While the Clover Club cocktail may have originated in the 1890s at the Hotel Bellevue in Philadelphia, where the social organization that lends its name to the drinks feasted, it is definitely a drink of the 20th century. It was then that the famous pink drink became a cultural phenomenon beyond a small group of Philadelphia-area lawyers and business people. It came to New York perhaps thanks to hotelier George Boldt, who operated both the Bellevue and the new Waldorf-Astoria. His other culinary claim to fame was popularizing the Thousand Islands dressing in the latter, but the Clover Club was instead an immediate hit among the city’s elite trend-watchers. Soon the drink spread throughout the city, where it had, as they say, a moment.
By the time Congress voted to ban all alcohol in the United States on a cold January day in 1918, the drink had spread like a sweet but not too sweet wildfire through the nation’s collective cocktail barrel. It had been covered in the newspapers and had begun to appear in cocktail manuals that still survive today. In 1917 he appeared in Tom Bullock’s The ideal bartender in the form often served today in cocktail bars: a gin and sour dry vermouth, enlivened with raspberry syrup and foamed with egg white. Other versions exist – some exclude the vermouth, others eschew the raspberry for the grenadine (a latter-day transformation after the syrup became a cocktail sensation in its own right) – but the Bullock version survives today for one reason: it is a delicious cocktail with its own particular charm. It’s a drink that marries bright berries with tangy, grassy vermouth.
For Clover Club to achieve both goals, it needs to be structured around a quality raspberry syrup – the best you can find is one you make yourself with fresh, in-season raspberries. Make sure your lemon juice is also fresh (squeezed that day) and you’ve chosen a quality gin and vermouth – I like to make this drink with Ford’s Gin and Dolin Dry. Finally, getting a good foam head on your clover club is key, but don’t go crazy because bigger isn’t better. The best method is to add the ingredients to a shaker (including the egg white) and give a good hard shake for a few seconds without ice before adding the ice and shaking again for about ten seconds to cool. This will help your Clover Club achieve the classic, elegant look and feel that allows this drink to sit comfortably in old-world oak-paneled living rooms and in the backyard this summer.