For most of us in ‘merica, summer officially kicks off with Memorial Day weekend. That’s when the barbecue grills get fired up, the first of the season’s over-the-top effects fests open in theaters, and with an extra day off, we look for reasons to day drink, hopefully outside if the weather permits.
Sadly, many get it confused with Labor Day, because it’s pretty much become the same thing, only at the end of summer (and by then we’re over the disappointing explosions and clumsily inserted exposition, opting for something with more clever dialogue at the cinema.) People forget that Memorial Day is, well, meant to be a day of remembrance.
Growing up, I never forgot, because the small New England town of my childhood held a huge parade every year. The procession ended with a formal ceremony at a cemetery at which many soldiers were buried, dating as far back as the Revolutionary War. Another, much more overgrown and forgotten revolutionary era cemetery lies in the woods between the two horseshoe ends of the street I grew up on. If you venture into the tangled path off the main road, you will find weathered, moss-covered gravestones of men and families that many of the local streets were named after. Some mark the graves of boys who died young, a common occurrence in those days, but it’s also possible some fought in local revolutionary battles. In fact, I was told the street is named “Signal Hill” for the high vantage point at its peak, where soldiers could send warning signals by lantern at night, much like Paul Revere.
Don’t get me wrong, delicious grilled food and loud, distracting entertainment are a great way to spend some extra time off, and most of us deserve it! However, let’s not forget the reason this holiday exists is because many people died in brutal, horrific ways (worse than anything you’ll see in any remake of Godzilla, a vengeful, toxic creature who is incidentally, born of war) in military battles throughout US and world history. The majority of them didn’t volunteer for that either. I don’t mean to bum you all out. I could easily list some summery wines, beer and cocktails to match your warm weather shenanigans, but how about we drink classic cocktails with a military theme to match the purpose of the holiday?
Below are some fairly well known cocktails and an adaptation. Probably no new revelations here, but perhaps you’ll give consideration for their history as you sip them. Cheers and have fun this weekend!
I consulted many sources to find the right recipe for this drink, including Josh Miller of Inu ā Kena rum cocktail blog, who turned me onto Dave Stolte’s account and recipe for Home Bar Basics. I like his explanation that this heady concoction, popularized at both establishments by tiki drink rivals Don the Beachcomber and Victor Jules Bergeron’s Trader Vic’s, doesn’t really resemble the grog consumed by British naval officers, but it’s still considered a worthy tribute, not to mention, delicious drink! This version is the recipe from Trader Vic’s (sorry, Don. No offense.)
- 1 oz/30 ml Light rum (such as Cruzan Estate)
- 1 oz/30 ml Gold rum (such as Appleton Estate)
- 1 oz/30 ml Demerara rum (such as one of the El Dorado aged rums, or Lemon Hart 151)
- 3/4 oz/22 ml Lime juice
- 3/4 oz/22 ml Haus Alpenz Allspice Dram*
- ½ oz/15 ml Grapefruit juice
Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into a double rocks glass. The most authentic version calls for a special cone mold to sip the drink through the ice with a straw. You can even purchase one here! Otherwise, if you must, go ahead and fill the glass with crushed ice before you strain into the glass.
*If you’re really, really cocktail nerdy, you’ll make a homemade Pimento Dram infusion for this from allspice and rum. However, seeing as it’s a holiday weekend, go ahead and use the store bought stuff. It’s a fine substitute.
Army and Navy
First popularized in the Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, by David A. Embury. I love that the Angostura turns the drink a pretty, dusty rose hue, considering the brawny connotations of the drink’s moniker. All’s fair in love, war… and cocktails!
- 2 oz/60 ml Gin (use an all American one such as 2013 NY International Spirits Competition winner Ballast Point, or in contrast, something that’s toured the world, such as Bombay Sapphire East)
- ¾ oz/22 ml Fresh lemon juice
- ½ oz/15 ml Orgeat
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Strip lemon peel
Shake all ingredients except peel with ice until well-chilled. Strain into pre-chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Run lemon peel skin side down over the entire glass, especially the rim and express oils into the drink. Rest the peel on the rim for presentation, if you wish, but don’t drop it into the drink or it will wage a bitter war on the flavors as they mellow!
Remember the Maine
A beloved drink, attributed to Charles H. Baker in the Gentleman’s Companion, that truly fits the bill here. The 1898 sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor was considered a blatant act of Spanish aggression, and the official start of the Spanish-American war. “Remember the Maine!” was shouted by protesters in the 1930s during revolutionary activity in Havana. The Cherry Heering in the original recipe can be interpreted as symbolic of the blood spilled in the waters off the Cuban coast, although, of course, it also makes for the perfect modifier for this Manhattan riff. The drink would also be delicious with other “red-tasting” (yes, the color red is a flavor) ingredients, which I will offer as alternatives.
- 2 oz/60 ml Rye Whiskey (such as Few Spirits, a winner in the 2014 Berlin International Spirits Competition)
- ½ oz/15 ml Sweet Vermouth
- 2 barspoons Cherry Heering Liqueur or Jack From Brooklyn Sorel Hibiscus Liqueur or Sloe Gin
- ½ barspoon Absinthe
- Garnish: cocktail cherry (optional)
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice until well-chilled. Strain into a pre-chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry if desired.
Screw That Noise
Did you know the Screwdriver is a cocktail with military origins? Well, now you do! Legend has it that the mixture of vodka and orange juice originated with military engineers who added vodka to their putrid OJ rations and mixed it with screwdrivers. Though probably one of the most consumed cocktails on the planet,
it’s not a very exciting drink. Here’s a more gussied up version I created, paraphrasing one of my favorite expressions. I’ll bet there’s a Screwdriver cocktail ordered somewhere for every time I say it.
- 2 oz/60 ml Vodka (they would have been drinking Russian vodka, so in that vein, try Belaya Rus, double gold winner in the 2013 NYISC, or gold medalist, Shpilka, a.k.a. Stiletto, though there are tons of great American Vodkas in the market too now, of course!)
- 1 oz/30 ml Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
- 1 bar spoon Orange Marmalade
- 1 oz/30 ml Soda Water
- 2 slices Peeled, fresh ginger
- Garnish: Half orange wheel with crystallized ginger
Muddle the ginger in the bottom of a mixing tin with the Vodka. Add all other ingredients except garnish and soda and shake well with ice until chilled. Double-strain into rocks glass with fresh ice. Top with soda. Add garnish.