This Prohibition-era cocktail was made timeless through its inclusion in bartender Harry Craddock’s 1930 publication of The Savoy Cocktail Book. Some believe the drink was named after a mobster, possibly Abe “Angel Face” Kaminsky, who was notorious for robbing Detroit speakeasies. But, like just about any drink from this era, the origins are hard to prove.
What’s more notable is this cocktail’s ingredients and preparation. Rather than a single base spirit and lower-proof mixer, common in drinks like a Martini, the Angel Face combines multiple spirits, using gin, Calvados or apple brandy and apricot brandy in equal measure. While gin and Calvados are pretty straightforward, the third ingredient can be a bit tricky.
Apricot brandy typically comes in two forms. The one you’re most likely to see is a liqueur, rather than a straight brandy made from actual apricot juice. These liqueurs tend to use a grape-based brandy with sugar and flavoring added. The quality of this combination varies wildly, from higher-end offerings that can be a delight to sip neat as a dessert pour, to boozy sugar-water that tastes akin to a Starburst thrown into some simple syrup with a shot of vodka added. All will typically run around 15–30% alcohol-by-volume (abv).
The second type of apricot brandy is actual brandy, meaning a fermented and distilled spirit made from apricot juice. These are more common in Europe, but some can be found in the U.S. One of the more accessible brands is Blume Marillen Apricot Eau-De-Vie. These will typically clock in at a higher 40% abv range and will be dry rather than sweet.
For the purpose of this cocktail, we opt for the more widely available liqueur-based apricot brandy, as it seems true to the recipe’s original intentions, and helps avoid an overly dry drink that just consists of three higher-strength liquors smashed together.
Preparation of the Angel Face calls for one final tweak. Most spirit-on-spirit drinks without a citrus element are stirred rather than shaken, to chill while keeping water dilution under control. Here, Craddock’s recipe calls for it to be shaken, which seems intended to increase the dilution, better smoothing out and combining three otherwise pungent ingredients. If you prefer a stirred drink for aesthetic purposes—a clearer-looking cocktail free of ice chips—you can add an extra ¼ ounce of chilled water to achieve the same balance while stirring away.
Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously until well chilled, 15–20 seconds. Strain into chilled coupe or martini glass. Garnish with apple slice, if desired.