aromatic formulas of other seasons give way to ripe fruit and refreshment, if not pure simplicity.

Allow me to give you both. Too overheated to make fancy cocktails? Too exhausted to contemplate Polynesian extravaganza? Introducing the Olympic! From Ciro’s of London, circa 1922, the Olympic is simple, fruity, refreshing and oddly familiar.

The term “Olympic” has many connotations. Add an “s” and we have the iconic games. Reduce it to its root, and we have the mountain-top home of the ancient Greek Gods. But for me, this cocktail is best exemplified by an ocean-going ship. The Olympic ocean liner was the sister ship of the Titanic and the namesake of White Star’s Olympic-class ocean liners, of which the Titanic was a member. They were all but identical.

The Olympic Cocktail was sister drink to the better-known Sidecar (or Side Car as it was then known). It contained orange juice to the Sidecar’s lemon and curaçao instead of Cointreau, but both maintained a base of Cognac and were bequeathed with equal parts of those respective ingredients.

The Sidecar has long been celebrated—to the point, perhaps, of God-like immortality—while the Olympic has been forgotten, much like the ship was in the wake of the Titanic’s tragic sinking in 1912. As of the debut of the Olympic Cocktail, its namesake ship (actually built and commissioned months before the Titanic) would traverse the oceans for another 15 years. Both cocktails endure as well; lovely, evocative harbingers of imagination and dreams.

As with the Sidecar, the Olympic’s ease of equal proportions necessarily gives way to a few measure refinements in the pursuit of a more perfect libation. The dearth of premium orange curaçao in the United States creates the opportunity to extrapolate, and Clement Creole Shrub shines like the best curaçaos with an added lure of spiciness. The increase of Cognac proportions decreases sweetness, as does freshly squeezed OJ. Finally, your Doctor adds his own little touch to move the Olympic out of the very sweet category, with two added dashes of the very orangey, piquantly bitter orange bitters.

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