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.
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Elderflower Manhattan

Photo courtesy of patruby83, some rights reserved.

Summer is here, and with it, our thoughts turn to clean, clear, crisp and refreshing drinks that can be savoured during those long evenings, where the sunlight lingers on the lawn, and the birds stay up late gossiping in the trees.  What place then for the #midweekmanhattan, a surly, autumnal, rich, spiced concoction that is surely best enjoyed from a leather armchair in front of a crackling log fire?

Well, my friends.  The Manhattan has another life.  Briefly alluded to in passing (see The Affinity), the manhattan can also be enjoyed as a sharp aromatic drink, the Dry Manhattan.

The Dry Manhattan owes much of its popularity to its association with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack (although more of that another time), and can be spruced up for summer drinking with the addition of some quintessential floral summer notes; primarily elderflower.

Elderflower has a long association with the British summer, and elderflower cordial, made from sugar, water and elderberry flowers, is a staple of Famous Five style traditional picnics.  For those who look for a little more bite to accompany their cucumber sandwiches, however, a range of elderflower liqueurs can now be employed to bring that summer picnic twist to the Manhattan.

To make the Elderflower Manhattan:

  1. Add a large measure of whiskey, a measure of elderflower liqueur, half a measure of dry vermouth and two splooshes of bitters (dandelion & burdock would work well) to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and double strain into a martini glass.
  3. Garnish with a cherry.

P.S.  I am keen to try this with green tea vermouth, but worry that the extra floral notes might begin to dominate the whiskey in an uncompromising manner.

Affinity

This week’s #midweekmanhattan recipe takes two slight twists from the classic Manhattan recipe, and mixes the concept of a Rob Roy and a Perfect Manhattan to create the Affinity.

The Affinity came to prominence in the 1920s (was that the golden age of cocktails, or what?), but can trace its roots right back to a first mention in the Washington Post for 29 October 1907:

“There’s another new cocktail on Broadway. They call it the Affinity. After drinking one, surviving experimenters declare, the horizon takes on a roseate hue, the second brings Wall street to the front and center proffering to you a quantity of glistening lamb shearings; when you’ve put away the third the green grass grows up all around birds sing in the fig trees and your affinity appears. The new ambrosia contain these ingredients: One medium teaspoonful of powdered sugar, one dash of orange bitters, one jigger of Scotch whisky and a half jigger of Italian vermouth. These are shaken in cracked ice, cocktail fashion, until thoroughly blended and cooled, then strained and quickly served.”

The classic recipe I know differs slightly, doing away with the sugar (*gasp*), and balancing out the ingredients so that we are left with:

  1. Add one measure of Scotch whisky, one measure of dry vermouth, one measure of sweet vermouth and two dashes of bitters to a mixing glass of ice.
  2. Stir well and strain into a cocktail glass.

The more modern recipe includes a twist of lemon peel (which may or may not be added as a garnish).  The result is a slightly drier, softer Manhattan with hints of honey and vanilla (although these will obviously depend on the Scotch you use).

The Affinity has also been in the news recently as a front-runner of a new trend for barrel-aged and/or bottle-aged cocktails.  This trend has been espoused by hot-ticket London bar Purl, Artesian at the Langham and one of my favourite Edinburgh bars, Bramble.

The folks at Bramble Bar have been working with the clever gents at Glemorangie to come up with a 100ml serving of this old timer, dished up in a bottle inspired by the ole’ snake oil sellers of the American midwest.  The theory is that bottle-ageing allows for greater oxidation of the combinations found in the cocktail, and produces a similar effect to the ageing of wine – producing a world of new subtleties that a bar-mixed and immediately-served drink can only aspire to.

The Bramble approach has also seen the Affinity spend some time in either American oak barrels, which imbue the maturing drink with spiced vanilla notes, or French oak barrels for a harsher less sweet finish.  Of course distillers have long known that the choice of barrel can have a significant effect on the end product, and it seems fitting that the Glenmorangie in Bramble’s aged Affinity dips in and out of both bottle and barrel before finding its way into a glass.

I haven’t made it to Bramble to experience this new sensation as yet, but have already ‘laid down’ my own to-be-aged drinks, and will report back in due course.

The Martini

Where to begin with this the most personal, complex and contentious combination of two simple ingredients?

Well, the Martini is a straightforward mixture of gin and vermouth created in the nineteenth century, either as a variation of the Martinez (gin, vermouth, curacao and orange bitters), or the child of an Italian vermouth distillery or the Knickerbocker Hotel, New York (for an investigation, read Adam Elmegirab, here)

Whatever your preference, one thing remains the same; the glass, a classic martini glass of course, should be chilled to ice cold before you begin. After that, the world is your olive.

The original Martini recipe (as far as I can tell) called for an equal mix of dry gin and dry vermouth, stirred gently and served with a single olive. Over time, the ratio of gin to vermouth has crept upwards, and passed two to three parts gin to one part vermouth in the 1940s (a Martini), five parts gin to one of vermouth in the 1960s (a Dry Martini) and up to eight parts gin to one part vermouth soon after that (an Extra Dry Martini).

The basic rule of thumb is that the greater the proportion of gin to vermouth, the “drier” the Martini – an old story claims that the driest Martini is made by pouring a large measure of gin and allowing “a sunbeam to pass through a sealed bottle of vermouth” and into the glass.

If I’m pouring myself a straight-forward Martini I will, by default, opt for a three:one ratio but it really is all down to personal preference:

  1. Chill your glass until it is frosty.
  2. Fill a mixing glass with ice.
  3. Add the gin, then the dry vermouth and stir gentlyfor sixty seconds.
  4. Strain into the frosty martini glass and garnish with an olive or three (on a pick) or a twist of lemon peel if you prefer.

If you prefer a more complex drink add a sploosh of bitters (the more exotic the better), sweet vermouth, or an Islay whisky.

A Dirty Martini involves the soothing addition of a dash of olive brine, and a Gibson is a Dry Martini with a single pickled onion (a favourite of Roger Sterling).

The Vesper

Much Martini lore has evolved from James Bond’s supposed love of the drink. In Casino Royale, Bond even goes as far as to invent his own variation – The Vesper, named after the delectable Vesper Lynd.  The drink was actually created for Ian Fleming by his bar-tending friend Ivar Bryce. In the book, it is introduced thus:

Bond looked carefully at the barman. ‘A Dry Martini’ he said. ‘One in a deep champagne goblet…Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel…’ –Casino Royale, Ian Fleming.

Purists claim that a Martini should always be stirred as shaking will ‘bruise the gin’ – perhaps Bond was confident in the resolve of his gin, but his Martinis, ordered throughout the books, sometimes vodka, sometimes gin, were always shaken, not stirred.

Manhattan

The Manhattan is one of the “Six Basic Drinks” as espoused by David A Embury in his 1948 encyclopedia of drinking, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. As a lawyer turned dipsologist, it appears Embury was on to something.

A popular but highly unlikely story (although one I wish dearly to be true) claims that the Manhattan was invented for Winston Churchill’s mother, and named after the Manhattan Club in New York City, where it was first made, so legend has it, in the early 1870s. With Lady Randolph Churchill as its ambassador, the drink first took Manhattan and then (arguably) Berlin through the actions of her son some 75 years later.

History records the Manhattan as the first cocktail to contain vermouth, a dry fortified wine from France and Italy which was developed in the late eighteenth century. Traditionally a Manhattan calls for sweet vermouth, but you can make a dry Manhattan if you use dry vermouth, or a perfect Manhattan by using equal amounts of sweet and dry vermouth. The traditional Manhattan calls for equal parts rye whiskey and sweet vermouth with 2:1 and 3:1 also popular – feel free to experiment.

  1. Pour a large measure of whiskey, a small measure of sweet vermouth and two dashes of bitters into a shaker of ice.
  2. Stir well (a good 20 times) and strain into a martini glass.
  3. Garnish with a cherry and/or a twist of orange peel.

I perk up my Manhattans with a teaspoon of maraschino, a cherry liqueur from Italy that tastes reassuringly like Calpol. Technically this makes the drink a Red Hook, named for the neighbourhood of Brooklyn in which it was first made, but I think it is an admirable addition to the classic NY cocktail.

Aside from the dry and perfect Manhattans, the other main variation on a Manhattan is the Rob Roy which takes Scotch whisky instead of rye or the Brooklyn which is a perfect Manhattan with a bar spoon of Maraschino.