High proof cocktails can be polarizing. For some, like us, a hard blow like the Diamondback should be a put off, and for some we’re sure it is, but where some drinks are just about alcohol content, this is an uppercut that leaves you longing for more. Have one at happy hour and be careful, but as a nightcap, what better way to end a long day (or start a weekend) with a cocktail that has the subtlety of a hammer, yet the depth and complexity of an expensive French meal.

While some might assume the Diamondback is named for a snake, it isn’t. It’s named for a bar in Baltimore and originally named the Diamondback Lounge Cocktail because the bar was the Diamondback Lounge. The name of the bar? Also not a snake. Those familiar with Maryland know the diamondback is a terrapin. It’s a weird thing, because all along the east coast of the US, a diamondback is a type of rattlesnake, but in Maryland, it’s a turtle. That’s also why the Maryland University mascot is a terrapin, a diamondback terrapin, in fact.

So how is the drink? Brutal in that, I shouldn’t, but I can’t put it down kind of way, but why? For us, it’s about apple. The cocktail itself, originally cited in Ted Saucier’s 1951 book, Bottoms Up, is an unusual mix of rye, applejack and Chartreuse. Over the years, the recipe adapted and changed, as recipes do, but not all that much. The rye became high proof rye, a thoughtful and necessary change, and the Chartreuse is either yellow or green. To our palate, Green Chartreuse is just way too much for this cocktail, especially if you see it as an apple cocktail. For the apple to come through, Yellow Chartreuse is a better choice.

So what about the apple? The original recipe calls for applejack, one of our favorite spirits, which we replace with Clear Creek Apple Brandy. Clear Creek makes some superb brandy and liqueur, and they’ve had practice. One of the early craft distilleries in Oregon, they make a variety of apple brandies, and while the Reserve Apple Brandy, aged 8 years, is a sublime sip, one we enjoy neat, and would compare to any top shelf Calvados, we use the 2 year old barrel aged Apple Brandy in cocktails where we’d otherwise use applejack, and in many cases, it’s an improvement. All Clear Creek brandies have a certain noticeable brightness, a freshness of fruit which we welcome with the powerful rye and herbal Chartreuse, however, if you don't have access to Clear Creek Apple Brandy, Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy is a fine choice we're also fond of.

The rye? James Oliver a craft rye from Rose City Distilling in Portland, but if you can't get that, Rittenhouse 100 proof rye is a perfect choice. But don’t take our word for it. Pour a Diamondback, and savor the apple the same way you’d savor an apple baked with spice. The Diamondback is just that good.

  • 1 1/2 oz James Oliver Rye (or Rittenhouse 100 Proof Rye)
  • 3/4 oz Clear Creek Apple Brandy (or Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy)
  • 3/4 oz Yellow Chartreuse

Stir with ice, and serve up. No garnish.