Friday, August 3, 2012

A letter from North America and the Postman Drink

On this day in 1527, the very first letter from North America is sent by explorer John Rut in St. John's, Newfoundland to King Henry VIII in England.  Remember writing letters?  Here is the opening:

"Pleasing your Honourable Grace to heare of your servant John Rut with all his company here in good health thanks be to God..."

The Historical Inebriant: The Postman


1 oz. 151 Rum
2 oz. Vodka
1 oz. Cranberry Juice
1 splash Grenadine
2 oz. Orange Juice
Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a highball glass over ice.

On this day in 1913, in one of the hottest summers ever, what would come to be known as the Wheatland Hop Riot, starts in Wheatland, California. The 640 acre Durst Ranch, advertised it needed workers during the three week hop harvest but when 2800 men, women, and children arrived seeking work, they found only 1500 jobs and the promised pay rate cut...

I tried to write about this event but it proved to be a bit long for today's post,  I will post it over the weekend since I find it interesting.  If you have time, view it on wiki.


On this day in 2007, Queen guitarist Brian May handed in his astronomy PhD thesis at Imperial College in London, 36 years after he abandoned it to join Queen.

As always, have a great and safe weekend!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Battle of Drunk River and The Cold River Shimmer

On this day in 1377, a large force of Russian troops are defeated by a smaller Mongol force in the Battle on Pyana River. Russia at that time was a land ruled by princes who would normally fight amongst themselves for power and land, but when they learned the Mongols were planning to invade the town of Nizhny Novgorod they banded together and all set forces to meet and repel the invaders.

The combined forces assembled in an area some distance from the river and waited for the Mongols to arrive, but it was August and it was hot. After a few days the troops decided to withdraw to the river to seek refuge from the heat and they also decided to seek out some alcohol to pass the time before the impending battle. When they came upon stores of Mead, ale, and beer from the locals, the party began.

As the Mongol force drew closer, they were informed of the drunk state of the Russian troops and decided to split up into five groups and surround the defending army. In the early morning of August 2nd, the Mongols launched a surprise attack and found the Russian forces either still drunk or very hung over.

Surrounded on all sides and unable to organize, most of the Russians were killed and the their commanders who tried to flee, drowned crossing the Pyana river.

Origianlly called the Piana River it became known as the Pyana (drunk) River after the battle.

The Historical Inebriant: The Cold River Shimmer


2 1/2 oz Cold River Gin
1 oz Elderflower syrup
3 oz Prosecco
Shake and strain gin & syrup, top with Prosecco.  Garnish with candied ginger

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lughnasadh, Handfastings and Bilberry Vodka

Lughnasadh, the traditional Gaelic harvest festival begins today. Originally begun by the mythic sun god Lugh as a funeral feast with sporting competitions in commemoration of his foster-mother, Tailtiu, who cleared the plains of Ireland and made them suitable for planting but later died of exhaustion.

It is a festival with tests of strength and endurance, the eating of special (fertile) cakes and of course drinking. Bonfires are lit (in the past the ashes from these fires were used to bless the fields) and the hills are scoured for wild bilberries that are used to make wine.


My favorite tradition of Lughnasadh is the handfastings, a somewhat trial marriage contract generally lasting a year and a day. When the year is over both parties have the option to renew with a formal marriage or simply walk away with no hard feelings.

Folklorist Máire MacNeill writes in her book The Festival of Lughnasa:

A solemn cutting of the first of the corn of which an offering would be made to the deity by bringing it up to a high place and burying it; a meal of the new food and of bilberries of which everyone must partake; a sacrifice of a sacred bull, a feast of its flesh, with some ceremony involving its hide, and its replacement by a young bull; a ritual dance-play perhaps telling of a struggle for a goddess and a ritual fight; an installation of a head on top of the hill and a triumphing over it by an actor impersonating Lugh; another play representing the confinement by Lugh of the monster blight or famine; a three-day celebration presided over by the brilliant young god or his human representative. Finally, a ceremony indicating that the interregnum was over, and the chief god in his right place again.

The Historical Inebriant: Jewel of Russia Bilberry
                                                        Infused Vodka

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Winning the battle but losing the war - Mark Anthony bids farewell, Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of Rum and Black Tot Day

On this day in 30 BC, the Battle of Alexandria was fought.  While Mark Antony would achieve victory over his opponent Octavian's forces on this day, his army was decimated by desertions.  Knowing he could not defend Egypt with his remaining forces, he commits suicide.  Cleopatra would follow a few days later.  Perhaps its true significance is that it signaled the last days of Rome as a great republic and the beginning of the Roman empire.


Today in 1970 was the last day of issue by the British Royal Navy of the official rum ration, it would be referred to as Black Tot Day.

Since the 1600's, one of the very few perks of being a sailor was the twice a day alcohol ration. It was a hard life, you lived in uncomfortable cramped quarters, the work was hard and the weather was harder. You had to leave your friends and your family, and there was a very good chance you would not return. So in lieu of a matching 401k, Dental or Life insurance you were given a daily ration of booze - called a "Tot".

Originally the Tot was beer and up until 1655 the Royal Navy would give you about 4.5 litres a day! Keep in mind, on a long voyage it was hard to keep pure drinking water, which often became contaminated - so beer was actually the healthier choice.  Although, on a large ship with 50 sailors at 4.5 litres of ale a day, you would need a lot of space just to store the booze. When England conquered Jamaica in 1655 and gained access to their cheap rum production a local captain started issuing a daily ration of rum instead. It was cheap, easy to store and would not turn on a long voyage.

sailor jerry tattoo

By 1740 The Royal Navy's official Tot became Rum with each sailor receiving half a pint of strong rum each day, half at noon, half at sunset. Rations were doubled before and after any battle.  After a few years is became apparent that some sailors were getting completely blotto on the stuff and by 1756 the navy started to issue "grog" rum instead.

Grog is 2 parts water to 1 part rum, mixed with lime or lemon juice, and cinnamon.  The story goes that the name “limey” (derogatory name for an Englishman) came from this practice of adding citrus juice to the rum, which enhanced the taste but also combated scurvy.

To insure that their rum had not been watered down too much, the sailors devised a test.  They poured it onto gunpowder and set a light to it, it the gunpowder still exploded it was "proof" the rum was strong.  This is where we get the current measurement of alcohol content called proof.


3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz grapefruit juice
3/4 oz honey
1 oz light Puerto Rican rum
1 oz dark Jamaican rum
1 oz Demerara rum
1 oz chilled club soda
Heat honey until liquid, then mix with juices in blender. Stir in rums and soda. Pour into a double old-fashioned galss filled with crushed ice.

It was a very somber day in 1970, The Portsmouth Evening News said:

…sailors said farewell to the last issue of Nelson’s Blood, (as rum was known in the navy), by conducting mock funerals and wearing black armbands…The annual Christmas pudding stirring ceremony in HMS Bellerophon was brought forward today so that the usual four pints of rum could be included in the 150lb mix.

Btw - Nelson's Blood (Slang for rum) is based on the story that Admiral Nelson was preserved in rum after being killed at Trafalgar, but he was actually preserved in brandy

As a side note:

The United States Navy abolished the rum ration in 1862.
The Royal Canadian Navy abolished the rum ration in 1972.
The Royal New Zealand Navy abolished the rum ration in 1990.

Put him in the bed with the Captain's daughter,
Put him in the bed with the Captain's daughter,
Put him in the bed with the Captain's daughter,
early in the morning!
Way hey and up she rises,
Way hey and up she rises,
That's what we do with a drunken sailor
early in the morning!

For More information on Black Tot Day:

A litany of deadly fates that could befall a sailor, and what should be done in such instance:

Monday, July 30, 2012

The World Cup Cocktail

Poster in Art Deco style, depicting a simplified figure of a goalkeeper making a save in its upper half. The lower half contains writing in a heavily stylised font: "1er Campeonato Mundial de Futbol" in black, and "Uruguay 1930 Montevideo 15 Julio Agosto 15" in white and orange.

On this day in 1930, The first Wold Cup final is played in Montevideo, Uruguay in honor of the centennial of their constitution. Uruguay, the host nation and winner of football title at the 1928 Summer Olympics would win the title.

The Historical Inebriant: The World Cup Cocktail


1 dash Bitters
2 ounce Brandy
1 ounce Coffee Liqueur
1 ounce Drambuie
Add ingredients into a shaker with ice and stir, strain into a cocktail glass.