In my early bartending days I used to work at a small, crafty cocktail place in Oxford called Raoul’s Bar. While I was there the menu had an excess of around 90 different drinks, so it would be only natural that a few of them might be overlooked by the general crowd – one of them being a personal favourite, the Culross.
It was at Raoul’s where I first heard of this drink. It was unironically placed on the “Forgotten Cocktails” section of the menu, but after I tried it I couldn’t help to wonder why such a tasty, balanced cocktail would fall victim to the pass of time. So I made it a mission to spread the word, recommending it as many times as possible and, unsurprisingly, the feedback was more than positive – and now I have a blog, so why not use it in an attempt to revive this forgotten gem.
Frankly I don’t know much about the origin of this drink or its background, so if anybody wants to chip in I’ll be happy to update the article. All I know is that this drink first appeared in 1930 in Harry Craddock’s “The Savoy Cocktail Book”. I have a newer edition of the book and as you can see in the image, the drink basically calls for equal parts lemon, apricot brandy, Kina Lillet and Bacardi which is the same recipe as the one I was using at Raoul’s – except for the Kina Lillet which has been discontinued since 1986.
The inspiration behind the name is also unknown and searching the internet only provided me with Culross being a village and former royal burgh, and parish, in Fife, Scotland which I doubt it has anything to do with the actual cocktail.
Onto the drink now, but first let’s break down the ingredients before we get to my version of the recipe:
Pretty self-explanatory here, the lemon juice plays the sour part, balancing out the sugar that’s contained in both the apricot brandy liqueur and Lillet. I urge you to use freshly squeezed lemon juice and no other substitutes, otherwise the drink can become quite unbalanced or even undrinkable.
Lillet Blanc is an aromatised wine aperitif and the successor of the now discontinued Kina Lillet which was in the original recipe of the Culross. The Kina Lillet was more bitter due to its higher amount of quinine, the same ingredient that makes tonic water bitter. The Lillet we have nowadays contains considerably less quinine and relies more on the sweet and fruity profile of the drink.
This is the ingredient that sets this drink apart, otherwise it would just be some sort of glorified Apricot Daiquiri. It’s what adds complexity and personality to the cocktail. Realistically you should use something like Cocchi Americano in drinks that call for the Kina Lillet as it’s closer to its old flavour, but personally, I prefer to make my Culross with the contemporary version of Lillet. Its profile has a lot of peach and apricot notes which I find to boost and compliment the fruitiness of the drink… or maybe I am just biased because this was the first recipe of Culross that I tried and fell for.
Merlet Lune d’Apricot Brandy
Don’t let the term “apricot brandy” confuse you, this is just a fancy way of saying “apricot liqueur” and Merlet has a really good one. It’s made by macerating Rousillon apricots, as well as some of the kernels, before blending the infusion with young cognacs and adding sugar. The result is a rich, natural tasting apricot liqueur that really lends itself to cocktails.
This is the backbone, the main flavour of the drink so do not use just any apricot liqueur. I found Merlet Lune d’Apricot Brandy to be the perfect choice as it delivers a genuine and balanced apricot flavour to the cocktail without overpowering it or give it a fake candied fruit taste.
Bacardi Carta Blanca (aka Bacardi White), a rum often affiliated with Puerto Rico, makes use of their multi-column stills in order to produce a light distillate which is then aged for a short period of time before being charcoal filtered. The result is a clean rum that is very easy to drink and mix.
The majority of the drinking population of Earth should be familiar with Bacardi to a certain degree. In fact Bacardi was so well known after Prohibition that the words “rum” and “Bacardi” could be easily swapped. It ended up being a general term and it would be replaced with other rums in drinks although the customer would specify Bacardi.
Even nowadays, because of its light profile and commercial availability, many bartenders and rum enthusiast scoff at the thought of choosing this Puerto Rican rum as the main spirit in a drink – which is something I don’t agree with. If anything I would insist that using Bacardi Carta Blanca is quintessential to the balance of the Culross. It’s crisp with subtle fruit flavours such as stone fruits and white grapes – pair those with apricot brandy and aromatised wine and you have a great and balanced combo!
Add all the ingredients to a shaker and shake well with cubed ice. Double strain into a coupe or Nick & Nora glass and enjoy!
For my recipe I tried to stay as close as possible to the equal parts template, but I did find that the lemon was a little overpowering, making the drink too sharp and lemony, so I reduced the amount of juice added. The result is a refreshing and easy to drink cocktail that delivers pleasant summery stone fruit notes with just enough complexity to keep every sip relevant. If you enjoy a Cuban Daiquiri, then you should also enjoy the Culross, its slightly fruitier cousin.
The drink comes without a garnish, but if you think it needs a little more citrus, don’t add more lemon juice. Instead use the oils from a lemon zest, or even an orange zest in order to cut through the sweetness.
I encourage you to use my recipe and share your Culross on Instagram while tagging me (@therumbarrel). And if you do enjoy it, feel free to share this post across socials – who knows, maybe we’ll actually revive the Culross! Or if you can’t be bothered to make it at home, then come and visit me at Trailer Happiness – our menu features a more premium version of the Culross that uses Bacardi Facundo Neo as its base rum and it’s an absolute treat.
If you have any questions or feedback do reach out and let’s have a chat!