I grew up during the closing act of the Cold War. A clear idea of who the bad guys were, no doubt that we wore the white hats and had the shining armor. I remember when the Berlin Wall fell. I remember when the Soviet Union split into 15 republics, before those splintered into even more nation states. I recall people celebrating as that world ended, not with the bang we expected, but with a whimper. It wasn’t even clear that it was really over, just one day they weren’t there anymore. I remember my stoic German teacher shaking his head as he reminded me that the world had just gained 15 new nuclear powers, many with a leadership vacuum and that we lived in a much more dangerous and unsure world. That realization hit me. The previous enemy understood the simple risk and complicated peace promised by the balance of mutually assured destruction. Would the new keepers of the keys respect that balance? Do we understand it yet, nearly thirty years on? I don’t know, but it has me thinking today as the snow falls outside, so won’t you please join me as we stand and make the Nuclear Daiquiri.
This drink is relatively new on the cocktail scene, created in 2005 by Gregor de Gruyther for LAB Bar in London and is an obvious riff on the classic Daiquiri. I decided to go with it today in honor of my buddy Spencer’s birthday. He introduced me to the classic daq during his time presiding behind the copper bar at Corsair HQ. We had a great deal of fun over the years and he taught me a lot about mixing drinks and even more about people. He’s an old soul and though I am happy for him and his new life in Louisville, I miss him all the time. We passed many a Sunday afternoon plying the tourists with a tag team of fine cocktails and witty conversation. I am sure he would appreciate this over the top version of one of our favorites, though I honestly will probably just break out that bottle of American Single Malt and a big rock to toast his good health.
The drink has juice in it so we are going to shake well. Grab your tins and pop in 1 ounce of overproof white rum, I chose Wray & Nephew; 2/3 of an ounce of that lovely herbal green Chartreuse, 1/2 an ounce of fresh squeezed lime juice, 1/3 of an ounce of John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum and 2-3 drops of 18-21 Havana & Hide Bitters. Add some artisanal ice cubes and shake to the nearly perfect beat of another Cold War relic, Donald Fagen’s “New Frontier” from The Nightfly, one of the greatest albums of all time. Don’t agree? Listen to it from top to bottom and then come back when you are better educated. If you still disagree, we can fight then. Now that you are well syncopated, double strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a lime wheel.
This drink is seriously strong with that 126 proof rum and 110 proof chartreuse, so that’s perfect for the fella who was always happy to help lubricate the interactions of polite society with a proper application of alcohol. Obviously this one is alcohol forward and it is a little tart. Even though it has that falernum there it is not too sweet, a little out of balance, but it works. This drink could definitely sneak up on you, in the best way. I like it. Not as much as the “drink which shall not be named”, but what are you going to do, it is 2020.
It is funny looking back, I was keenly interested in the Soviet Union and what made them tick. I was lucky enough to be selected for the Tennessee Governors School for International Studies in 1990 and followed the Soviet Studies track. I spent that summer at the University of Memphis studying their history, learning a smattering of Russian and how to type on a Cyrillic keyboard, you know, good wholesome kid’s stuff. The plan was to follow a pre-law history track with a minor in political science and I was accepted to a couple of great programs. Life did not go to plan and I ended up on a different path, which is just as well, since the Soviet Union would cease to be, just two years later. As they say, everything happens for a reason.
It just hit me that many of my friends, including Spencer, did not grow up in that world. The Soviet Union has always lived in the pages of a history book, as removed from them as the Ottoman Empire is for me. A concept, instead of a real visceral threat. I have been thinking about growing up with the constant fear of nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Soviets, how that threat was used to keep us in line and to keep the military-industrial complex fed. How the Soviets used their construct of the evil Americans in the same way. With age and travel it is easier to see that the world was not as black and white as we all accepted back then, but has always been shades of grey, with no good guys or bad guys, just a lot of, mostly decent, humans. Folks on both sides, who were way more interested in what was for dinner or how their kids were doing than in any grand schemes to overthrow competing ideologies. That is the stuff of movies and spy novels. Most of us are more focused on the actual business of living, like sharing a drink that has no name with a friend across a copper bar as the snow slowly falls outside. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.