Updated: Nov 28, 2021
The Burnt Orange is an LA legend full of Los Angeles sunshine. It’s an ode to all the transplants who moved here from other places as well as the many orange groves covering the land in the early years of movie making. A decade or so ago we met an old cowboy named Jesuit Lewis slinging booze at a tiny tavern up one of the canyons in the East Valley (he was 90 if he was a day). He told us this story and showed us the simple way The Burnt Orange is made.
It’s gone by other names like the Kentucky Hunting Dog and The Drifter and several have claimed to have invented it but it’s all the same libation, he told us. In the first half of the 1900’s cowboy actors and stuntmen used to hang around the Gower Gulch on the corner of Gower and Sunset near the studios. In full cowboy regalia, lasso and all, they’d use the phone at the drugstore waiting for casting calls on the Westerns. One of these Drugstore Cowboys was from Kentucky and had a taste for fine Bourbon. In his abundance of spare time, he started making aromatic bitters from some of the local herbs he found near his cabin in what would later become called Laurel Canyon. He started adding orange peel to his concoction as he passed by the orange groves on Sunset Boulevard every day and started to like what he tasted.
He and his fellow compadres would frequent watering holes like Brewer’s where Eleanor Lathrop “The Little Mother of the Gower Gulch” would pour up cocktails like this classic. Eventually The Burnt Orange made its way to The Valley road houses near the movie ranches where they filmed many of the old Westerns and down the gullet of ranch hands like Jesuit. The locals started mixing up their own orange bitters from orange trees all over the landscape sometimes using a bit of homemade brandy they distilled from the dregs of area wineries. Now that could all be some weird story he made up, after all this is Los Angeles… but that’s how we heard it.
Burnt Orange Cocktail
1oz. good Bourbon
2oz. club soda
Dash orange bitters
Pour Bourbon over ice and follow with the soda and bitters. Garnish with an orange twist.