April 1, 2013. I put on my temporary neck tattoo and rode my velocipede down to Powell’s bookstore the other day. Luckily, there’s designated parking throughout most of downtown Portland for velocipedes, and I took the next to last one available. Dodging through the mass of newspaper sellers, itinerant players of Trevelyan’s Rocker, and stand-ins for the cover of Shearwater’s magnificent album “Rook”, I quickly found my way up to the rare book room. I often visit this room for some peace and solitude, as all the books in this room are over $20.
While idly browsing the stacks of books, I was startled to find one pushed to the back of the shelf, as if someone had wanted to hide the book from the gaze of mere mortals. Even more startling, the cover was not affixed with multitudes of bird stickers. Though the print was barely legible, I could make out that it was a Eighteenth century book of “Divers Receipts for the Manufacture, Blending and Drinking of Chymically-Flavoured Neutral Grain Spirits at Modest Proof”. Knowing my velocipede was safely parked outside and that I had removed the seat, the large wheel, the tires and the chain to deter thieves, I settled down to peruse the curious little book.
Plant, grow, ferment, and distill eaux de vie from lemons, strawberries, and Douglas Fir on-site in the greenhouse on the terrace of your Brooklyn loft. (Must be on-site. Must be Brooklyn.) Sweeten the lemon eau de vie with fresh cane syrup. Infuse the strawberry eau de vie with squirrel (fresh only!). Combine. Hand craft a barrel out of staves rescued from your father's first yacht and age spirits in barrel for six weeks or until you've grown bored and moved on to your next artisanal project, whichever comes first. Empty barrel, and heart. Combine contents of barrel (but not heart) with handmade raspberry shrub (with raspberries plucked from your significant other's father's estate) and authentic Maraschino liqueur. In a mortar and pestle, mash with pickled cranberries overnight. Strain. Ferment in the gullet of a hoatzin, the Guyanese stink-bird (for that touch of Demerara smoke!). Kill and gut bird; double strain. In Erlenmeyer flask, add tartaric acid (fresh squeezed only!) and Demerara syrup, then smash the flask over a rotary evaporator and evaporate its contents rotarily. Convert the remaining liquid into a spray and serve out of an atomizer inserted into the mouth of a grenadine-rinsed and hand-taxidermied squirrel (eastern gray only!). Splash Fernet Branca (or other difficult amaro) until fragrant. Serve up.
Now, I could tell you, gentle reader, that I spent a fine afternoon in and amongst the aroma of old paper and unwashed clerks. But I did not. I found something in this book that made me retreat to my mode of transportation and hie back to my home bar. Evidently, someone had scribbled a “receipt” in the margins of this book for a drink they called a “Wild Squirrel Sex Manhattan”, and I enclose it here for you.
Now let’s talk for a little about how this drink works. This is obviously a very early Manhattan variation, where the author has substituted “chymically flavored” vodka for Bourbon, Grenadine and a wave of the sweet vermouth bottle for the sweet vermouth, and Amaretto for the cherry garnish. Building it over a large quantity of wet ice does keep with the spirit of the original drink, though.
A modern drinker should keep in mind that this was probably meant as an “eye-opener”, a quick drink to start the day. Also keep in mind that tastes in that time were quite different than ours, and that exotic fruits like the strawberry, orange, raspberry, cranberry and lemon were hard to come by. The lack of garnish here accentuates the lack of real fruits, though I think a taxidermy squirrel might be a nice touch in future revisions.
I think the most important thing to think about here is the sense of balance in this drink. While it doesn’t look balanced, the midpalate of the drink is wave after wave of fruit flavors, while the tart lemon juice and amaretto provide a framework for the artificial flavors to weave in and out of. Interestingly enough, flavors of grenadine outlast all the others in a pleasant surprise.
Oh, and just one more quick note: If you’re wanting to make this drink, the first thing to do is use your mouse and hover the pointer over the time down at the bottom right of your computer screen [Ed: or top, yee of Jobian faith]. This drink tastes best on the first day of the fourth month, and should only be attempted then.
by Zachary Pearson, Editor