Friday, December 14, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Scofflaw

And now, a story with a simple moral: Don’t mess with serious drinkers. They have sharp senses of humor, and they will always get you back.

In 1923, a prominent Massachusetts member of the Anti-Saloon League, which had gotten Prohibition passed in the United States, announced a contest. The princely sum of two hundred dollars would be awarded to whoever coined the best word to describe “a lawless drinker of illegally made or illegally obtained liquor.” More than one person came up with ‘scofflaw,’ although if you ask me they weren’t trying all that hard. “One who scoffs at the law”? That’s the best you’ve got? This is what happens when brainstorming sessions are fueled only by sarsaparilla and sanctimony.

But the name that was meant to shame tipplers onto the path to righteousness had the opposite effect. Two weeks after the contest’s winners were named, the Scofflaw cocktail was being poured in Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Take that, moralists! The word is now broadly applied to anyone who contemptuously violates social edicts by, say, amassing an ungodly number of parking tickets. The Scofflaw is on the extremely short list of cocktails born of Prohibition. Ironically, it wasn’t created in some dark speakeasy but in France.

For once the origin of a drink’s name is a matter of public record. It’s the recipe that’s in question. Patrick Gavin Duffy’s Official Mixer’s Manual (1934) suggests the following for a ‘Scoff-Law’: ⅓ rye, ⅓ dry vermouth, ⅙ lemon juice, ⅙ grenadine, dash of orange bitters. At some point the balance between rye and vermouth shifted in rye’s favor, which I am all in favor of. A few versions began specifying Canadian whiskey, wholly unnecessary now that a host of quality ryes are again on the market. Along the way the orange bitters were left off many formulas, a regrettable oversight as the citrus pulls the whiskey and vermouth together nicely. And there are those who suggest using chartreuse in place of grenadine, which I appreciate in theory; chartreuse improves many, many things. But in this case, I stick with the tried and true.

Consider the recipe below a work in progress. I stepped down the grenadine because, philistine that I am, I use a store-bought variety instead of making my own and a little of it goes a long way. And increasing the base spirit to two full ounces as many recommend is not a bad idea in the least. What follows is where I started. It isn’t necessarily where you’ll finish.

The Scofflaw

1 ½ oz. rye
1 oz. dry vermouth
¾ oz. lemon juice
½ oz. grenadine
dash of orange bitters

Shake. Strain. Garnish with a lemon twist.