The Doctor Funk is an interesting summer cooler that I don’t feel gets nearly the attention it deserves. In one sense it stands entirely alone: While the whole Tiki genre pretends to be Polynesian only the Doctor Funk actually is Polynesian. Almost. We’ll get to the story in a bit but first we need a brief introduction to the key ingredient of the Doctor Funk; absinthe.
No spirit is more misunderstood than absinthe. To understand what it really is we have to peel off layer upon layer of myth about this most unusual spirit. While often thought to have magical hallucinogenic properties absinthe, also known affectionately as “the green fairy”, is simply a strong neutral spirit infused with two key botanicals – anise and wormwood. Although originally Swiss it gained an enormous popularity in late 19th century France especially amongst those of a more Bohemian outlook. While it was simply strong (45-74% ABV), available and dirt cheap it soon got the blame for all of societies ills much as gin had in England a century earlier. Absinthe even got the rap for Vinnie van Gogh slicing his ear off, although we now know that had more to do with him being as mad as cheese. When a Swiss farmer murdered his family in 1905 after drinking two small glasses of absinthe (never mind the seven glasses of wine, six glasses of cognac, two creme de menthes, a brandy coffee and a partridge in a pear tree) enought was apparently enough: Bans on absinthe were in force in much of Europe and the US before the outbreak of the Great War. In fact Pernod, Ricard and Herbsaint (which is very nearly an anagram of absinthe) are simply de-wormwooded absinthes created to comply with the ban. Being outlawed for the best part of a century has only added to the absinthe mythos and it was that air of notoriety that fostered a cult following† in the 1990s around Hill’s absinth from the Czech Republic where there had never been a ban. Hill’s was pretty nasty stuff and was a completely different product that lacked the anise component and was astonishingly bitter but that didn’t stop if from becoming a popular underground bravado shooter. At least this had the effect of the bans being gradually lifted in the early naughties as science investigated and dismissed all of the alleged psychotropic effects. Thankfully the green fairy is now fully rehabilitated with much more authentic formulations coming out of France, Switzerland and further afield. As a general rule a spelling of absente or absinthe (with an “e” at the end) denotes the real stuff and please do take care as there is still a lot of BS absinthe out there. I particularly like the Grande Absente 69 brand for mixing. It is an extremely powerful flavour and usually used in very small amounts – such as in a Sazerac – so a small bottle (100ml or 350ml) is probably all you’ll ever need. I find it helpful to consider absinthe as a type of bitters and I find an atomiser loaded with it to be the most convenient method of dispersal – although in this case we’ll be using a whole teaspoon of the stuff.
Let’s get Funky.
Legend has it that this drink, or at least something like it, was created around 1890 in Samoa by a German gentleman whose name it takes. Doctor Bernhard Funk was the physician to the Scottish writer and traveller Robert Louis Stevenson, author of a couple of slightly popular books such as The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Treasure Island and Kidnapped and who spent his later years there. Mr Stevenson was a frail and sickly fellow and Dr Funk created a drink to provide him some relief from the sweltering heat. I’m totally buying into this theory as I can affirm that the Doctor Funk works admirably in this capacity and is my cooler of choice on those extremely rare days when the mercury hits 30ºC here in Amsterdam. It’s unlikely that the original recipe included rum but once Tiki legends Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic got their hands on it a few decades later it most certainly did. It’s a cracking little tiki drink that serves as a friendly introduction to the green fairy yet it somehow hasn’t quite found its place in modern cocktaildom such as, for example, the Jungle Bird. Let’s see if we can change that. I’m going to be exploring some variations of this drink soon but for now let’s familiarise ourselves with the classic version based on the recipe in Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s indispensable Tiki manual, Remixed!
1.5oz / 45ml white rum (some recipes allow for darker rum – your choice).
0.75oz / 22ml fresh lime juice.
0.5oz / 15ml grenadine (preferably home-made).
1 teaspoon / 5ml absinthe (I used Grand Absente 69).
Shake with ice and strain into a tall glass or goblet full of ice. I prefer a mixture of crushed and cubed ice for this drink but either would do.
Add 1oz / 30ml soda water and stir in gently.
Garnish with a mint sprig. Feel free to Tiki it up a bit.
Toast the good Doctor and his illustrious patient.
†To which must admit to being a part of as a young man.
*Or should that be Doktor Funk?