Friday Night Cocktail: Hop Toad

Mixing cocktails from older cocktail books offers as many challenges as rewards. In the hardest cases, the specified ingredients no longer exist at all, such as Hercules, Forbidden Fruit or Caperitif. But even when an ingredient still exists, that doesn’t mean it’s always clear which ingredient it is.

Take “apricot brandy.”

There are two distinct ingredients called “apricot brandy”: one is an unaged eau-de-vie, the other a sweetened liqueur. Obviously, they each bring very different characteristics to the cocktail shaker. But unless the recipe writer has chosen their words carefully, you can’t always tell which is intended. (After all, they knew what they meant, and only one of the two may have been available in their local market anyway.)

My friend Erik makes a good case that, the bulk of the time, “apricot brandy” refers to the liqueur, on the basis that well-made eau-de-vie is expensive and hard to come by, so wouldn’t likely have found much use in cocktails. He also suggests tasting the drink on your mental palate and considering which of the two would provide the most balance.

Then again, there’s the Hop Toad.

How to make a Hop Toad

  • 1.5 oz apricot brandy (see below)
  • 0.5 oz lemon or lime juice

Combine in a cocktail shaker, shake for 15 seconds, and strain into a chilled glass.

With either type of apricot brandy, the Hop Toad doesn’t really match any modern template of drinking: apricot liqueur would make it sickly sweet, but apricot eau-de-vie makes it puckeringly tart. Yet the eau-de-vie is what’s called for here. The closest relative in common circulation would probably be the Gin Rickey (minus the soda), although even that often has sugar added nowadays.

To my mind, the Hop Toad is meant to be a refresher, quickly made and quickly drunk while still frigid. The first time I tried one, I used Zwack “pecsetes barack palinka” for the eau-de-vie in question, and found it a bit harsh. This time, I used the Blume Marillen imported by Haus Alpenz, and found it a much more pleasant experience. Tart, but refreshingly so, with floral aromas. Every time I swallowed a sip, I immediately wanted another, which I consider to be a good thing in a cocktail.

On top of ingredient confusion, there’s also a lot of name confusion: a single name can often refer to many concoctions, and “Hop Toad” is no exception. One common variation adds Jamaican rum to the mix, and in this iteration the eau-de-vie is sometimes replaced by liqueur, essentially producing an apricot-sweetened rum sour. Avoid it. The recipe above is the oldest one I can find, and is the one to use.

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