Charlie’s Cafe Exceptionale Part III
In the last two posts I have looked at Charles Herlin, the forgotten founder of Charlie’s Cafe Exceptionale, and how the recipe for his signature drink was lost, changed, and perhaps found again. However, there is one area that I have not covered yet and that is how does it taste. Although we don’t have the recipe that Herlin originally created we do have the recipe for what was served at Charlie’s Cafe Exceptionale. Perhaps they used this recipe until they closed or maybe it went through further changes as time went on. However, in the 1930’s if one ordered a President Cocktail from Charlie’s this is what they would get:
1 1/2 Oz. Gin
1 1/2 Oz. Lemon
1 1/2 Oz. Orange
a dash of Grenadine
Stir with ice
In the interest of both mixology and history I decided to make this drink as it appears on the back of the menu card. I made a couple of assumptions when I mixed this drink: firstly that the orange and lemon refers to the juices of these fruits and secondly that it would be served straight up in a cocktail glass. What emerged from my mixing glass was very interesting. It was an orange drink obviously very heavy on the citrus and quite light on the alcohol. It ended up quite dry but not too bitter with the grenadine serving to deepen the orange hue of the drink after the juices were added. The closest thing I could approximate it to is an obscure cocktail from around the same time called the Clover Club. Overall it was quite refreshing, and I could see how it would work well as a good summer cocktail.
In the interest of experimentation I also decided to modify the recipe based on a theory that I had. It is possible that the orange mentioned in the recipe was orange liqueur. I decided to make another replacing the orange juice that I had used the first time with Cointreau. The results were quite good. This version was a very light pink and definitely more balanced than the previous attempt. The flavor reminded me of a Side Car or a White Lady. There were pleasant botanical notes from the gin with a not too bitter not too sweet flavor from the lemon and Cointreau. This one felt to me like it would be a good winter cocktail to chase away the cold.
These cocktails are worth trying. Both versions were very satisfying, and I will probably make each again myself. I would only recommend that one use fresh juices rather than bottled, and that home made grenadine should be used. This is more authentic to what they would have had in the 1930’s and 40’s, and will give you a better flavor than using bottled juices and the red sugar syrup that passes for grenadine now.
So there you have it a piece of Minneapolis history poured into a glass. Charlie’s Cafe Exceptionale may be gone forever, but you to can try a bit of what made them so unique. There is nothing like a good meal and a good meal is only enhanced by a well made cocktail.