Widow's Kiss: A Historic Garden Cocktail In A Glass

A Widow's Kiss cocktail — the name alone stirs intrigue. Throughout this libation's enduring history, the recipe has changed, but the name has stayed the same. First listed in 1895 in Modern American Drinks, the recipe called for French liqueurs shaken with apple brandy (per Imbibe Magazine). The flavor was herbal, with refreshing notes of fruit and eucalyptus, as described by Difford's Guide. Chartreuse, Bénédictine, and Angostura bitters were used to make the original cocktail until bartenders of the "Cocktail Renaissance" began to add their own spin to the drink (via Punch Drink).

One bartender, Deke Dunne, remembers the first time a customer ordered the drink; he had no idea what it was and had to Google behind the bar. His first attempts resulted in a too-sweet, overpowering cocktail, but Dunne persisted, and the drink has since become his signature — with a few changes made to the original cocktail (per Punch Drink).

An underground recipe

The Widow's Kiss disappeared during Prohibition, notes Primer Magazine. One of the key ingredients, brandy, was severely hit by restrictive laws and struggled to regain popularity once distillers reopened and began brewing new batches (via Vine Pair). Understandably so, as bootleg drinks made during the days of Prohibition were not exactly easy to put back.

The Conversation notes that the alcohol found during this time was made from industrial ingredients — products meant for perfumes and fuel — and the resulting moonshine was harsh, despite desperate attempts of adding juniper oil and honey for taste. Thirsty Americans got creative in their homes, however, and speakeasies began to crop up in cities.

Though Prohibition didn't last, speakeasies did, and bartenders and restaurant owners intentionally set out to preserve the speakeasy's secretive atmosphere and culture, mixing up cocktails in dimly-lit spaces and re-introducing older recipes to American palates (per The Pourhouse). Like the Widow's Kiss.

Adjusted for modern tastes

Bartender Jim Meehan made some alterations to the initial Widow's Kiss recipe by scaling up the role of brandy and slashing the prominence of the liqueur. "Doubling the apple brandy and paring the liqueur quantities back pulls this out of the after-dinner drinks family and pushes it towards Old Fashioned territory," Meehan explained to Imbibe Magazine. And unlike the original shaken cocktail, Meehan stirs the ingredients with ice and strains to serve, garnishing the glass with a cherry. Dunne agrees the drink should be stirred — with the right spoon, of course — to build a smooth, silky texture.

For Dunne's version of the drink, he's reduced the amount of brandy, added Cognac, and cut the original amounts of the spicy herbal Bénédictine and minty yellow Chartreuse (in the original drink, these two made up half of the glass). The one element that hasn't changed is the splash of Angostura, the same bitters used in the 1895 recipe — two dashes, to be exact. For Dunne, the drink screams autumn: apples, honey, and spice. Sign us up for a Kiss; just don't forget the cherry on top.