We’re often told that simple is best when it comes to drinks, but LyAnna Sanabria isn’t one for unwritten rules. “With modern cocktails, it’s so easy to get overly complicated,” she says. “I love overly complicated. It’s how I live my daily life.”
The Maine-based bartender’s professional slate confirms as much: She pulls shifts at Portland’s Via Vecchia and Biddeford’s Round Turn Distilling, runs the beverage program at Pacifico in Saco, and works as a regional rep for The Craft Spirits Cooperative. Even when she’s off the clock, Sanabria immerses herself in liquid esoterica—it’s how she discovered the Yolanda, an eccentric Prohibition-era template that takes remarkably well to elaboration.
Bartenders have been stripping The Savoy Cocktail Book for parts for a near-century, but Harry Craddock’s 1930 compendium is so dense it’ll never go full Giving Tree. Buried deep in this treasure trove of deep cuts, the Yolanda—two parts Italian vermouth, one part gin, one part brandy, shaken with dashes of absinthe and grenadine—stood out to Sanabria immediately. “All of the ingredients happen to be my absolute favorite things,” she says. “I’m a brandy girl, I drink vermouth nonstop, and I work at a gin distillery. I thought, ‘This speaks to me on another level.’”
The drink’s actual name was quite the serendipitous attention-grabber, too. “You know when you’re a kid, and you have that name you wish you’d been named? For me, that was Yolanda,” Sanabria says. “[It] always sounded so classy to me.”
Staying faithful to Savoy’s spec turns out “an herbaceous, candied Martini,” says Sanabria. “The palate is so old-school. It’s booze-forward, but still has a sugary element to it.” It wasn’t long before her propensity for tinkering took the wheel, though, leading to a pleasing revelation: “There are [cocktail] frameworks that just don’t work—they’re hard to play with. But this is such a good framework.” Vermouth is the lead ingredient of the Yolanda, providing an underlying spine that stronger spirits can then contrast or complement. “That’s going to help with balance, no matter what else you use,” she explains. “Gin, brandy and vermouth just go together like that.”
For her version, she moved away from the rich and robust feel of the original in favor of something lighter. In lieu of the called-for Italian vermouth, she swapped in Chambéry’s semisweet, crystal-clear Comoz Blanc. Round Turn’s Bimini Coconut Gin (fat-washed with extra-virgin coconut oil) and Capurro Moscatel Pisco stand in for the gin and brandy portions of the equation, respectively. Sanabria left the starting recipe’s hit of absinthe unchanged, but to replace the grenadine, she created a rose petal– and apple-infused Pineau des Charentes, bolstering the bright fruit and floral notes also found in the Peruvian distillate.
Sanabria stresses that this is just one in an endless array of compelling riffs possible with the Yolanda, so long as you adhere to Savoy’s unique ratio. “You don’t have to do that much to make it work,” she says. “It’s almost one of those ‘first-try’ cocktails.” But as much as she’s familiarized herself with the technical particulars of the drink, Sanabria hasn’t uncovered much on who it was named after. “I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and Google ‘Yolanda cocktail’ just for fun,” she says. “I want to know who Yolanda is so bad.”
Here’s one compelling candidate: Princess Yolanda, the eldest child of Victor Emmanuel III, who reigned as the king of Italy from 1900 to 1946. Born in 1901, she was the subject of much public fascination upon reaching adulthood, and was romantically linked to every eligible European royal of the day. In her youth, she regularly gallivanted in London during the time Harry Craddock was active in the city. Perhaps the Savoy Hotel bartender, who was known to name cocktails after monarchs, couldn’t resist pouring out a little Italian vermouth as a nod to the famous Italian princess—who also happened to belong to the royal House of Savoy.