Today’s Monday Classic is the Widow’s Kiss, a fairly old cocktail created in 1895 by George Kappeler at New York City’s Holland House Hotel. This was a time when bartenders were just stepping beyond the standard drink formula of the main spirit, a sweetener, water, and some bitters, to experiment with the idea of including vermouth and other herbal liqueurs into their recipes. The Widow’s Kiss uses Calvados as its base spirit, an apple brandy from the Normandy region of France, also famous for its Camembert cheese and probably the best butter in the world. Calvados is technically considered a cider spirit, which means that it starts out as a cider made from specific varieties of apples (and some pears) before it’s aged in either new or used oak barrels. Aging in oak gives the Calvados its signature spice, vanilla, and caramel type flavors, making it quite different from its American cousin which is typically more apple forward. Almost all the Widow’s Kiss recipes that I looked at called for Calvados, but it would be a fun experiment to try it with something like Laird’s Applejack as its base. In addition to the Calvados, the Widow’s Kiss also includes 2 additional liqueurs, Yellow Chartreuse and Bénédictine, both very herbal, and both very assertive. This is a complex, high-octane cocktail with its lowest proof spirit coming in at 80 proof, making it more than a little bit dangerous. Needless to say, it’s meant to be sipped, and not guzzled. As with most classic cocktails, there are many variations of the recipe. I’ve chosen to go with the original today, which uses a 2:1:1 ratio of brandy to the other 2 spirits. I found this cocktail to be potent and powerful, with some definite apple and spice flavors, but what I liked best was its wild herbal streak that brought to mind eucalyptus and mint. I came across a quote from Ted Haigh in his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails book in which he describes it as “the most evocative drink ever, a cocktail suited for late fall edging toward winter.” I could definitely see sipping this cocktail on a chilly fall day in front of a fire when apple season is in full swing.
The Widow’s Kiss
Place all the ingredients in a mixing glass and stir with ice until very cold. Strain and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry. Enjoy!