The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail is built squarely on a tropical Caribbean foundation—despite the fact that Bermuda is hundreds of miles out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The drink combines rum, lime, and sugar—the combination Jeff Berry refers to as “the Holy Trinity of Caribbean mixology”—but the sweetness is applied in the form of nutty, gingery falernum syrup and orange liqueur.

We have Crosby Gaige to thank for the original formula. I haven’t been able to learn if he invented the drink—or was ever even in Bermuda—or just picked it up somewhere. It first shows up in his 1941 Cocktail Guide and Ladies Home Companion.

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail
Crosby Gaige, 1941

  • 3 parts Barbados Rum
  • 1 part Lime Juice
  • ½ part Falernum or sugar syrup
  • 1 dash Cointreau or Brandy

Shake with plenty of ice and strain into cocktail glass.

I don’t think Gaige knew how he wanted this drink to work. He had the basic formula down, but his ambivalence about sweeteners is striking. First of all, there’s a big flavor difference between plain sugar syrup and nutty, spicy, sometimes gingery falernum. Cointreau is a sweet, orange flavored liqueur, and brandy isn’t.

What th’…?

Fortunately, the RBYC cocktail caught “Trader Vic” Bergeron’s imagination. Vic was considerably more decisive than Gaige, and more interested in driving flavor with his sweeteners. He ditched the simple syrup option, and banished the brandy alternative. Even though a single dash of either Cointreau or brandy makes little change in the drink, sweet, orange Cointreau was his flavor adjuster of choice.

The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail
The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

When Vic was done with it, the RBYC was clearly a proto-tiki drink, halfway between the straightforward Daiquiri and the more ornate, complex tiki drinks that would be his hallmark.

My problem with both versions is the single dash of Cointreau. Its orange note is too faint, and gets buried under the falernum and lime. The RBYC works much better with more of the orange coming through.

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

  • 1½ oz Mount Gay Eclipse Amber rum
  • ½ oz fresh lime juice
  • ¼ oz Falernum (John D. Taylor Velvet Falernum)
  • ¼ oz Clement Creole Shrubb

Shake with ice until cold; strain into chilled cocktail stem. Optionally, garnish with lime.

It’s intriguing that this drink has always called for Barbados rum. Mount Gay Eclipse Amber seems to be the rum of choice for the Royal Bermuda—it’s a perfect match for the RBYC flavor mix. Other rums also work—on a whim, I made this with Eldorado 12 demerara, and it worked nicely, though the sweetness wanted to submerge the falernum—but the Barbados rums seem to be just right.

Mount Gay Eclipse Amber Rum label (detail)The formula as handed down from Gaige and Bergeron calls for a 3:1 ratio of rum to lime juice, but Jim Meehan published a somewhat modernized version in his PDT Cocktail Book that adjusts the formula to 2:1, with a half-part each of falernum and curaçao. That makes a softer, sweeter, easy-drinking RBYC. I like it; it de-emphasizes the rum, and might be a good choice if you’re making this up by the pitcher on a hot summer afternoon. The subversive side of me can see serving it over crushed ice, maybe even with a splash of soda.

The only falernum I have easy access to in my market is the Taylor Velvet, so I don’t know what adjustments you need if you have another brand. (The Taylor Velvet Falernum is very good, but it’s something you can make at home; I’ve been promising myself I would try that.)

As for the original recipe’s Cointreau: I’m a proponent of curaçaos made on the same spirit base as the drink I’m mixing. In this case, that means Clement’s Creole Shrubb, which is an orange liqueur with a rum base. It’s soft and well-made, and blends well with the Mount Gay.

The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail is a delightful sour, more complex than the Daiquiri. The nose is similar, but with a spicy overtone. As with any sour, the trick is to hold the citrus and the sugar in balance, so that neither dominates your sensation of the drink. The first taste sensation is the dryness of the rum and the sharp notes of the lime, and then the sweet spiciness of the falernum rounds out the flavor. The weakest link is the curaçao, which seems to be something of a wallflower even with the increased portion. I’m guessing it’s there in some supporting role, and ties the rest of the flavors together, sort of the way a dash of bitters completes many drinks. The aftertaste is long, and mostly about the lime and spice.

The theatrical side of me has always thought it would be a fine fashion statement to have a yacht, and I suspect I’m not alone in that. As it turns out, the odds are slim to none that I will ever make that statement, but as it turns out, I don’t really mind. I’d like to think that if I had the money to support a yacht, I’d find something more constructive to do with it.

But the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail, that’s a different thing. It’s delicious, it has an evocative name, and I can afford it. And summer is coming to Minnesota. I have this handsome little tropical cocktail in my hand. I can feel the sun, I can hear the wind in the rigging, and the rush of water past the hull…