Friday, October 2, 2009

Classic Rye Cocktails, #12: The Scofflaw

If, like me, you've been drinking whiskey smashes all summer, you may be wondering what the arrival of autumn portends. Across much of the northern United States, backyard mint plants will not provide their copious bounty during the long, cold, winter.

It's time for another drink. One that reminds the rye patriot of summer, but looks forward to changing leaves and the fresh, crisp air of fall.

That drink is the Scofflaw. The cocktail renaissance has brought this drink back in a big way. Ironically, it belongs to the temperance movement. That's right. Anti-saloon forces gave birth to this drink back in the early 1920s. Apparently, it wasn't enough to outlaw the manufacture, sale, and transportation of liquors. Temperance leaders, seeing that the consumption of alcohol continued unabated--in some quarters, at least--decided that drinkers needed to be defined more sharply as lawbreakers.

In late 1923, a leading prohibitionist announced a contest to create, according to the January 16, 1924 New York Times, "the best word to stigmatize those who scoff at the prohibition law." The requirements? The new word need to start start with an "s," be no more than two syllables, focus on the lawbreaker--not the drinking, apply to all those who broke the law, and finally, fulfill Warren G. Harding's sentiment that "lawless drinking is a menace to the Republic itself." The winner? Kate L. Butler's (of Dorchester, MA) suggestion of "scofflaw." She won $200 for her trouble.

Alone among Americans, the "wets" had a sense of humor. And they proved it by immediately coming up with this concoction. Thanks to the efforts of rye-drinking expats at Harry's Bar in Paris, within three days, this term for an illegal drinker soon became a moniker for a tasty cocktail.

This one balances sweet, sour, and spicy sharpness. It's a winner.

1 oz rye whiskey (100 proof Rittenhouse works best)
1 oz dry vermouth
3/4 oz grenadine (Stirring's brand preferred) or, alternately, green Chartreuse
3/4 oz lemon juice
2-3 dashes orange bitters

For the sake of historical accuracy, it's important to note that the original recipe called for grenadine instead of green Chartreuse, but Washington Post spirits columnists Jason Wilson adeptly suggests the replacement. One likes to think that in the absence of good whiskey (the stocks of rye in Paris surely must have been depleted four years after passage of the Volstead Act), the turn to grenadine by our Prohibition-era foremothers and forefathers was one of necessity, not joy. Nonetheless, if you're in the mood for something sweeter, be my guest.


erik_flannestad said...

Hiya! Maybe because I don't pay to subscribe to the Washington Post Online, I'm unclear on Jason Wilson's ideas, but I really fail to see what is wrong with a grenadine sweetened rye sour. Or what on earth Green Chartreuse has to do with Grenadine. Ahem, if you decide to substitute an herbal liqueur for a red fruity syrup, I think you really should just think of a new name for the drink. Is that so hard?

DrDaRyL said...

Call it the Scofflaw's Scofflaw, since it thumbs its nose at grenadine and the "rules."

Shaken and served up I guess?

A rye-drinker said...

Thanks for the post!

I think this is simply a philosophical difference on the question of grenadine. I tend to stand with Bernard DeVoto, the famed HARPER'S columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning historian, who once said that anyone who asks you for sugar in a cocktail "will soon cross the frontier to join the heathen, with bottles of grenadine and almond extract in his pack" (THE HOUR, p. 34).

Clearly this was a reaction to many Prohibition-era cocktail recipes, which tended toward sweetness to obscure lower-quality liquors. Furthermore, there's no doubt that DeVoto was especially--perhaps even overly--puritanical about his cocktails.

But, if you don't have it in for grenadine, by all means, go for it! Given the sentiments above, I think that it tastes better with Chartreuse. As for the name, you'll have to ask Mr. Wilson. (By the way, online access to his spirits column in the WASHINGTON POST is free.)

Thanks again for stopping by!

SwampApe said...

I will have to try one if for no other reason than to have an excuse to use the orange bitters. I am afraid that my first mix will be with grenadine (since I have some!) but I will puck up a bottle of the Chartreuse before you all are here next week.

Matt L said...

this sounds great. Regretably, I do not have access to a fancy rye in these parts. I think the best I can rustle up is Jim Beam. Will a Canadian Whiskey work? It would seem to be in the spirit of defying Prohibition...

A rye-drinker said...

Jim Beam works just fine--don't go north to Canada.