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Raising a Glass for Liberty

Jack Bettridge
Posted: July 4, 2014

The holiday closest to the summer's onset—Independence Day—poses a yearly drinking conundrum: What cocktail best exemplifies the spirit of ‘76?

Cursory Google searches undercover festive-looking layers of red, white and blue that are hardly drinks meant for grown-ups. (Besides, they usually call for blue Curacao, which is not your best bet for a cigar pairing.) Beer is the great warm weather whistle weather, but doesn't sport a complex recipe ("open, drain, repeat"). Any number of citrus cocktails fit the bill as summer thirst quenchers (see the Good Life Guide in August's Cigar Aficionado), but they don't really say Americana. The name that sounds the most appropriate—Americano—is sadly not a national invention, composed as it is of vermouth and Campari.

No, we thought we'd reach back to something that made sense for the Fourth of July—the one in 1776, that is. That's a lot easier said than done. The founding fathers weren't cocktail drinkers. After a long day of debating and revising before approving the Declaration of Independence, they were most likely to have celebrated with a rum punch. But that won't do. Punches were born of England, the very place we're trying to forget.

Better to make this Fourth of July toast with a proper cocktail, our nation's gift to mixology. However, the signers of the Declaration likely wouldn't have been drinking one as the term "cocktail" didn't appear on paper until 1803. But it is the drink of democracy; when three years later it was first described in print as "spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitter," the cocktail was deemed a great electioneering potion, "because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else."

But which cocktail to drink? An Old-Fashioned makes sense, but it's typically made with Bourbon. And while it is our one true native spirit, that whiskey wasn't invented until a few years after the Revolution had ended. If whiskey was on hand at Philadelphia's Independence Hall, it would have been rye, the brown spirit of Pennsylvania, not Bourbon from Kentucky, a place that was not yet a colony.

The archetypal rye cocktail—the Sazerac—wouldn't be invented for years, but we'll drink it anyway while watching fireworks go off in the sky and our heads. This alluring libation, like America itself, is a kind of transformative melting pot. It was actually first made with France's Cognac—and here's to Lafayette while we're at it—and Peychaud's bitters, an American original. Brandy, itself, was a colonial favorite (the preferred tipple of pamphleteer Thomas Paine, among others). Rye would replace it some time later and be joined by another hint of France: absinthe, since Americanized as pastis.

As you drink them the logic will start to make sense, but if you're looking for one more American original to make the marriage perfect, consider a fine cigar.

Sazerac Cocktail

1/2 teaspoon absinthe or pastis
1 sugar cube
2 ounces straight rye whiskey
4 dashes Peychaud's bitters
1 lemon twist

Coat an Old-Fashioned glass with absinthe. Pour the excess absinthe back in the bottle, and place the glass in the freezer. Muddle the sugar cube with a little water in a mixing glass. Add some ice cubes, the whiskey and bitters to the mixing glass. Stir. Retrieve the glass from the freezer, and strain the contents of the mixing glass into the Old-Fashioned glass. Twist the lemon over the glass, and use for garnish or discard.

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