It’s finally here. Autumn. My favorite season. I love the crisp nights, the sunny days, the colorful leaves.
I also love this seasonal drink, one of the oldest of the rye-based cocktails.
In 1775, while preparing for their nighttime assault on Fort Ticonderoga from British forces, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys quaffed a combination of rum and hard apple cider. They, like other New Englanders, called it a Stone Fence.
It was pretty strong stuff. But that’s what liberty demanded. If the British held on to Fort Ticonderoga, they’d control the Lake Champlain region—the crucial strategic avenue between Canada and the revolting colonies. Meantime, the fort’s artillery could be used to trap the British forces in Boston. The concoction conjured up the necessary courage. And the patriots took the fort.
The potent mixture was enjoyed throughout the Northeast during the Revolution. But by the early 1800s, rye had replaced rum—much harder to get in the post-Revolutionary period—in the drink. The inevitable presence of both apple trees and alcoholic cider across the Northeast and the Midwest kept the drink accessible and popular. By the 1860s, the temperance movement had insisted on a non-alcoholic alternative to hard cider. Sweet cider became the mixer of choice for the whiskey. And the modern Stone Fence was born.
It remained beloved through the end of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth. One of the most famous Stone Fence aficionados was William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody (he preferred it with a twist of lemon).
Today, the Stone Fence is perfect for those early evening fall sunsets or for relaxing after a leaf-viewing excursion.
Here’s how to make your own bit of history:
2 oz rye whiskey
8-10 oz of fresh pressed sweet apple cider
Use a tall glass, and throw a couple of ice cubes in there when you’re done. The drink depends on the quality of the cider you use. Avoid store-bought apple juice like the plague. Instead, turn to a local orchard (or, barring that, health food store or food co-op) and get something with more complex flavors (a mixture of sweet and tart is best). Unpasteurized sweet apple cider is even better, but can be hard to find.
And don’t forget to toast the Green Mountain Boys.