Charles H. Baker was, in every sense of the word, a bon vivant. A charming writer who had the good fortune to marry into a good fortune, Baker devoted his life to traveling the world and documenting the finer sorts of food and drink. His two-volume Gentleman’s Companion: Being an Exotic Cookery and Drinking Book, published in the 1930s, details his travels in flowery prose, offering a charming account of each and every recipe he encountered on his voyages.
During the past twenty or so years, bartenders and cocktail archaeologists have pored over Baker’s recipes, entranced by his eloquent writing and, amazingly enough, incredible cocktail recipes. See, it’s not common to find such a tome, replete with original recipes that actually, you know, taste good.
One such drink found in his first volume is the Remember the Maine. The name is reminiscent of a popular yellow journalism slogan from the late 1890s (“Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!”) that arose after the U.S. battleship Maine sunk in Havana Harbor precipitating the Spanish-American War—although no concrete evidence convicts Spain of actually blowing up the Maine.
Despite its namesake, Baker actually chronicled a drink he found while in Havana during Cuba’s 1933 revolution, which he described as, “the unpleasantness of 1933, when each swallow was punctuated with bombs going off on the Prado or the sound of 3-inch shells being fired at the Hotel Nacional.” Additionally, the drink doesn’t actually include any Cuban or Spanish ingredients, but is rather a simple Manhattan variation. Rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, cherry liqueur and absinthe comprise this potent tipple.
My problem with the drink always came from my insistence that the ingredients be a lot fancier than needed. I made this drink for years after discovering it in Baker’s book, only to be disappointed in my selection of full-flavored whiskey (usually big high-proof bombs like Rittenhouse 100, Knob Creek rye, and Wild Turkey 101—great whiskies all, but too big for this particular libation) and overly flavorful sweet vermouths such as Carpano Antica Formula. But after a visit to a well-regarded New York cocktail bar many years ago and sipped its take on this classic, I saw the value of using a palette of more subtle, simple ingredients. The drink shines in a way I think would make Mr. Baker proud.
Remember the Maine
2 oz. Old Overholt rye
¾ oz. Cinzano or Martini and Rossi sweet vermouth
2 tsp. Cherry Heering
½ tsp. Pernod absinthe
Combine ingredients with ice cubes and stir until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a brandied cherry.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.