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.
Advertisements

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.

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.

A Twist of Peel

Photo courtesy of Darwin Bell, some rights reserved.

A number of the recipes included on this site so far, and, I’ll wager, a good few more still to come, have called for a twist of peel.  Be it orange or lemon, this is a vital ingredient in the vast majority of the drinks I make.  As well as adding an extra visual ingredient, to help prepare the first-time drinker with the anticipation of a citrus taste, the twist also provides a chance to add a rare drop of citrus oil and to show off some barmanship skills.

The citrus oil is the main reason for including a twist of peel in a drink.  This should sit on top of the cocktail and provide a welcoming citrus scent to the nose of the imbiber.  This also explains why the twist is important in the creation of a Sazerac, even though the purists say it should be discarded and not left to garnish the drink.

The secret to a good twist of peel is to ensure you start with a fresh, unwaxed fruit.  To obtain your twist:

  1. Using a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife, cut slowly towards you making sure not to cut too deeply and include too much pith.  Don’t be misguided by the photo above, you are just aiming for a piece of peel large enough for you to hold and twist – no more.  The size of a ten pence coin is about right.
  2. Once you have your piece of peel, twist it above the finished drink, peel side down, so that the oil is expressed into the drink.
  3. After adding a drop or two, run the peel around the rim of the glass and drop it into the drink.

Once you have mastered this, you can introduce the flame effect.  To do this:

  1. Cut a piece of peel about an inch in diameter.  Make this piece a little thicker so it is easier to hold.
  2. Light a match and hold it an inch or two above the drink.
  3. Hold the peel about an inch above the flame, and move it back and forth for a few seconds to warm and soften it.
  4. Twist and squeeze the peel, coloured side outwards and downwards, over the drink.
  5. As the oil passes through the flame, it will flare and then imbue the drink with a caramelised citrus flavour.  With practice you can do this with a swift click of your fingers for added effect.
  6. Finally, run the peel around the rim of the glass and drop it into the drink (or discard if you have a Sazerac in front of you).

Don’t burn your fingers!

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.

Aviation

Photo courtesy of ReeseCLloyd, some rights reserved

My post on The Bitter Truth’s fantastic Cocktail Bitters Traveller’s Set has already referred to the golden age of travel.  This drink is another that brings to mind images of the glory days of Pan Am and luxury air travel.

The Aviation was an ideal at-seat serve as you drift along at hundreds of miles an hour above the clouds with not a care in the world – a million miles away from the modern pile ’em high approach to air travel.  The origins of the Aviation are unknown, but it was first published in Hugo Ensslin’s Recipes for Mixed Drinks, a 1916 guide to the drinks served in New York’s Hotel Wallick.

The Aviation is effectively a tune up of the Gin Sour (gin, lemon juice, sugar) with a sweetening hit of maraschino.  The traditional recipe went as follows:

  1. Add a large measure of gin, the juice of half a lemon, a barspoon of maraschino and a barspoon of crème de violette to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and strain into a martini glass.
  3. Garnish with a cherry (or twist of lemon peel).

This recipe creates a delightfully sour drink with a hint of blue sky courtesy of the crème de violette.  However, my homebar is, as yet, lacking a bottle (it’s on the list) so I prefer the modern version which excludes the hard to find violet-brandy liqueur.