Repeal Day: The Scofflaw

Photo courtesy of ReeseCLloyd (Flickr), some rights reserved

Today is the eightieth anniversary of a magical day that many Americans thought would never come. The anniversary of the passing of the Twenty-first Amendment to the American Constitution. And what did the Twenty-first Amendment to the American constitution achieve? The revocation of the Eighteenth Amendment to the American Constitution. And what was the Eighteenth Amendment to the American Constitution? The worst amendment of all:

“the prohibition of the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes.”

The Prohibition era was a contentious period in American history. Although driven by an almost untouchable combination of patriotism, medical evidence, religious fervour and social hysteria, American’s experiment with prohibition was, by 1925 widely perceived to have failed. The temperance movement had hoped for a reduction or elimination of a range of social problems – drunkenness, crime, mental illness and poverty, but instead:

“Five years of Prohibition [have] had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.” – HL Mencken

Ultimately the failure of Prohibition was due to the determination of the populace to continue to produce and drink alcohol. In particular, bootlegging and organised crime flourished and the underground drinking dens, the speakeasies, the blind pigs and the blind tigers rose to a level of popularity that would not be matched for another seventy-five years. Ultimately, irony of irony, many of those who supported the repeal movement began to argue that prohibition had exacerbated the problems it had set out to eradicate – largely due to the popularity and allure of speakeasy culture.

The repeal movement had permeated the American consciousness to such an extent that in 1932 Franklin D Roosevelt ran for election on a promise that he would repeal the federal Prohibition law, and in March 1933 he proved true to his word.  Finally, thanks to the Cullen-Harrison Act, Americans were free to purchase wine and weak beer (no Budweiser jokes here, please) after a thirteen year wait.  What a summer it must have been.  By 5 December 1933 the Amendment had been fully ratified and the federal laws enforcing Prohibition were repealed.

Between 1920 and 1933, however, Prohibition had had a noticeable effect on the drinkers of Europe.  Faced with the Prohibition of their profession back home, many American bartenders fled to London and Paris and set up local bars offering American cocktails to the bemused Europeans.  Of these, the most famous examples include Harry’s Bar, Paris and The American Bar at The Savoy.  In keeping with the name that had been coined (in 1924) to refer to those who continued to drink illegally in America, the new ex-pats were also called scofflaws.

So as a result, we Brits have plenty to thank these Americans for – and can look back wryly on the clearly wrong-headed idea of banning alcohol in the first place.  For them, today seems a fitting day to raise a toast to these pioneers, and what better drink to choose than the Scofflaw – a drink created by a scofflaw at Harry’s Bar, Paris, to celebrate his escape from the parched lands of America:

  1. Combine one and a half measures of rye whiskey, half a measure of dry vermouth, a measure of lemon juice and half a measure of grenadine to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and double strain into a chilled coupe glass.
  3. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Martinez

 

Photo courtesy of Sam Simpson

Where to begin with the Martinez – a drink about which so much has been written, so much conjectured and so little understood?

Of course many know the Martinez as the direct ancestor of the Martini (not least because of the name), but it is also cited as a sort of missing link – the crucial step between the brusque rye whiskey and cognac drinks of the mid/late 1800s and the fresher, lighter gin drinks of the early 20th century.

How much of a role as ancestor the drink can claim is uncertain – it appears to only be about five years older than its more famous relation.  But given that the Martinez was introduced in print (by O.H. Byron in The Modern Bartenders’ Guide (1884) as “same as a Manhattan, only you substitute gin for whiskey” it can clearly claim to have helped drinking society to cross from dark spirit based drinks to light.

In truth, not much is known about the history of the Martinez, or the initial form it takes.  In particular, Byron’s recipe was somewhat unhelpful as his book lists two recipes for the Manhattan and fails to specify which one the Martinez is based on.

As well as this, other bartenders from the 1800s have a claim to inventing the drink – Jerry Thomas may have been one (although the drink did not appear until the 1887 edition of his Bartender’s Guide), and some have traced the drink to Martinez. California and one Julio Richelieu who was said to have created it for a passing goldminer in 1874.

By now, your view of the Martinez may be a little clouded.  It will only become more so.  In fact it’s fair to say that today’s Martinez is more of a category of drink than a single recipe.  Ingredient by ingredient the mystery grows.  Should it be based on Genever instead of gin?  Possibly, although the first printed record calls for gin.  But which gin?  Old Tom (a sweeter variety than the now ubiquitous Dry London) was certainly popular in the late 1800s, but does a drink which combines sweet vermouth and a sweet liqueur need any more sugar?  Probably to the palate of a late-Victorian drinker.

Next, the vermouth.  Byron listed both a sweet and dry Manhattan in his 1884 guide and there is no clue as to whether his Martinez used sweet or dry vermouth.  Most recipes now call for sweet on the basis that during the late 19th century this was more common than dry, so where a recipe fails to specify it is safest to assume sweet vermouth is intended.

Finally, the ratios.  As with the Martini, tastes have changed over time, and it is fair to say that most modern bartenders have turned the original two parts sweet vermouth to one part gin recipe precisely on its head.  Of course as the drink evolves towards the modern Martini, the recipe was forced to get drier, so there is no shame in calling for a more modern version.  Personally, I make mine as follows:

  1. Add a large measure of gin, a measure of sweet vermouth, a barspoon of Maraschino and three dashes of bitters to a mixing glass of ice.
  2. Stir for sixty seconds and strain into a chilled martini glass/coupe.
  3. Garnish with either a twist of lemon or a cherry.

Sophisticated, a little bit dry and a little bit sweet too, and probably still true to some halfway-house recipe that paved the way for the classic Martini.  History in a glass.

Corpse Reviver #2

Photo courtesy of Rubin Starset

“Four of these taken in quick succession will un-revive the corpse again.” – Harry Craddock, Savoy Cocktail Book, 1930

One of the classic early morning cocktails, the Corpse Reviver #2 was originally considered a hangover cure of sorts.  An eye-opener, or hair of the dog style drink of classic provenance, it appears the sharp citrus flavours were seen by the bon viveurs of the 1920s as the ideal tonic to a night of overindulgence.  Of course these days we rely on non-alcoholic lemon shower gel to provide the same citrus tingle.  Shame.

The other overriding flavour of the Corpse Reviver is absinthe, interestingly a common ingredient in other early morning drinks (see also the Morning Glory) and used here as a dry counterpoint to the sharp citrus and the floral gin botanicals.

So why the #2?  Well the original Corpse Reviver is a cognac, calvados and vermouth concoction, and hasn’t aged as well, or with as much popularity as the second in the series.  Many bars have come up with #3s, #4s and beyond, but none are as perfectly balanced and silently lethal as the tart and sweet, gin-based version.

  1. Rinse a martini glass with a absinthe and discard the excess.
  2. Add equal parts gin, triple sec, Lillet Blanc (or Cocchi Americano) and lemon juice to a shaker.
  3. Add ice and shake well.
  4. Strain into the absinthe-rinsed glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

My Favourite Cocktail: The Sazerac

This post originally appeared as part of Social and Cocktail’s ‘My Favourite Cocktail’ series.

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It may seem strange, coming from a Scotch whisky enthusiast who writes under the name of House of Bourbon, that my favourite cocktail is commonly made with rye whiskey, and before that even used grain-less cognac as a base. But we dipsologists can be a contrary bunch, and as it is best to approach tipular fixing with an open-mind, I feel no compunction in announcing that my favourite cocktail is the Sazerac.

Now the Sazerac isn’t the sort of brightly coloured drink you see fooling around with sparklers and fancy fruit embellishments. In fact, in its purest form it should be served without any garnish at all. And that is the first limb of its charm. Before serving your Sazerac straight up in an unmarked glass the bartender will pause to sell you the dummy of a twist of lemon peel. After expressing the oil he will whisk it away, with suitable distain, and allow the rich flavour of the rye whiskey, Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe to have untrammelled control of your senses.

The second charm of the Sazerac is the ritual by which it is prepared. You cannot simply toss everything into a shaker, rattle to a count of thirty and strain. A Sazerac is built from the bottom up and then inverted into a pre-chilled, pre-rinsed glass (or in my preference, goblet).

Thirdly, the Sazerac has appeal because it is a survivor. It has faced some tough times in the 150 years or so of its life. First came the phylloxera epidemic that devastated northern Europe’s wine crops in the 1870s (so cognac became rye). Then, in 1912, came the US ban on absinthe (so absinthe became Herbsaint). Then came Prohibition (and the drink withered, or at least all the ingredients apart from the sugar cube and the lemon peel were likely made in an old bathtub). Finally, after the blessed relief of the 21st Amendment, Sazerac aficionados noticed with despair that most of the USA’s rye distilleries had not survived the great drought and so the rye became bourbon.

After a history as complicated as this, it is no small miracle that the complex Sazerac, now back to its purest 1850 recipe has survived, nay flourished, and that can be put down to the fourth inherent and most profound joy of the drink: the combination of the butch, spiced notes of rye tempered with the sweet, cinnamon of the absinthe and bitters. A bracing, complex marriage enhanced by the markedly apparent suggestion of fresh lemon, all contained in the mysteriously rich red-brown tipular.

Fix the House of Bourbon Sazerac as follows:

  1. Fill an old fashioned glass with ice and leave it to stand.
  2. In a second old fashioned glass muddle a sugar cube and five dashes of Peychaud’s bitters.
  3. Add a large measure of rye whiskey and a handful of ice cubes to the sugar and bitters solution and stir well.
  4. Discard the ice in the first glass and rinse it with a teaspoon or so of absinthe until the inside is coated.
  5. Strain the whiskey, sugar and bitters into the absinthe-rinsed glass.
  6. Garnish with the oil from a twist of lemon and discard the peel.

Guid Auld Scotch Drink

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Let other poets raise a fracas

“Bout vines, an’ wines, an’ drucken Bacchus,

An’ crabbit names an’stories wrack us,

An’ grate our lug:

I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,

In glass or jug.

– Robert Burns, Scotch Drink, 1785

Scottish mythology tells us Robert Burns, the country’s best-loved poet, was a hard drinking womaniser and given the lines he penned in praise of Scotch whisky, and the fact that he (allegedly) died of rheumatic fever after falling asleep (drunk) at the side of the road aged just 37, I have no reason to doubt this.

Even if Burns was wary of any more than the most occasional dram of the “king o’ grain” undoubtedly served neat – and while now there are those who continue live by the old Irish proverb of “never steal another man’s wife and never water another man’s whiskey” and then would consider a possible breach of the first part – the focus of all modern cocktails is (or should be) the subtle marriage of complex flavours, and as the defining characteristic of first-rate Scotch whisky is the quest for the same pleasure from the juxtaposition of oak and grain, why shouldn’t fine malts and fine cocktails go together like a country lassie and mawn hay?

So, however you choose to celebrate the life of Robert Burns this Friday night, whether by traditional formal dinner – all Highland dress, pipers and toasts to the lassies; by emulating the great man himself – in a night of kirk-defying revelry and womansing; or by sitting in front of the open fire and cracking open a dusty old bottle of “the poor man’s wine” here are a few recipes worthy of a “bardie’s gratefu’ thanks”:

The Bobby Burns

Given the bard’s distaste for bitter, dearthfu’ wines, it is unlikely he ever thought to combine his whisky with sweet vermouth, or (dare we say) tonic wine. In fact, it is even doubted whether the drink is named for the poet or the politician of the same name. Either way, we’re all agreed it wasn’t named for the Nuneaton Town midfielder, and it calls for Scotch whisky, so it’s a good a place to start as any:

Note: The original recipe (Harry Craddock’s from The Savoy Cocktail Book) calls for equal parts whisky and sweet vermouth and 3 dashes of Bénédictine, the 2:1 version is far more suited to the modern palate:

  1. Add a large measure of Scotch whisky (blended is best here), a measure of sweet vermouth and 1/4 measure of Bénédictine to a mixing glass.
  2. Add ice and stir well.
  3. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a twist of lemon (and possibly some shortbread).

David Embury’s version replaces the Bénédictine with Drambuie largely on the basis that it is Scottish.

Rusty Bobby Burns

A small step away from the Bobby Burns is its ‘rusty’ cousin which is a 2:1:1 whisky, Drambuie and sweet vermouth version with a double sploosh of Peychaud’s bitters or, more excitingly for Sazerac fans:

  1. Add a large measure of Drambuie, a measure of sweet vermouth, a teaspoon of absinthe, a teaspoon of maraschino and a double sploosh of Angostura bitters to a mixing glass.
  2. Add ice and stir well.
  3. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a twist of orange.

The Big Yin

While ‘The Big Yin’ usually refers to Billy Connolly, it’s easily applicable to any ‘big man’ and in the west of Scotland that’s pretty much anyone worthy of the name, so why not Rabbie?

  1. Dissolve a teaspoon of brown sugar with a little water in a rocks glass.
  2. Add a sploosh each of chocolate and orange bitters, a piece of ice, a piece of orange peel and a large measure of whisky (an old highland malt is best here).
  3. Stir well and serve with a twist of orange.

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The Blue Blazer

The Blue Blazer is a true celebrity of a cocktail. The drink that made Jerry Thomas’s name (and probably lost him his eyebrows once or twice in the early days), it was the original attention-seeking barman’s act, long before the flash of caramelising orange zest distracted the Sex and the City clique. In the interests of safety I cannot condone the full Blue Blazer arc, a few simple pours back and forth will do the trick:

  1. Add a large measure of whisky (cask strength is your best bet here. Use an Islay or Highland malt here – something with a pleasant complexity) and a sploosh of orange bitters to a mug.
  2. At this point you can choose to add a liqueur, some spices or some fruit – purely optional, but Chartreuse and Chambord or Crème de Mure are good.
  3. Add a large measure of boiling water to the mug and ignite the liquid.
  4. Mix by pouring the blazing mixture from one mug to another four or five times.
  5. Sweeten with a teaspoon of Demerara sugar and serve in a tumbler garnished with a twist of orange peel.

The act of concocting a Blue Blazer requires a little practice (with water) to ensure you have the pour right before you add flames to the mix. Be sure not to burn the house down (even though you think it is what Robert Burns would have done) and don’t forget to extinguish the drink before you take a sip.

Sláinte!

Wiggo Martini

A quick midweek #modwiggmartini post  to celebrate the hero status of Britain’s most successful Olympian (and first Tour de France winner) Bradley Wiggins.

The Wiggo Martini is a simple twist on the standard dry martini, with a measure of King’s Ginger ginger liqueur replacing the vermouth in honour of the great man’s trademark sideburns.

If you cut a long enough piece of lemon peel you can also recreate the sidies effect by curling the twist up both sides of the glass.

  1. Add three measures of gin and half a measure of King’s Ginger to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake or stir well (depending on your preference) and strain into a chilled martini glass (or cycling water bottle)
  3. Garnish with a twist of lemon, an allen key or a spoke.

Disclaimer:  Remember to drink responsibly and don’t drink and cycle.

Rusty Nail

Photo courtesy of Clearly Ambiguous, some rights reserved

Rugby and drinking go hand in hand, and you need look no further than The Famous Grouse’s long association with the Scottish national team to know that whisky and rugby are a natural combination.

My early rugby watching was done in sunny south London rather than the frozen north, so rugby for me was always associated with beer.  Normally the warm flat stuff that men with beards drink – remember the Tetley’s Bitter Cup and Greene King as ‘official beer’ of the England rugby team?   Even when I moved north, much of my rugby watching was accompanied by a plastic pint cup of lager for the Heineken Cup and occasionally Magners for the Celtic League, at least in part for its prominance on the shirts of Edinburgh and London Wasps in the mid-2000s.

Since then however, I have wrapped up warm for enough afternoons and evenings at Murrayfield and one particularly chilly November day on the Aberdeenshire coast where even the players came out to warm up in tin foil coats under sleeping bags.  As a result I have developed an appreciative understanding of the use of the hip flask and the variety of concoctions it can contain.

The obvious choice for the hip flask is straight whisky, but with tastes differing so much from person to person as you pass it down a row of seats, it’s far safer to mellow the whisky with the addition of a drop of Drambuie, the ‘satisfying’ blend of malt whisky, honey, herbs and spices that was supposedly gifted to the Clan MacKinnon by Bonnie Prince Charlie after a hard day at Culloden in 1746.

Rusty Nail

The original version of the Nail actually dates from the golden sands of Hawaii in the 1940s and not the West Stand at Murrayfield on St Patrick’s Day 1990.  Much like the Dry Martini, purists can argue for days about the ratio of whisky to Drambuie, but 3:1 is just about standard for your hip flask.  It can also be served up, or over crushed ice as follows:

  1. Fill an old fashioned glass with crushed ice.
  2. Add a large measure of scotch whisky (traditionally a blend, but feel free to experiment) and a measure of Drambuie.
  3. Stir gently until frost forms on the outside of the glass.
  4. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

Royal Nail

The Royal Nail is a luxurious alternative to the Rusty Nail, described by its creator, Simon Difford, as ‘two British Royals bittered by a yank’.  It forgoes the Drambuie, uses Peychaud’s bitters for its mellowing, blending effect and was a staple of my hip flask during this summer’s wedding season.  The Royal Nail can also be found ‘straight up’, but is more commonly served over ice:

  1. Add a large measure of premium blended whisky, a measure of Islay whisky and a single sploosh of Peychaud’s to a mixing glass.
  2. Fill the mixing glass with ice and stir well.
  3. Strain into an old fashioned glass over ice and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Galvanised Nail

The Galvanised Nail uses Drambuie, apple, lemon and elderflower to smooth the edges of the Scotch.  Another Simon Difford creation, dating from 2003, it is usually served up:

  1. Add a large measure of blended whisky, half a measure of Drambuie, half a measure of apple juice, a quarter measure of elderflower liqueur and a quarter measure of lemon juice to a shaker.
  2. Fill with ice and shake well.
  3. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Cajun Nail

The Cajun Nail is a mix between the Sazerac and the Rusty Nail, which uses whiskey instead of whisky, ramps up the Drambuie content and gives us another chance to practice our Absinthe Rinse.  The Cajun Nail is best served over ice:

  1. Fill an old fashioned glass with ice, add half a measure of absinthe and top up with water.
  2. Add a large measure of whiskey, a large measure of Drambuie and three splooshes each of Angostura and Peychaud’s to a mixing glass.
  3. Fill with ice and stir well.
  4. Discard the absinthe water and ice (offer them to your customer separately if you wish).
  5. Strain into the absinthe rinsed glass over fresh ice and garnish with the oil from a twist of lemon, but discard the peel.