Full disclosure: I accept that perhaps I was swooned by the atmosphere of being in this famous bar, and sitting across from this famous bartender, who on most weeknights is perhaps in the building, but not usually mixing drinks. I may have been under the influence of The Custer and Bonded Old Fashioned from the Teardrop. But, truth be told, this drink was incredible, and one of the best cocktail experiences I have ever had. Not only did it taste great, it did what all great and classic cocktails do: teach you a little something about history and leave you clamoring for a time long before your own.
Having not heard of the drink before (and certainly not letting the bartender know that!), I have come home to do a little research about this classic libation - where it came from, when it came from, who it came from...and the story is excellent, and one that I am happy to share with you.
"We are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million lives as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims"
These are the words of Charles Henry Baker, Jr, penned in his 1939 classic, The Gentlemen's Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask. Now, I had not heard of Charles H Baker, nor of this book (a rare find for cocktail aficionados), which is part of why I love cocktails - it is always more than just the drink you are about to have, it is usually a history lesson, too.
Born on Christmas Day in 1895, Charles H Baker, Jr grew up to become a world traveller and culinary and cocktail chronicler. His work was featured in Esquire, Town & Country, and Gourmet in the 1940s. His column, "Here's How" quickly grew in popularity, and also into two volumes of a book he called The Gentlemen's Companion. This two volume tome is filled with recipes and prose about his travels. While his recipes often left much to be desired, they were generally told with such eloquence that folks could look past the recipe and appreciate the story (and with a few tweaks here and there, make the drink they would appreciate).
And just when I got to thinking that Charles Baker was pretty awesome in his own right, I find this photograph of him and Ernest Hemingway after a session of deep sea fishing. Now that is cocktail credibility!
|Charles Baker (left) and Ernest Hemingway|
One of the better recipes to have emerged from Baker is the venerable (and new-to-me) classic - Remember the Maine, which apparently comes with a pretty good back story. From 1939:
"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".
|Barrel Aged version on the left, made on the spot version on the right. (note the difference in depth of colour)|
Photo: Jeremy Bouw
Now that definitely leaves me clamoring for more! The drink itself is fantastic - 2 ounces of Rye Whiskey (not sure which one Morgenthaler used), 3/4 ounce of sweet vermouth, 2 teaspoons of Cherry Heering, and a 1/2 teaspoon of Absinthe turns this Rye Manhattan into a subtly sweet (cherry heering) and savage (absinthe) drink with a flavour that is truly from another time. Sip on it, and it and you will feel like you are tasting history, which is what a great cocktail will do.
Age it for 2 months in an oak barrel - well, good night. That was just too perfect.