The Marlene Dietrich Cocktail

The Marlene Dietrich Cocktail is a natural for anyone who enjoys Whiskey Old-Fashioneds and Whiskey Sours.

Legend has it that Dietrich sucked lemons on her movie sets; it seems she believed this would keep her mouth muscles taut for the cameras. I don’t know if that could really work, or even if the story is true, but the wedge of lemon became the hallmark garnish for this cocktail.

The Marlene Dietrich Cocktail, photo © 2011 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Marlene Dietrich Cocktail

The base drink draws on elements of both the Old-Fashioned and the Whiskey Sour; the traditionally masculine connotation of those drinks seem an appropriate match for Dietrich’s trademark cross-dressed costuming in trousers or tuxedo. The whole concept—whiskey, rocks glass, lemon wedge—really works quite brilliantly. And it doesn’t hurt that the drink is simple and delicious.

Dale DeGroff says the Marlene Dietrich Cocktail was invented at Hollywood’s Hi Ho Club around 1930. I use his formula from The Craft of the Cocktail (2002):

The Marlene Dietrich Cocktail

  • 2 oz Canadian whisky (Royal Canadian Small Batch)
  • ½ oz orange curaçao (Grand Marnier)
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 piece lemon (1 wedge lemon)
  • 1 piece orange (1 wedge orange)

 Stir liquids well and strain over ice into rocks glass. Garnish with lemon and orange wedges.

It also doesn’t hurt that you can make this cocktail a couple different ways. If you enjoy muddled citrus and a little more fruitiness in your whisky, you can muddle additional wedges of both lemon and orange in the mixing glass, shake with the rest of the ingredients, and double strain into the chilled rocks glass. And of course, include additional lemon and orange wedges as garnish; no lemon wedge, no Marlene Dietrich.

The Marlene Dietrich Cocktail, photo © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.(As for the historical correctness of muddling this drink: I can’t find a description of the Hi Ho’s original presentation, so we have a degree of liberty here.  The few recipes I’ve seen are divided on the topic; I could easily believe the original was prepared either way, or both ways. My Old-Fashioned preference is the more whiskeyesque unmuddled version, but I find both presentations delicious.)

Canadian is the classic whisky prescription in Prohibition-era recipes, and the Royal Canadian works extremely well here—as would any quality Canadian. If you pursue the muddled fruit version, you may want to substitute a high-proof rye, like Wild Turkey 101 or Rittenhouse 100, to stand up to the extra fruitiness.

7 thoughts on “The Marlene Dietrich Cocktail

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  1. I’ve read two biographies on Dietrich, one by her daughter, and one by Dietrich herself (technically an autobiography, of course), and never ran across the lemon thing, so I suspect it’s a story that is not true. However, it’s a great story and makes the drink more memorable, so what the hey!

    1. Yes, it all sounds a little hokey to me, but as you say, it makes a good story to go along with the cocktail, which seems to need some sort of garnish, and the wedge makes a nice distinguishing—if somewhat cumbersome—feature.

      1. I love a real squeeze of fresh lemon juice, so would not find the lemon cumbersome. And I think I’d enjoy this drink. I’m going to try it. I tend to like sweeter drinks, so might try the muddled version.

  2. This is a welcomed and subtle variation of the Old Fashioned, which I love. I’ll have to give this a go, perhaps with a fresh squeeze of lemon to boot. Thanks for the introduction to the liquid Marlene, Doug. Cheers.

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