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How to Make the Earthquake Cocktail, An Earth-Shattering Recipe

Photo Credit: Lizzie Munro

According to legend, the Earthquake was a favorite of Post-Impressionist painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec who served it at the frequent parties he hosted. Originally a fifty-fifty blend of cognac and good absinthe, the two-ingredient cocktail certainly started and/or ended the evening with a bang. Over the years, drink makers have mellowed the recipe for those looking for less inebriating libations. Whether you stick to tradition or tinker with the ingredients, the Earthquake makes a brilliant cocktail to add to your repertoire.

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The Earthquake Cocktail



  • 2 ounces cognac
  • 1 ounce absinthe
  • lemon twist, for garnish


  1. In an ice-filled mixing glass, combine the cognac and absinthe.
  2. Stir until well-chilled.
  3. Strain into a cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with the lemon twist.

Variations of the Earthquake

The name of the drink likely derives from its effect on the imbiber: One cocktail (which Toulouse Lautrec recommended serving in a wine goblet to breathe in the heady aroma) was enough to feel the earth move. Given the alcoholic abundance, there are plenty of ways to modify this Toulousian beverage to make it more approachable, and most barkeeps find the drink much improved with a two-to-one cognac to absinthe ratio.

For a more Anglicized version, the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book jettisons cognac in favor of gin and throws in whiskey for good measure (1 ounce each of absinthe, gin, and whiskey). Those with an aversion to absinthe can simply substitute it with Pernod, Herbsaint, or another anise-flavored liqueur.

The World of Toulouse-Lautrec

The epitome of the absinthe-soaked decadent of fin-de-siècle France, Toulouse-Lautrec was a great lover of Parisian nightlife. He spent his evenings exploring the realm of dance halls, cabarets, and brothels of Montmartre, where the artist lived for most of his life. Set on a hill on the then-outskirts of Paris, the working-class district of the late 19th century felt like a world removed from the broad avenues and leafy squares of the city center.

By contrast, Montmartre had a landscape of narrow, seemingly haphazard lanes and working windmills, vestiges of the region’s rural roots. Climbing up the butte (hill), meant leaving the trappings of bourgeois culture behind for a raucous low-rent entertainment district that drew a wide mashup of society: Artists, writers, and intellectuals along with criminals, wide-eyed tourists, performers hoping to strike it big, and well-off Parisians eager for a quick escape from the confines of polite society into a decadent playground of excess.

Toulouse-Lautrec had a tough life: he was born with genetic defects, spoke with a lisp, and stood just 4 feet 11 inches tall as an adult. He hobbled around on childlike legs aided with a cane — one that he had specially outfitted with a hidden flask, so he would never be more than arm’s reach from alcoholic refreshment. Yet, despite his afflictions, the artist had an outgoing personality and a prodigious work ethic. Montmartre captivated him, and he created hundreds of works devoted to the district’s performers and its theatrical settings before his premature death at the age of 36.

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