The Savoy Cocktail Book has been pretty well mined for century-old examples of classic cocktailing, and yet there are still a few attractive wallflowers that don’t get any attention. One of my favorites among these little charmers is the Ray Long Cocktail.

Its namesake was William Ray Long, a reporter, editor, and publisher in the early 1900s. He seems to have been a skillful, well-networked reporter and editor in his youth, with a fair understanding of the periodical journalism business which propelled him on a meteoric rise through his profession. William Randolph Hearst found him and made him president of his publishing house; Long became editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and a stable of other famous periodicals while he was still in his thirties.

He was unusually well paid for his editing and managerial expertise, which may have been part of his downfall. Flush with cash in the early ’30s, he quit the periodicals business and started a book publishing house with his friend Richard Smith. It seems he was not as well suited to the book business as to the magazine industry, but before he went bust he did manage to bring out a handful of cocktail manuals (Repeal was just at hand), including Patrick Duffy’s Official Mixer’s Manual of 1934. But book publishing, as it turned out, is not magazine publishing; Long squandered his money and, despondent, committed suicide in 1935.

As for the Ray Long Cocktail, nowhere in the record is there any information about who first made this cocktail or why. It just showed up out of nowhere in the Savoy in 1930; perhaps Long had endeared himself to bartenders: “I’m tired of Cosmo, I think I’ll publish novels and cocktail manuals instead…”

Pure speculation, that…

So what is the Ray Long Cocktail?

Ray Long Cocktail, photo ©2019 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Ray Long Cocktail

The Ray Long is essentially a brandy Manhattan with a splash of absinthe. It is similar to another forgotten delight from the Savoy, Nick’s Own Cocktail — only the proportions are different (Nick seems to have liked more vermouth).

The Ray Long Cocktail
Based on Craddock, The Savoy Cocktail Book, 1930

  • 2 oz (60 ml) brandy (Pierre Ferrand Ambré Cognac)
  • 1 oz (30 ml) sweet vermouth (Cocchi Vermouth di Torino)
  • 4 dashes absinthe (Leopold Bros. Absinthe Verte)
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

Mix all ingredients with ice and stir until cold; strain into a chilled cocktail stem. Traditionally served ungarnished, but a cherry works well.

The main spirit here is the brandy, so use a good one. It doesn’t have to be Cognac, of course, but it should be at least a VSOP or better. The light, fruity suggestion of sweetness is essential to the Ray Long’s flavor profile.

Absinthe dasher (detail), photo © 2019 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.The absinthe is the curiosity here; it is the extra flourish that separates the Ray Long from the pure brandy Manhattan. Four dashes is quite enough to make the absinthe a dominant flavor; your taste for absinthe will guide your mix, but four dashes seems to be the original aggressive intent. If that amount is too forward, it’s easy to cut back a dash or two; more than that, and the absinthe’s anise and fennel are lost. They are the characteristic flavor notes of the drink; without them, you can’t honestly call this a Ray Long Cocktail.

If there’s anything the last ten years of cocktail blogging have taught me, it’s that I’m a sucker for anything that looks like an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. The Ray Long fits right into my repertoire. I’m a whiskey guy, but I find I’m liking brandy a lot lately…