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Don’t let the name deceive you, this is not about Alaska, the state, which is typical for the Alaska cocktail since the origins are as murky as any other old drink. We know it has nothing to do with the icy north from the description in the Savoy Cocktail Book, itself far from historical record, but sometimes able to point away from the suspicions conjured by cocktail lore. This is indeed an old cocktail, one of the earliest made with Yellow Chartreuse, and even older than the book that dispelled our assumptions.
It seems first reference to the Alaska came early in the 20th Century, and is mentioned in at least one early document as an old tom gin cocktail with Yellow Chartreuse and orange bitters. By the time it appeared in the Savoy book, the mix called for London dry gin, which is how it’s mostly made today. Sure, you could make it with old tom gin, and it would be equally elegant and delectable, but we favor London dry. The only question, then, is which London dry. With the Yellow Chartreuse, a strong herbal liqueur, we prefer a sharp, dry gin that stands tall in the glass. Tanqueray level of dry is what we want, but without the classic notes of Pine-Sol and aftershave. Make no mistake, the old guard is still the benchmark of London dry gin, but we want a modern take, and there’s no better place to find it than Portland.
So which gin? That’s like asking which gin you like in a Martini. Yes, Yellow Chartreuse can dominate a drink, but this is a gin drink first, so choose based on your gin preference and adjust the liqueur accordingly. Of the Portland gins, any number of them will work, even if not all are London dry. Dancing Dog Gin, and The Walter Collective immediately come to mind as superb choices, but our pick is Union Gin from Dogwood Distilling. As for Portland gin, Union is kind of a sleeper. It’s a classic dry gin, it’s made by people who genuinely know what they’re doing, you can find it in bars (ask for it next time you’re at the Doug Fir), and it’s a killer bargain, especially after you blow your budget on that little bottle of Chartreuse. All kidding aside, Union Gin is a rock solid, no-nonsense spirit worthy of this drink, but, as with any Martini style drink, favor your own taste, and, in this case at least, respect the proportions. The Alaska is a mix of strong gin and strong liqueur, which makes it a sipper. Slam the Martinis, but linger with an Alaska.
Stir and serve up. No garnish.