Created by Tyson Buhler, the Commandant cocktail is a rush of exotic flavors that stands out as another irregular tiki drink thanks to its gin base. Given that a Commandant is essentially the principal of a military academy, could it be the drink takes it’s name from the inclusion of Navy Strength gin? It’s the only backstory I could think of.
With specs like this, it’s no wonder Buhler was named the United States Bartending Guild’s Bartender of the Year in 2015. That said, this was one of the more difficult recipes to shop for to date thanks to the inclusion of kaffir lime leaf. I don’t know about you, but even in New York City, that’s not an ingredient I can pick up at my local grocery.
Kaffir Lime Leaf
There’s nothing quite like a kaffir lime; it’s looks like a shriveled version of the more common fruit fighting off a pox but has an intense, oily perfume that’s simply wonderful. The juice is one thing to get ahold of, but the leaves are a bit more accessible. Fortunately the leaves themselves are extremely potent. Once you’ve smelled pure kaffir lime you might realize you’ve been enjoying the flavor for years at your favorite Thai restaurants, as it’s a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine and used in curries and fish dishes.
Tracking down the kaffir lime leaf for the Commandant cocktail was a process though. I went to a number of speciality Asian grocers with no luck. I had seen kaffir lime leaves at Eataly for what seemed like years but of course, when I actually wanted to buy some they were out, or decided they were sick of throwing out their supply waiting for me. Then I went to Sunrise market on Stuyvesant. Nope. M2M on 3rd Ave? Nope. It took a little research online but I finally dug up a post on Serious Eats pointing me to Bangkok Center Grocery on Mosco street, a bodega-sized grocery down an alleyway, buried deep in Chinatown. $5 later I had a small packet of Kaffir lime leaves, along with some helpful advice from the staff to freeze whatever I didn’t use right away.
The Commandant Cocktail Review
There’s a lot of flavors working together here, but they work in harmony. It’s nutty, spicy, dense in texture thanks to the Coco Lopez and infused with the pungent fragrance of the kaffir lime. Even on crushed ice the taste just smacks you in the face. It’s a summer drink through and through, the sort of thing you imagine yourself drinking in some luxury villa in the Maldives, or sipping down on your yacht in the Mediterranean. It’s tropical and vacation-y, but in a fancy way. The best decision Buhler makes here is the high-test gin, which stands up to all the dilution from the ice.
It’s a shame there’s so many odd and uncommon ingredients in this one; even with my huge bar I had to go get the gin, Swedish Punsch, Coco Lopez, and kaffir lime for this spec and I can’t imagine it’s easy for most people to get that lime leaf – make an effort though and you’ll be rewarded!
Rating: 5 / 5
The Commandant Cocktail (adapted from Death & Co.)
- 1 1/2 oz. Navy Strength Gin (Perry’s Tot)
- 1/2 oz Swedish Punsch (Kronan)
- 1/4 oz Velvet Falernum
- 3/4 oz Lime Juice
- 1/2 oz Coco Lopez
- 1 Kaffir Lime Leaf
Short shake all ingredients, including the lime leaf with a few ice cubes, then strain into a tiki mug filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and serve with a straw.