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Drink of the Week: Sleepy Head

Here's another fantastic ginger cocktail, but not a new one. It's the Sleepy Head, and it dates back at least as far as 1930 when it appears in Harry Craddock's The Savoy Cocktail Book. If you are a fan of the Moscow Mule, or if you tried the Mamie Taylor, I think this cocktail has them both beat. However, the early version is a bit simpler than what we have here. The adjustments are subtle, but I think the cocktail is better for it

The first change results in a stronger boost of orange flavor. The basis for this updated comes from Jeff Hollinger of the Absinthe Brasserie in San Francisco. While Craddock's book calls for just an orange peel, Hollinger keeps the garnish but takes the flavor a step further by adding muddled orange slices. I am a big fan of that idea because you also get more of the oil from the peel, and the resulting orange juice helps to build a more complex flavor profile.

The second change comes in the form of ginger syrup. Of course, the Savoy specifies ginger beer, and there's nothing wrong with making it that way, but I prefer my own syrup over anything you can buy. The flavor is more intense and it saves shelf space since I am not storing bottles of ginger beer. You will need sparkling water using this technique, but here is another good reason to start using a soda siphon. If you decide to use ginger beer, buy a good brand with a strong bite and leave out the syrup, topping-up with your bottled stuff.

Sleepy Head
2 orange slices
8 mint leaves
1.5 oz brandy
1 oz ginger syrup
.5 oz fresh lemon juice
club soda to top

In the bottom of a mixing glass, muddle 2 orange slices and the mint leaves. Add brandy, ginger syrup and lemon juice. Fill with ice and shake well. Strain into an ice-filled glass and top with sparkling water. Garnish with mint sprigs and a large orange peel.

The combination of brandy, ginger and orange is so wonderful. The mint takes it one step further. I imagine the early version with just the piece of orange peel having an alluring scent of the fruit, but the muddled pieces really lets you taste the orange flavor. Used now as a garnish, I cut a wide "horse head" swath of orange peel using a vegetable peeler—simple, but effective. The snow may have just melted, but the mint is already starting to grow again. I am looking forward to summer with this cocktail appearing in regular rotation. Will this delicious refresher make you sleepy? That probably depends on how many you drink. Or, perhaps the name comes from the drinker and this was intended to wake you up. Try it and let me know!

3 comments to Drink of the Week: Sleepy Head

  • I serve this drink fairly frequently to non-cocktail geeks during our Savoy Nights at Alembic Bar, and I'm not entirely sure it needs quite that much improvement.

    I do insist on a fresh horse's neck of orange peel, a flavorful ginger beer, and a good healthy handful of freshly spanked mint sprigs, but after that, I think you're gilding the lily for what is already essentially an elaborately garnished highball.

    Sometimes "simple" isn't a bad thing.

  • Erik,

    Short version: You're right. I am gilding the lily. It's already a good drink the way it was originally intended.

    Long version: First of all, thanks for your comment. Your reviews at the Underhill-Lounge.com regarding everything "Savoy" are a valuable resource and have become, dare I say, legendary. Frankly, I doubt anyone would disagree that you are the authority on the subject. So, let's agree, the Sleepy Head in it's original form is a delicious cocktail that tastes, as you put it, "like a vaguely boozy glass of ginger ale, it is no problem to slurp these down like soda pop." I do love that description!

    That said, my first encounter with it wasn't from the Savoy (shame on me) but rather Jeff Hollinger's muddled oranges version. Maybe I am gilding the lily, but I like it with the oranges too. Am I the only one? Maybe we should we give it another name so as not to tread upon the original recipe.

  • Nice use of that ginger syrup we conversed about. I totally agree this is the best way to go.

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