Charles Kerwood was an American fighter pilot with the Lafayette Flying Corps during WWI (until he crashed), and later flew supplies and arms for the French Foreign Legion in Morocco (until he crashed).

He’s also the inventor of a cocktail, the Burnt Fuselage.

I first came across him and his Burnt Fuselage in Arthur Moss’s Cocktails Around Town, one of the appendices to Harry McElhone’s 1927 Barflies and Cocktails.

Moss tells the story this way:

Chuck Kerwood takes to the air so frequently that he likes a stiff steadier when he comes down to earth. The famous flying man calls his concoction the “Burnt Fuselage.” And believe me, ⅓ Grand Marnier, ⅓ Cognac, and ⅓ French vermouth, and your own fuselage will be warm, to say the least.

A “stiff steadier,” indeed…

Burnt Fuselage Cocktail, photo © 2014 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Burnt Fuselage Cocktail

The sweetness of that large proportion of Grand Marnier definitely takes the Burnt Fuselage out of the aperitif category, but the its sweet, brandy-driven fruitiness makes it a good choice for an after dinner cocktail.

Burnt Fuselage

  • 1 oz VSOP Cognac (Pierre Ferrand Cognac 1840, Ansac VSOP)
  • 1 oz  French Vermouth (M&R Extra Dry)
  • 1 oz Grand Marnier

Stir all ingredients with ice until cold; strain into a chilled cocktail stem. Optionally, express and garnish with lemon twist.

Cognac: It took some experimentation to find the combination of Cognac and vermouth that would blend properly with the Grand Marnier. In fact, I nearly gave up on this one. I had been using Rémy-Martin VSOP, which is my standard house brandy, but it just seemed to overrun the other flavors. The drink seemed disjointed, much less than the sum of its parts.

Ferrand Cognac (detail), photo © 2014 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.Fortunately, I had an opportunity to make this drink with Ansac VSOP at a friend’s house, and suddenly the cocktail made sense.  With the change in Cognac, the flavors combined much better.  Later, I experimented with Pierre Ferrand’s 1840 Cognac, with good results.

The only way I can explain the difference is that the Rémy has a bright sharpness, almost a spiciness, that makes it a bad fit with the other ingredients; the Ferrand, on the other hand, has a softer, oakier taste, with a little sweetness and caramel, and it seems to blend better with both the vermouth and the Grand Marnier.

Vermouth: I was surprised to find that the vermouth seems to make a large contribution to blending the flavors. I experimented with a handful of dry vermouths, and expected the M&R to be too austere, but it seems to be what this combination needs.

Grand Marnier: I tried cutting back the Grand Marnier as a way to reduce sweetness, but I do not recommend it. It seems the Burnt Fuselage is more delicately balanced than you’d think. Stick with the equal parts.

Garnish: Moss’s original listing includes no garnish at all. Some subsequent listings include a lemon twist, or at least the lemon oils expressed over the drink. I think a touch of lemon oil makes a nice addition.

I don’t know how many Burnt Fuselages Kerwood really drank, and I don’t know if he drank them before flying, after flying, or both. But I will say that he invented a very pleasant cocktail, and a very easy-drinking “stiff steadier.” I’m glad he made it back.