• Weekly Cocktail #37: The Master Cleanse

    The Master Cleanse. And yes, that’s cayenne pepper on the rim.

    Thanksgiving is in the books. It was a lovely holiday and we are grateful for family, friends, food and football. But for many of us, the Friday after Thanksgiving is indeed “Black Friday”. And not because we are braving hordes of shoppers (haven’t these folks heard of the internet?), but because we might still be stuffed and even a bit bleary. So if you partook in a few more bites of turkey or a wee dram too many, how about a cleanse? Even better, how about a Master Cleanse?

    But before you say yes, probably best to tell you what’s in it. The Master Cleanse combines Bourbon (some recipes say applejack), lemon juice, maple syrup, sugar and a pinch of cayenne pepper. And yes, you do get a kick from the cayenne. And while you may or may not feel cleansed of the previous night’s festivities, it will make you forget them, at least for a moment. The Bourbon, maple and lemon combo is quite tasty, and you can make a case that the cayenne adds some pleasant pain zing (whether you want it or not).

    The specifics of the Master Cleanse cocktail recipe are a bit clouded, with the PDT Cocktail Book, Saveur and Joe Beef restaurant in Quebec all having recipes or variations. All recipes combine brown booze, maple, lemon and cayenne. We played around and came up with this version, but the basic recipe allows for varying proportions. We tend to like drinks a bit sweet when we are bleary…so we doubled down and used Bourbon as the spirit with a mix of maple and sugar. Extra sugar also blunts the heat of the pepper. But feel free to experiment.

    While the specifics of the cocktail’s recipe might be hazy, the origins of the name are very clear. The “Master Cleanse” was the name of a lemonade, maple and cayenne diet regimen created by Stanley Burroughs in the 1940’s. Like most (all?) fad diets, it is complete lunacy and has almost no nutritional value. But it does spike what is basically a starvation diet with some sour, sweet and hot notes. Yum. A few years ago Beyoncé’ Knowles used the diet to lose 20 pounds and the “Master Cleanse” basked in many minutes of tabloid adulation before fading back into obscurity. But the reemergence of the diet did give someone the inspiration to create the Master Cleanse cocktail. We will keep the cocktail, Beyoncé can have the diet.

    The Master Cleanse:

    • 2 oz. Bourbon
    • 3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
    • 1/2 oz. maple syrup
    • 1/2 oz. simple syrup
    • Cayenne pepper
    • Fine sugar (or maple sugar)


    1. Combine a tablespoon of sugar with a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Then run the rim of a old-fashioned glass along a lemon wedge. Run the rim of the glass through the sugar and cayenne mixture. Fill the glass halfway with ice and set aside.
    2. Combine the Bourbon, lemon juice, maple and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly, until chilled, and strain into rimmed glass. Serve.