The Leap Year, Burnt Fuselage, and Chinese barmen


So today marks a leap year meaning we get that rarest of experiences – February the 29th. This may not seem hugely exciting. However, back in the 1920s, when Harry Craddock was mixing cocktails at the Savoy, leap year celebrations were quite the thing. Harry Craddock even created the Leap Year Cocktail to mark the 1928 celebrations at the Savoy. The Leap Year Cocktail isn’t a bad drink either, being sort of a lightweight cousin to the Burnt Fuselage.


The Burnt Fuselage (which I found here at the Cocktail Chronicles) became a minor hit in Shanghai after I introduced the recipe to the now disappeared Senses Wine Lounge. Senses was stocking a good mixing cognac, had some customers who appreciated cognac cocktails, and the drink took off. The drink spread and I started getting late night texts from strangers asking me to confirm the recipe for them. Even more amazingly, the Senses bar staff kept making the drink consistently to the original recipe for weeks on end. This consistency was something of a first.


Chinese barmen are not the world’s greatest. There are a few different things at work here. First, there is a force in China called ‘cha-bu-duo-ism’ (???-ism). When something is “Cha-bu-duo” it is “just about” or “nearly right”, and in China that’s generally considered good enough. If a barman finds himself without rum he’ll make a Pina Colada with gin. In fact even if he does have rum he may just make it with gin anyway – who would notice the difference?  Second, there is the Chinese habit of protecting ones interests by keeping knowledge to oneself. This works well in martial arts epics, lending itself to grand finales hinging on secret and powerful kungfu techniques. The same habit works less well in the context of a bar. Staff tend to jealously keep knowledge to themselves. If asked to pass knowledge to co-workers they may even deliberately mislead. Chaos ensues. Third, China suffers a simple lack of basic knowledge of how to make drinks. Where bar staff have real trouble retaining complicated recipes, simple mixtures comprising equal proportions of three ingredients are a godsend. Equal parts recipes are also pretty easy for inebriated drinkers to remember too.


So the Burnt Fuselage is made as follows:


1 oz cognac

1 oz Grand Marnier

1 oz Dry Vermouth


Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist, being sure to express the oils into the drink.


Simple, rich, complex and delicious.


The Leap Year is a lighter cousin to the Burnt Fuselage, made as follows:


2 oz gin

½ oz Grand Marnier

½ oz Sweet Vermouth

dash of lemon juice (my dash was a teaspoon or so)


Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.


This lacks the powerful and complex body of the Burnt Fuselage. It is much lighter, less sweet, and refreshing rather than contemplative. The Burnt Fuselage seems more like an after dinner or late evening drink. The Leap Year is probably more at home in the early evening. Not a classic, but also not bad. Why not mark the 80th birthday of this drink by mixing one up? Oh, and according to Harry Craddock this drink was responsible for more proposals than any other cocktail ever invented. The tradition of women being allowed to propose to men on a leap year must have been very real back in the 1920s. Some men may wish to closely guard the formula.

One Response to “The Leap Year, Burnt Fuselage, and Chinese barmen”

  1. MyLaowai Says:

    The Burnt Fuselage is still a minor hit at my home, and at bars where I drink.

    Good post.

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