My uncle was a pilot. Hal flew light, high-wing planes, the type you’d fly into northern Ontario to hunt moose. A couple times a year, he’d fly to visit us, landing in Trimble’s pasture across the road from our house. A low fly-over to let us know he was there, a tight turn over the telephone lines, and there he’d be, roaring across the clover to park by the electric fence next to our mailbox. He knew how to make an exciting entry.
I’ve never been a follower of American horse racing, but I do enjoy the hype and pageantry of the three-race set known as the “Triple Crown” — in the US, it’s the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.
The Kentucky Derby falls near my birthday, so for decades my birthday partly has been a Derby-watching event, replete with fancy outfits, good hats and, especially, whiskey juleps. The Mint Julep is the universally accepted symbol of the Derby, and the Run for the Roses starts the ice-crushing the season right.
Nothing says “jungle movie” like a sound track with plenty of evocative “ka-dawing” bird calls and monkey yelling. Throw in the occasional tiger roaring in the darkness, and you have a convincing, if clichéd, aural impression that transports us right into the exotic elsewhere of the tropical jungle.
When I hear a soundtrack done well, I can feel the heat. I can smell the mud and the trees. When it’s done right, the movie soundtrack is a powerful thing.
Of course, it can be done wrong, and all that power flows in the opposite direction.
It’s May of 1862, the early days of the American Civil War. Mexico had a war on its hands, too; they were fighting the French, and it was going poorly.
It’s summer of 1883 in Washington DC. The air shines and wavers, and you can see it as well as you can smell it—the horses, the pavement, the flats of the Potomac River. A few blocks from the White House, on a section of E Street known as “Rum Row,” the dive bars are filling up with journalists, lobbyists, and any legislators who haven’t left town. At Shoomaker’s Bar, sometimes described as the “third room of Congress”, George Williamson is mixing drinks. On the other side of his bar stands Joe Rickey—“Colonel” Joe Rickey of Missouri—who is about to become that rarest of all things, a man with an entire category of drinks named after him.
I wouldn’t normally write about the Blood and Sand Cocktail.
I don’t like it. I’ve never met anyone who likes it. The flavors make no sense to me. Four ingredients, all fighting with each other.
Harry Craddock must have seen something in it when he first published its peculiar formula in his 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. And drinkers with palates different from mine must like it, as evidenced by its continued presence in highly respected bar manuals more than eighty years after its creation.
(And, of course, there’s the theatrical value of that lurid name, riding the coattails of Rudolph Valentino’s 1922 movie. I’ll admit, that’s really good.)
But from my palate’s point of view, the Blood and Sand is really broken. So what makes this cocktail worth writing about?
In abstract terms, you could think of the Sazerac as an Old-Fashioned with a strongly aromatic rinse on the glass. Typically, it’s made with rye whiskey or cognac, but Phil Ward’s Cooper Union cocktail, though it looks like a Sazerac, is all about malt whiskey.
“Always learn from your mistakes.”
So our parents admonished us, and I had plenty of opportunities for learning.
My favorite kind of mistake is the kind where the process of “getting it wrong” leads to something unexpectedly good.
My most recent case in point: the champagne-and-cognac Brut Nature cocktail.
The mystery of the Tuxedo Cocktail is trying figure out just which Tuxedo we’re talking about. The Tuxedo is more a spectrum of recipes, rather than a single formula. Continue reading “The Tale of the Tuxedo Cocktail”