Remember the Maine is built on the Manhattan model, with a delightful, surprising substitution for the bitters: absinthe and Cherry Heering.

Remember the Maine has been around since before Prohibition, and probably since before the 20th Century, but until 1939 it traveled under the name “McKinley’s Delight.” A. S. Crockett includes it in The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, a 1935 compendium of pre-Prohibition cocktails vetted by the Waldorf’s barmen, but he doesn’t provide specifics of the drink’s origin.  It seems reasonable to speculate that it was a public relations stunt from the 1896 presidential election, something William McKinley’s gold standard partisans could stand up against competitor William Jennings Bryan’s “Free Silver Fizz” — gin, rum, milk and lemon. (There is no evidence that McKinley ever drank a McKinley’s Delight.)

Crockett describes McKinley’s Delight thus:

McKinley’s Delight (Crockett)

  • One dash absinthe
  • Two dashes cherry brandy
  • Two-thirds Whiskey
  • One-third Italian Vermouth (stir)

With that 2:1 mixture of rye whiskey and sweet vermouth, this drink’s unknown inventor clearly subscribed to the Manhattanite school of cocktailing. A bit of whiskey-friendly cherry brandy and a taste of absinthe makes a very imaginative bitters alternative.

Charles H. Baker published the same recipe in 1939 in his popular Gentleman’s Companion, under the name “Remember the Maine.” It seems that his new name won out over time. As the topical and partisan “McKinley’s Delight,” the recipe was rarely published either before or after 1939; as a patriotic memorial of the Spanish-American War era, “Remember the Maine” became a famous classic.

Remember the Maine, photo copyright © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
Remember the Maine (“McKinley’s Delight”)

Making Remember the Maine

There’s one easy trick to making a first-rate Remember the Maine (or McKinley’s Delight): remember the Manhattan.

Specifically, remember to use restraint with the absinthe and Heering—they easily overpower the base flavors of the whiskey and vermouth. Just as excessive bitters will unbalance and ruin a Manhattan, a heavy hand with the Heering and absinthe will will make a terrible muddle of Remember the Maine.

Remember the Maine

  • 3 oz rye whiskey (Rittenhouse 100)
  • ¾ oz sweet vermouth (M&R Rosso)
  • 1 barspoon (⅛ oz) Cherry Heering
  • 1 barspoon (⅛ oz) absinthe (Kübler)
Wash a chilled cocktail glass with absinthe or substitute. Stir the first three ingredients with ice, and strain into absinthe-coated cocktail glass. Optionally, garnish with a lemon twist or brandied cherry.

Whiskey: The original 2:1 recipe provided by Crockett and Baker is too sweet. The vermouth, Heering and absinthe all bring sugars to the mix, so I recommend upping the whiskey to a 4:1 proportion. If you enjoy Manhattans a bit on the sweet side, you may want to try 3:1, or even the original 2:1, in Remember the Maine. This drink is a fine opportunity for a high-proof rye like Rittenhouse 100 or Wild Turkey 101.

Remember the Maine, photo copyright © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.Vermouth: I use my standard M&R Rosso, and it works very nicely in this recipe.

Heering and absinthe replace the Manhattan’s bitters. The Heering is an excellent liqueur with good, clean natural flavors, but it is sweet, and has that self-important cherry aggressiveness. The surprise for me is the way Heering combines with absinthe to provide a very complex mix that is neither cherry nor anise. It is a dark, rather earthy combination that reminds me of… chocolate. I’ve read descriptions of Cherry Heering that included a chocolate note; I’ve never been able to taste it, but with the addition of absinthe the chocolate notes really light up—and combine very elegantly with the whiskey and vermouth. The Kübler is a relatively light absinthe, which is likely the key to equal parts working well; you may have to adjust for other absinthes or substitutes.