Let’s start the year with an appeal for moderation in our moderation.
At this time of year it is easy to be seduced by charlatans peddling detoxes and to consider turning our minds away from the cocktail cart in favour of spirulina smoothies and other emotionally-toxic bullshit.
Indeed, many of you may be contemplating declaring the shortest month of the year to be your own personal Prohibition (you may remember that I did this last year – it was a trying and tedious period for us all).
Actually dear Muddlers, I posit that this quieter time that follows the excesses of the festive season is the BEST time to be trying cocktails you otherwise wouldn’t.
So let’s do exactly that.
At the beginning of 2017, seems there are more people with a view on the Old Fashioned cocktail than there are those with a view on who should form Government in Australia.
One such view is that it’s a bit too much fussing about to get it right.
While I disagree with this view, today I would like to present you with what Kingsley Amis describes in Everyday Drinking as “the not very energetic man’s Old Fashioned.”
If that doesn’t sound more appealing than over-priced coconut water, I’m afraid I have nothing with which to help you today.
We’ve covered The Bronx, the Queens, the Staten Island Ferry (and my improvements upon it in the 1980s) and we’ve declared our official boycott of the Brooklyn HERE.
Which makes it hard to say that first we take Manhattan, but let’s say it anyway and doff our metaphorical fedoras at the late, great Leonard Cohen.
True to SSM tradition, the Manhattan is an IBA Official Cocktail – in fact, it’s one of The Unforgettables.
The recipe, which has been around since the early 1880s and, not surprisingly, comes from New York City, calls for
- 50 mL Rye Whiskey
- 20 mL Red Vermouth
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
Shake over ice (to Foxtrot time, according to The Thin Man), serve in a martini glass (with a maraschino cherry if you absolutely must).
As we all know from Peggy Olson’s response to Joan Holloway’s direction in Season 1 of Mad Men that “Mr Draper drinks Rye”, Rye is Canadian, right?
Well sort of.
If we have learnt nothing else together at Shake, Stir, Muddle, we know that George Michael is the handsomest man in all of eternity and that correct spelling is absolutely critical in making cocktails.
Do you pick what’s wrong with that recipe?
There’s a pesky “e” in Whiskey.
There’s no “e” in Canadian whisky (nor Japanese, nor Australian, nor Scottish, nor Kiwi). So Rye is not Canadian then?
Well, the answer is yes. And no.
In the USA, Rye Whiskey must, by law, be made from a mash that is a minimum 51% rye grain. This gives it a distinct baking spices flavour.
Jump across the border to Trudeau’s Paradise of Social Progress and Swelling National
Pride though, and the term “Rye Whisky” is interchangeable with the term “Canadian Whisky”.
It’s still produced with rye grain, through more likely to be dominated by corn mash. It started life not with wholegrain rye, but with some bright spark taking the leftover waste of wheat milling and turning it into whisky.
Take that Jesus.*
Some purists like to refer to its lighter taste as “brown vodka”, but Canadian Whisky (aka Rye) outsells Scotch, Irish, Bourbon and USA Rye Whiskies combined in North America.
The best known brand is Don Draper’s favourite, Canadian Club.
It started life as a product of the USA, in Detroit, Michigan, a state that should forever hang its head in shame for its part in introducing the blight that is about to occupy the White House and start a public policy era of stupidity unseen since the 18th Amendment.
Back in the 1800s, grain merchant turned distiller Hiram Walker saw the Prohibition writing on the wall decades in advance and moved into Ontario, Canada, just across the river from Detroit.
Here, he produced a whisky that was seen as fancy, fancy enough to be served in one of those Gentlemen’s Clubs – Club Whisky as it soon became known.
Walker’s distilling rivals in the USA didn’t like this threat and lobbied their elected representatives to mandate that the country of origin be printed on the labels of all whisky sold in the USA.
That’ll show ’em, right?
Make America Great Again and all that?
Spectacular backfire. Turns out the drinking public wanted the Canadian stuff.
And so Canadian Club was born.
Walker died in 1899, too early to see Prohibition hit the USA and most Canadian provinces follow suit in introducing shitty and counter-productive alcohol legislation.
In Ontario, the production and export of alcohol was still legal, so the Detroit River became a river of booze as the product legally left Canada to be transported illegally into the USA.
Al Capone himself – one of the biggest beneficiaries of Prohibition – would visit Walkerville, Ontario and pick up his booze to sell back into the USA.
Quite the day at the office for whoever had the misfortune of being rostered on to serve him.
Regardless of Canadian rye’s popularity and colourful history, there’s just no escaping that e which appears in every single Manhattan recipe.
My friends, the Manhattan needs to be made with USA Rye.
Or Bourbon. Also from the USA.
So I have failed in my quest to find a Canadian-themed cocktail for today’s post.
But let’s not dismiss the Manhattan on the basis of its nationality – there’s far too much of that going on the world right now.
The Manhattan is one of the few cocktails that even wanky cocktail writers concede is scalable.
Unlike most cocktails which need to be made only one or two at a time, you can whip up a big jolly batch of Manhattans at once and pour to suit a crowd (something you simply cannot do with a green smoothie).
Marilyn Monroe ably demonstrates this by mixing up a Bourbon brew en masse in a hot water bottle on a train in Some Like it Hot. Last year we covered how to improvise with cocktails when you’re traveling but this is particularly resourceful.
This was the movie that has inspired the unparalleled comedic dress-donning genius of every single Footy Show host since the dawn of time.
Gents, wearing a dress does not make you Jack Lemmon.
Seems Marilyn Monroe was no Jack Lemmon either though, reportedly taking more than 60 takes to get the line “It’s me, Sugar” in the can.** (Imagine how many takes it would get for Sarah Wilson to be able to spit that line out of her sanctimonious sugar-quitting pie-hole).
This week marks the anniversary of masterful Manhattan-maker Monroe’s wedding to Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, the man with a Manhattan highway named after him.
While the marriage was shortlived, DiMaggio sent flowers to Marilyn’s grave three times a week for the 37 years between her death and his.
So Fatty Vautin was right then when he said that “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
That was Jack Lemmon.
I’d say that’s a sentiment worthy of a toast.
I’ll be raising my Manhattan glass to my wise, witty and wonderful uncle, Bernard Emerre who I will miss forever but with whom my relationship endures.
Whatever you’re drinking and whoever you’re missing, Happy New Year Muddlers. It’s great to be back.