Remember the Maine.
I first approached the Remember the Maine with the intention if riffing on it because I hate the name of this drink so much but then I remembered how good it actually tastes and have left my riffed version for a later date in order to share this hideously named drink with you. So about that. In 1898 an American warship USS Maine exploded in Havana harbour killing most of the crew. While it was known almost immediately to be a accident (burning coal and gunpowder not being a peaceful combination) the USA decided to blame the Spanish and proceed to nab the mineral, sugar, tobacco and rum-rich colonies of the remains of the Spanish empire* for themselves. American newspapers lead the rush to war with the rallying cry, “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!” the first half of which became a cocktail name. You see my distaste I think. At least this name makes it fairly easy for us to date this cocktail as it certainly cannot predate the events of 15th February 1898. The first mention of it is in Charles H. Baker’s Gentleman’s Companion of 1939 where he writes,
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. Treat this one with the respect it deserves Gentlemen. Take a tall bar glass and toss in 3 lumps of ice. Onto this foundation donate the following in order given: 1 jigger of good rye whisky, ½ jigger of Italian vermouth, 1 to 2 tsp of cherry brandy, ½ tsp absinthe or Pernod Veritas. Stir briskly in a 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.
While there is barely a word of Baker’s that I can agree with** there are things we can deduce from his text. The drink already existed and was not an invention of Baker himself. Absinthe was banned in the US in 1912 so likely it predates the ban. The version Baker was drinking was not garnished with a cherry as it almost always is later on. And that’s a lot of absinthe compared to more modern versions! In any case I theorise that the RtM was indeed concocted immediately following the events of 1898 as the ingredients and formulation are typical of the time. The Spanish-American war war very brief and I can’t see it being in the public’s attention enough for a drink to be named this way some time later. I tried at various formulations from Baker’s to the modern and settled on the one I present you here. It’s a slight outlier in that it uses a split base of rye and bourbon while most specs call for one or the other. The cherry garnish is unshakably installed by now so I didn’t mess with it but I did try something new. I’d read a tip that mixing the ingredients of a Manhattan a day before and resting overnight in a glass bottle makes for a smoother drink so the RtM being basically a tweaked Manhattan I gave it a go. There might be something to it – I certainly notice that effect in some other things I make. That’s up to you to try here if you like but in any case:
Remember the Maine.
1oz/30ml Rye whisky (I used Rittenhouse).
1oz/30ml Bourbon (with some rye content eg. Wild Turkey 101).
0.75 oz/22ml Italian Vermouth (I used Punt e Mes).
0.5oz/15ml Heering cherry brandy.
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled Champagne coupé which has been rinsed (or spritzed) with absinthe. Garnish with a cocktail cherry (I used a real Maraschino cherry).
Toast the brief but progressive Cuban Government that Baker and the USA hated so much.
*Long in decline and certainly no angels themselves.
**For example the “the unpleasantness” included, according to Wikipedia, “autonomy to the University of Havana, women obtained the right to vote, the eight-hour day was decreed, a minimum wage was established for cane-cutters, and compulsory arbitration was promoted.” Nasty, nasty stuff alright but not to worry a US-friendly right-wing dictator was soon safely installed. Phew! /s.