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  • Writer's pictureBrian Tasch

Escape From New York

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

The Escape from New York cocktail served in a rocks glass over one large ice cube and garnished with a clove-studded orange twist trimmed to resemble a snake.

As we move into the spring and summer months, I'm excited to take a break from the rigorous classic cocktail vermouth comparisons and roll out some seasonally appropriate cocktail recipes.

Named after the 1981 John Carpenter film starring Kurt Russel as Snake Plissken, this deceptively warm-weather Old Fashioned may just give you enough liquid courage to save The President from the prison that is Manhattan! Or, at the very least, it may offer a sense of escape for those who have been quarantined for the last year and a half.

A tropical Old Fashioned-style cocktail with rye whiskey, genever, applejack, two different amari, and passion fruit, the Escape from New York is a spicy, fruity, boozy sipper you may accidentally find yourself slamming.

Not only is the Escape from New York one of the cocktail creations I take the most pride in, but it also got me a nice little shout out from Forbes where I was allowed to jibber-jabber at length about the drink in an attempt to sell a summery Old Fashioned for a fall cocktail listicle.

Escape From New York recipe

1 oz Woodford Rye Whiskey

.5 oz NYDC Chief Gowanus New Netherlands Gin

.25 oz Barking Irons Applejack

.25 oz Amaro di Angostura

1 tsp Strega

1 tsp Giffard Fruit de la Passion

1 tsp Demerara Syrup

Glass: Rocks

Ice: Large Cube

Garnish: Orange Twist Snake with Clove Eye Patch


Building the Escape from New York was probably the easiest time I've ever had R&Ding any Pouring Ribbons cocktail. I had a clear vision in mind from the beginning: combine drinks named after snakes using New York sourced spirits to make an Old Fashioned with a flavor profile that evokes the tropics.

Let's back up. Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. were two of the most important films of my youth. Pictured here is Snake Plissken, the inspiration for the drink. What a badass. He's so badass he also serves as the blatant inspiration for Metal Gear Solid's Solid Snake.

My mind immediately went to the Diamondback, which, funny enough, is named after a turtle, not the deadly rattlesnake. Regardless, this spiritous cocktail provides more than enough bite to provide the foundation for the Escape from New York.

Diamondback cocktail

2 oz rye whiskey

.5 oz Lairds bonded apple brandy

.5 oz yellow chartreuse

As for the modifiers, I looked to the Cobra's Fang. A taste of the tropics always makes for a perfect escape.

Cobra's Fang cocktail

1.5 oz Jamaican rum

.75 oz overproof dark rum

.75 oz lime juice

.5 oz orange cordial

.5 oz passionfruit syrup

.5 oz cinnamon syrup

1 tsp ginger syrup

1 dash angostura bitters

1 dash absinthe

The Cobra's Fang highlights passion fruit, but the orange, cinnamon, Angostura bitters, and absinthe are featured modifiers as well. The challenge was to figure out how to get these flavors across in a big way using the smallest possible amount of each.

Ingredient breakdown

Woodford Reserve Rye Whiskey

To keep things thematic, I intended to use New York sourced spirits with the liqueur modifiers coming from popular vacation destinations (France, Italy, the Caribbean). New York Distilling Company's Ragtime Rye Whiskey is the ideal rye for this drink but ultimately ended up a bit too cost-prohibitive.

Woodford Rye came in at a very close second in a blind tasting, and case breaks made it a cheaper alternative. I was disappointed to break from my intent to source all of my base spirits from New York, but I can confirm this drink also works incredibly well with Old Forrester Rye, Rittenhouse Rye, Wild Turkey 101 Rye, and Old Overholt Rye. With the modifiers as bold as they are, you'll be just fine with whatever rye you choose.

NYDC Chief Gowanus New Netherlands Gin

NYDC's Chief Gowanus is a fantastic American genever. This is more or less what the Dutch were distilling when they settled in New York – a rye-based spirit hopped and hit with enough juniper to please both gin and whiskey drinkers alike.

It's no surprise this genever works harmoniously with rye whiskey. It's spicy and brightens the heavy baking spice and barrel-aged notes found in the rest of the drink's ingredients. And bonus points if you pair it with NYDC's Ragtime Rye.

Old Duff's Single Malt Genever makes for a perfect substitute here. If you can't get your hands on any genever, I've been known to pour a 2:1 split of high-rye rye whiskey and London Dry Gin with little or no citrus (i.e., Tanqueray) in dire straights.

Barking Irons Applejack

Joaquín and Brooke did everything they could to get to me to substitute something more affordable for the pricy New York-based Barking Irons, but this young, high-proof applejack proved crucial to the balance of the drink.

If Barking Irons is unavailable, I can confirm that both Boulard VSOP Pays d'Auge Calvados and Laird's 7.5 Year Apple Brandy make for fine substitutes.

Amaro di Angostura

Funny story: Back when I was Bar Manager at Pouring Ribbons (2017-2018), I accidentally ordered an entire case of Amaro di Angostura instead of Angostura 7 year rum. To make up for my costly error, I was determined to incorporate it into a menu cocktail.

Amaro di Angostura was all the rage when it hit the market in 2015 at the height of the amaro boom. Since then, it has seemingly fallen out of favor, though I find it works well in measured cocktail applications.

If Amaro di Angostura is unavailable, 1 tsp of Amaro Cio Ciaro with 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters makes for a fantastic substitute.


Along with the Amaro di Angostura, Strega was one of the first ingredients I locked in as a substitute for both the Diamondback's Yellow Chartreuse and the Cobra Fang's absinthe.

Few things trigger Joaquín Simó more than my hard stance on Strega's superiority to Yellow Chartreuse. In all seriousness, while I do believe they serve different purposes, Strega is infinitely more interesting to mix with and is significantly less expensive. It does a lot of the heavy lifting in this drink by not only acting as a bold modifier but as a unifier for the other five boldly flavored ingredients.

If you do choose to settle for Yellow Chartreuse instead of Strega, I would add between 4 drops and a dash of absinthe to get that crucial anise flavor provided by "The Witch."

Giffard Fruit de la Passion

A teaspoon goes a long way here. The bright, candied notes of Giffard's passion fruit liqueur are essential for cutting through the rest of the spice in the drink.

If unavailable, you could try using .25 - .5 tsp of Chinola in its place. When I riffed on this drink for a pop-up last year, I found 3 drops of freshly juiced passion fruit did the trick.

Demerara Syrup*

The rich syrup is a must – primarily for the body of the drink. While most of the cocktail's components add fruit or spice, it is surprisingly hot and needlessly dry without a little sugar. The syrup also ensures the cocktail holds up to dilution over time.

Orange Twist Snake with Clove Eye Patch

Once again, I tortured the staff with an animal-shaped citrus peel. At least this time all they needed to do was trim the sides of a citrus swath and stick a clove in it. The original Sidewinder's Fang garnish is modified to reference Snake Plissken's missing eye by simply removing one of the cloves.

I tried incorporating orange into the cocktail several ways (orange bitters, replacing the demerara syrup with orange cordial) but found a simple citrus twist provided all of the aromatics and flavorful oils necessary. The addition of the clove on the nose is a nice touch and echoes the spice in the amaro. Plus, it's kinda cute.

The Escape from New York cocktail served in a rocks glass over one large ice cube and garnished with a clove-studded orange twist trimmed to resemble a snake. Photo by Joanna Lin.


*Demerara Syrup


300g demerara sugar

150g hot water


Combine sugar with hot water and blend hard. [Yields 12oz of demerara syrup.]

If you don't have a blender powerful enough to warm its contents (e.g., Vitamix), you'll have better luck combining the sugar and freshly boiled water in a saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved and remove from heat to limit evaporation.


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