(Bloomberg) -- While the “I’m on a Boat!” meme may be a decade old, the feeling of leaving land behind and setting sail for an afternoon—or week—will never get old. And for as long as humans have traversed the seas (or lakes or bays or summer fêtes with nautical themes), we’ve needed something to keep us hydrated. In the past, sailors spiked water with spirits as a sterilization step; on today’s pleasure craft, we can enjoy the alcohol solely for its delightful effects. 

The Cape Codder, the simple mix of vodka and cranberry juice likely to have been many a drinker’s first dabble with mixology, is a fantastic nautical cocktail that we can upgrade with a few tricks and augmentations, such as using an navy-strength (aka overproofed) gin. As with so much in the spirits industry, this category was born of marketing.

“The history of navy-strength gin is that it was invented by Plymouth gin in 2001. The Royal Navy never officially issued gin to its sailors, (1) ” explains lauded spirits historian David Wondrich. “It came about because the company saw a bunch of rum brands in the U.K. with nautical-themed names and labels and wanted a navy gin to get the brand—then almost dead—a bit more attention.”

Authentic or not, lucky us! The higher alcohol content of Plymouth Navy Strength (114 proof vs. the traditional 80) makes the gin botanicals pop against the other ingredients. If you can’t find it or prefer a lighter drink, don’t sweat it too much, but it’s worth seeking out.

What you should not compromise on, however, is the 100% cranberry juice. Most bottled cranberry juice is actually ‘cranberry juice cocktail’ (in attendant tiny writing), which, true to its description, is a blend of apple juice mixed with a polite suggestion of actual cranberry, and it’s too sweet for use in making elegant, sea-worthy cocktails. But when you blend 100% cranberry with equal parts simple syrup, the result is a balanced expression of cranberry with just the right amount of sweetness, acidity, and tannins.

To finish your fancifying, a dose of sweet vermouth delivers additional depth and complexity. Italian vermouth can be brutal sometimes, so find a French variant such as Dolin that has gentler aromatics.

Want to really take this drink to the next level? Make additional cranberry-simple syrup blend and freeze it to use as ice cubes.

Upgraded Cape Codder

Serves 1

1 ½ oz. Plymouth Navy Strength Gin1 oz. Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth2 ½ oz. 100% cranberry juice (unsweetened)2 ½ oz. simple syrupSliced limes, for garnish

Combine in an ice-filled tall glass or tumbler. Garnish with a lime wheel.


For simple syrup

Combine equal parts sugar and water in a small pot over low heat, stirring occasionally until all the sugar is dissolved. Let cool before using. Keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week. 


Still thirsty? The entire 12 Cocktails of Summer series here


(1) Well, almost never. "There were two small issues during the Napoleonic Wars, one of a load of captured gin and the other of a special purchase on the open market. The Navy only had official standards for one spirit—rum—and that's because it purchased it in bulk, aged it, blended it, and shipped it out again; it needed the standards because it was, in effect, the rum's producer. The official proof was 54.5% ABV," says David Wondrich. "There was still plenty of gin found on Royal Navy ships, because the officers were grouped into 'messes,' and each mess was given a sum of money with which to supplement the official ration of food and drink, however it wished. Officers liked gin. Since Plymouth is one of the U.K.'s biggest naval bases, and many messes bought Plymouth gin, it comes up again and again in nautical literature. But that would have been standard Plymouth, at standard British proofs for gin, the highest of which was 47.4% ABV."

To contact the author of this story: John deBary in New York at john.debary@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Justin Ocean at jocean1@bloomberg.net

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