This Cocktail is Called the Monkey Gland (But You Should Make it Anyway)

January 14, 2016

The pantheon of cocktails is filled with ridiculous cocktail names. For every evocatively named Vesper or Negroni, there’s a more explicitly named Fuzzy Navel or Sex on the Beach.

One of the weirdest names of all, in my opinion, is the Monkey Gland. It’s hard not to see “monkey gland” on a cocktail menu without laughing, recoiling, or at least furrowing your brow a little. Knowing the background story of the name doesn’t help, as it’s not too far off from a 1920s' version of calling something "Sex on the Beach." It’s a somewhat delicate subject, I’d say, and perhaps not something that should be discussed at length in good company...

Photo by Emily Vikre

You see, in the 1920s, there was a doctor by the name of Serge Voronoff who had come up with a special surgical procedure that he claimed enhanced men’s, ahem, vitality. The procedure involved grafting important parts of men’s anatomy with, wait for it, monkey glands. The procedure became widely known enough that famed bartender Harry McElhone (the same person credited with inventing the Bloody Mary and the Boulevardier!) created a cocktail with a name that alluded to it. Thus was born the Monkey Gland.

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As challenging, and potentially off-putting as the name is, the cocktail itself is anything but. With equal parts gin and fresh orange juice, it’s quite juicy and easy-drinking. Using freshly squeezed orange juice is an absolute necessity in this cocktail, and makes it a great winter sip when citrus is at its peak.

The breezy, sunny flavor of the orange juice offsets the piney aroma of the gin, and a splash of grenadine (or raspberry syrup, which may have been the ingredient used in the original version at Harry’s bar) and absinthe, give it richness and an interesting and pleasing bitter edge.

Photo by Emily Vikre

In the cocktail room at our distillery, we make a version using rosemary-anise bitters in place of the absinthe, which is also wonderful because rosemary and orange are such flavor chums. In spite of its name, or perhaps because of it, the Monkey Gland is definitely a classic cocktail worth giving a try.

What's the strangest-named cocktail you've encountered? Tell us in the comments!

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I like to say I'm a lazy iron chef (I just cook with what I have around), renegade nutritionist, food policy wonk, and inveterate butter and cream enthusiast! My husband and I own a craft distillery in Northern Minnesota called Vikre Distillery (, where I claimed the title, "arbiter of taste." I also have a doctorate in food policy, for which I studied the changes in diet and health of new immigrants after they come to the United States. I myself am a Norwegian-American dual citizen. So I have a lot of Scandinavian pride, which especially shines through in my cooking on special holidays. Beyond loving all facets of food, I'm a Renaissance woman (translation: bad at focusing), dabbling in a variety of artistic and scientific endeavors.

1 Comment

Lindsay-Jean H. January 14, 2016
Well, it's a good thing that you've shared the recipe, because now that I know the backstory, there's no way I'd be capable of ordering it at a bar without smirking and/or giggling.