The Bermuda Triangle
From 12 Bottle Bar on Nov 21, 2012
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and stir together without ice.
Pour into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice and stir gently.
Garnish with an orange wheel.
Featured Glassware: Boston Double Old-Fashioned by Villeroy & Boch
* * *
Yes, I realize that it’s Thanksgiving today, and yes, I also know that of any cocktail we could present today, one called the Bermuda Triangle may not be, well, the most logical drink. But it is – in part because Thanksgiving means cranberries and, in another part, because at our house cranberries on Thanksgiving also mean Lesley’s homemade orange-accented cranberry sauce, one of my favorite additions to our holiday table. Actually, there are two sauces on our Thanksgiving table – the homemade one and those Industrial Age jellied wheels of burgundy I don’t-know-what. It’s a generational thing – the grandparents remaining suspicious of any food which doesn’t properly reflect mankind’s triumph over nature.
Of course, what I’m most thankful for today – and, for that matter, on each and every day – are my wonderful wife and child. Sure, it’s an obvious choice, but if you know them, you won’t blame me for not trying to be clever here. Some things just are, and Lesley and the boy keep my rudder steady and the wind in my sails. I suppose that’s why we’re keen on having families –they keep us on the straight and narrow and provide us with second chances when we might not deserve them. Even when we’ve tried to incite a mutiny and overthrow the local government.
Okay, there was a tricky little segue in the middle of that last paragraph – we’re now talking not about me but rather about one Stephen Hopkins, early American settler. In June of 1609, Hopkins set sail from Plymouth, England as part of the crew of the Sea Venture, the flagship of a fleet of eight vessels (The Third Supply) on its way to replenish the very young colony of Jamestown. On July 24th, the fleet – just a few days away from the colony – was caught in a hurricane that would ravage it for almost four days. The tempest which rattled the ships turned the sky so black that navigation was impossible. St. Elmo’s Fire surrounded the ships “like a faint Starre, trembling, and streaming along with a sparkleing blaze, halfe the height upon the Main Mast”. On the day of the 28th, the Sea Venture, separated from the other ships, struck a reef about a quarter mile from a small island, and the entire party, including women and children, was safely rowed ashore.
For the next nine months, the castaways remained on the island, under the command of Sir Thomas Gates, Governor-elect of Virginia, and Sir George Somers, Admiral of the fleet. As the island upon which they found themselves stuck was uninhabited (up to that point, at least), the group kept itself busy building two new ships out of the remains of the Sea Venture, catching wild hogs, fish, and sea turtles, and going about their daily lives as normally as possible. Accounts tell us that, during the period, there was one murder, one execution, one marriage, two christenings, and three mutinies. It’s as a part of at least one of these mutinies that Stephen Hopkins enters the picture.
A man of God – he joined the Sea Venture as a minister’s clerk – Hopkins nevertheless found himself more than a bit dissatisfied with how things were being run on the island. Although he had come to the New World indentured to the Virginia Company, which owned both the Jamestown colony and the Sea Venture, Hopkins had deep-seated authority issues. In late January, he pulled aside Samuel Sharpe and Humfrey Reede and made the following argument:
“— it was no breach of honesty, conscience, nor Religion to decline from the obedience of the Governor or refuse to goe any further led by his authority (except it so pleased themselves) since the authority ceased when the wracke was committed, and, with it, they were all then freed from the government of any man – “
Of course, with not much to talk about other than the day’s catch of sea turtles, news of the potential mutiny spread (by Sharpe and Reede themselves, directly to Sir Thomas Gates), and Hopkins was captured, tried, and found guilty. Hopkins, who had made the sea voyage without his family, was sentenced to death. It’s at this point that the wife and kids come in, because they provided the totality of Hopkins’ plea for mercy. “So penitent he was, and made so much moan, alleging the ruin of his wife and children in this his trespass, as it wrought in the hearts of all the better sorts of the company.” Hopkins’ waterworks did the trick, and his life was spared.
On May 10, 1610, the two ships built from the wreckage of the Sea Venture set sail for Virginia with small crews and a handful of provisions. They arrived at Jamestown on the 24th, only to find the colony on its last legs. With the provisions from the Sea Venture, there would only be enough food to sustain the already skeletal remains of the colony for another two weeks. On June 8th, the decision was made to abandon Jamestown and head north. Fate intervened in the form of a second supply fleet commanded by Lord Del La Warr (Delaware), and the colony survived, cementing England’s foothold in America.
Hopkins, it seems, held true to his claim of providing for his wife and children, returning to England where they had remained. Unfortunately, his first wife and one of his three children died while he was away, but Hopkins remarried and built a new family and life atop the old one. At this point, as we approach the end of our tale of Stephen Hopkins, you might still be wondering what any of this has to do with today’s drink – and why it does indeed fit in with our Thanksgiving theme. Aside from the cranberry and orange base – flavors which not only work beautifully together but which also are both cocktail and Thanksgiving stalwarts – there’s the name of the drink, the Bermuda Triangle.
The drink we present here is one of a few variations with the Bermuda Triangle moniker. Logic traces them back to the versions made with Gosling’s Black Seal rum, a product of Bermuda and wonderful stuff in its own right. If you’ve got it, use it and skip the bitters. Otherwise, any nice gold rum will work. The “triangle” apparently comes from the three main ingredients, the proportions of which we’ve tweaked a bit here and added the bitters to produce a drink with a bit more tang and depth. But still, what’s the connection between Bermuda and our story?
Take a look at the Bermuda coat of arms, and you’ll see the image of a ship thrown about by the waves and struck upon the shore of the islands. The image commemorates the settlement of the islands – accidentally – by the crew and passengers of the depicted ship, the Sea Venture. Yes, it was upon the shores of what would become Bermuda — officially, the Bermudas or Somers Isles, named for Sir George Somers, of Sea Venture fame — that the ship’s company found itself stranded those ten long months. Of course, a four-day hurricane off the coast of Bermuda swallowing up a ship and crashing it onto the shore of a deserted island is the stuff of which Bermuda Triangle legends are made. That explains the name of the drink, but what about the Thanksgiving connection?
Stephen Hopkins, as luck would have it, decided to return to America – this time with his family in tow. It was a decade after his shipwreck adventure, and things were looking up across the Atlantic. With a new family, a New World, and a new lease on life, Hopkins returned to America in 1620 aboard a ship called the Mayflower and — along with wife Elizabeth and children Constance, Giles, and Damaris — was among those in attendance at the first Thanksgiving.
Now, our story should end there, but I have to add that if we fast forward another ten years or so, Hopkins was again causing trouble. He may have been a man of God, but he was hardly a Puritan. By the late 1630s, Hopkins had opened a tavern and was fined for letting people drink on Sundays, for letting them drink excessively, and for selling beer for twice its value (I’d have his back on the first two counts, but not the third). He never did take a cotton to authority.
In 1644, Hopkins passed away and, per his will, was buried next to his wife and children.
Esoterica: The tale of the tempest which had its way with the Sea Venture was big news back in the England of 1609. In fact, many claim that it inspired one William Shakespeare to write a play called, would you believe, The Tempest (1610).