Brow Beat

You’re Doing It Wrong: The Leap Year Cocktail

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Invented by Harry Craddock at London’s Savoy Hotel in 1928, the leap year cocktail is sweet, and bitter, but not exactly bittersweet. In his excellent book Cocktail—subtitled The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century but out of print since the 20th—Paul Harrington pegs the leap year as the “dulcified cousin of the Martini,” which is as apt a phrase as any for a drink that somewhat shares a flavor profile with grandma candy.

Booze has changed since Craddock’s day, as have the palates of boozehounds, and the leap year leaves a funny taste in your mouth. Also, it leaves the impression that you can only clear that funny taste out of your mouth by having another sip. The gin and Grand Marnier and sweet vermouth and lemon juice seem to roll across the tongue in waves. Its sweetness is aromatic, and its slight bitterness is florally coy. I have yet to test my theory that you could achieve an equivalent taste experience by sucking a Ricola while sipping cold gin.


This odd drink is well worth tinkering with this and every Leap Day. It is, after all, “said to have been responsible for more proposals than any other cocktail ever mixed.” The truth of that statement—or the tenacity of that myth—surely has to do with the fact that, historically, it was only proper for women to propose marriage in leap years. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that any woman who actually must pop the question has quite a promising future as a vivacious divorcee. Surely it is better for an aspiring bride to take the traditional route of dropping hints like cartoon anvils. Nonetheless, as a service to young lovers and old ladies, I offer this update of the original recipe. Others have suggested serving it alongside oysters with a garlic-tarragon crust, but it goes well with any kind of shellfish, especially if someone else is paying.


The Leap Year Cocktail
Yield: 1 serving
Time: A couple to 3 minutes

2 ounces gin (Plymouth works nicely)
½ ounce Grand Marnier (get in touch if you figure out interesting ways to fix this drink with other orange liqueurs, such as Cointreau or Creole Shrubb, or with fermented Sunkist)
Scant ½ ounce sweet vermouth
Generous ½ ounce lemon juice
Lemon twist for garnish

Shake the gin, Grand Marnier, vermouth, and lemon juice with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon twist. Get a pre-nup (optional).

Previously in You’re Doing It Wrong: