I have a confession to make: Despite the fact that my wife is on year five of her doctoral studies at Brown University, I think the Harvard is the best of the Ivy League cocktails. Brown’s namesake cocktail, dating to the late 1930s, is a dry bourbon Manhattan with orange bitters, which is fine, but not really even an original – it’s basically just a renamed variant on an existing drink.
Only three of the Ivy League schools have cocktails dating back to the golden age of cocktailing in the 1890s. Princeton’s cocktail (gin, port, bitters) isn’t bad, and Yale’s (gin, bitters, soda) is serviceable if a bit boring, but Harvard’s has some real flair to it. Hopefully my wife will find it in her heart to forgive me for crowning it the king of the Ivy League crew.
The key here, as always, is quality of ingredients. Use cheap grenadine and bottled lemon juice, and you’ll have a disappointing experience. Work with the good stuff, and the drink will sing. I went with a cognac that’s specifically designed to mirror the flavor profile bartenders would’ve been working with in the mid-to-late-1800s, in addition to a boutique vermouth with a high bitter level (helps balance against the grenadine and lemon juice).
I like this drink also because it’s not drowning you in citrus. While there’s a time and place for highly tart drinks (for example, poolside in summer with a good Daiquiri in your hand), I generally prefer a level of restraint when it comes to lemon or lime juice in my cocktails. The lemon here plays as a nice accent, bringing out the flavors of the other ingredients. The result is vibrant with real depth, and well worth a try!
Items in parentheses are what I used when making this drink, and are included as recommendations.
The Harvard Cocktail Recipe
- Combine all ingredients in a pint glass over ice and stir thoroughly. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.
- Note: some variations of this recipe include topping with club soda. I don’t know why you’d do that to a perfectly good Manhattan variant, but if that’s your thing, I suppose I can’t stop you!