A great injustice was committed on this day in 1970 when an over 300 year old maritime tradition came to an end. For you see, July 31, 1970 was Black Tot Day, the last day the Royal Navy issued sailors their daily ration of rum (the daily tot).
The rum ration began in the middle of the 17th century. Originally, English naval orders said that sailors were to receive a gallon of beer daily to help keep morale up. However, it was difficult to store so much alcohol, plus the beer would often go bad inside the barrels. So, in 1655 the Royal Navy declared that a half-pint of rum would be equivalent to the gallon of beer. This new ration became quite popular with sailors and the old beer ration was essentially done away with. However, some thought it was a little too popular.
In 1740, an admiral cited increased naval drunkenness and ordered that the rum be mixed with water. (We’ll have more on that later.) Over time, the daily tot would be reduced from a half pint to a quarter pint, and then finally an eighth of a pint. In fact, by the start of World War II, officers and warrant officers were no longer given a rum ration. Finally, in 1969 the Admiralty Board proposed that the rum ration be done away with, saying that liquor had no place on modern naval boats that had so much complicated machinery. A fierce debate was held in the House of Commons on the issue and in January of 1970 it was announced that the rum ration would come to an end at the end of July of that year.
So, at 11 AM on July 31, 1970, the last ever cry of “Up spirits” was made and sailors reported to the bridge for their last tot of rum. Some sailors wore black armbands, others poured part of their drinks into the sea as part of a proper burial at sea. One naval training camp even held a faux funeral procession to mourn the “Black Tot.”
Today, as you solemnly mark the anniversary of the final tot, I suggest you make some Grog. Grog owes its name to Admiral Edward Vernon, nicknamed Old Grog after his cloak made of grogram fabric, who ordered the daily tot of rum to be mixed with hot water, along with a bit of lime to ward off the scurvy and some brown sugar to make it palatable. Let me warn you, this is far from the most delicious drink you’ll ever try. I mean, there’s some tasty stuff in it, but the Royal Navy was not exactly known for having an interest in mixology.
- 2 ounces dark rum
- 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 4 ounces hot water
Mix all ingredients together in a mug, and garnish with a cinnamon stick and an orange slice.
Tomorrow: In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone to far.
I don’t know what it is about baseball, but that sport has a proud, strange history of attracting the oddballs and the eccentrics. There’s a pretty solid through line of wacky ballplayer traits going from Jackie Price’s tendency to take batting practice while hanging upside down, to Yogi Berra’s Zen-like Yogiisms to former Giants closer Brian Wilson’s beard and tendency to play the organ on his teammates heads. Well, today we honor one of the great baseball goofs, Casey Stengel, who was born on this day in 1890.
During his over fifty year baseball career, Stengel was a fan and press favorite for his quick wit and unique turns of phrase. He famously once won over a hostile Brooklyn crowd by stepping up to home plate, tipping his cap to the grandstands and revealing a sparrow that he had hidden beneath the cap. The sparrow flew off and the crowd cheered at Stengel’s caper .
Stengel had a thirteen year career as a player, but he’s best known for serving as manager to both the New York Yankees and New York Mets. As the manager of the Yankees, Stengel led the team to seven World Series titles, including five consecutive victories from 1949 to 1953. His time with the Mets was another story entirely.
In 1962, when the Mets played their first season, Stengel was coaxed out of retirement to coach the newly formed team. Upon being hired, Stengel, who was 72 at the time, joked about his age by saying “”It’s a great honor to be joining the Knickerbockers,” referencing a New York baseball team that disbanded during the Civil War era. In their inaugural season, Stengel’s winning personality was about the only “winning” thing the Mets had. The team was mostly made up of past-their-prime veteran players and untested rookies who couldn’t win a game to save their life. in fact, the 1962 Mets would set the record for the most losses by a team in Major League Baseball’s modern era. Although Stengel wouldn’t be able to help the team win, he did endear the Mets to baseball fans by dubbing them the Amazing Mets, a team that Stengel claimed amazed him by finding “new ways to lose I never knew existed before.”
There are two cocktails called the Metropolitan. One’s a knock-off of the Cosmopolitan and the other is a classic brandy cocktail that’s kind of like a sweeter Manhattan. Today we’re going to make the latter.
- 1 1/2 ounces Brandy
- 1 ounces sweet vermouth
- 1/2 teaspoon simple syrup
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Pour the ingredients in to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry.
Tomorrow: Why is the rum always gone?
It’s a slow day in history today, so I thought we should honor one of the more niche artists of the 20th century, Dave Stevens. Stevens (born on this day in 1955) got his artistic start inking art for comic book legends like Jack Kirby. He’d later move on to do storyboards in Hollywood for many projects including the Superfriends cartoon, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Michael Jackson’s iconic “Thriller” video. However, Stevens’ lasting legacy is his 1982 creation, the Rocketeer.
The action packed Rocketeer stories were a love letter to the pulp fiction and adventure serials of mid-century America. Set in Depression-era Los Angeles, the Rocketeer comics tell the tale of Cliff Secord, a daredevil aviator who discovers a mysterious silver jet pack. With the assistance of his best friend and mentor, the airplane engineer Ambrose “Peevy” Peabody, Secord would use that jet pack to fight crime as the Rocketeer. Despite the fact that Stevens only wrote and illustrated nine Rocketeer comics, the character and his adventures are much beloved thanks to Stevens’ wit, stunning art and a fantastic attention to period detail. In fact, the character even managed to break the mainstream in 1991 when Disney made a Rocketeer movie! Not bad for a small independent comic book creation.
Although Stevens died in 2008, his most famous creation has recently experienced a renaissance. Comic book publisher IDW, who currently own the rights to the Rocketeer, has hired some of the biggest names in modern comics-dom to write and illustrate new adventures for the character. Additionally, over the last twenty years the Rocketeer movie has developed a strong cult following, and Disney has even discussed bringing the character back to the big screen.
There’s probably no better cocktail to honor Stevens and the Rocketeer than a rocket powered drink named for another artist: A fun little drink called Van Gogh’s Rocket, created by Erik Denton for Los Angeles’ Church & State bistro.
Van Gogh’s Rocket
- Pinch fresh arugula
- 1 1/2 ounces vodka, preferably Luksusowa
- 1 ounce Lillet Blanc
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
- 1/8 ounce honey syrup (½ honey, ½ water)
- 1 bar spoon absinthe, preferably Vieux Carre
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the arugula and add ice and all liquid ingredients. Shake and strain in to a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.
Tomorrow: The leader of baseball’s lovable losers.
Last year, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo was named the best motion picture ever made in the British Film Institute’s decennial Sight & Sound poll of the greatest films of all time, Now, Vertigo is an amazing movie and easily one of Hitchcock’s best. However, I personally think that Hitchcock’s most rewatchable and endlessly entertaining film is North By Northwest, which was released on this day in 1959.
The fourth and final collaboration between Hitchcock and cinematic icon Cary Grant, North By Northwest is a classic Hitchcockian tale of mistaken identity and danger: One day at lunch, New York advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Grant) is mistaken for a spy named George Kaplan. Thornhill soon finds himself pursued across the country by dangerous men and even framed for murder. The only person who could possibly help save his life is a mysterious and beautiful woman named Eve, perfectly played by Eva Marie Saint.
This is a movie that has everything: Adventure! Suspense! Romance! Action! Humor! Mystery! There’s even a bit of guerrilla filmmaking, as Hitchcock secretly shot a key scene in front of the United Nations, without the UN’s approval. Really, if you haven’t seen this North By Northwest, why not make a nice drink and watch it tonight?
But what drink should you make? Well, after their initial meeting, Thornhill and Eve have dinner and drinks on a train and Thornhill orders a Gibson. The Gibson is possibly the oldest variation on the Martini, although no one’s really sure how the drink came about. The most popular story is that the artist Charles Dana Gibson challenged a bartender to improve upon the Martini. The bartender accepted Gibson’s challenge and subbed in a pearl onion in place of the traditional olive.
- 2 ounces Gin
- 1/3 ounces Dry Vermouth
Stir well with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a pearl onion.
Tomorrow: An artist, a rocket and a cocktail named for another combination of an artist and a rocket.
Eh, what’s up, readers? What’s up is that 73 years ago today, America’s favorite “wascally wabbit” had his first starring role. Yes, it was on this day in 1940 that Bugs Bunny starred alongside Elmer Fudd in the Oscar nominated short A Wild Hare. An unnamed rabbit who bared some resemblance to Bugs in appearance and personality had appeared in previous Warner Brothers cartoons, but cartoon historians view A Wild Hare as Bugs’ official debut as the short featured the first use of the character’s Brooklyn-Bronx accent, his signature line, “What’s up, doc?” and his grey and white color scheme.
Since appearing alongside Elmer Fudd in A Wild Hare, Bugs has appeared in basically every form of media you can imagine and even been named, and this is true, an honorary Marine Master Sergeant. Now, I could go on and on about Bugs’ accomplishments, but it’s a Saturday, so instead let’s watch a cartoon. Unfortunately, I can’t embed the short, but you can watch it right here.
While you’re enjoying A Wild Hare, why not make a Bugs Bunny Cocktail? I’ll be honest and say that I personally have not had this drink, as I am not a fan of vegetable juices. However, if you don’t mind carrot juice, this drink will be right up your alley.
Bugs Bunny Cocktail
- 2 ounces Vodka
- 4 ounces Carrot Juice
Shake the liquids with ice, strain in to a chilled old fashioned glass and garnish with a celery stick.
Tomorrow: Paging Mr. Kaplan, Mr. George Kaplan.
There’s a great new documentary in theaters now called Twenty Feet From Stardom. The film is a fantastic look at the careers of rock and pop backing singers, including Merry Clayton (who performed the amazing female vocals on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimmme Shelter”) and Darlene Love, one of the greatest voices in the history of pop music, who just happens to be celebrating her 72nd birthday today.
In the 1960s, Love was a respected backing singer and a member of uber-producer Phil Spector’s regular troupe of musicians. Of course, as anyone familiar with Spector knows, working for Spector also meant frequently getting screwed over by him. Love made frequent attempts to break out as a singing star, but these were usually derailed by Spector. Her biggest hit was the now classic contemporary Christmas carol “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” but most of her best work was attributed to others. Spector had a nasty habit of taking the recordings Love made and crediting them to his more popular acts. If you’ve ever heard the version of “He’s A Rebel” attributed to the Crystals, you were actually listening to Love’s group the Blossoms.
Needless to say, this chicanery did not sit well with Love. When she tried to embark on a solo career in the early 1970s, she signed with Philadelphia’s up-and-coming production and songwriting team Gamble & Huff…who after a brief time traded her contract back to Spector, who at this time had become even more of a sadistic drugged out megalomaniacal bastard. At this point, Love effectively retired rather than work with Spector again.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that Love would finally get her career going again, largely thanks to musicians who had grown up listening to the records she was featured on; like Bruce Springsteen compatriot Steven Van Zandt. Since then, Love has stayed in the public eye by acting and singing on stage and in film, and since 1986 has made an annual appearance on David Letterman’s talk shows to perform her signature Yuletide hit, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” In 2011, Love finally took her place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
I could think of no better cocktail to honor the real singer of “He’s A Rebel” than the Rebel Yell. It’s a solid mix of bourbon, citrus and egg whites (see my note on the use of egg whites here).
- 2 ounces Bourbon
- 1/2 ounce triple sec
- 1 ounce lemon juice
- 1 egg white
Shake the ingredients well with ice, and strain in to an old fashion and garnish with an orange slice.
Tomorrow: What’s up, Doc?
As the only maxim says heroes die, but legends live forever. It was on this day in 1853 that the California outlaw Joaquin Murrieta was killed, and became a legend. Murrieta’s story sounds like something from a pulp novel or action movie. He was either a Chilean or Mexican who came to California during the Gold Rush and actually discovered a very rich mining claim. However, jealous Anglos came to steal his claim and proceeded to rape his wife, kill his brother and finally horsewhipped Murrieta. Murrieta would then seek vengeance against the Anglos responsible for these heinous crimes and the government that let him down.
Murrieta would form a gang and commit murders and robberies throughout California, but also giving some of the stolen treasures to the poor, earning him the nickname “the Mexican Robin Hood.” Murietta’s gang was viewed as such a threat, that the Governor and state legislature of California organized the California Rangers for the specific purpose of capturing Murrieta and his gang. 160 years ago today, Murietta’s gang of outlaws engaged in a final showdown with the California Rangers. In the showdown, three of the gang members were killed including Murietta, but the story doesn’t end there.
The Rangers’ leader, Captain Harry Love would have Murietta’s corpse beheaded and preserved in a jar of alcohol to prove that the outlaw had been killed. After the preserved head was presented to the governor, it was taken on tour to Mariposa County, Stockton, and San Francisco where visitors could pay a dollar to see the head of the feared bandit. Despite the seventeen signed affidavits that attested that this was indeed the head of Joaquin Murrieta, there were claims that he still lived: A San Francisco newspaper received an anonymous letter claiming that Love had actually killed an innocent Mexican rancher. Reported sightings of an older Murietta surfaced from time to time. On top of all this, every so often people would claim to have discovered some of Murietta’s hidden treasures. In an appropriately mythic fashion, Murietta’s head would disappear during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Today, Murietta’s legend still lives, as writer Johnston McCulley likely based the pulp hero Zorro on the legends associated with Murietta.
At the Berkeley, California restaurant Comal, bartender Scott Baird has whipped up a drink in honor of Murietta. The Joaquin Murrieta is a tough tequila drink that Baird says is “definitely for the more — I’d say, experienced drinker.” Not a bad way to honor a legendary outlaw.
- 1 ounce Tres Agaves Tequila Reposado
- 1 ounce Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
- 1 ounce Amaro Montenegro
Stir with ice in a beaker, strain in to a small cocktail coupe and garnish with a lemon twist.
Tomorrow: The “Love”liest voice in rock and roll.
Sterling Archer: What? This is like O. Henry and Alanis Morissette had a baby and named it this exact situation.
–Archer, “Training Day.”
William Sydney Porter, known by his psuedonym O. Henry, was one of America’s best loved short story writers, known today for his use of wordplay, dramatic irony and twist endings. But did you know that he spent half a year on the run from the law? How’s that for dramatic irony? In the mid-1890s, it was discovered that Porter, a teller at the First National Bank of Austin, had been embezzling money and was arrested. Porter’s father in law bailed him out of jail, but the day before Porter was to stand trial he escaped to Honduras. He would spend the next six months in Honduras, writing and avoiding justice, until he learned that his wife was dying from tuberculosis. Porter would return to his family in February of 1897, and in July 1898 he was found guilty of embezzling and sentenced to five years imprisonment.
During his prison sentence, Porter, a licensed pharmacist, would serve as the prison hospital’s night druggist. During his time in prison he wrote fourteen stories which were published under various pen names including O. Henry. As Porter didn’t want publishers to know that he was a convict, he would mail his writing to a friend in New Orleans, who would forward it to potential publishers. Porter would be released from jail on this day in 1901, only serving three years with time off for good behavior. As O. Henry, he’d go on to write nearly 400 short stories which were loved by the public, but often maligned by literary critics. All in all, not bad for an ex-con.
Now, it’s just our luck that there is a drink called the O’Henry Cocktail. The difference in punctuation indicate that the writer and the drink are unrelated, but I’m sure Porter wouldn’t mind. This is a nice sipping cocktail with strong herbal notes.
- 1 1/2 ounce Bourbon
- 3/4 ounce Benedictine
- Ginger Ale
Pour the bourbon and Benedictine in a highball glass with ice, fill with ginger ale and stir.
Tomorrow: The Robin Hood of El Dorado!
According to several sources, including the Library of Congress, today might be the day the ice cream cone was created at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. Although history shows that conic paper and metal ice cream holders had existed for years prior to the Exposition, but the Exposition would see the birth of the edible ice cream cone that we still enjoy today. Legend states that an ice cream vendor at the Exposition’s midway ran out of bowls and soon had to find something new to serve his ice cream in. Some versions of the story say he placed the ice cream in pastry cones and served it to customers. Other versions of the story claim that a nearby waffle vendor offered the ice cream man rolled up waffles, which led to the birth of the waffle cone.
Unfortunately, although many have claimed to be the inventor of the ice cream cone, no one candidate has been proven as the true culinary innovator. In the meantime, let’s honor that anonymous man with a classic cocktail made with ice cream: The classic “frozen” version of the Grasshopper. This combination of ice cream and sweet spirits makes for a delightful alcoholic milk shake.
- 3/4 ounces creme de menthe
- 3/4 ounces white creme de cacao
- 2 cups mint chocolate chip (or vanilla) ice cream
Mix all ingredients in a blender, until nice and thick. Serve in a tall glass with a straw and spoon, garnish with mint.
Tomorrow: A writer gets out of prison.
Last week we paid tribute to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, one of the original pop showmen. Today, we honor one of the people who followed Hawkins’ lead and took rock spectacle to a new level. Born 72 years ago today, George Clinton is the leader of the amazing funk music collective known as Parliament-Funkadelic. Over the last 45 years, the P-Funk collective has included dozens of musicians and over ten different bands. Clinton was primarily involved with the two bands that gave the collective its name: the slinky R&B driven funk band Parliament and the Hendrix influenced funk-rock group Funkadelic.
With these bands, Clinton, along with his number two; bassist Bootsy Collins, would create not just a tight funk sound which continues to influence pop music in the present day, but also a complex Afrofuturist musical mythology and elaborate live shows featuring outrageous costumes an appearances by the P-Funk spacecraft known as the Mothership.
No one knows where the Mothership might land next to bring The Funk to the people of Earth, but while we wait for it to return we might as well sip on a Parliament Cocktail. Created at Vancouver’s The Diamond bar is a strong drink with just the slightest hint of sweetness.
- 1 1/2 ounces Cachaça
- 1/2 ounce Fernet Branca
- 3/4 ounces lime juice
- 2/3 ounces runny honey
Shake everything with ice in a cocktail shaker, strain in to a chilled cocktail glass and add a spritz of grapefruit oil.
Tomorrow: I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream and liquor.