Cocktails seem to fit into a few unique categories, based on when they were invented. The first category is "classic" cocktails, which were created in the late 1800s through the mid-1900s. Here is where you have mainstays like the Dark N Stormy, Margarita, and Old Fashioned. The second category is modern cocktails, which usually remix older recipes and focus on being trendy.
The Brass Monkey cocktail fits in the middle, in what we'd call "retro" cocktails. Bars in the 70s and 80s were doing some experimental things, and not all recipes from this era have stuck around. However, thanks to a band called the Beastie Boys, the Brass Monkey still has a place in modern society.
A simple drink with rum, vodka, and orange juice, this beverage isn't something that needs a deep understanding of spirits or cocktail mixing techniques. For our purposes, however, we're swapping the rum with the Biscane rum alternative from Seir Hill. This way, you can cut down on the amount of alcohol without sacrificing flavor.
Get your cocktail mixers out, and let's learn how to make the Brass Monkey drink recipe, Seir Hill-style.
A Brief History of the Brass Monkey Drink
As with any notable cocktail, the history and development of this beverage are clouded and murky, with competing stories and myths surrounding it. In fact, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that there are technically two versions of the Brass Monkey, so you may get a different recipe, depending on who you ask.
For most Beastie Boys fans or those who like to imbibe at 90s-themed house parties, the Brass Monkey is likely a mixture of equal parts malt liquor and orange juice. However, for those who know something about the Heublin Company, they would say the beverage is equal parts rum and vodka with a double shot of OJ for good measure.
Even the name of the cocktail is somewhat contentious, and it's hard to pin down what is "true" and what isn't. So, let's start with some facts we know and then work our way from there.
The Brass Monkey as a Pre-Mixed Cocktail
Pre-mixed cocktails sold in chilled fridges at liquor stores are nothing new today. However, in the 70s, they were a novel concept that quickly caught on. The Heublin Company was one of the first to capitalize on the idea with the sale of a Brass Monkey cocktail. This version used rum, vodka, and orange juice, and it was sold from the early 70s to the mid-90s when the company went under.
The origin of the pre-mixed cocktail's name was likely a marketing ploy to make it seem exotic and captivating. Heublin weaved sordid tales of World War II subterfuge and espionage, all centering around a club in Macau, China, named the Brass Monkey. It's unclear whether the recipe came out of this club or if it was just inspired by what the spies were drinking while undercover, but the story was engaging and seemed somewhat plausible.
No matter how Hueblin came up with the name, we know that the company sold a Brass Monkey cocktail until the mid-90s.
The Brass Monkey as a Nautical Saying
While there may have been a club in Macau called the Brass Monkey, the name may also stem from a somewhat garish term traded about by sailors at sea. When temperatures dropped significantly, men would say it was "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey." In fact, a bar in New York City called the Brass Monkey got its name from this phrase, not from Heublin or the Beastie Boys. This brings us to another "origin" story of sorts-
The Brass Monkey by Way of Brooklyn
It's unclear why the Beastie Boys felt so compelled to sing a song about a cheap pre-mixed drink (as confirmed by Mike D), but one thing is clear - the song is a banger. Also, while the band wasn't on Heublin's payroll, the song certainly made sales jump. That said, somehow, people made the jump from the pre-mixed cocktail to mixing 40s with OJ, so that may be why Heublin couldn't last until the new millennium.
Regardless of the "true" origin, this drink has made it into the modern lexicon, and we salute its fortitude and longevity.
What You'll Need to Make a Low-Alcohol Brass Monkey Drink
Since this recipe calls for both rum and vodka, you won't be able to make it completely alcohol-free unless you make some significant changes (we'll discuss alternatives below). Otherwise, this drink is pretty simple to mix - all you need is a stirring spoon and some ice, and you'll be good to go. Here's a breakdown of the equipment and ingredients necessary to make a slightly virgin Brass Monkey.
- 2 oz Biscane Rum Alternative
- 2 oz Vodka (your choice)
- 4 oz Fresh Orange Juice
- 1 Orange Slice for Garnish (optional)
- 1 Stirring Spoon
- Rocks Glass
How to Make a Low-Alcohol Brass Monkey Mocktail
First, you can have the mocktail on the rocks or plain, depending on your preference. Put a few large cubes into your glass and pour the ingredients one by one. Stir them with a cocktail spoon, and then add an orange wedge to the rim if you're feeling classy.
This recipe is also easy to make in large quantities if you follow the ratio. Some recipes will call for equal parts of each ingredient, but we've discovered this version is much smoother and tastes a lot better. Plus, if you're making a big batch for a party, you can save some money by using more OJ.
Brass Monkey Cocktail Variations
We've already discussed the option of mixing malt liquor with orange juice, but there are some tastier and more exciting variations of this cocktail, including:
- Use Other Juices - While orange juice is the original mixer, you can get creative and use different types of juice for unique flavor combinations. Blood orange juice is richer and more flavorful, or you can use blended juice to add some extra layers to the beverage.
- Try it Frozen - You can enjoy a virgin Brass Monkey all year round, so why not make it cold for those hot summer months? Add the ingredients with crushed ice in a blender and turn it into a frozen mocktail. While not as delicate as a daiquiri or Pina Colada, this variation connects the drink to its nautical roots by literally freezing the Brass Monkey (mocktail).
If you want other inspiration on how to mix non-alcoholic mocktails, we have an extensive list here. Also, you can sample other alcohol-free alternatives by Seir Hill, including our Tequila and Whiskey varieties.