Smile Politely

Cocktails 101: Cameron’s Kick

I think I speak for everyone who isn’t an undergrad at UIUC when I thank the appropriate deities that the complete absurdity of Unofficial is behind us.  Having spent time at the Pig wondering over the absurdity of having an Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day when St. Patrick’s day, in fact, falls within the semester, I think we can all admit we need a stiff drink.  And, given the season, it’s probably appropriate to get outside a little something Irish.

It’s probably pretty obvious that I’m not going to be recommending a cocktail or shot based solely on the inclusion of a green ingredient — I remember hearing described, once, a shot that I hope was meant as an emetic, which included lime juice, Midori, and green Chartreuse — but my cocktail suggestion for this year skips the green goo entirely, relying instead on an ingredient that’s more, shall we say, authentically Irish.  The Cameron’s Kick is slightly different from many of the cocktails I’ve written about so far, in that it’s not famous or even the precursor to something moderately well-known.  It’s a weird little offshoot of the sour family, which, while definitely tasty, is notable mostly for using Irish whiskey, a spirit famous for mixing poorly.  The Cameron’s Kick is also a wonderful symbol of international drunkenness, as it mixes Scotch and Irish whisk(e)y (Scotch partisans are notoriously curmudgeonly about the extra ‘e’), bringing together in one drink the two most important national contributors to distilled spirits in Western history.

The origins of this particular cocktail are slightly muddy, but it appears in the Savoy Cocktail Book and a contemporary drinking manual around 1930, meaning it originated during the last gasps of Prohibition.  As such, it’s possible that its strong flavors were meant to disguise inferior hooch, or to help stretch hard-to-obtain supplies of particular liquors.  Whatever the case, this is one of those drinks that looks like a train wreck on paper, yet ends up surprisingly good.  It’s a good reminder that it’s sometimes worth experimenting not just with flavoring syrups, liqueurs, and fruit juices, but with mixing base liquors.

The one possibly unfamiliar ingredient in the Cameron’s Kick is orgeat (pronounced “or-zhea”) syrup.  Orgeat is a sweet syrup made with almonds and orange-flower water (or sometimes rose water).  It shares an etymology with the sweet Mexican rice drink, horchata, but is otherwise unrelated.  It’s nonalcoholic and fairly easy to find; the Torani brand of syrups, often used for flavoring coffee, has an orgeat, which is available at Friar Tucks, and probably elsewhere in the region.  Orgeat is worth seeking out; it’s shelf-stable and used in a number of other cocktails, including the Mai Tai and the Japanese Cocktail, which is a lovely variation of a typical Old-Fashioned.

Cameron’s Kick

  • 1 oz Scotch whisky
  • 1 oz Irish whiskey 
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice 
  • 1/2 oz orgeat syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker, shake well with ice.  Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel or brandied cherry (or both).

Now is a great time to use a blended Scotch, rather than a more-expensive single malt.  I tend to use Famous Grouse, which is mild but undeniably smoky, but Dewar’s or any other mid-shelf blend is probably perfectly acceptable.  To really get a taste of Irish whiskey, I recommend Redbreast, which is pot-stilled to give it a thicker body and almondy flavor, but Redbreast is expensive, so if you’ve got a bottle of Jameson or Bushmill, use that without regret.

So if, as they say, everyone’s a little bit Irish this Wednesday, consider trying a Cameron’s Kick while you can still taste it.  There’s always time for green beer later.


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