I love how pop culture can be used to expose folks to ideas that they have not heard before. It is always interesting to hear classic psychology, ethics or logic problems suddenly enter the pop lexicon because someone took the time to write them into a script. A couple of years ago The Good Place introduced folks who had not taken sociology to the classic Trolley Problem and it clearly got them thinking about what really did constitute the greater good, and that is a net positive. Recently, Wandavision brought the conundrum of the Ship of Theseus to the forefront and that got me to thinking, not about this drink, but something near to it. So, in the spirit of not knowing where one thing begins and another ends, won’t you join me now as we stand and make, the Lady Washington.
This drink comes to us from Ariana Vitale who created it for Rider in Seattle’s Theodore Hotel. Sadly, Rider has been closed during Covid, yet another place where we won’t gather to drink again. We still have this excellent recipe, though. The drink is a relatively recent addition to the lexicon, so I was not expecting to find much history here, but I was pleasantly surprised. I assumed that the name had something to do with the Emerald City being in the state of Washington, but it goes deeper, well at least the part below the waterline does, anyway. The Lady Washington was a sailing ship, a 90-ton brig that set sail out of Boston in 1787 as part of the Columbia Expedition to become the first U.S. flagged ship to travel around Cape Horn. She would continue up the coast to become the first recorded ship to make landfall in Oregon and the first non-native vessel to circumnavigate Vancouver Island. After trading along the Pacific Northwest coast, she would go on to become the first American vessel to visit Japan, Honolulu and Hong Kong. She would continue to trade in the Pacific for a decade before sinking in the Philippines in 1797.
After so many firsts, it seemed a shame for Martha Washington’s namesake ship to have its story end there. Luckily, it did not. Two hundred years after it first left Boston Harbor, the Lady Washington was rebuilt at Grays Harbor and the replica now serves as Washington State’s Tall Ship Ambassador. It is an impressive ship which you have most likely seen in action on the silver screen in Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Trek Generations and The Great American West or on your television, appearing in Revolution, Blackbeard and Once Upon a Time. What does this have to do with the drink? I am not quite sure, let’s make it and see if we can find the thread.
Grab your tins and pop in 1 ounce of brandy, I chose Dunill XO; 1/2 an ounce of St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, 3/4 of an ounce of grapefruit juice, 1/4 ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and 1/4 ounce of honey, I chose Captain Rodney’s aged in Corsair Rye Whiskey Barrels. Add ice and give it a good shake to “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, cause it is a great shaking song, it’s from Seattle and remember that tall ship in the video? That’s the Lady Washington, in all her glory. When your tins are proper cold, strain into some pretty stemware and top with some Spanish Cava sparkling wine, I chose Los Monteros. Garnish with some lemon peel strings without noticing that they almost totally disappear in the drink.
That’s a damned fine drink named for what appeared to be a couple of damned fine ships. It’s light and airy and refreshing, just as we have come to expect from class of drinks, but this one has some nice depth as well. The brandy comes through and this is definitely reminiscent of the classic Champagne Cocktail, but that St. Germain sets it apart as something more. With the sweet and citrus elements it is impossible to not make comparisons to the French 75 which, apparently, sets the bubbly cocktail standard. The surprising thing is just how forward the grapefruit is and how well it grounds this drink. Seriously, there’s a lot going on here and it comes together wonderfully.
For those who did not watch the final episode of Wandavision or get stuck in a logic class in college, the idea of the Ship of Theseus is a classic problem concerning what gives a thing its identity, metaphysically speaking.
The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalerus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.Plutarch
My friend Robert put it way more succinctly when pointed out that the last original member of the band Foreigner had retired and been replaced. Asking at what point does Foreigner quit being Foreigner? I am not going to delve into when it becomes a tribute band or what gives the ship its identity, or whether a river is the place or the water in it or whether it is still my grandfather’s axe once I’ve replaced the handle and the head. There are literally libraries filled with books to help you sort this out on your own, but it does intrigue me how drinks play into this idea. This cocktail was clearly inspired by those that came before it. They share certain elements, but they are different constructions. When does a drink depart from the plan far enough to be its own new thing? We ran into this last week with the Old Cuban and the Old Jamaican, two drinks that share the same class of ingredients in differing styles constructed in slightly different ways. On paper they are essentially the same drink, but they have different results. This drink combines a couple of others to make something new.
Unlike the Lady Washington that currently sails the Pacific Coast, which shares the same construction plan as the original but it comprised entirely of new elements. The replica has the form of the original, but not the soul or spirit or whatever the inanimate object versions of those would be. Although, one could argue that a ship is not an inanimate object, but a collection of inert elements brought together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. A ship that cuts through the sea like a massive, creaking animal, as the wind pulls it across the surface. So, maybe a ship has a soul after all and Lady Washington feels that connection to her forebear lying on the bottom of the sea near Luzon half a world away. It does give one pause, perhaps, you should retire to the weather deck with a drink in hand to listen to the wind in the rigging and ponder things a bit. Even if it feels like the first time, don’t worry, it’s not urgent. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, me hearties, yo ho!