Undoing the Damage

Temperate temperance is best. Intemperate temperance injures the cause of temperance, while temperate temperance helps it in its fight against intemperate intemperance. Fanatics will never learn that, though it be written in letters of gold across the sky.”
–Mark Twain, 1896

In case you haven’t wandered anywhere near a booze blog in the past couple of weeks, today is the anniversary of the official repeal of the 18th amendment, the demise of which gave Americans the right to enjoy a tipple or two for the first time in 13 years. Those years weren’t quite “dry” of course — google “speakeasy” and you’ll see what I mean — but for the first time in a generation, an American of appropriate age could once again step into the local to hoist a pint or a pour of their favorite alcoholic libation. Over the course of Prohibition, countless lives were damaged or destroyed by sub-standard booze, over-zealous prosecutors and criminal organizations, while otherwise upstanding citizens found themselves regularly flouting the law in order to enjoy a glass of beer or a touch of whiskey when the mood struck. The “Noble Experiment” was one hell of a mess.

So whose bright idea was this catastrophe, anyway? Fingers can be pointed in a lot of different directions, but one especially deserving group is the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The W.C.T.U. dates to 1874 (and yes, they’re still around), and took as their primary mission the elimination of all alcoholic beverages. Under the leadership of Frances Willard, the W.C.T.U. mobilized communities throughout the country to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol, culminating in the passage of the 18th amendment. At its peak, the group had hundreds of thousands of members (though the W.C.T.U. were, ahem, selective — no Catholics, Jews, African Americans or women born outside of North America were admitted), and Willard was considered the most famous woman in the world after Queen Victoria (there’s still a statue of her in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol).

Repeal, no doubt, was a setback to the organization, but it still exists today. They’re still thumping the tub for the drys, but to expand their message and keep them contemporary, the W.C.T.U. also campaigns on more modern causes including abortion and gay marriage (I’ll let you guess which side they come down on).

This repeal day, I’m lifting a glass in memory of the thankfully brief time that this group of pathologically obsessive busybodies managed to dictate the manner in which responsible adults can behave. The drink is adapted from Crosby Gaige’s Cocktail Guide and Ladies’ Companion, from 1941, a time when Americans were still unwinding from the long, dark era.

W.C.T.U. (“Much too good for them,” writes Gaige)

  • 1 1/4 ounce brandy
  • 1 1/4 ounce dry vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes orange bitters

Stir with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Thanks to Jeffrey Morgenthaler for alerting me to Repeal Day activities — given the weight Dewar’s is throwing into the party, and the number of drink blogs it’s showing up on, today should be a grand, grand day.

(And while I normally recoil at the whole viral marketing thing, this Repeal Day ad from Dewar’s is actually pretty damn funny)

6 Responses to Undoing the Damage

  1. Looks like a delightful drink. I do wish I could convince someone on this side of the State to carry Regans or another of the new batches of Orange bitters. I remember finding the peach on the shelves at the TC one day in 2001 when I lived on BI. If I may avail of you and the other erudite readers, how are you currently measuring a dash? Is it a dribble of drops, or some fraction of an ounce?

  2. You can order Regan’s Orange Bitters from http://www.buffalotrace.com/

    A dash is definitely up to the creator of the drink. I’ve seen it measured so many different ways, I’ve given up. Just shake the thing one or two times, have the drink, and adjust on the next one.

  3. I work at a cocktail lounge in Seattle, WA. When it comes to bitters dashes, I always like three quick ones. Three seems like a good number. I believe it is a number of good luck in Japanese culture and I have not had a complaint yet.

  4. Thanks guys, I was aware of the Buffalo Trace site, but I really have wished for a retailer to take up the call here in Spokane. In fact, after I posted the first response, I contacted the one retailer here that I thought might step up and he is in the process of investigating wholesalers. I can’t help but think there must be a pent-up demand worth investing in a case or two of various Fee Bros, Peychauds and Regan’s. Even in Seattle, you really have to know where to look for these items, and that is a damn shame. Thanks for the tips on the dash.

  5. Paul,

    I am not in love with this cocktail – I don’t dislike it by any means, but it doesn’t wow me like others have. Am I missing out? Are my brand choices wrong?

    – Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
    – Chalfonte Cognac
    – Regan’s orange
    – Angostura bitters


  6. Rick,

    You’ll notice that nowhere did I say it’s actually good. Your brand choices are perfect–it’s the cocktail that’s ho-hum. Still, the name worked for the moment, and I’d gladly lift another to toast the demise of the Volstead Act.

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