Friday, June 22, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Ward Eight

They don’t all have to be classics. They just have be the drink for their time and place. The time is summer. The place is anywhere the people demand rye.

The Ward Eight is famed as Boston’s principal contribution to cocktail culture. Born in the bar at Locke-Ober in 1898, goes the story, it was created for a victory party thrown by one of the city’s legendary politicians, Martin “The Mahatma” Lomasney, boss of the namesake precinct. (Some wisdom oft attributed to Lomasney: “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.”) The bash, continues the story, was held the night before the election. Which makes sense, considering the ballots were completed early, too. Gary Regan recounts in The Joy Of Mixology that Lomasney would hand voters arriving at the polls a finished ballot to take into the booth. They’d submit it, bring back the clean one, and Lomasney would fill it in for the next sucker citizen exercising his franchise.

Lomasney’s unique voter outreach program has been sourced by political scientists. The rest of the yarn is most likely bunk, aside from the drink’s Beantown provenance. More disturbing is the scurrilous smear campaign launched against the Ward Eight by its opponents. Once it was a bright light of the party, being named one of the ten best cocktails by Esquire magazine in 1934. “We’re still trying to figure out why,” wrote Esquire’s current cocktail expert David Wondrich.

The knock on the drink is twofold. One, it’s just a whiskey sour that has been literally tarted up with orange juice and grenadine. Two, it’s suitable for warm weather only. In rebuttal, permit me to offer the following arguments –

One: True.
Two: So?

A more valid criticism is that the two types of citrus form a coalition that overwhelms the spirit, as in one of those European parliaments where ex-porn stars and the grandchildren of the former dictator join forces to shout down the bankers. But select a bold rye with a strong taste like Rittenhouse and it mounts a successful third party challenge. Scale back the citrus, use simple syrup to check and balance, and you’ve got democracy in its highest form.

Come election time, you won’t want a Ward Eight. You’ll want something much, much stronger. But right now, when the living is easy and the most pressing ballot issue is your All-Star Game vote – not that I’m a registered lobbyist or anything – this cocktail admirably performs its sworn duty.

The Ward Eight

2 oz. rye
½ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. orange juice
¼ oz. simple syrup
1 barspoon grenadine

Shake. Strain. No garnish.