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Weekend Cocktail: A High-Life Drink With a Lowlife Name

A classic Prohibition-era cocktail from Harry’s New York Bar, it’s a high-life drink with a lowlife name.

Americans have until lately had a rebelliousness about them that was practically a part of the national character. Arising from an independence won in battle and fostered on harsh frontiers, Americans in the early days relied less on government and more on themselves or their neighbors for their needs. In many cases, when government caught up to them they simply packed up and moved West. Proudly continuing that tradition are the sea-steaders, rich libertarians who’d like to build a few floating extra-governmental socio-political experiments. One hopes they’ll fare better than the similar city of Rapture did in the video game Bioshock.

Without generalizing too much about just how dependent on government or how risk-averse we are as a people, it seems pretty unlikely that a man who wants to go build a house in the woods of Kentucky could do so without some interference from an inspector or a state agency trying to get their hands in his pockets. Not to mention the environmental impact study that would have to be done. It’s awfully stifling, when you think about it.

Let’s leave aside building codes and the plight of the snowy owl, though. To transgress arbitrary and suffocating little rules is one of the joys of human existence. It starts early in life, with as small a rebellion as staying up past bedtime. As we grow into our adolescence, flouting the rules of behavior and good taste (musical, sartorial, linguistic, etc.) becomes almost a reflex action.

Over time we learn that obeying many of society’s strictures actually correlates with success and happiness, but there are always those few little expectations at which we can safely thumb our noses.

One of the recent sources of annoyance for me is the looming overreaction to electronic cigarettes. My work desk is regularly wreathed in clouds of harmless water vapor as I grapple with my spreadsheets. There’s no policy here to ban the things indoors – yet. But the decades-old moral posture against any form of smoking has led to a few wide-eyes and scandalized conversations with passers-by, and all but ensures my eventual disappointment.

The day will come when I am instructed not to “light up,” I’m sure. On that day, I hope I’ll have the wherewithal to flagrantly violate such petty policy with some of that good old American contempt for the law. Which reminds me: you know what usually helps with that sort of thing?

The Scofflaw

This may be one of my new all-time favorites. A classic Prohibition-era cocktail from Harry’s New York Bar, it’s a high-life drink with a lowlife name and so, naturally, I’m partial to it. The Scofflaw has all the alcoholic presence afforded by a slug of rye, but the other ingredients combine to give it a smooth, sweet citrus flavor that very nearly reforms it into something you’d trust around your daughter.

  • 1 1/2 oz rye whiskey
  • 1 oz dry (or “French”) vermouth
  • 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice (about half a small lemon, give or take)
  • 3/4 oz grenadine
  • lemon twist for garnish

To begin, fill a cocktail glass with ice and set it aside to chill while you work.

You may want to tackle the most difficult part of this endeavor first: the twist. It has taken me some practice to be able to keep a twist of lemon peel intact as I work my way down the lemon. There’s no shame in failure, only in not developing our skills. A twist of lemon makes a superb garnish and imparts citrus oil that dramatically improves the taste and scent of your drink. The purpose built tool is indispensable for a fine presentation, but if you find yourself unequipped you can use a paring knife to remove a larger section of peel and enjoy it just as much.

After removing the twist, cut the lemon in half and juice it, straining out any pulp and seeds.

In a cocktail shaker with ice, add the rye, vermouth, lemon juice and grenadine. I generally try to use real grenadine instead of the Rose’s, but I’ve noticed that when using the real stuff the color can be a bit muted. In this mix, I used a mixture of half fake-o red stuff and half real pomegranate syrup to achieve a more vibrant hue.

Shake the mixture well. Dump the ice from the cocktail glass. Strain into your freshly chilled vessel, garnish with the twist, and then go jaywalk. Step on the grass. Fudge your taxes. Toss those parking tickets in the trash. Refuse to purchase health insurance. Smoke indoors. (Obviously, you shouldn’t do any of these things while drinking this beverage. You might spill it!)

Outwardly sweet and lemony fresh, the Scofflaw is at its core rebelliously alcoholic. It laughs in the face of any attempt to maintain sobriety and good order. Two or three of these and society may well break down completely in your immediate vicinity. Here’s hoping you enjoy it as much as I do.

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