Monkey Gland

From Chanticleer Society
Revision as of 10:17, 26 January 2019 by DrinkBoy (talk | contribs)


  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce orange juice
  • 1/4 ounce grenadine
  • 1 dash absinthe
  • Garnish: Orange twist

Shake with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass.

NOTE: The original recipe called for equal amounts of gin and orange juice. The above ratio is one that prevents the orange juice from deadening the overall flavor of the drink.


The origins of the Monkey Gland cocktail are a tad cloudy, but thankfully not as lost in time as drinks such as the Manhattan or Martini. There are essentially two different stories surrounding its origin, both of them pointing to Paris in the 1920s. On one hand, you have Harry MacElhone, famed bartender of “Harry’s New York Bar” in Paris, taking credit for the drink in “Barflies And Cocktails” (1927):

Monkey Gland Cocktail
    1 dash of Absinthe, 1 teaspoonful of Grenadine, 1/2 Orange Juice, 1/2 Gordon Gin.
    Shake well, and strain into cocktail glass.
(Invented by the Author, and deriving its name from Voronoff’s experiments in rejuvenation.)

as well as in “ABC Of Mixing Drinks” (~1928):

188. Monkey’s Gland Cocktail.
    1 dash of Absinthe, 1 teaspoonful of Grenadine, 1/2 Orange Juice, 1/2 Nicholson’s Gin.
    Shake well, and strain into cocktail glass.
(Invented by the Author, and deriving its name from Voronoff’s experiments in rejuvenation.)

On the other hand, there is a newspaper article from the April 23, 1923 edition of the Washington Post, which clearly attributes the drink to Frank Meier, bartender at the Ritz in Paris, having “devised a new series of powerful cocktails, favorite of which is known as the “monkey gland.””

New Cocktail in Paris Is the Monkey Gland
(Special Cable Dispatch)
    Paris, April 23. – Preparing for a busy tourist season Frank, the noted concocter behind the bar of the Ritz, has devised a new series of powerful cocktails, favorite of which is known as the “monkey gland.”
    Like Frank’s “soixante quinze” gloom raiser, the “monkey gland” requires absinthe to be perfect, but its amateurs have found anise a substitute with a sufficient kick.
    For the benefit of friends over in America, who have not exhausted their cellars, here is the recipe: Half and half gin and orange juice, a dash of absinthe, and a dash of raspberry or other sweet juice. Mix well with ice, and serve only with a doctor handy. Inside of half an hour the other day Frank purveyed 40 of these, to the exclusion of manhattans and martinis.

It would be difficult to say which accounting is more believable, since bartenders have been known to take credit for drinks created by others, and journalists have also been known to get their facts skewed from time to time. My personal preference in this situation is to lean in the direction of Harry MacElhone, since this is "from the horses mouth" so to speak, while the Washington Post article could just be the journalist making an assumption about the situation.

While the debate behind the origins of this drink might be passingly interesting, the details on why it is called this is fascinating, as well as quite bizarre. The name comes from the rather strange surgical technique of Dr. Serge Voronoff, a Russian born surgeon, living in France, who in the 1920’s started grafting the testicles of monkeys into men as a way to increase their longevity, as well as their virility. Dr Voronoff wasn’t the only one surgically implanting animal parts in humans (xenotransplantation), there were several other doctors in Europe as well as America who were making both fame and fortune through this practice. Another such doctor was John Brinkley, and American “surgeon” who would use goat testicles for similar reasons. The book “Charlatan”, by Pope Brock, provides an amazing detail of John Brinkley’s practice, as well as similar quackery throughout the country at that time (with some passing references to Dr. Voronoff).

Dr. Voronoff’s practice was popular into the 1930’s, and he amassed quite a bit of wealth due to it. It is thus rather interesting that the drink took on this name in what was most likely a bit of tongue in cheek reference to the practice. Perhaps the bartenders of the era were more astute than Dr. Voronoff’s customers? Dr. Voronoff however was not without his detractors, even from the very beginning. Over time, evidence against the value of his operations mounted, and by the 1940’s he was quickly losing ground, as well as backing. By the time he died in 1951, he was in such poor standing that few newspapers even noted his passing.

What goes around comes around however, and recent studies have shown that his efforts, while perhaps ill conceived, were not nearly as worthless as had previously been thought. His work has been noted as perhaps being the origin of modern day anti-aging hormone replacement therapy.

As for the drink itself, it is one which can often be seen as one of those barely passable prohibition-era cocktails that was more about the novelty of the thing then the quality of the drink itself. Myself, I think this is easy to understand, in-so-much as orange juice in a cocktail has a severe deadening effect on the other flavors it contains, making it difficult to really make a drink that is more than just two-dimensional. Note that the original recipes from the time call for equal parts of gin and orange juice, a ratio which would never sit well with me. In my slightly modified recipe, I demote the orange juice to only half a part, in order to give the gin a little more room to strut its stuff. I also increase the grenadine from just a dash, to something that might help to add a little twang to the profile. But it is the absinthe which I think really makes the big difference here, leaving it still at just a dash, it provides that extra little complexity in the background to make sure the other ingredients play well with each other. The drink still isn’t what I would call a true “celebration” of gin, but I do think it is a fine and interesting drink, as well as one that is good to offer to the gin-averse to help them gain a better appreciation for this fine spirit.