Sunday, September 9, 2012

Remember the Maine

The U.S.S. Maine enters Havana Harbor.
After a miserably long silence -- my time away being spent attending matters of adult responsibility (not suffering, whatever you may hear from various reprobates, any forced abstinence) -- I present to you a cocktail bestowed with wonderful flavors and a mysterious moniker. There is a tale to be told about the libation referred to as "Remember the Maine." (Note to the reader: I may have previously mentioned that my research skills are dodgy and I am heroically lazy. Nonetheless, I think I've been able to piece together the basic story.)

The U.S.S. Maine, portrayed by Frederick Nelson Atwood.
It was the winter of 1898, and the battleship U.S.S. Maine had been sent to Havana, Cuba, to protect the interests of the United States during Cuba's revolt against the Spanish colonists. Three weeks after arriving, the Maine was anchored in Havana Harbor when a devastating explosion sent the great ship to the sea floor. Two hundred fifty-three sailors went down with the wreck. Eight later died of related injuries. Of 355 men, only 94 survived the blast and the sinking.

The ship's five-ton store of gunpowder had detonated. All parties involved in the ensuing investigation agree on that. How the magazines exploded remains up for debate. All manner of conspiracy theories haunt the sinking of the Maine. Was it an accident? Was there a mine? Was it sabotage? An act of terror? One such theory, propagated with great sensationalism by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst in what became known as the "yellow press," was that the Spanish were responsible for sinking the American ship. The hawkish Pulitzer and Hearst sympathized with Cuba's plight for independence from Spain, and soon the phrase "Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!" was popularized, with the intention of prodding the U.S. into the Spanish–American War.

Wreck of the U.S.S. Maine.
Other stories circulated, with boards of inquiries leading to varying conclusions: the 1898 Del Peral and De Salas Inquiry discounted mines and advised that the gunpowder explosion was caused by a fire in the coal bunker; the 1898 Sampson Board's Court of Inquiry concluded that a coal fire could not have been possible and that a mine was the culprit; the 1911 Vreeland Board's Court of Inquiry found that the arms explosion was triggered by an external explosion, likely a mine, but their evidence differed from that of the 1898 Sampson Board; the 1974 Rickover Investigation, a private inquiry, examined photographs and ship plans and concluded that there was no external breach, and that spontaneous combustion in the coal bunker must have caused the magazines to explode; the 1998 National Geographic Investigation utilized the technology of computer modeling to assert that the damage to the ship's hull pointed away from an initial munitions explosion, but stopped short of claiming proof of a mine; and, in 2002, the History Channel Unsolved History Investigation landed on the side of the coal-bunker fire as causing the ignition of the gunpowder. 

Finally, a few pointed toward a "false flag" theory, speculating that the U.S. sank its own ship and sacrificed its sailors to justify war against Spain and to protect Cuba (or, to lay claim to the island in place of the Spanish).

While any of the aforementioned events are plausible, the true cause of the sinking of the Maine remains a mystery. And who gives a damn? History is history, and we have a wonderful cocktail to enjoy, called "Remember the Maine." 

So, what is the link between libation and liberation?

Charles H. Baker’s 1939 book, The Gentleman’s Companion: Being an Exotic Drinking Book or Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask, is understood to be the first in which the Remember the Maine cocktail is mentioned. Baker's description includes a reference to the 1933 coup against the government of Gerardo Machado by General Batista during the "Revolt of the Sergeants" (Batista would, much later, be defeated by Fidel Castro's revolutionaries):
“Remember the Maine, a hazy memory of a night in Havana during the unpleasantness 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.”
We can only surmise the connection between cocktail and the course of history, but perhaps having a drink in Havana in 1933 and hearing, as described by Baker, the siege of the Hotel Nacional, was enough to stir memories of the former "unpleasantness" with the Maine and the Spanish–American War. In any case, let's get to the booze.

I tried this recipe numerous times, with varying ingredients and ratios, and landed upon a combination that I think is well-balanced and pleasing. It's the kind of drink that can be experimented with, by using different ryes (I tried James E. Pepper 1776 Rye and Rittenhouse Rye, both 100 proof, as well as Old Overholt -- all do well) or vermouths (Carpano Antica was too sweet, Punt y Mes was intriguing but not quite right, and Vya worked nicely; however, I found the best was the ever-so-slightly bitter Cocchi Vermouth di Torino), and even absinthes (I used Kübler, because it is the bottle I have on hand). However, you can't do without the Cherry Heering, as there really is no substitute.

Remember the Maine

3 oz rye whiskey
1 oz sweet vermouth (try Cocchi Vermouth di Torino)
2 tsp (10 ml) Cherry Heering
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) absinthe (or, rinse the glass and discard)
Maraschino cherry

Charles H. Baker himself eloquently instructs: "Stir briskly in clock-wise fashion -- this makes it sea going, presumably! -- turn into a big chilled saucer champagne glass, twisting a curl of green lime or lemon peel over the top." 

My preference is a maraschino cherry -- especially one prepared by Luxardo. Just what the doctor ordered. Of course, it is all a matter of personal taste.

Bottoms up -- and, Remember the Maine!

1 comment:

  1. this was a very interesting diversion for my evening. Part history, unpleasant war-time facts, and part pleasure. Perhaps the history behind the pleasure?


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