Thursday, December 15, 2011

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Throat-Rippers, Neck Oil, and a Dose of Advocaat

This time last year, I wrote about three drinks that meld booze and eggs; Elise Hannemann’s 1904 eierpunsch, William Verpoorten’s modern-day eierlikör, and — from the pages of Playboy magazine — Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s eggnog.

One drink I didn’t get to at the time was advocaat, a venerable Dutch egg liqueur that's not dissimilar to eierlikör, but which comes in two forms. The first, more familiar to Americans, Britons, and others outside the Netherlands, is a pourable, eggnog-like drink. Such “drinking” advocaat is for the export market and would not pass muster among old-timers in Amsterdam, Groningen, or Delft. On the contrary, domestic Dutch advocaat traditionally has been a boozy, custardlike concoction served in small cups and eaten with spoons. Both, however, have their devotees.

The domestic stuff, made with egg yolks and whites, is sometimes called dikke advocaat (“thick” advocaat) in Holland while the version we're more likely to encounter abroad is variously known as dunne (“thin”) advocaat or schenkadvocaat (“pouradvocaat”) or drinkadvocaat, made with the yolks only. Just to confuse things, most people who drink/eat the stuff call it all just “advocaat” without modifiers.

The word itself in Dutch means “attorney” or “lawyer” but there’s no obvious connection to the legal profession at all. It is also so similar to adpokat, an Indonesian word for avocado, that two rival modern explanations for this egg-and-liquor concoction’s name have arisen.

Dropping Dutch anchor in Indonesian waters, 1669
The first is that the name somehow refers to a booze-and-avocado tipple created or adapted by the globe-trotting merchants of the VOC (the United East Indies Company) during its 17th century heyday. Irishman Philip Duff is a long-time resident of the Netherlands, a vocal proponent of its distilling traditions, and an internationally known bar and beverage consultant. He gets asked about this lawyer/avocado thing a lot.

Duff — along with many other knowledgeable souls — feel that the word's origins are well and truly lost. In an email to me, he admits, however, that he favors the avocado angle as a result of the VOC’s voyages abroad and dominance of Indonesia in particular:
The likelihood of there being a booze of some sort made, flavoured or mixed with avocado pulp is more than even, and it's not too much of a stretch to imagine this evolving into something with eggs back in Holland, eggs having both a bit of the colour and texture of avocados. Or...
The word "abocado" crops up in Spanish and Portuguese and refers to smoothness, mellowness, sweetness - opening the door to the possibility that an eggs-and-booze drink originated in south/central America and was named there, then the name was bastardised when it was brought back to Holland.
Not everyone buys this, though. When I asked Amsterdam culinary journalist and historian Johannes van Dam about the origin of the word, he wrote:
Personally I do not think the name of the drink comes from avocado, because that fruit was not really known here when the drink was already known by that name.
This in and of itself would seem to put an end to the avocado argument. Van Dam prefers another explanation: that the word is meant to evoke a soothing throat lubrication, such as might be required for attorneys.

Katadreuffe and De Gankelaar prepare for court battle  in Mike van Diem's 1997 Character

The popular rationale for the attorney angle goes like this: In the course of their work, attorneys must speak often and eloquently. Such a rich alcoholic drink — so the thinking goes — would both soothe their throats and relax the nervous among them to better prepare them for their loquacious undertakings.

Writing in 2006, Dutch linguistic journalist Ewoud Sanders examined various origin theories offered over the last century for the word. There's no clear winner, but he offered a convincing explanation for the side of the attorneys:
For now the battle for the origin of a little advocaat is undecided, but personally I think most of the oldest theory, that advocaat is a drink for the lawyer to keep his throat lubricated. Not so much because I think many lawyers are useful speakers, but because [in calling it that] you’re naming this motif (as linguists call it) that can also found in other drink names. Thus, a glass of genever is a keelsmeerdertje [throat lubricator] or smeerolie [lubricating oil], and the Germans know designations for spirits including Gurgelwasser [garglewater], Halsöl [neck oil] (also for beer), Rachenputzer [throat polisher] and, as other extreme, Rachenreißer [throat ripper].
Considering that opera singers have been known to gargle and swallow olive oil to soothe their throats, that in many parts of the US I've heard alcohol dubbed "throat oil," and that even Mississippi state representative Noah "Soggy" Sweats, Jr. referred to alcohol in his famous 1950's Whiskey Speech as the "oil of conversation" — well, the idea of calling alcohol as lubricant (even if it's a tongue-in-cheek circumlocution) is compelling.

Until proven otherwise, I'm betting on the lawyers. Linguistics aside — and more pressing — how do we make the stuff? Next up: advocaat recipes.

Goes well with:


Ish said...

There is an Irish dish called "Dublin Lawyer" that is lobster poached in butter, whiskey and cream. The history of the name seems to be lost, but I have heard that it comes from the ingredients being so costly that only a Dublin lawyer could afford to eat them. Of course, the preferred explanation is that it is rich, decadent, and full of liquor, much like its namesake.

Matthew Rowley said...

I've seen recipes for that exact dish many a time, though I've never indulged in it at home. Most of the recipes call for flaming the whiskey "to burn off the alcohol" — a preposterous notion. Setting the booze alight doesn't eliminate it; it just lowers the proof until the remaining alcohol can't sustain a flame.

Now if we could somehow combine Dublin and Puerto Nuevo style lobsters, I'd be a fat, happy bugger.

Ish said...

Would we be drinking advocaat as well? This sounds like a dinner party I would like to attend.

(PS, just received my copy of Moonshine from Amazon today - already planning to steal it back from its recipient once it's unwrapped!)

Matthew Rowley said...

Isn't that the bit like Homer giving Marge Simpson the bowling ball with a liquid center?