Whoever named the Atlas Cocktail knew his Greek mythology. It seems appropriate that this unusually strong apple brandy cocktail should be named after the Titan Atlas. I was aware of the general outlines of the Atlas story—the Titan was on the losing side of the war with the Olympians, and so was condemned to forever hold up the weight of the heavens—but it was only after I excavated my old copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology that I was reminded that he is also associated with one of Hercules’s labors, the one about fetching up some golden apples for the pleasure of the Olympic gods. Apples, impressive strength—yes, it’s a clever fit.

It appears the Atlas Cocktail is from the late 1930s. The earliest publication I’ve found so far is Gale and Marco’s The How and When (1938.) Their listing goes like this:

The Atlas Cocktail

  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • ¼ Cointreau (¾ oz Clément Creole Liqueur)
  • ¼ Demerara Rum—151 proof (¾ oz Lemon Hart 151)
  • ½ Calvados (1½–2 oz Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy)

Shake (stir) until very cold; strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Optionally, express and garnish with lemon.

Gale and Marco list the proportions as 2:1:1, as shown here, but I’ve found that 3:1:1 works well, too; depends on the brandy, I suspect.

I’ve tried a number of substitutions, since my listed ingredients aren’t readily available everywhere. It turns out that the Atlas is quite resilient.

The Atlas Cocktail, photo © 2011 Douglas M. Ford. All Rights Reserved.
The Atlas Cocktail

For example, I used Laird’s because I had no Calvados. I don’t feel too badly about that—the Laird’s Straight Brandy is a pretty good drink, and I had an unopened bottle just loitering about my cabinet, looking for something to do. That turned out quite well.

And if you can’t find the Lemon Hart 151, the regular Lemon Hart 80 (or other good Demerara) will do nicely; in my opinion, Demerara is more important to the Atlas than the 151 proof. (I suspect the 151 is sort of a stunt, playing on the “Atlas” name, as in “as strong as…”, but the Demerara is fundamental to the drink’s flavor.)

I experimented with both Cointreau and Clément; the latter seemed to blend a little better, while the Cointreau seemed aggressively sweet to my palate. (But then, Cointreau always seems overly sweet to me…) If you use Cointreau, you may want to cut back the proportion a bit, unless you’re looking for that little extra sweetness.

Gale and Marco don’t call for a garnish, but the lemon is a welcome addition; it goes nicely with the apple brandy, and helps blend the rum.

Calvados and Laird’s blended applejack are lower proof than the Laird’s brandy; so, too, would be other Demerara rums you might substitute, and that’s something to consider if you want to reduce the overall potency of this drink. The Atlas has a serious alcoholic kick to it. I’m not here to tell you how much to drink, but this cocktail is well over 50% alcohol, which for me puts it in the class of Things Best Made Very Small And Very Cold. Just sayin’…