I’m one of those people who is fascinated by cosmic markers like solstices and equinoxes. It’s hard to explain—I guess it’s sort of a feeling of being in the presence of greatness. Or cosmic forces. Or something. At the very least, it’s an excuse to celebrate. I set out to identify a solstice cocktail for the onset of the summer season, and I was astonished to find that there are no classics that address these auspicious dates. Inexplicable. 

Search engines turned up a few modern inventions with names like “Winter Solstice” or “Summer Solstice,” which makes some sense, I guess. The ones I found looked merely palatable—vodka in fruit juice, rehashes of classics with fruit juice, even fruit with fruit juice—not particularly imaginative or inspiring. Today is the solstice, after all.

So it was with considerable delight that I came across the Leap Year Cocktail in Stuart Walton’s Ultimate Book of Cocktails.

Yes, I am aware that leap years aren’t cosmic events—they’re more like accounting tricks. But they are much rarer than solstices, and they come with layers of exceptions to exceptions for when to throw them. Fine things, all in all.

Leap Year Cocktail, photo © 2010 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Leap Year Cocktail

According to the Savoy Cocktail Book, the Leap Year Cocktail was Harry Craddock’s invention for a party in 1928. The Savoy has a famous footnote reporting that this cocktail “is said to have been responsible for more proposals than any other cocktail that has ever been mixed.” Of course, there’s nothing to support such a bald claim, but it’s an amusing idea. (Extra credit if you can think of any other cocktail that might have a convincing claim to that title.)

The Leap Year Cocktail is not as sweet as you would expect from the recipe. The formula here is very similar to Walton’s (and Robert Hess’s, and Gary Regan’s…)—a little longer on gin than the Savoy version.

Leap Year Cocktail

  • 2 oz Gin (Bombay Dry or Plymouth)
  • ½ oz Grand Marnier
  • ½ oz sweet vermouth (M&R Rosso)
  • ¼ oz lemon juice

Stir with ice until cold, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Express and garnish with lemon.

The flavors are deliciously inscrutable—the combination seems to introduce new flavors beyond individual ingredients. The gin is certainly there, and the orange nose, and, mysteriously, a faint tone of chocolate.

So here’s to the solstice, summer or winter. I’m absolutely delighted that I didn’t wait two years more, for a year-divisible-by-four, to discover this intriguing classic.

(As for real leap years, my favorite was 2000; I wrote enterprise business software in those days, and so I had to know all the rules. It’ll be another 390 years before anyone has that much fun again. I’m glad I was around for that one.)