Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Applejack in the Church Lemonade

There are few compounds that are more sinful than the applejack of New Jersey. The name has a homely, innocent appearance, but in reality applejack is a particularly powerful and evil spirit. The man who intoxicates himself on bad whisky is sometimes moved to kill his wife and set his house on fire, but the victim of applejack is capable of blowing up a whole town with dynamite and of reciting original poetry to every surviving inhabitant.

~ "A Wicked Beverage” New York Times, April 10, 1894

We like apple brandies around here. In fact, ten or twelve bottles from various American and French producers are in rotation now and won't last long. We'll put them in cocktails, in cider, punch, toddies, and straight up in glasses. In particular, we like the American style apple brandy known as applejack. It is at times — especially when new-born — as clear as water. That has its place, but when it's been put down on oak for several years, it transforms into a brown spirit that Americans have used as they might whiskey for hundreds of years.

While prowling through old papers recently, I came across strong praise for the stuff coming from — of all places — Salt Lake City. Seems a report of applejack getting into the lemonade at a church function in New Jersey made it all the way to Utah. The unnamed author writes: "Applejack never caused a lewd feeling to enter the heart of anyone. Applejack is not that sort of liquor. Good applejack carries with it the smell of the blossoms in the orchard. When one gets intoxicated on applejack he or she doesn’t want to kick at all; they want to lie down and sleep and dream of green fields and running brooks and little birds and wildflowers."

Perhaps a different sort of applejack was circulating in Salt Lake City in those days; I, for one, can testify that the stuff has spurred lewd feelings more than once. From the August 26th, 1905 issue of Truth, here's the rest:

From the editorial columns of the Ogden State Journal article for the following which was evidently pilfered by the excellent newspaper; but which is worth printing just the same. ”At a church festival recently held in the town of Annandale, N.J., one of the provisions for refreshing the inner man and in parking a cheery yet seemingly air of conviviality as an esteemed eastern exchange puts it, was a large jar or can of lemonade, of which the young men present partook freely. Thereby hangs the tale of religious Annandale’s present great disturbance and perplexity.

”Lemonade is one of the mildest of beverages and at that commonly encountered the church festivals and similar gatherings is, as a rule, rather milder than the average decoction. But this Annandale brew, for reasons yet undiscovered, reversed all rules and precedents. For proportionately with in the lowering of the bowl a strange air of liberty and abandon, noticeable in some of the young people early in the proceedings gradually developed into a mistakable symptoms of the finest joy and exhilaration, which reached a climax when a number of young women previously noted for prudent behavior, did a skirt dance with high kicking on the church lawn, to the Internet scandal of the deacons and the glee of ribald onlookers in the street, who applauded the dancers and incited them to wild feats of agility.

”Subsequent analysis of the lemonade disclosed the presence of a large infusion of applejack, one of the most powerful exhilarants known to science – as the Rev. Sam Small, who was once floored by it while on a temperance tour in Vermont, can testify. The great question now is, who doctored the lemonade and an investigating committee of elders is on a still hunt of discovery. It seems a little odd that the taste of the applejack was not detected before the stuff got in its deadly work on the congregation. This is not the least mysterious feature of the affair, and suggests that, in the absence of a positive clue, the old theological explanation of a trap set by the evil one might be resorted to. Satan was frequently caught at just such pranks in the good old times when there was a more vivid realization of his personality and in these days of doubt and rationalism, so-called.”

I rush to the defense of applejack. It wasn't applejack that was mixed with that lemonade; it was something else. Applejack never made a “prudent woman” behave like that. There is nothing in applejack to cause a demure young lady to wish to point one foot at high noon while the other stands at six o’clock. That lemonade was doctored with champagne. Applejack never caused a lewd feeling to enter the heart of anyone. Applejack is not that sort of liquor. Good applejack carries with it the smell of the blossoms in the orchard. When one gets intoxicated on applejack he or she doesn’t want to kick at all; they want to lie down and sleep and dream of green fields and running brooks and little birds and wildflowers. The whole atmosphere is perfumed with the scent of the honeysuckle and the Sweet Williams. The sky is blue, and minus a cloud. The hills take on a purple haze and the sun moves across the heavens surrounded by a halo of crimson and gold. The waters of the creek sing a love song and the chant of the feathered songster in the tree is an echo of the harmony from on high. The soul is at peace and never runs riot as did these previously well behaved females at the church fair. No sir, that lemonade was never doctored with applejack. It was mixed with the vintage of France, that puts fire in one’s veins and makes one think he is born to dance and raise the devil generally. Applejack is not guilty.

Goes well with:
  • Applejacked Hessians and the Jack Rose, a tale of revolutionary-era mercenaries being overtaken by the hospitality of a host who provided them with the local spirit — with commentary from Will Elsbury, a military specialist librarian at the Library of Congress.
  • American Apple Spirits, my overview of historic and current offerings of apple spirits — from brandy to absinthe — from American distillers.
  • Speaking of lemonade: here's my recipe for our house lemonade (with a ginger-spiked variant). There's also pink lemonade (empinkened with bitters) and "circus" lemonade, the Honorable William T. (Cocktail) Boothby's 1908 jab at the charlatans offering nearly lemonless lemonade at circuses, fairs, and churches.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Not a Curl Was Left: Okolehao and the Hogs of the Waianae Range

“No animal shall drink alcohol
 to excess.”

~ George Orwell
Animal Farm

Wild Hog from
Tsunajima Kamekichi's 1887
Fashionable Melange of English Words
In preparing remarks for my talk on moonshine next month at Tiki Oasis, I came across a bit of suspicious journalism.

After a preamble on the natural history and curious habits demonstrated by the wild hogs of the Waianae range on Oʻahu, an anonymous columnist for Honolulu’s Hawaiian Star reported in the summer of 1911 on even more incredulous behavior. The Onlooker columnist claims the report is from “Old Oponui” (a distiller of okolehao, Hawaii’s indigenous moonshine) and concerns what happens when the hogs gained possession of his entire supply.

Readers of Orwell’s Animal Farm will find familiar material here.
Old Oponui, the okolehao expert who makes booze about a mile from the hog-built dam, came along while I was there and told me of the misfortune the hogs had caused him. It seems that, after the dam had been made secure, the porkers lay in the old adobe wallow for about three days while the roasting pigs enjoyed the bathing. Then they got up refreshed and hungry. The small pigs were routed out and sent out for wild bananas which they easily got. Oponui saw them in the woods bringing half ripe bunches of bananas home, where they were spread m the shade to ripen. Two or three nights later there was a sudden rush of hogs at the well-hidden shack where he slept and had his still. The structure was quickly torn down and he just had time to get on his escape ladder, which he uses in crossing a ravine if any revenue men are about, and to see the hogs rolling away two barrels of his good stuff, all he had. The native followed the drove at a distance and when near the hog rendezvous, he climbed a tree and watched. Oponui says the sight almost led him to disbelieve his eyes. 
The pigs had dug a big hole and plastered it with adobe. At the bottom was a sharp piece of lava. They rolled one of the barrels into the hole, where it broke apart, filling the well with okolehao and bringing the remnants of the barrel to the surface, where each piece was nosed out and pushed away, every hog, big and little, excepting four that were stationed about as guards or were opposed to drink on principle, proceeded to get full. They were celebrating the completion of the dam like happy engineers. According to Opunui the sight was almost human. Now and then a hog would rise to grunt but would turn a somersault down hill. Several did nothing but squeal in different keys, leaning lovingly on each other. Younger ones walked round and round the ladies of the party, holding their ears erect and making graceful motions with their tails. One group hustled into an alley between some guava bushes and carried wild onions in their mouths, while they sought to get on their hind legs. They were an inimitable reminder of the Honolulu Onion Club. Between drinks the hogs ate bananas, and by the time the second barrel of okolehao was reached everyone of them tried to sing. It sounded much like a joy party coming home. When morning dawned Opunui climbed down from his tree, for it was then safe for him to return to what was left of his home. The place was a wreck; the good liquor all gone, bananas lying about crushed or half bitten; one old porker under a bush was mourning a broken tusk and not a curl was left in the tail of any pig. That very morning the native had seen every porker at the reservoir lying beside the water into which two had fallen and been drowned. He himself was leaving. He said he was tired of this kind of moonshining and he could do better by going into Honolulu politics and being a hog himself.
~ The Hawaiian Star July 15, 1911

Goes well with:

Monday, July 15, 2013

Blood Orange Cobbler with Lillet

Blood Orange Cobbler
Now that Summer is on us, I’m serving light wines and aperitifs more frequently. A few homemade aperitifs, such as the vin d’orange and Pamper Moose, remain tucked away, still maturing in the dark. Except, of course, when a bottle wants to be broken out. For store-bought versions, we tuck into Aperol, Pimm’s No 1, and Dubonnet. The aromatic and lightly citrusy Lillet is a particular  favorite around here; we either drink it chilled or deploy it in stiffer mixes like the Twentieth Century cocktail (see the link to Jason Wilson’s adaptation below). Lately, we’ve been using it in cobblers — something slightly boozy that we can drink in quantity without getting knock-kneed on a worknight.

Fruit cobblers, kin to slumps, grunts, and other baked desserts, are great stuff, but those are for another day. Rather, we’re getting into drinking cobblers here. David A. Embury (1948), writing in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, described them thus:
Like the Fixes and the Daisies, the Cobblers are served with straws in a goblet filled with finely crushed or shaved ice and are decorated with fruit and a sprig or two of mint. They differ from Fixes and Daisies (which are basically Sours) primarily in that the Cobblers contain either no citrus juice at all or, at the most, only one or two dashes. They consist of either a wine or a spirituous liquor combined with either sugar syrup or some sweet liqueur.
Not long ago, I spent part of a lazy afternoon at local bar Polite Provisions, where Jackie Patterson, a brand ambassador for William Grant & Sons, plunked down a bottle of the Sicilian blood orange liqueur, Solerno, for a few rounds of mixed drinks. We go through a lot of different orange liqueurs at the Whiskey Forge and have our favorites for certain drinks. In a cobbler, I particularly like the vaguely raspberry notes that Solerno brings to the game.
Blood Orange Cobbler
.75 oz. Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur
3 oz. Lillet Blanc
1 tsp blood orange marmalade* 
Dry shake ingredients and then pour over crushed ice in a julep cup or rocks glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint and sliced fruit such as strawberries and orange wheel. 
*If you don’t have blood orange marmalade, use regular Seville orange or even apricot marmalades.
Goes well with:

  • Writing in the Washington Post, Jason Wilson gives his adaptation of the 1937 classic cocktail, the Twentieth Century. Most nights, I prefer a stiff whiskey or gin cocktail, but when the mercury rises, this is a nice switch.
  • We also like blood orange marmalade in a sour and in a Satan's Whiskers variant we call Satan's Bloody Whiskers

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sweet Spirit of Cats a'Fighting! It's Moonshine at Tiki Oasis

It's Tiki Oasis time — or, rather, it will be soon enough. Next month is the 13th annual celebration of all things tiki here in San Diego as hordes of revelers take over the Crowne Plaza Hotel for a weekend blowout of rum-drinking, hula-dancing, surf music-playing, aloha shirt-wearing, beehive-sporting fun. It is, as I've mentioned, a blast. The theme this year? Hulabilly. What else will there be? White whiskey, maybe a little ti root. You'll just have to drop by to find out.

Who's going to be there talking about moonshine? Yours truly.

I'm expecting something like this.

The name of the talk is Squirrel Whiskey, Monkey Rum, and Sweet Spirit of Cats a'Fighting: The Taming of American Moonshine. Here's the skinny from the TikiO site:
Despite the hype, most moonshine isn't corn whiskey and hasn't been since Donn Beach was knee-high to a moai. For almost 400 years, Americans have distilled untaxed liquor in cabins, sheds, warehouses, hollers, and now garages and basements. Author Matthew Rowley examines the history of moonshine, America's primal spirit. From the colonial era though Prohibition to its recent incarnations, moonshine has changed with the times. Through guided tastings from some of today's (legal) craft distilleries and Q&A, participants will learn to distinguish so-called "legal moonshine" and white whiskeys from their illegal forerunners and modern cousins.
See you there!

Goes well with:
  • Find Tiki Oasis on Twitter here.
  • Information on my talk and speakers at this year's Tiki Oasis (including San Francisco barman Martin Cate, radio host Charles Phoenix, and Lady Borgia with "The Higher the Hair, the Closer to the Tiki Gods") is here
  • Lack tiki mugs in which to serve up your summertime moonshine drinks. Check out some of our favorite tiki mug vendors, including Tiki Farm, Munktiki, and Tiki Kaimuki.

Monday, July 8, 2013

George Orwell on Picking Hops in the English Countryside

One can talk and smoke as one works, 
and on hot days there is no pleasanter place 
than the shady lanes of hops,
 with their bitter scent—an unutterably refreshing scent, 
like a wind blowing 
from oceans of cool beer.

Eric Blair
The New Statesman and Nation, 17 October 1931

I've been refreshing my memory of Eric Blair's work lately in preparation for a talk in Denver next month. Blair's novels (writing under his better-known pseudonym George Orwell) include 1984 and Animal Farm, but I've been diving into his more ephemeral essays on language and meaning. While digging though the library, I stumbled across an early essay of his on picking hops in the English countryside. In it, Blair tests the idea that a seasonal worker, wanting to get away from London for a bit, might high-tail it to Kent and make a decent bit of income stripping hops from vines for the English brewing industry.

The squalid camp conditions, dishonest measurers, and exploitive owners, however, left Blair realizing that hop picking, as practiced in early 20th century England, was a wretched experience. "What keeps the business going," he wrote,
...is probably the fact that the Cockneys rather enjoy the trip to the country, in spite of the bad pay and in spite of the discomfort. When the season is over the pickers are heartily glad—glad to be back in London, where you do not have to sleep on straw, and you can put a penny in the gas instead of hunting for firewood, and Woolworth’s is round the corner—but still, hop-picking is in the category of things that are great fun when they are over.
His full essay is here.

A 1929 silent newsreel from the archives of BFI shows families, including children, harvesting hops from right around the time Blair wrote Hop-Picking.

Goes well with:

Saturday, July 6, 2013

On the Making of Vintage Glassware: Bert Haanstra's 1958 'Glas'

You may be tough, but are you roll-your-own-cigarette-
and-light-it-on-a-blazing-hot-jar tough?
Craft bartenders around the country pour vintage cocktails in vintage glassware as a matter of pride. Stemware, tumblers, and other barware from the 1930's-50's are easy enough to find even now that pikers know to check out thrift shops for great finds. We cocktail geeks like these glasses. Empirically true or not, a Champagne cocktail served in an elegant, hollow-stemmed 1915 coup tastes better than the same drink served in an Ikea coffee mug. Even delicate, small vintage glassware has a heft of historicity. They are mute witnesses to much of the liquid history we try to recreate (or surpass).

But we rarely see how such things were made. A nearly wordless documentary gives us a look inside micentury glassmaking, both hand-blown and industrial. Distorted VHS pirate copies of Bert Haanstra's 1958 Glas used to make the rounds among glassblowing students. The tape I saw in the 1980's was a copy of a copy of a copy, going back untold generations. I was very much into the glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly, but that old bootleg of Glas was nearly unwatchable.

The short industrial film is on YouTube now, however, in a much cleaner copy. Set to a light jazz score, it follows craftsmen and factory workers as they blow, turn, smash, and form glass into bottles, stemware, candlesticks, pitchers, and jars. Some of the men try to inject a little dramatic interpretation in their scenes, but most just roll and blow, roll and blow.

Goes well with:
  • Predating Glas by only a few years, Hans Fischerkoesen's nightmarish Durch Nacht zum Licht ("Through Night to Light") pitches Underberg Bitters. I enjoy Underberg, but I'm pretty sure this wet-sheet nightmare of a campaign would not get greenlighted today.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Basic Pork Rub: A Working Recipe

I am breaking myself — slowly — of the habit of making sauces, pickles, syrups, bitters, and the like...then not recording the steps and ingredients. Until this year, I was particularly lax labeling the jars and bottles in our cabinets. “This pork rub is excellent,” I once thought to myself. “There’s no way I’d forget how to make this.” Pfft. Best pork rub I ever made sits unlabeled in one of the spice cabinets, its contents a mystery. Oh, I know 90% of what’s in it between memory and taste...but that last 10% is what makes it so good.

Never mind the handwriting;
rub this on your ribs and smoke 'em
Until I can recreate what I did with that particular rub, there’s plenty remaining of an earlier iteration. The recipe gets tweaked often; sometimes, it will include toasted cumin, more mustard powder, different chiles, smoked paprika, or whatever. I learned from my mistake, though; I scribbled down the recipe and tucked it into the mix. When I get it exactly right, I’ll print it and affix to the jar.

Until then, this is the working recipe for a rub I make for pork ribs and shoulders destined for the smoker. The result is toothsome and tender with a crackling “bark” helped along by the brown sugar in the spice mix.

The powdered lemon peel is a California twist. It's not a common flavor in the Kansas City barbecue of my youth, but its sharp/musty zing plays well with the chiles and garlic here. Make your own either by drying and pulverizing pith-free lemon peel or grab a jar from Penzey's. Or simply omit it if the idea is too frou frou for you.
Basic Pork Rub 
¼ cup each: paprika and ground black pepper
3 Tbl each: light brown sugar and garlic powder
2 Tbl kosher salt
1 Tbl each: mustard powder, onion powder, and ancho chile powder
1½ tsp cayenne chile
1 tsp dried, powdered lemon peel 
Mix together in a jar, seal, shake until thoroughly mixed. Keep in a cool, dark, dry place.

To use the rub, scatter it generously over the surfaces of ribs or shoulder (trimmed, brined, cleaned, or however else you like to prepare them), then smoke as you usually would.
Goes well with:
  • Recipes for chef's salt from Hungarian chef Louis Szathmary and for Donnie's Spice Mix, a blend from Louisiana Chef Donald Link — which we use so often, I've simply labeled the jar  "Kitchen Spice" (as opposed to, I don't know, yard spice or car spice).