The Story Behind The Saturn
While Saturn isn’t visible to the naked eye most nights of the year, this ringed, hula-hooping orb of gas is arguably the most eye-catching planet in our solar system. Albeit, with today’s space travel tech, it would take roughly eight years to get there. The Saturn cocktail, however, is just a tiki bar away.
Much like the Singapore Sling, Polynesian Spell, and Fog Cutter, the Saturn is a gin-based tropical concoction. Although rum remains king in this category of cocktails, the botanicals of gin pair remarkably well with many of the sweet fruit juices, syrups, and liqueurs common in the tiki sphere. In the case of this drink, we see lemon juice, passion fruit syrup, orgeat, and falernum thrive on an assertive foundation of London Dry gin.
Most canonical tiki drinks came from the hands of legendary bartenders Donn Beach and Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron, but the Saturn was coined by California-based Filipino bartender Joseph “Popo” Galsini. Popo worked at many tiki temples of yore, winning first place at the IBA World Cocktail Competition with his team in both 1953 and ‘54. About 12 years later, Popo invented this drink while working at Huntington Beach’s Kona Kai, and named it the “X-15” after a rocket-powered aircraft designed by Douglas Aircraft engineers who frequented the bar. Tragically, right before he submitted it for the 1967 IBA Competition, an X-15 jet crashed in California, killing pilot Michael J. Adams. Out of respect, Popo renamed the cocktail “The Saturn,” after the Saturn V rocket of the Apollo Space Program. After securing first place at the 1967 California Bartender’s Guild contest, the Saturn brought home the gold at that year’s IBA World Cocktail Championship in Majorca.
A souvenir glass labeled with the drink’s spec was made to honor its victory, but Popo never officially documented the recipe, and it fell into obscurity. However, one day in the early aughts, author and bartender Jeff “Beachbum” Berry wandered into an Ocean Beach antique shop and found one of the old Saturn glasses from the ‘60s. Since he “had so much vintage glassware choking all [his] kitchen space back then,” he snapped a photo rather than buying the glass. Berry tells us that, to this day, he still regrets not doing so, as he’s “never seen it in the wild since.” Nonetheless, with the photo, Berry was armed with the list of ingredients, thus igniting the hunt for the original recipe. As Popo had passed away in 1982, it wasn’t until 2005 when Berry met a bartender and friend of Popo, Bob Esmino, who confirmed the finer details of the Saturn’s spec. The recipe was then published for the first time in Berry’s 2010 book “Beachbum Berry Remixed.”
In the conversation of tiki cocktails, the Saturn is a relatively simple drink, boasting a bill of just five components. That said, the base spirit has plenty of room to shine. As Ray Sakover, co-owner of NYC’s Paradise Lost, puts it, “The Saturn is for gin what the Mai Tai is for rum.” Therefore, be mindful of the gin you choose to take for a spin in this drink. It’s likely, but not confirmed, that the original recipe employed Seagram’s, but we also find that Perry’s Tot imparts a lovely cinnamon character and Hayman’s Old Tom brings a lush, creamy texture into the equation. For the orgeat, go homemade if you’re feeling ambitious, but know that Orgeat Works Limited and Small Hand Foods both make a phenomenal products if you’re looking for a store-bought option.
Passion Fruit Syrup Ingredients
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup passion fruit purée
Passion Fruit Syrup Directions
- Add all ingredients to a saucepan or pot over low-medium heat.
- Whisk until sugar is dissolved.
- Remove from heat and let cool.