The Army & Navy is a deliciously simple classic cocktail combining gin, lemon, orgeat, and bitters. The tartness of fresh lemon juice is balanced by sweet and creamy orgeat, and Angostura bitters add depth and complexity.
The Army & Navy is a great simple gin cocktail that has a slight tiki vibe due to the almond-flavored orgeat syrup and the use of classic aromatic bitters.
Orgeat syrup is a key ingredient in the Army & Navy cocktail and it’s what sets it apart from other gin-based cocktails. Orgeat syrup is a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar, and orange blossom water or rose water. It is often used in tiki-style cocktails and adds a sweet, complex, nutty flavor to the Army & Navy cocktail.
Depending on how much citrus and syrup is used, the cocktail can become a bit sweet (and reminiscent of a lemon and almond baked goods, like madeline cookies!)
The drink’s original specs apparently called for a ratio of 2 parts gin, 1 part lemon, and 1 part orgeat, which really drowns out the flavor of the gin. But given the era that the drink was created, the flavor of the gin probably wouldn’t have been very desirable. Modern, high quality gins and modern (leaning a little less sweet) taste preferences require an updated take on the classic.
However, many interpretations of the Army & Navy scale up the lemon and orgeat a bit too much, in my opinion, so what I’m sharing here meets the two sides in the middle. Not too sweet, but not too dry either.
History of the Army & Navy
It’s a bit unclear how the recipe first came to be, but a common story on the internet is that the drink was first created to celebrate a football game between the army and navy.
The first appearance of the Army & Navy in print was in David A. Embury’s 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. He was not impressed with the original 2:1:1 ratio and instead re-imagined the drink with just a hint of lemon and orgeat to accompany the gin.
Embury’s Army & Navy recipe is drinkable and still fairly popular, with a ratio of: 2 ounces of gin, ½ ounce of lemon juice, and ¼ ounce of orgeat, and a dash of bitters. However, it’s a bit too dry for most. I prefer a bit more oomph and the smooth texture a little more orgeat provides.
A modern interpretation of a classic cocktail
My Army & Navy recipe is a middle of the road kind of gin sour, suitable for most palates, but keeping the flavor of the gin at the forefront. Here’s the list of ingredients:
- 2 ounces of gin
- ¾ ounce lemon juice
- ½ ounce of orgeat
- 1 dash of Angostura bitters
What is orgeat?
Orgeat is a vintage syrup made with almonds, sugar, water, and a small amount of orange blossom water or rosewater. It’s not difficult to make at home, if you like to diy your ingredients.
The exact origins of orgeat syrup are unclear, but it’s believed to have been created in the Middle East or North Africa in ancient times.
The word “orgeat” comes from the French word “orge,” which means barley. Originally, orgeat syrup was made from barley and was used as a non-alcoholic alternative to beer. Over time, the recipe evolved, and almonds became the primary ingredient.
In the Middle Ages, orgeat syrup was used as a medicinal drink and was believed to have healing properties. It was also used as a flavoring for desserts and pastries.
Orgeat syrup became popular in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries and was often used in cocktails and punches. In the United States, orgeat syrup became popular during the tiki cocktail era of the 1930s and 1940s and was often used in tropical cocktails.
A variation for spring
Gin cocktails are perfect for springtime! Make the Army & Navy even more fresh and spring-y by using a floral gin or even adding a dash of floral bitters, like Scrappy’s Lavender Bitters.
Orgeat is made with orange blossom water, which gives the almond syrup a gently floral flavor. Make this cocktail even more floral by misting the coupe glass with orange blossom water or adding a dash to the shaker. Just keep it to a dash though, or it can quickly become overpowering.
You might also enjoy these other gin cocktails:
Army & Navy Classic Gin Cocktail
- 2 oz gin
- ¾ oz lemon juice
- ½ oz orgeat syrup
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and fill it 3/4 with ice.
- Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass.
- Garnish with a lemon twist, and edible flowers if desired.