Monthly Archives: October, 2013

October 31: All Hallows’ Eve

Great PumpkinChances are that tonight you’re going to be celebrating Halloween. The holiday got its start as a Celtic festival honoring the dead and marking the end of the fall and beginning of the winter. Etymology fans will know that the word Halloween comes from a Scottish corruption of All Hallows’ Eve, the day before the Christian feast day of All Hallows (Now of course known as All Saints’ Day). Now, as with any major holiday, there are oodles of customs associated with Halloween, and today we’ll take a look at one of them: Namely, the history of trick-or-treating.

The tradition of going around town dressed in costume and begging for treats on holidays actually dates back to the Middle Ages. This is most famously associated with tradition of wassailing; witness that the second verse of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” starts with the phrase “Now bring us some figgy pudding,” and the third opens with the threat “And we won’t go until we get some.” In medieval Ireland and Britain there the poor would often go around town on All Hallows and request food in exchange for praying for dead relatives on All Souls Day. Over time, this tradition blended with an old Celtic tradition of wearing masks and costumes to pacify evil spirits.

By the late 1890s, “guising” as it was known at the time was quite common in Scotland, with groups of children in masks and costumes going door to door, asking for cakes, fruits or money. In 1911, the first known reference to “guising” in America appeared, when a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario reported on kids performing the practice. In the 1920s, the practice spread cross Canada and even into Chicago, and the first reference to “trick-or-treating” appeared in 1927 in a newspaper from Blackie, Alberta: “The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.”

It wasn’t until 1934 that the term began to appear in American publications, and interestingly those references were exclusively from the Western U. S. The practice began to move east over the course of the 1930s. The custom was stalled during the 1940s due to wartime sugar rationing, but when the war was over trick-or-treating spread nationwide. By 1948, trick-or-treating had clearly entered pop culture as the Halloween episodes of The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet both made references to trick-or-treating. Nowadays, Halloween is a major industry, with Americans expected to spend $7-billion on candy, costumes and decorations.

While there are hundreds of cocktails named after Halloween candies, I thought it was appropriate that for Halloween we make a classic cocktail with an appropriately spooky name, Satan’s Whiskers. This fascinating cocktail made its debut in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. It’s an orangey cocktail that’s garnished with an orange twist, which is quite fitting for a drink named after the devil’s curly mustache.

Satan’s Whiskers

  • 1/2 ounce Gin
  • 1/2 ounce Dry Vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier
  • 1 teaspoon Orange Bitters

Shake all ingredients together with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Tomorrow: Shakespeare’s last play.

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October 30: Orson Welles Shocks The Nation

WellesWith Halloween approaching, Orson Welles thought it would be fitting if his CBS radio drama anthology series The Mercury Theater On The Air did something spooky for its October 30, 1938 broadcast. So, Welles and his team decided to perform an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ classic alien invasion tale The War Of The Worlds. The idea was that the events of Wells’ novel would be retold as a radio broadcast that has interrupted “regularly scheduled programming.” Little did Welles know what an uproar his broadcast would cause.

As I’m sure you’re aware, The War Of The World caused a bit of a panic amongst the people who heard the show. Now, there are a couple of myths about the radio drama. Contrary to popular reports, Welles introduced the show as a work of fiction, and even included an epilogue in which he informs the audience at home that “We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the C. B. S. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn’t mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business.” Also, the play’s lone interruption was a station identification break 45 minutes into the broadcast.

That said, Welles must have known that his broadcast would cause a stir. After all, Mercury Theater aired in the same time slot as NBC’s very popular comedy/variety show The Chase and Sanborn Hour. Now, Welles knew that that about 12 to 15 minutes into the show’s broadcast, the show’s first comedy sketch ended and musical numbers began. He also knew that a fair amount of Chase and Sanborn listeners began to circle around the dial right at that moment, and so he scheduled the early reports of the alien invasion for the 12 minute mark. So, if you were passing around the radio dial at that moment and came across CBS, you’d hear some pleasant dance music suddenly interrupted by a radio announcer reporting that “a meteorite, fell on a farm in the neighborhood of Grovers Mill, New Jersey.”

As the fictional Martians began their attack on New Jersey, real Americans began to panic. Largely, people began calling the police or local media. In an amazing coincidence, the little town of  Concrete, Washington suffered a power outage during the broadcast. In the ensuing days, many newspapers would report that massive amounts of people fled their homes in terror after hearing the broadcast. However, it seems that outside of Concrete, there really weren’t that many cases of people panicking in the streets. According to one report, “some 6 million heard the CBS broadcast; 1.7 million believed it to be true, and 1.2 million were ‘genuinely frightened'” By comparison, it was said that 30 million people had kept their radio tuned to Chase and Sanborn.

A few listeners sued CBS for “mental anguish” and “personal injury,” but all of the suits were dismissed except for one: A Massachusetts man who made claim for a pair of black men’s shoes (size 9B) because he spent his shoe money while trying to escape the Martians. Although that suit would have been dismissed, Welles insisted that that man be payed.  All this attention actually worked out wonderfully for Welles and the Mercury Theater, as many people began to listen to the show regularly and Campbell’s Soup soon became the show’s sponsor. In 1988, to mark the 50th anniversary of the broadcast, the New Jersey Township of West Windsor, where Grover’s Mill is located, unveiled a bronze monument in honor of the Martian landing.

Tonight, as you prepare for Halloween, why not mark the anniversary of the invasion by the saucer men from Mars with a Flying Saucer. It’s a nice blended cocktail that’s like a nutty, vodka-free version of the White Russian.

Flying Saucer

  • 1 ounce Amaretto
  • 1 ounce Kahlua
  • 3 ounces cream
  • 3 ounces ice

Combine ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth (approximately 10-20 seconds) and pour into a highball glass.

Tomorrow: “On Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises from his pumpkin patch and flies through the air with his bag of toys to all the children.”

October 29: Login

ARPANETThe Advanced Research Projects Agency Network was a Department of Defense project that served as a precursor to the internet. The early ARPANET began as four small computers, essentially primitive routers, called Interface Message Processors at four western universities: UCLA, Stanford, Utah and UCSB. It was on this day in 1969 that the first ARPANET message was transmitted, thus making today the unofficial birthday of the internet!

So, what was the first message sent out via ARPANET? Well, it’s kind of a funny story. You see, the unofficial birthday of the internet is also the unofficial birthday of the internet error. At 10:30 PM on October 29, 1969, UCLA student programmer Charley Kline attempted to send a simple message to Stanford’s ARPANET station. The message was the word “login.” However, the IMP at UCLA crashed after sending the letter “o,” so the official first message sent over ARPANET was “lo.” An hour later, the computer would reboot and Kline would be able to send out his full message. It wouldn’t be until December 5 that the whole system was connected.

Now, as far as I could tell, there is no cocktail named for the internet and Googling “internet cocktail recipe” only gave me results for cocktail recipe websites. So, since I can’t find an “internet cocktail,” I had to go with the next best thing and find a cocktail honoring the birthplace of the internet. The UCLA Bruins Shot was one of two cocktails created by Ryan Kelley a few years ago to celebrate UCLA and USC’s annual football rivalry match. It’s a sweet little blue and gold shooter that mixes tequila with rum and limoncello.

UCLA Bruins Shot

  • 1/8 oz Blue Curacao
  • 1/4 oz orgeat syrup
  • 1/8 oz White Rum
  • 1/8 oz Limoncello
  • 1/2 oz Tequila Añejo

Combine the blue curacao, orgeat syrup, and rum in a double shot glass and stir. In a separate glass, stir the tequila and limoncello together. Layer the tequila and limoncello mixture on top of the blue curacao, orgeat syrup, and rum mixture in the double shot glass.

Tomorrow: “Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News.”

October 28: The Volstead Act

VolsteadToday is the anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history. I speak of course of October 28, 1919, the day that the United State Congress passed the National Prohibition Act. The National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Andrew Volstead (right) who sponsored the legislation, was a law created to enforce the 18th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution and end the sale of alcoholic beverages in the U. S.

When the 18th Amendment was ratified, it simply said that one year after its ratification (So, starting on January 17, 1920) all “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” would be illegal in the United States. However, the amendment did not say how this should be enforced, and thus the National Prohibition Act was created to define intoxicating liquor and set the new laws of the land for the newly “dry” America.

The Act was conceived and written by Wayne Wheeler, the de facto leader of the Anti-Saloon League and a man who despite not being elected to any office by the American people, essentially controlled Congress. How did he do this? Well, simply put, his Anti-Saloon League fanatics were so loud, that politicians were scared of disagreeing with Wheeler for fear that he and his band would try to end their careers. So, Wheeler was allowed free reign to semi-secretly push the “moral crusade” of prohibition.

Now, if you’ve purchased an alcoholic beverage anytime in the last 80 years, then you know that Prohibition was an absolute failure.  How big a failure? Well, let’s put it this way, Prohibition took effect at Midnight on January 17, 1920; the first known Volstead violation happened in Chicago just 59 minutes later and it was all downhill from there. Speakeasies popped up everywhere, organized crime kept the liquor flowing, and the police and federal agents who weren’t on the take found the law nearly impossible to enforce. In New York alone, the first 4,000 arrests only led to six convictions and not a single jail sentence. As time went on, Americans got tired of the “noble experiment” of Prohibition, and it’s unsurprising that in 1932 Franklin Roosevelt ran for president on a platform that included the promise to end Prohibition.

As we saw with the Scofflaw cocktail when we discussed the death of Carrie Nation, bartenders love making jokes at the expense of prohibitionists. So, it should be no surprise that Jeremy Strawn, a bartender at New York City’s MPD Restaurant, would create a drink called Volstead. It’s a bubbly and fruity cocktail that’s more ideal for the spring, but still delightful in mid-autumn.

Volstead

  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 ounces fresh berries
  • 3/4 ounce Vodka
  • 3/4 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce lemon Juice
  • Champagne

Muddle the simple syrup and berries in the bottom of a shaker. Combine with ice, vodka, St. Germain and lemon juice and shake. Strain into a Champagne flute and then top with Champagne.

Tomorrow: The start of the internet, and the first internet error.

October 27: Mrs. Simpson Files For Divorce

Wallais EdwardWhen you think of the heroes of World War II, you probably think of the political leaders (FDR, Churchill), the military leaders (de Gaulle, Eisenhower) or the humanitarians (Wallenberg, Chiune Sugihara). However, I would argue that the person who made the biggest positive contribution to the events of the war was a horrible person, a racist and a friend of Herr Hitler himself. I’m talking of course about Wallis Simpson, who on this day in 1936 filed from divorce from her second husband Ernest, setting in motion events that would force England’s King Edward VIII to abdicate the throne.

In 1931, the still married Wallis Simpson was introduced to Edward, at the time the Prince of Wales, by a mutual friend and the two quickly fell for each other. In January 1936, Edward’s father King George V died, making Edward the king. Simpson and Edward’s affair was an open secret by this point, and rumors began to spread that Simpson would soon seek a divorce so she could marry Edward and become queen.

This did not sit well with many Brits for several reasons: For one thing, at the time the Church of England (which the king serves as Supreme Governor of) did not permit the remarriage of divorced people whose former spouses were still alive. Second, many viewed Simpson as a power hungry American who was only interested in Edward for his power and wealth. The Prime Ministers of England, Australia, Canada and South Africa all voiced their opposition to a marriage. By voicing their dissent, they knew that if Edward went through with the marriage, they and their cabinets would have to resign, which would lead to a major constitutional crisis. English PM Stanley Baldwin presented Edward with three options: Give up the idea of marrying Simpson, go through with the marriage against his ministers wishes or step down from the throne. Alas, Edward would not give Simpson up, and so in December 1936 he stepped down from the throne, allowing his younger brother Prince Albert, Duke of York to become the king. The day after the abdication, Albert, now called King George VI, announced that he would give the former king the special title of “His Royal Highness The Duke of Windsor.” Edward and Simpson would marry in 1937.

In the years before World War II, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were known to socialize with many prominent Nazis and fascists. In fact, in 1937 the Duke and Duchess even found the time to have tea with Adolph Hitler, who remarked that Simpson “would have made a good Queen.” During the early days of World War II, the Duke and Duchess bounced around Europe, usually staying in the homes of prominent fascists. The Nazis tried to persuade Edward to support their cause, but he refused to do so publicly, although there were reports that Edward had leaked British battle plans to the Axis. Eventually, Winston Churchill got so tired of the Duke and Duchess’ shenanigans that he made Edward the Governor of the Bahamas. Churchill claimed he was doing this so that the two of them would be safe during the war, but really he wanted the two idiots as far away from Europe as possible in order to keep them from causing any more trouble.

So, it’s a very good thing that Edward VIII was forced to abdicate so that he could marry Simpson, because had he not resigned England would have had a Nazi sympathizer on the throne in the lead up to World War II. Since the monarchy was actually relevant, Edward’s pro-appeasement feelings would have greatly hindered any British movement to stop the Nazis. Don’t believe me, why don’t you ask Hitler what he thought about Edward’s abdication: “I am certain through him permanent friendly relations could have been achieved. If he had stayed, everything would have been different. His abdication was a severe loss for us.”

So, today we celebrate the horrible horrible Wallis Simpson’s accidental positive contribution to world history with a Wallis Blue. Simpson was known for wearing a signature shade of dark blue, which came to be known as Wallis Blue, so you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is a blue cocktail. This mix of gin, blue curacao and lime juice isn’t the most exciting drink, but it is a solid little cocktail.

Wallis Blue

  • 1 1/2 ounces Gin
  • 1 ounce Blue Curacao
  • 1 ounce lime juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass whose rim has been rubbed with lime pulp.

Tomorrow: The darkest day in American drinking history.

October 26: End of The Pony Express

Pony_Express_PosterLet’s pretend that you were living in New York in the 1850s and you had relatives who had traveled out west to California to strike it rich. Now, let’s say that you wanted to send them a letter or a parcel. In those days, it would take weeks for mail to get from coast to coast, assuming of course that the mail didn’t get lost or stolen along the way. Thankfully, in April of 1860 the Pony Express came along with the promise of fast delivery of mail. Thanks to a network of fast riders and fast horses, mail could be delivered from New York to San Francisco in just ten days! However, that would all come to an end just 18 months later on October 26, 1861 when the Pony Express announced the immediate cessation of operations.

So, what killed the Pony Express? Well, there were a couple of contributing factors. For one thing, its success naturally spawned imitators. The start of the Civil War in April 1861 had a significant impact on the Pony Express line. The Pony Express’ main hub was in Missouri, and since Missouri was divided during the war the Express decided to stay out of that business and began only running mail from Salt Lake City to Sacramento. Then on October 24, 1861 the transcontinental telegraph reached Salt Lake City, immediately connecting the Western United States’ telegraph lines with those of the rest of the country. This immediately made the Pony Express irrelevant, and just two days later, operations ceased.

So, today let’s raise a glass to the Pony Express riders of the old west with a Pony Express.  Created by Brian MacGregor for the San Francisco restaurant Jardinière, it’s a surprisingly refreshing whiskey cocktail that uses the very interesting Qi White Tea Liqueur and maple syrup. Somehow, combining those ingredients with lemon juice and whiskey create a drink that’s perfect for quenching your thirst after a long day riding across the plains.

Pony Express

  • 1 1/2 ounces Sazerac Rye Whiskey
  • 3/4 ounces Qi White Tea Liqueur
  • 3/4 ounces lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce Grade b organic maple syrup

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a double Old Fashioned glass with ice. Garnish with a lemon peel.

Tomorrow: The 20th Century’s most important divorce.

October 25: Picasso’s Birthday

PicassoPablo Picasso, born on this day in 1881 was one of the 20th Century’s most important artists. A master of cubism, Picasso was one of the few modern artists who could do it all and do it well. He painted, he sculpted, he did print work, he made ceramics.

Now some would argue that Picasso’s primitive inspired cubist style was simplistic or amateurish. However, I would say that those qualities are specifically what make his work so great. Picasso’s cubist works are unsettling and otherworldly. Take for instance his masterpiece Guernica, The painting, which depicts the German bombing of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, would lose much of its power if painted in a more “traditional” style. A more classical take on Guernica, filled with death and detached limbs, would just look crass. Instead, Guernica is able to properly capture the horror, fear and confusion the people of Guernica by using cubist distortion.

Today we’re going to pay tribute to Picasso with a cubist take on a classic cocktail. Invented in 2000 by bartender Colin Peter Field at the Ritz in Paris, the Picasso Martini is a funny little twist on a Martini. The ingredients are the same as those of a classic Martini, but the presentation is quite different. Rather than mixing gin and dry vermouth, Field combined Nolly Pratt dry vermouth and distilled water to create a dry vermouth ice cube. To make the cube, place 3/4 ounce Dry Vermouth in an ice cube tray and then fill to the top with water.

Picasso Martini

  • 2 1/2 ounces chilled Gin
  • 1 cube Nolly Pratt Dry Vermouth

Pour the gin into a cocktail glass, and then add the vermouth ice cube.

Tomorrow: The end of the line for the Pony Express.

October 24: The World’s Oldest Football Club

Sheffield_FCOn this day in 1857, the world’s first organized football (soccer) club, Sheffield F. C., was first established. Of course, being the first organized team in any sport always carries with it a few problems, chief amongst those being that you don’t have any opponents to play against. So, in the early days before another team showed up, the members of Sheffield F. C. would play amongst themselves in “Married vs. Singles” and “Professionals vs. the Rest” matches.

Sheffield F. C. played with their own set of rules, including the first instance of the implementation of a free kick after a player has been fouled. By 1863, there were 15 clubs in the Sheffield area including  Hallam F. C., with whom Sheffield has football’s oldest rivalry. When the Football Association was established, Sheffield F. C. was a charter member.

Despite all these historic achievements, Sheffield’s squad hasn’t been competitive since the rise of professional teams in the mid-1880s. That said, their historic importance is worth celebrating, So, let’s celebrate the birth of the first football club with an Ace of Clubs. Created as the house cocktail of the Manhattan restaurant the Ace of Clubs. It’s a delicious variant on the Daiquiri, with a touch of crème de cacao.

Ace of Clubs

  • 2 ounces Gold Rum
  • 1/2 ounce White Crème de Cacao
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp simple syrup
  • 1 dash bitters

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: A cubist master, and a cubist cocktail.

October 23: The Knickerbocker Opens

KnickerbockerIt was on this day in 1906 that John Jacob Astor opened his New York hotel the Knickerbocker. Located at the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street, in the heart of Times Square, the Knickerbocker was the height of New York luxury, with elegant rooms and a three story dining room and bar. It’s hard to believe it was only open for 15 years!

Although it had a short life span, the hotel managed to acquire quite the reputation. Broadway composer George M. Cohan and legendary opera singer Enrico Caruso maintained residences at the Knickerbocker. In fact, on Armistice Day, Caruso opened his windows and led the Time Square crowd in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” There’s also an urban legend that claims the Martini was invented at the Knickerbocker’s bar by a bartender seeking to impress Astor. That rumor is untrue, as there are references to the Martini that predate the Knickerbocker’s opening and Astor was a teetotaler.

Unfortunately, a few major incidents would cut the Knickerbocker’s life short. In 1912, Astor went down with the Titanic, leaving the hotel to his son Vincent. In 1920, James B. Regan, the man who ran the hotel’s restaurant, retired and the place just wasn’t the same. Oh, and of course, the dawn of Prohibition shuttered the Knickerbocker’s bar. So, in 1921 Vincent Astor closed the hotel and had it turned into an office building. For 19 years (from 1940 to 1959), the former Knickebocker would house the offices of Newsweek. The former Knickerbocker would later serve as an apartment complex, and there are currently plans to once again turn the building into a luxury hotel.

Of course the Knickerbocker had an eponymous house cocktail. It came in both a male and female version, but today we’re only going to mix the Knickerbocker a la Monsieur, because the Knickerbocker a la Madame sadly isn’t that good. Interestingly, this drink didn’t actually originate at the Knickerbocker. It was created by famed bartender Jerry Thomas back in 1862, and both the his and hers versions appeared in 1868’s early bartending book Cooling Cups and Dainty Drinks by William Terrington. So, this drink actually predates the opening of the Knickerbocker by over 40 years! Anyway, it’s a deliciously sweet little number that is perfect for everybody, not just the messieurs.

Knickerbocker a la Monsieur

  • 2 ounces Rum
  • 1/2 ounce Orange Curacao
  • 1/2 ounce raspberry syryp
  • 1 ounce lemon juice

Por all ingredients over crushed ice in a goblet or tumbler and stir. Garnish with an orange slice and a pineapple slice.

Tomorrow: The world’s oldest football club.

October 22: The Curtain Rises On The Met

metropolitan-opera1It was on this day in 1883 that New York’s famous Metropolitan Opera (The Met for short) opened its door. But, did you know that the famed opera house got its start because of New York City class tensions?

In the mid 19th Century, New York’s premier opera house was that of the Academy of Music. It was the center of cultural life for New York City’s elites. The city’s oldest and wealthiest families all owned boxes at the Academy of Music. However, by the 1880s there was an intra-class tension growing between the city’s old money and the nouveaux riche. Since the Academy of Music was the old money families’ social center, they were loathe to allow the newly rich industrialists to buy boxes and thus buy their way into “proper society.”

So, in 1880 a group of New York’s rich industrialists, including men with the surnames Morgan, Roosevelt, and Vanderbilt, got together and decided they would pool their resources and build their own opera house. The new Metropolitan Opera would feature three tiers of private boxes, and subscriptions quickly sold out. When the Met opened on October 22, 1883 with a performance of Charles Gounod’s Faust, the production and the opera house were met with rave reviews. The Met is still going strong 130 years later, while the Academy of Music ended its opera program three years after the Met opened, leaving its patrons to beg for tickets.

Since Faust was the first opera staged at the Met, and I already introduced you to the Metropolitan cocktail, it’s only fitting that we make a Faust. Named after the fictional alchemist who sold his soul to a demon, this drink will make you feel like you sold your soul. It’s a particularly potent mix of Yukon Jack honey whiskey liqueur, Jägermeister and 151-proof rum. The taste of honey, licorice and high proof alcohol is not unpleasant, but it’s definitely not for all comers.

Faust

  • 1/3 ounce Yukon Jack
  • 1/3 ounce Jägermeister
  • 1/3 ounce 151 proof rum

Pour each ingredient into a shot glass. Consume at your own rish.

Tomorrow: We celebrate the opening of another New York City landmark.