Category Archives: Whiskey Cocktails

May 23: Abie’s Irish Rose

Abies Irish RoseWhen Abie’s Irish Rose opened on May 23, 1922, it was instantly heralded by critics as the worst show to ever hit the nascent Broadway stage. Despite this, it wound up running for over five years, becoming at the time the longest running play in Broadway history.

The play by Anne Nichols tells the simple tale of Abie, a boy from a Jewish family, who falls in love with Rosemary, a girl from an Irish Catholic family; stereotypical hilarity ensues. Upon its opening, the play was met with harsh reviews, but for some reason the crowds loved it. The show’s continued success annoyed the theater world, with the show becoming the subject of frequent barbs at the hands of critics, actors, and writers. In the Rodgers and Hart song “Manhattan”, lyricist Lorenz Hart wrote of the play’s seemingly endless run, “Our future babies we’ll take to Abie’s Irish Rose — I hope they’ll live to see it close” and theater critic Heywood Broun called the play “synthetic farce”.

However, it was Robert Benchley who perhaps most despised Abie’s Irish Rose. As the theater critic for Life magazine, Benchley was tasked with writing capsule reviews every week for every show that was currently on Broadway. So, as Abie continued playing on Broadway, Benchley’s critiques got snappier and snappier. Here are some of Benchley’s choicer lines:

  • “The comic spirit of 1876″
  • “In another two or three years, we’ll have this play driven out of town.”
  • “Where do people come from who keep this going? You don’t see them out in the daytime.”
  • “People laugh at this every night, which explains why democracy can never be a success.”
  • “Come on, now! A joke’s a joke.”
  • “This department will not be printed next week, owing to the second birthday of this comedy, on which occasion we plan to become ossified.”
  • Closing soon.  (Only fooling!)”
  • “We refuse to answer on advice of council.”

Benchley would constantly find new variations on the joke. On the third anniversary of Abie‘s debut, Benchley wrote a column detailing a review of a performance of the show in the year 2125. Once he had Harpo Marx provide the Abie review; Harpo’s review was simply “No worse than a bad cold.” Late in the show’s run, Benchley realized the futility of coming up with a capsule review for the accursed play and just started sharing bits of a trivia like “Flying fish are sometimes seen at as great a height as fifteen feet” in the spot a review would go.

Eventually, word came that the play was going to close on August 7, 1927 and Benchley couldn’t contain his glee. However, it was quickly announced that the show’s run had actually been extended, and Benchley admitted defeat: “From now on we refuse to commit ourselves to this play.  It can run forever, for all we care.” Thankfully, it didn’t run for much longer as it closed on October 1, 1927. Abie returned to haunt the Broadway stage in two revivals (1937 and 1954), neither of which lasted more than 48 performances.

Oh, and one last note; Benchley’s best line about Abie? Simply “See Hebrews 13:8.” That bible verse by the way is “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”

Let’s raise a glass to Robert Benchley’s least favorite play with a Wild Irish Rose. This sweet Irish whiskey cocktail was created by Dale DeGroff as a twist on the Jack Rose.

Wild Irish Rose

  • 2 ounces Irish Whiskey
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 1/4 ounce grenadine
  • 1/2 ounce club soda

Shake the first four ingredients together with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top off with soda water and garnish with a lemon zest and cherry.

Tomorrow: Funnily enough, we take Manhattan.

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May 17: The First Kentucky Derby

Kentucky DerbyWe’re deep in the middle of horse racing’s Triple Crown race season, and today we’re going back to May 17, 1875  the first running of the Kentucky Derby!

The origin of the Kentucky Derby can be found in England. In 1872, Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., grandson of William Clark of Lewis & Clark fame, paid a visit to England and attended the Epsom Darby, a horse race that had been held annual since 1780. From England he traveled to Paris where he learned of the French Jockey Club, an organization of French horse racing enthusiasts who organized the Grand Prix de Paris. Upon returning home to Kentucky, Clark decided that his native land needed something similar to England and France’s prestigious races.

With a little help from his friends, Clark quickly established the Louisville Jockey Club and began raising funds to build a race track outside the city. The track was opened in 1875 and was soon named Churchill Downs, in honor of John and Henry Churchill, who provided the land the track sat on. So, on May 17  of that same year, 10,000 people watched as jockey Oliver Lewis rode Astrides to victory over 14 other three year old horses.

The official drink of the Kentucky Derby is the Mint Julep. The origins of the Julep aren’t particularly clear, although we do know that it originated somewhere in the American South during the 18th century. The Julep has been an important part of the Derby since 1938 when Churchill Downs began promoting the drink as the cocktail of choice for the Derby and the Kentucky Oaks. Tragically, due to contractual arrangements, official Kentucky Derby Mint Juleps are currently made with Early Times. While Early Times is a good enough whiskey, it is not a bourbon and a proper Mint Julep demands good quality bourbon, preferably from Kentucky.

Mint Julep

  • 2 ounces Bourbon
  • 4 mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons water

Muddle the mint, sugar and water together in the bottom of a highball glass. Fill the glass with ice and add the bourbon. Stir until the glass is frosted. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Tomorrow: We sign our name in concrete.

May 13: The Birth Of The Cocktail

CocktailOh friends, we’ve got an important one today. It was way back on May 13, 1806, that the The Balance and Columbian Repository, a periodical published in Hudson, New York was asked the simple question “What is a cocktail?” and Balance editor Harry Croswell was happy to provide a definition.

Now, although this is the first time the word cocktail had ever been given a printed definition, “cocktail” had appeared in print before. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first use of the word was in an April 1803 issue of The Farmer’s Cabinet, although no definition was provided: 

Drank a glass of cocktail—excellent for the head…Call’d at the Doct’s. found Burnham—he looked very wise—drank another glass of cocktail.

So, according to Harry Croswell, what is a cocktail?

Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.

Hmm, let’s see…alcohol, sugar, water, bitters? Why, that sounds like an Old Fashioned. The name Old Fashioned became common bartender slang in the late 19th century. You see, as more and more complex cocktails were being invented, some clever bartender coined the term Old Fashioned to refer to drinks made in the “old fashioned” way, as described here by Croswell. Since Prohibition, it’s become common to muddle the sugar with a small orange slice and a cherry, but as we’re making a proper 19th century Old Fashioned, we’ll be leaving those ingredients out.

Old Fashioned

  • 1 sugar cube (or 1/2 teaspoon sugar)
  • 2 dashes Bitters
  • 2 dashes water
  • 2 ounces Whiskey

Place the sugar, water and bitters in an Old Fashioned glass and muddle until the sugar has begun to dissolve. Swirl the glass around once or twice so the sugar will line the interior of the glass. Add ice and whiskey, briefly stir and (optionally) garnish with an orange twist, cherry or cinnamon stick.

Tomorrow: A boy in blue.

May 10: Jefferson Davis is Captured

JeffersonDavisCaptureIn May of 1865, the Civil War was effectively over. After all, on April 9th, Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Confederate army at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. The Confederacy was in ruins and Confederate President Jefferson Davis was forced to flee the CSA’s capitol in Richmond, Virginia. It was on this day in 1865 that Davis’ run came to an end when he was captured by American troops.

There’s some amount of controversy over the capture. The popular press in the North claimed that Davis had been captured while disguised as a woman. As hilarious as the image of a head of state fleeing in drag may be, this claim is an exaggeration of the truth. In reality, when Davis and his wife were captured, he was under the weather and was wearing his wife’s heavy black shawl to protect him from the elements.

Following his capture, Davis spent two years imprisoned in Fort Monroe, Virginia. He was indicted for treason, but never put on trial. Some historians believe that Davis was never tried because the U. S. government didn’t want to create a public forum in which Davis could claim that secession was legal. Regardless, in 1867 he was released on a $100,000 bail. After his release, Davis was involved in a series of unsuccessful business ventures and even tried to go back into politics. He was elected as a U. S. senator in 1875 by the state of Mississippi in 1875, but was denied the office under the 14th Amendment as his American citizenship had been revoked during the Civil War. Davis spent his last years living with his family on the Biloxi estate of Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey, writing his memoirs, 1881’s The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government and 1889’s A Short History of the Confederate States of America. Davis died in December 1889 at the age of 81. His American citizenship was not restored until 1978.

On the anniversary of the de facto fall of Dixie, let’s drink a Dixie. This drink comes to us from Tom Bullock’s 1919 The Ideal Bartender., but this particular variation comes to us from Erik Adkins at Hard Water in San Francisco. It’s essentially an Old Fashioned that’s been accented with curaçao and crème de menthe.

Dixie

  • 2 ounces Bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Grand Mariner
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • 4 dashes Crème de Menthe

Build in a rocks glass over a large ice cube and stir. Garnish with a lemon peel

Tomorrow: A cocktail inspired by Berlin.

May 8: Coca-Cola

PembertonIt was on this day in 1886 that a pharmacist named John Pemberton began selling a tonic he called Coca-Cola.

The origins of Coca-Cola go back to the Civil War, when Pemberton was a lieutenant colonel of the Confederate Army’s 12th Cavalry Regiment, Georgia State Guard. During the April 1865 Battle Of Columbus, Georgia, he was slashed across the chest by a sabre. Although he survived, he became addicted to morphine and started looking for a solution to his addiction. So, in 1866 he began working on an opiate free painkiller. His first attempt was a tonic called “Dr. Tuggle’s Compound Syrup of Globe Flower”. Next, came the proto-Coca-Cola, a coca wine made with kola nut called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.

There was just one problem for Pemberton; in 1886, Atlanta and Fulton County enacted temperance laws and so Pemberton was forced to come up with a new non-alcoholic formula for his tonic. He began working with Atlanta druggist Willis Venable to come up with the new drink, and one day the men accidentally mixed their base syrup with carbonated water.  Although Pemberton didn’t think the new beverage would make for a good medicinal tonic, he thought it would make an excellent fountain drink. Pemberton’s secretary Frank Mason Robinson was the one who coined the name Coca-Cola (after the drink’s two key ingredients) and then wrote the name in the Spencerian script that was quite popular at the time. The soft drink went on sale at Jacobs Pharmacy in Atlanta on May 8, 1886 and the rest is history.

Atlanta’s Miller-Union restaurant specializes in Southern cuisine and cocktails, including bar manager Cara Laudino’s tribute to the inventor of Coca-Cola, a cocktail simply called Pemberton. Laudino takes a bitter Manhattan and adds Coke (the Mexican kind in the glass bottle, made with cane sugar, not corn syrup).

Pemberton

  • 1 ounce Rye Whiskey
  • 3/4 ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce Fernet Branca
  • 2 ounces Coca-Cola

Pour all ingredients in an ice filled Old Fashioned glass and stir. Top with an orange twist.

Tomorrow: We set sail for Neverland.

May 7: Versailles

VersaillesKing Louis XIII was rather fond of hunting in the forests around the village of Versailles. So, in 1624 he erected a hunting château for himself, and over the following years he added more rooms to the château. His successor, Louis XIV expanded around the château and transformed it into the Palace of Versailles, eventually becoming one of the largest palaces in the world. In 1678, Louis XIV began moving his court to the palace, with the court officially being established at Versailles on May 6, 1682.

Versailles remained the center of French politics until 1789 when King Louis XVI along with his family and court were forced back to Paris during the beginning of the French Revolution. The opulence of Versailles was amongst the many things cited by Revolutionary leaders, but surprisingly nobody knows how much the palace actually cost. As Versailles was originally intended as an occasional residence of the king, most of the money for the initial château came from Louis XIII’s own purse. Additional funds came from the residents of New France (modern Canada) which although it was a part of France, New France was technically property of the king. Louis XIV on the other hand used public funds to pay for the expansion of the palace, and his successors followed, to the point that Louis XVI even commissioned furniture made entirely out of silver. All together, it was estimated in 2000 that the palace complex cost the equivalent of $2-million in modern money.

The cocktail Versailles was created by New York bartender Brian Miller and uses a flamed orange to enhance the drink’s herbal and citrusy flavors.

Versailles

  • 2 ounces Bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 3/4 ounce St. Germain
  • 1 splash Champagne

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed oil peel.

Tomorrow: I’d like to buy the world a Coke.

May 6: Rudolph Valentino

ValentinoIt was on this day in 1895 that Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguolla, better known as simply Rudolph Valentino, was born.

Valentino was one of the biggest stars of the silent film era. Starring in films like The Sheik, Blood and Sand and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Valentino quickly established an image as pop culture’s first sex symbol. When he died as a combined result of appendicitis, ulcers and peritontis at the age of 31, newspapers were filled with reports of mass hysteria amongst his female fans. 10,000 people lined the streets of New York City in the hopes of attending the funeral, with a few minor riots erupting. After the New York funeral, Valentino’s body was transported by train to Los Angeles, and a second funeral was held in Beverly Hills. He was eventually laid to rest at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Now, what do Valentino and Edgar Allen Poen have in common? Well, their final resting places both have mysterious visitors. We’ve previously discussed the strange tale of the Poe Toaster, and today let’s meet the Lady In Black. On the first anniversary of Valentino’s death, a woman dressed entirely in black arrived at Hollywood Forever and left a rose at Valentino’s grave. It was later revealed that this was a stunt created by press agent Russel Birdwell. However, over the ensuing years a Lady In Black returned every year on the death anniversary, sometimes to the point of ridiculous. It’s said that on one anniversary a couple dozen “ladies in black” arrived at the mausoleum, including one “black lady in white”. There are also rumors of a ghostly Lady In Black that has been spotted weeping in front of Valentino’s tomb. Nowadays, motion picture historian and unofficial Hollywood Forever tour guide Karie Bible plays the role of Lady In Black for Hollywood Forever’s Valentino memorial service. The L. A. Times has an archive of photos of some non-spectral ladies in black throughout the years if you’d like to see more.

The scotch cocktail Blood And Sand first appeared in print in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book and is named after Valentino’s 1922 bullfighting drama. It’s one of only a handful of classic cocktails that are scotch based.

Blood And Sand

  • 3/4 ounce Scotch
  • 3/4 ounce blood orange juice
  • 3/4 ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • 3/4 ounce Cherry Herring

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange zest.

Tomorrow: The home of the Sun King.

April 29: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Fear And Loathing In Las VegasOn the evening of April 29, 1971, Hunter S. Thompson sat in a hotel room in Arcadia, California and began work writing a manuscript; a semi-fictionalized account of two unrelated drug fueled trips to Las Vegas. The manuscript became his epic gonzo novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Amazingly, it all started with a 250 word photo caption.

Sports Illustrated needed a photo caption about Las Vegas’ annual Mint 400 desert race which was being held the weekend of March 21, 1971. At the time, Hunter was trying to interview attorney and Chicano activist Oscar Zeta Acosta for a story about the death of Rubén Salazar; a highly respected Mexican-American journlist who was killed when Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies fired a tear gas grenade at close range during a Chicano march against the Vietnam War in Los Angeles in 1970. At the time, and to this day, there ws controversy over whether Salazar had been specifically targeted by the deputies. Acosta was hesitant to openly discuss the case with a white reporter like Thompson, and so the two took advantage of the Sports Illustrated opportunity and headed to Vegas where Acosta could be interviewed away from the prying eyes of both the LAPD and the Chicano movement.

Although Thompson and Acosta did go to the race, they quickly discovered that the blowing sand kept them from getting a clear view of any action. So, their weekend trip quickly devolved into a drug charged tour of the decadent and depraved casino city built upon all of America’s best dreams and nightmares. They returned to Los Angeles where in lieu of a 250 word caption on the Mint 400, Thompson submitted a 2,500 word manuscript based on the writings in his travel notebook to Sports Illustrated. It was, in Thompson’s words, “aggressively rejected”. The next month, Thompson and Acosta returned to Las Vegas to cover the National District Attorneys Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs for Rolling Stone; high on a cocktail of narcotics and trying to suppress laughter at the outdated drug lingo used by the conference’s “experts”.

So, on the way back from his second sojourn to Sin City, Thompson frantically started to form his travel journals into a loose narrative exploring his drug fueled Vegas trips, along with the decline of the counterculture, the death of 1960s ideals and the quest for the American Dream, all set against the drunken, glittery hyper-reality that was Las Vegas during the high point of Richard Nixon’s presidency. He and Acosta became Raoul Duke and his 300 pound Samoan attorney Dr. Gonzo, respectively, as they explored the dark heart of Vegas: from the Circus Circus Hotel & Casino (Described by Thompson as “what the whole hep world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war.”) to a hotel lounge where all the patrons are starting to resemble lizards and finally a diner on the outskirts of town where Duke realizes just how far from societal norms he and his traveling companion have gone. When Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas was released, it was met with mixed reviews. However, even those critics who were taken aback by the frequent drug use and the extremely loose plot knew that Thompson’s “gonzo novel” was something new, daring and important.

A cocktail called Fear And Loathing was created by one Benjamin Peikes for New york bartender and cocktail writer Gary Regan’s Fear And Loathing cocktail contest. This drink takes inspiration from two of Thompson’s favorite foods, grapefruits and bourbon.

Fear And Loathing

  • 3 ounces Bourbon
  • 1/3 ounce sugar
  • 1 slice pink grapefruit
  • 4 dashes Fee Brothers Peach Bitters

Muddle the sugar, grapefruit and bitters together in the bottom of a rocks glass. Add the bourbon and stir.

Tomorrow: We welcome Summer.

April 27: The Palace Of Westminster

WestminsterEarlier this month we discussed Big Ben and the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament. Well, today we’re going to look at the Palace itself. You see, in 1834 the original Palace of Westminster burned down and it was on this day in 1840 that the cornerstone of the new Palace of Westminster was installed.

The first Palace of Westminster was built on the present site of Parliament in the 11th century as a royal residence. The Model Parliament, England’s first official Parliament of England, met there for the first time in 1295 and from that point on, Parliament always met at the Palace of Westminster. In 1534, King Henry VIII left the Palace of Westminster and made York Place, the former residence of the late Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, his principal residence, leaving the Palace to Parliament.

On October 16, 1834, fire broke out in the Palace, after an overheated stove set the House of Lords Chamber ablaze. The fire quickly spread, sparing only a few structures. After some debate about where to build the new Parliament, it was decided that a new Palace of Westminster would be built on the site of the old one. The new Gothic style Palace of Westminster, designed by architect Charles Barry, incorporated the surviving elements of the original palace and took thirty years to complete. Fascinatingly, this new Palace provided Parliament with chambers specifically designed for meetings of the legislative body for the first time ever, because after all the original Palace was built as a royal, well, palace.

The Westminster is a simple, respectable cocktail; although, in all honesty, it’s really just a Perfect Manhattan made with Bourbon and given a fancy name.

Westminster

  • 1 ounce Bourbon
  • 3/4 ounce Dry Vermouth
  • 3/4 ounce Sweet Vermouth

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: Mutiny!

April 21: The Surgeon’s Photo

NessieThe Loch Ness Monster is one of the world’s most famous examples of cryptozoology. It was on this day in 1934 that the British tabloid The Daily Mail published a photo of the monster (right); the famous “Surgeon’s Photo”. Obviously, it was all a hoax.

Now, there had been reports of an alleged Loch Ness Monster dating back to the sixth century. It’s said that the Irish monk Saint Columba was attacked by a frightening “water beast”. Over the ensuing centuries, the myth of “Nessie” grew and grew, with the Surgeon Photo as its acme. The story, as it appeared in the Mail was as follows: A surgeon known only as Dr. Wilson (later revealed to be a gynecologist named Robert Kenneth Wilson) was looking at the Loch when he saw a small head and long neck come poking out of the water. He quickly snapped five photographs, only one of which clearly showed the creature.

Although there were some doubts about the authenticity of the photo, it wasn’t revealed as a hoax until December 7, 1975, when The Sunday Telegram ran an expose revealing the hoax. It turns out the “monster” in the photograph was actually a toy submarine that had been outfitted with a sculpted head. The hoax was the creation of Christian Spurling, the son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell, a big game hunter who had been hired by the Mail to investigate the Loch Ness Monster in 1933.

So, what was the reason for the hoax? Well, during his Mail funded expedition Wetherell thought he had discovered the monster’s tracks. He proudly announced his findings, but then researchers from London’s Natural History Museum determined that the tracks had been made by a dried hippo’s foot, like the kind that were popular used as umbrella stands in those days. Wetherell was promptly and frequently ridiculed by the tabloid, and he soon retreated from public life. So, Wetherell sought revenge for being mocked and, with the help of Spurling, hatched a plan to make the Mail look foolish by printing a fake photo. They took the picture of the toy monster and then had the respected Dr. Wilson submit the photo to the tabloid. Amusingly, some people who believe in the Loch Ness Monster have claimed that the story of the hoax is in fact a hoax designed to suppress knowledge of the Loch Ness Monster and that the photo was authentic. Those people are idiots.

On the anniversary of the Mail‘s publishing of the “Surgeon Photo”, let’s drink a Loch Ness. Naturally, this cocktail is made with scotch and it is a fierce, monstrous drink that will knock you off your feet. It’s a strong rework of the Rob Roy that adds a touch of Pernod.

Loch Ness

  • 1 1/2 ounces Scotch
  • 1 ounce Pernod
  • 1/4 ounce Sweet Vermouth

Shake with ice and pour, unstrained, into a chilled rocks glass.

Tomorrow: The Blue Marble.