"... just as there is no such thing as a 1/2-good girl there is no such animal as a 1/2-good drink. A mixed drink is either made correctly out of correct stuff: good; or it’s La Bebida Piojosa (lousy drink). Even a homely gal can, with cunningly-employed paint, powder, patches, rouge-pots, whale-bone and falsies, fool part of the people part of the time; but a poorly-built drink betrays itself with the first sip. The only person our lazy drink-mixer is fooling is himself; he is a traitor to his art and there is no health in him."
- Charles H. Baker
Amen. Charles Baker, who lived through Prohibition and wrote about his travels across the globe enjoying cocktails where it was still legal, lived long enough to see the slow erosion and near death of the cocktail culture he so colorfully celebrated in his writings. When he died in 1987 at the ripe age of 92, cocktail culture was in full cardiac arrest. Though he couldn't have predicted its revival just over a decade later, his work was without a doubt instrumental to it. Having experienced American cocktail culture prior to, during, and after Prohibition, his writing is a rare glimpse into our lost identity.
In addition to contributing to Gourmet and Esquire, he published various books including The Gentleman's Companion, a seminal piece in which he recounted his bibulous adventures around the world, complete with unique cocktail recipes and even more unique stories about them.
This week we celebrate one of those cocktails, Remember the Maine, one of my favorite wintertime potions. In terms of ingredients, it is a clear variation of the classic Manhattan, but Baker's description of the cocktail takes us to an entirely different island (all emphasis is Baker's own):
"REMEMBER the MAINE, a Hazy Memory of a Night in Havana during the Unpleasantnesses of 1933, when Each Swallow Was Punctuated with Bombs Going off on the Prado, or the Sound of 3″ Shells Being Fired at the Hotel NACIONAL, then Haven for Certain Anti-Revolutionary Officers."
REMEMBER THE MAINE
2 oz. rye whiskey (Old Overholt's the way to go)
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
2 barspoons Cherry Heering
1/2 barspoon absinthe (its prominent aroma of fennel, anise, and mint make Vieux Carre a great choice if you can get it)
Brandied cherry as garnish
Tools: mixing glass, barspoon, strainer
Glass: chilled cocktail or coupe glass
Place ingredients in a mixing glass with plenty of cracked ice. Stir until well-chilled. Strain into glass and garnish with the brandied cherry.
If you recall from high school history class, "Remember the Maine!" was the rallying cry of jingoistic Americans seeking to provoke war with the Spanish by falsely accusing them of blowing up the USS Maine. But Baker, rather than boring us with a history that we should already be familiar with (especially during his time), instead paints for us the scene of his own enjoyment of the cocktail. And he does this throughout the book. He brings the reader as close as possible to enjoying the cocktail without ever setting lips to glass. To Charles Baker, the cocktail was always an experience of the present, not the past.
How ironically fitting then that through the unearthing of his prose we learn to live as we should have all along. Cheers!
*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below.