Between gin or vodka, olive or lemon twist, brine or stark, dry or wet, MSG-tinged or saline-tinctured, there is no shortage of paths in the choose-your-own-adventure of martinis. You can also try the herbal martini if you’re a martini variety completist. The Alaska cocktail is a great introduction.

The Savoy Cocktail Book immortalizes Alaska, a drink from pre-prohibition. The glass is made with gin and Yellow Chartreuse. It’s also often paired with orange bitters. It has survived more wars and economic recessions than you or I, but it is still several decades younger than its surroundings.

The Alaska cocktail was invented in 1910. Before that, at the very least, it was just a jug filled with cold water and ice in the United States. (The Alaska that we are making today will undoubtedly be ice-cold but in a different way.) It’s doubtful that the two drinks were ever connected. While Alaskan ice is a favorite of bartenders (and no doubt the reason behind the current obsession with clear ice in craft cocktails), it needs to be clarified whether this factored into the naming since the drink was served. The consensus is that Alaska got its name because of the popularity of the land of the same title at the time. And the golden color of the drink reminded the pioneers of the precious metal promised by the government. Wild. This herbaceous martini player is the result of all that history.

Yellow Chartreuse is the star of this drink, and (obviously) it’s what gives it its herbal flavor. It is milder and sweeter but still packs a punch. It’s perfect at this time of the year. The herbal notes give it a medicinal feel, and its potency must kill seasonal germs. It may not be as refreshing as a pitcher of mountain water packed with ice, but it still feels oddly refreshing, like taking a deep, crisp breath of mountain air.

This is the most common modern version. You can substitute regular gin with the slightly more esoteric Old Tom gin for cocktail die-hards. (A sweeter gin halfway between London Dry and Dutch Jenever). You will get a more accurate representation of the original. Enjoy!

Alaska Cocktail

  • Two dashes of orange bitters
  • Yellow Chartreuse 3/4 ounce
  • 2 1/4 ounces dry gin
  • Lemon twist

Pour the ingredients into a chilled mixing glass. Add cracked ice, and stir for 25-30 seconds or until chilled but not too diluted. Pour into a chilled coupe. Add a lemon twist and garnish.