Friday, May 02, 2014

Cocktail of the Week: Remember The Maine

From 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:

Madam of a house of ill-repute: All right, you two. I want you at my party.
Butch: What party?
Madam: I’m losing my piano player. He’s going off to fight the war.
Sundance: What war?
Madam: The war with the Spanish.
Butch: Remember the Maine!
Sundance: Who can forget it?

Right after this exchange we catch a glimpse of said party, a handmade sign bearing the American flag and that rallying cry hanging over the piano. Butch and Sundance decide to enlist and bring their, ahem, leadership and maturity to the war effort. They toast their new commitment. With beer, not with this cocktail. It wasn’t around then. They don’t join up, either. They have trains to rob, and the war doesn’t last that long, anyway.

The U.S.S. Maine sank in Havana harbor in February 1898, blown up by a mine. The incident was seized on by the Hearst and Pulitzer newspapers, then in their yellow journalism heyday, and used to fan the flames of public outrage. That simple three-word call to arms helped enormously.

All of which is only distantly related to the cocktail of the same name. It is canonized in Charles H. Baker, Jr.’s The Gentleman’s Companion, and he lays out its provenance in his usual idiosyncratic fashion, calling it “a HAZY MEMORY of a NIGHT in HAVANA during the UNPLEASANTNESSES of 1933, when EACH SWALLOW WAS PUNCTUATED WITH BOMBS GOING off on the PRADO, or the SOUND of 3” SHELLS BEING FIRED at the HOTEL NACIONAL, then HAVEN for CERTAIN ANTI -REVOLUTIONARY OFFICERS.” You’d think an incident that dramatic would prompt the christening of a cocktail for the Hotel Nacional. Oh, right. It did.

“Treat this one with the respect it deserves, gentlemen,” Baker continued. An order easy to follow considering the Remember the Maine is a distant relation of the Manhattan featuring the bright sweetness of Cherry Heering and the unruly kick of absinthe (or a pastis substitute). The drink is a staple offering in craft cocktail bars, although I doubt bartenders follow Baker’s instructions while making it to the letter and “stir briskly in clock-wise fashion – this makes it sea-going, presumably!”

But innovation continues with this concoction. Barrel aged cocktails are a more recent trend, entire mixtures being placed in barrels for weeks to alter the character. Recently at Seattle’s Radiator Whiskey I sampled a Remember the Maine made months earlier. Bartender Justin told me they used Old Overholt rye because it has some spiciness while being soft enough to change in the barrel. I’ve been dubious about barrel-aging cocktails, but this one, mellow and contemplative, might make me a believer.

You can prepare this drink with a few dashes of bitters or garnish it with a cherry. I adhered to Baker’s prescription as best I could, switching in Pernod for absinthe. I threw in the merest hint with the other ingredients per the master’s orders; feel free to rinse the glass with it instead.

Still, the drink has nothing to do with the actual sinking of the Maine. And if I’m poking holes in illusions here, I might as well go all out and observe that in his essential book Adventures in the Screen Trade, William Goldman said one of the weaknesses of his Butch and Sundance script was too much smart-ass dialogue, citing Sundance’s jibe about the Maine as an example: “I guess there’s a joke in that thought somewhere, but I sure as hell didn’t find it.” I thought it was funny. But we’re none of us perfect.

Remember the Maine

2 oz. rye
¾ oz. sweet vermouth
½ oz. Cherry Heering
1 teaspoon absinthe or Pernod

Stir in whatever direction you prefer. Strain. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at