Friday, August 31, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Deshler

Dubonnet. Blue M&Ms. Taylor Hicks. What do they have in common?

Each of them won their coveted place in history as the result of a competition. Dubonnet’s, at least, wasn’t rigged. (Purple M&Ms and Katherine McPhee forever!)

Quinine, an essential defense against malaria in the era of empire building, is an extract from the bark of cinchona trees. It’s also impossibly bitter. The English took theirs by adding it to tonic water, which in turn they doused liberally with gin. The French, as is their way, proved a fussier lot, to the extent that in 1846 the government ran a contest: help our Legionnaires choke their medicine down! Parisian chemist Joseph Dubonnet took the prize, masking the quinine with fortified wine and a potpourri of flavors including cinnamon and orange peel. The aperitif quickly outgrew its therapeutic and Gallic origins; it’s Queen Elizabeth II’s preferred tipple.

Dubonnet is frequently blended with gin, but it works astonishingly well alongside rye in the Deshler, a World War I-era variation on the Manhattan capped with additional orange notes. It first appears in Hugo Ensslin’s pre-Prohibition landmark Recipes for Mixed Drinks (1917). Note that Ensslin’s original recipe calls for equal parts rye and Dubonnet.

But what of the cocktail’s namesake? Dave Deshler was a lightweight boxer who in a fourteen year career amassed a remarkably even-keeled record of 27 wins, 25 losses and 24 draws. The New Jersey-born, Boston-based battler’s non-alcoholic claim to fame is an ignominious one. During Deshler’s bout against Young Nitchie at the Brooklyn Beach Athletic Club on August 7, 1911, referee Johnny McEvoy left the ring in the seventh round, refusing to officiate. According to reports, “McEvoy stated to the crowd that Deshler was stalling and not trying to box his opponent.” Both Deshler and Nitchie begged to differ. The crowd sided with them, raising a ruckus while the pugilists’ managers recruited a volunteer to referee the final three rounds. But officials backed McEvoy, the fight ending in a no contest. Deshler would defeat Nitchie on points a year later.

Here’s hoping that isolated incident is not why Dogged Dave had a cocktail named after him. A century later, this Deshler still packs a punch.

The Deshler

Hugo Ensslin, Recipes for Mixed Drinks (modified)

1 ½ oz. rye
1 oz. Dubonnet
¼ oz. Cointreau
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Stir. Strain. Garnish with an orange twist.