Here’s a drink that’s both 19th century (just) and that we have a pretty solid history for. There’s also pretty widespread consensus on the recipe. It’s not too often that all of that happens. The Ward Eight was created in 1898 Boston by Tom Hussion at the Locke-Ober bar to honor politician Martin “The Mahatma” Lomasney a candidate for the state legislature. Ward Eight was a poor part of Boston that was key to his election. The fellow won the election and some time later voted in favour of prohibition thus putting the bar out of business. There’s gratitude for you.
The Ward Eight is almost always encoded as two ounces of bourbon, half an ounce each of lemon and orange juice and a teaspoon of grenadine. But the problem is that, as written, it’s just not that good. Which is puzzling because Esquire magazine listed it in it’s top ten cocktails of 1934 (which was the first year after the end of prohibition and thus a big hairy deal). I’ve been messing with the Ward Eight for a long time, convinced that somehow it must be a good drink. I tinkered with the proportions but it still it seemed a bit lame and incoherent. Then one day it hit me like I was shot with a diamond bullet, right through my forehead – they weren’t drinking bourbon in turn-of-the-century Boston, they were drinking rye*! Talk about barking up the wrong tree! It turns out I’m not the only one to reach that conclusion and these days you can see a few of the more reputable cocktail websites calling for rye. So, yes, I should have looked a more widely in the first place. Lesson learned. With rye restored to its rightful place and with a little flexibility in the amount of grenadine (we have little idea of how sweet it might have been 120 years ago) to bring it into balance the Ward Eight is finally something worth drinking again. Our two lessons for today are a) always check around a bit for more enlightened recipes and b) never trust a politician.
2oz / 60ml rye whiskey (Rittenhouse works particularly well).
0.5oz / 15ml orange juice (strictly freshly squeezed).
0.5oz / 15ml fresh lemon juice.
1-2 teaspoons / 5-10ml of grenadine (preferably home-made)
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled Martini glass**.
Garnish with a maraschino (or amarena) cherry or two.
Toast Tom Hussion, creator of the Ward Eight.
*The near extinction of American rye whiskey for much of the past century explains the switch to bourbon in this and other cocktails. Thankfully rye is back in vogue and should be subbed back in where appropriate – which is generally any whiskey cocktail originating in the northern part of the USA in the years before prohibition.
**I know I’ve railed against the V-shaped Martini glass but the Ward Eight is always whispering to me that it wants to be served in just such a receptacle. Given its age and experience who am I to argue? Other such demands are received for the Martini, Aviation, Manhattan and Corpse Reviver #2.