A couple of weeks ago we made a lovely tiki drink called the Cobra’s Fang which I served in a huge ceramic rattlesnake mug. In honor of this most excellent mug I told a couple of stories of my rattlesnake encounters across the country. This was really just a bit of misdirection, since I did not have any Cobra stories that don’t involve Carroll Shelby in some way. I am not unhappy about that, sure I have seen Cobras at zoos, and that is close enough for me. I mean, I want to travel to places where Cobras are more of an issue, but I don’t want to meet any up close. It is nothing personal against the cobras, I am generally snake averse. The drinking world, however, is not. There are lots of drinks named for snakes and I figure that as long as I am at home and making drinks, I will work a few of them in from time to time. So, join me as we stand and make, the Rattlesnake.
While this drink may be mostly forgotten, it is a Prohibition era classic. It first appears on the 1930 publication of the Savoy Cocktail Book, from London’s swanky Savoy Hotel. I slipped in there several years ago to take a look at the wonderful art deco architecture and to escape the heat of a surprisingly hot English summer. It is a truly amazing place with a great bar where, presumably, this drink was created. Looking at this recipe, I am not surprised that it is from the 30’s or that it was created at the Savoy, in fact the only unusual thing about it is the name, since rattlesnakes are not generally a concern along the Thames or even in the surrounding countryside. The original recipe claims “it will either cure a rattlesnake bite, or kill rattlesnakes, or make you see them,” so let’s make one and find out.
Grab your tins and add 1 3/4 of Rye Whiskey, I used Crater Lake Reserve, 3/4 of an ounce of fresh squeezed lemon juice, 1/2 an ounce of Demerara syrup, 3 dashes of absinthe, I used Corsair and 1/2 an ounce of aquafaba or egg white. Throw in some ice and give it a good shake, strain from one cup to the other and discard ice before a second, dry shake. Pour into a chilled coupe and garnish with a lemon twist and a serpentesque line of 18-21 Prohibition bitters.
That is a nice drink. Not quite what I was expecting. The whiskey really pushes through but in the most genteel way. Like, it is whiskey forward but as the rye made its way through the other ingredients it was all, “Pardon me, I’m terribly sorry. Oh dear, I do hope you’ll forgive me.” Not in an English accent, but in that faux Mid-Atlantic accent of films from the 30’s and 40’s that Cary Grant did so well. Closely followed by a Rosalind Russellesque light lemon top note blithely saying “Oh bother that man, the poor fellow simply has no manners at all.” Yeah, very nice, very rich, very Savoy. Certainly better than being bitten by a rattlesnake and I speak from experience here. It is also way nicer than meeting a rattlesnake unexpectedly, whether that be in the deserts of Arizona, the mountains of Colorado, the palmetto forests of Florida or the cedar glades of Middle Tennessee. I am a little thrown by the name, but what are you going to do with tradition? Still, I could imagine lounging at the Savoy Bar, white tie and tails, reading a telegram from the states, as the liveried doorman approaches to quietly let me know my car has been brought round and my tickets for the Proms are in the glovebox. I’d thank him with a nod and ask him to have them wait, while I finish my drink, as one does. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.