Harlem Cocktail Recipe

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Harlem Nutrition Facts






Created by

Nic Polotnianko

I fell in love with the art of mixology 6 years ago. Since then, I've honed my skills, crafting a myriad of cocktail recipes, and sharing my passion with other enthusiasts.

Last Updated: January 7, 2024


The Harlem cocktail is said to have originated in the vibrant neighborhood of Harlem, New York City during the 1920s. Known for its lively jazz scene and cultural diversity, Harlem was a hotspot for creative mixologists who crafted unique and flavorful cocktails. The Harlem cocktail was especially popular among jazz musicians and artists who frequented the speakeasies during the Prohibition era.

  • Prohibition Era: The Harlem cocktail gained popularity during the Prohibition era, when alcohol was illegal in the United States.
  • Jazz Influence: The cocktail is often associated with the jazz scene in Harlem, and many musicians would enjoy this drink after their performances.
  • Cultural Diversity: The Harlem cocktail represents the diverse culture of the neighborhood, with its mix of flavors and ingredients.

How Harlem Tastes?

The Harlem cocktail offers a delightful balance of sweet and sour flavors, with a hint of bitterness. The combination of citrus and sugar creates a refreshing and zesty taste, while the whiskey adds warmth and depth. The overall experience is smooth, with a pleasant lingering aftertaste.

Interesting facts about Harlem

  • Whiskey Base: The Harlem cocktail is typically made with whiskey, giving it a strong and bold flavor profile.
  • Citrus Twist: The addition of lemon juice and orange liqueur adds a refreshing citrus twist to the cocktail.
  • Classic Cocktail: The Harlem cocktail is considered a classic cocktail, with its roots dating back to the 1920s.



Whiskey is the soul of this cocktail. At 2oz, it's hearty enough to assert its presence without overpowering the other flavors. Too much and you'll dwarf the citrus, too little and it's just a boozy lemonade. Omit it, and well, it's not a Harlem anymore, is it? A good rye can add spice, whereas a bourbon brings sweetness, each offering a nuanced twist.

Emma Rose

Orange Liqueur

At 1oz, orange liqueur brings a touch of sweet complexity. It bridges the gap between the bold whiskey and tart lemon juice. Miss it out, and you lose the mellow citrus undercurrent that rounds out the drink. Triple sec is a classic choice, but a high-end brand could elevate your Harlem to new heights.

Alex Green

Lemon Juice

The 1oz of lemon juice provides that essential zing!. It cuts through and balances both the sweetness of the liqueur and the fire of the whiskey. Less juice, and the drink becomes cloying; more, and your lips will pucker unappealingly. Fresh is best—bottled juice just doesn't have the same pizzazz.

Mary Mitkina

Simple Syrup

Half an ounce is just enough to sweeten the deal without tipping us into sugary oblivion. This little bit of syrup smoothens the cocktail’s edges, creating a more sippable libation. Too much can make the drink saccharine, and too little might leave it too tart for some palates.

Emma Rose

Orange Peel

The single strip of orange peel is the cocktail's crowning glory. Oils expressed over the drink add a fresh, fragrant aroma that simply cannot be replicated. Without it, the cocktail lacks that olfactory finesse that completes the sensory experience.

Alex Green


The maraschino cherry isn't just eye candy; it provides a final, sweet flourish. Its subtlety reminds us that cocktails are both an art and a science—miss it at your aesthetic peril. Plus, who doesn't love a cherry on top?

Mary Mitkina

Recipe. How to make Harlem Drink

  1. Combine Ingredients: In a cocktail shaker, combine the whiskey, orange liqueur, lemon juice, and simple syrup.
  2. Shake: Fill the shaker with ice and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds.
  3. Strain: Strain the cocktail into a chilled coupe or martini glass.
  4. Garnish: Express the orange peel over the cocktail to release its oils, then discard. Place a maraschino cherry on a cocktail pick and lay it across the rim of the glass.

Pro Tips

  • Chill Your Glass: A chilled glass will keep your cocktail cooler for longer and enhance the flavor.
  • Use Fresh Citrus Juice: Freshly squeezed lemon juice will give a brighter, more authentic flavor than bottled juice.
  • Quality Whiskey: The quality of the whiskey can greatly affect the taste of the cocktail. Choose a good quality whiskey for the best results.

Perfect Pairings


  • Charcuterie Boards: The citrusy notes of the Harlem cocktail cut through the richness of cured meats and cheeses.
  • Smoked Salmon: The smooth whiskey pairs nicely with the smokiness of the salmon.

Main Courses

  • Grilled Steaks: The cocktail's robust whiskey backbone stands up to the hearty flavor of red meats.
  • Roasted Duck: The orange liqueur's sweetness complements the rich and slightly gamey duck meat.


  • Lemon Tart: Mirroring the cocktail's citrus component, a lemon tart would be a harmonious finish.
  • Dark Chocolate: Chocolate and orange is a classic combination, and the whiskey adds a warming note.

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What you could change in Harlem

  • Whiskey: If you don't have whiskey, you can use bourbon or rye as a substitute.
  • Orange Liqueur: If you don't have orange liqueur, you can use Grand Marnier or Cointreau.
  • Simple Syrup: If you don't have simple syrup, you can make your own by dissolving equal parts sugar and water.

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And of course - twists🍹

Smokey Harlem

  • Swap out the whiskey for a smokey Scotch.
  • Use maple syrup instead of simple syrup for a deeper sweetness.

The Smokey Harlem rises like the mist over the lochs. Smokey Scotch brings a peaty punch, and maple provides an autumnal whisper. This twist on the classic is perfect for those who enjoy sipping their cocktail by a crackling fire.

Spiced Harlem

  • Add a dash of bitters, such as Angostura.
  • Include a cinnamon stick as garnish.

The Spiced Harlem adds a holiday vibe to the classic. The bitters add complexity and depth, while the cinnamon garnish warms the spirit. Sip this and you might just hear sleigh bells.

Berry Harlem

  • Muddle a few raspberries in the shaker before adding other ingredients.
  • Replace orange peel with a lemon twist.

The Berry Harlem transforms the traditional into a summer festival. Raspberries burst with vibrance, and the lemon twist brightens the entire concoction. It's a picnic in a glass.

In case you forgot basics how to make Harlem

The basic composition of simple syrup is relatively straightforward – a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water. This mixture is heated until the sugar dissolves, resulting in a clear, sweet syrup.

Learn everything about simple syrup

Add your ingredients to the shaker first, then ice. Fill it up to ¾ of its capacity to ensure enough space for shaking. Hold the shaker with both hands (one on the top and one on the bottom) and shake vigorously. The shake should come from your shoulders, not your wrists.

Learn everything on how to shake

Place your chosen strainer on top of the shaker or mixing glass, ensuring a secure fit. Pour the cocktail into a glass through the strainer, which will catch solid ingredients and ice. If double straining, hold the fine mesh strainer between the shaker and the glass.

Learn everything on how to strain

Garnishing a bar drink depends on the type of garnish and the cocktail. Generally, it involves preparing the garnish (like cutting a citrus wheel or picking a sprig of mint), and then adding it to the drink in a visually appealing way (like perching it on the rim or floating it on top).

Learn everything on garnishing

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Frequently Asked Questions on Harlem

What is the origin of the name 'Harlem' for this cocktail?

The Harlem cocktail derives its name from the vibrant neighborhood of Harlem, New York City. This neighborhood was a cultural hub in the 1920s, filled with jazz artists and lively speakeasies where the drink is said to have originated.

What type of whiskey is best for making a Harlem cocktail?

While the type of whiskey can vary based on personal taste, traditionally, a rye whiskey or a bourbon with a high rye content is used to create a Harlem cocktail. These types impart a spice note that balances well with the sweetness of the other ingredients.

What's the alcohol content in a Harlem cocktail?

A standard Harlem cocktail has approximately 28% alcohol content. However, this can slightly vary depending on the ratios and brands of alcohol used.

What are maraschino cherries and is there a non-alcoholic substitute for them?

Maraschino cherries are a variety of cherries that have been preserved in a syrup that usually contains maraschino liqueur. For a non-alcoholic substitute, you can use regular preserved cherries or fresh cherries.

How is the 'Prohibition era' connected to the Harlem cocktail?

The Harlem cocktail is believed to have gained popularity during the Prohibition era (1920s) in the United States when the production, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages were illegal. Speakeasies, like the ones in Harlem, often created unique cocktails to disguise the flavour of poorly made illegal alcohol.

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