When you’re a vagabond like me, it can be really hard to meet new people and make friends. Being a Steampunk, I’ve already got a tribe, it’s just a matter of finding them!
Luckily for me, the Midwest seems to be a hotbed of Steampunk activity. This past summer, the first Motor City Steam Convention was held in Detroit and the active and friendly community in Michigan decided to take it one step farther this weekend. Folks gathered together Saturday night to enjoy a Victorian style salon, an event that organizer Salathiel Palland told me should become a regular event if all goes well.
My partner in crime for the evening was my sister-in-law, and we arrived a little late for the festivities so we didn’t get in on the initial mingle. Good thing there was plenty of time between activities and at the end to schmooze. The first talk by Shetan Noir about a bit of local folklore was already going when we arrived, but we still got to learn about a creature called The Nain Rouge (Red Dwarf) that is either an early warning system, or actually responsible for any number of disasters in Detroit’s storied past.
Next up, we enjoyed a musical interlude by Richard Harper. He chose a few songs that people at a salon really would have heard during the steam era, and did a great job of giving us background behind the composers and the individual pieces. Not to mention the performance itself, which was awesome and perfectly suited to the occasion.
And the night just got better as Chris Gregurich and his lovely assistant (a mustachioed cowboy whose spurs jingled delightfully as he was being gently twisted and knocked around for our benefit) gave us a little lesson in bartitsu. For the uninitiated, this was a pretty vicious fighting style developed in an era when guns and swords were outlawed in the city, but every gentleman had a cane. But don’t take it from me! I took some videos (sorry about the quality…). You can also find out more about the many different kinds of trainings they offer at the Capital City Martial Arts website.
Ted and Kate Jauw finished out the evening with one of my favorite things, a lecture about booze! I’d had the Sazerac cocktail on my to do list for Booze Glorious Booze for a while, and I got the skinny on every ingredient in the drink. Glad I didn’t bother with boring old internet research! You can count on seeing a post dedicated to this lovely drink later this month. Thanks Ted!
One of the ingredients in a Sazerac is absinthe, and Kate’s family actually makes their own. Both Ted and Kate discussed the role of alcohol in remedies by herbalists, and the anti-pagan pathos that led to the well-known assertion that the wormwood in absinthe would drive you mad. Everyone got a chance to sip their own little glass of extract of absinthe and it was a delectable anise-y treat to cap off the evening.
I can’t wait for the next one!
This yummy little concoction, either called ‘Aviation’ or ‘The Aviator’ depending on the source, is as pretty as it is tasty, though you probably don’t have the ingredients on hand.
The name comes from the distinctive “sunset” look you get from the purple cocktail and the deep red of authentic maraschino-soaked cherries. No, not those weird sugary things you used to get in your Shirley Temple that are made by brining the fruit, but a delightful burst of dark cherry flavor laced with a kick of maraschino liqueur.
The other special ingredient you won’t find in your average home bar is crème de violette. Flower-flavored liqueurs were all the rage during the steam era, but fell out of favor somewhere in the 20th century about the same time that floral breath mints gave way to mint ones. Crème de violette could still be found in France and sometimes in the formerly French-occupied areas of the American South, but for the most part it became almost impossible to acquire for several decades. In 2007, an entrepreneur named Hans Alpenz started to import the liqueur to the US, and the recipe for Aviation was dusted off in high-end bars all over the country.
If you get technical, this exact cocktail wasn’t recorded for the first time until 1917, so most precisely it’s a drink that could possibly show up in Dieselpunk setting more than a Steampunk one. Still, crème de violette was definitely popular during the steam era, and the Victorians were no strangers to manned flight, so I think it deserves a home here in my Booze, Glorious Booze series.
Bottoms up 🙂
“The green fairy” first twinkled into existence in 1792 in the hands of a French doctor named Pierre Ordinaire (yep, his name was basically Pete Normalguy but with a better accent). He was looking for a delivery method for wormwood, which at the time was thought to have healing effects. By 1797, Ordinaire sold his recipe to a Swiss father and son team, who eventually moved production to Pontarlier, France in 1805. Absinthe production rose to as high as 400 liters a day over the following decades and mostly in service to a growing demand by elite imbibers, but this was nothing compared to the demand create by the “absinthe fever” that took over mid-century Bohemia.
During the 1850’s, many artists and writers turned to this spirited spirit to find their muse, and by the 1870’s people from all walks of life were drinking it. In addition to being a jolly good time, absinthe was also used to fight off bacterial infections. In those days the water quality for the average French urbanite was very bad, and people added alcohol in order to “purify” before drinking. Believe it or not, wine was actually more expensive than absinthe, so many poor people saw it is the economical choice. Adding water to absinthe also has the strange effect of making it cloudy, so absinthe-water would be a delightfully minty green color.
One American city started a long-lasting relationship with absinthe as well. New Orleans embraced the green fairy as early as 1869, and within a few years was known as the “Absinthe Capital of America.” Special absinthe cocktail lounges opened all over the city, and local brands like The Green Opal and Legendre were born. At a bar called The Absinthe Room, the owner installed a special fountain that dripped the diluted alcohol over lumps of sugar and into waiting glasses. These lounges attracted several notable end of century figures such as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Oscar Wilde.
While something that calls itself absinthe is available in the US, the truth is that it’s missing the special ingredient: wormwood. Though many European countries do not restrict its sale, the original recipe for absinthe is considered toxic by the FDA. I tried some old world absinthe during my travels and I didn’t think it was all the special, personally. Maybe I needed to be drinking alone and staring at a canvas or something, but my muse was pretty mute. Absinthe tastes very strongly of anise, so if you aren’t a black licorice fan I’d stay steer clear.
Have you ever had a run-in with the green fairy? Leave a comment below!
Even though my imagination lives in the steam era, I sure love living in the internet age. People can pretty much study whatever they want, and make that cool info available to the public.
Take the good folks over at Loyola Marymount University, for instance. They have created a handy dandy tour of the history of alcohol consumption to amuse and inform. Check it out and scroll down a bit to see a great accounting of the use (and abuse) of alcohol and the measures taken against it through history.
You may have noticed I have been on a bit of a vacation during the holidays. Between the loss of electricity to my kitchen, working in retail over the final Xmas crunch and hosting family for a span of 10 days, I figured I could slack off a bit. Never fear, I will be back in January with 3 posts per week as usual. For now, here is a bit of history on that sparkliest of holiday imbibables, champagne.
Fizzy wine has a long history, but we won’t linger on its origins (unless you want to, then click here). The most interesting part of its tale, like so many other things we take for granted nowadays, was during the Industrial Revolution. It had enjoyed a long tenure as a drink for royalty in the French and English courts prior to the 19th century, but due to advancements both in travel and fermentation technology its presence became more widely spread. This is not to say your average pie peddler or lady of the night was enjoying it, but the newly emerging group of wealthy merchants and factory-owner types meant that there was a wider market for luxury goods. They would buy champagne as a mark of their new fortunes, which made it mark of social status and something to which people would aspire.
This meant that people would serve champagne at times that were highly visible and they could broadcast their status to the most people, which included weddings and New Year’s Eve parties. As with many holidays, New Year’s has pagan roots and these festivals were often traditionally celebrated by drinking wine, and champagne soon became the wine of choice for ringing in the changeover from one year to the next. And as an added bonus, it is hard to drink champagne quickly due to the bubbles, so it is less likely that you will have unruly, drunken guests when champagne is on the menu.
Unless the champagne is served in a coupe rather than a flute. The flute is the tall, narrow glass most-often associated with champagne. The shape minimizes the surface area, which makes the carbonation last longer. A coupe, on the other hand (which resembles an ordinary cocktail glass of the Victorian era, see image left) has a broad bowl shape, which releases the bubbles much faster (and is much easier to spill).
Have a Happy New Year, and see you in 2016!
While I was doing my research on the origin of the Gin and Tonic, I also found out a great little tidbit about James Bond’s drink of choice. I am a big fan of Martini’s, be they gin or vodka, regular or dirty (with olive juice). And, just like the secret agent, I also prefer mine shaken, not stirred.
The Martini actually started life known as The Martinez. The story goes that a miner during the California Gold Rush hit it rich in 1849. He was on his way to San Francisco, but stopped off in Martinez, CA, on his way. He wanted to celebrate his good fortune, so he ordered champagne. Unfortunately, the bar didn’t carry it, but the bartender told the miner he had something even better to offer, and made him “The Martinez Special.” The miner liked it so much that he ordered a round on the house for the whole bar.
When the miner later arrived in San Francisco, he ordered a Martinez Special. The San Francisco bartender, of course, had never heard of this drink, as the Martinez bartender had actually made it up on the spot with the booze he had lying around. The miner said it was made of three measures of gin, one of vermouth (also known as “strong wine” at that time), add ice and stir. The San Franciscans also loved the drink to much that it began to spread around the city, and later the world. But, Martinez Special was too difficult to say, so it got shortened to Martini. Later, the Italian company, Martini and Rossi, began marketing a special vermouth meant for this particular cocktail.
The roots of the iconic glassware we drink our Martinis out of today actually predate the drink. Cocktail glasses had stems, like wine glasses, in order to keep the drink chilled without needing ice in the glass (and so watering down the drink). The conical shape was also part of the traditional cocktail glasses of the era, but over time they were altered slightly and morphed into a more specific shape with a longer stem and wider rim. The larger mouth of the glass allowed the gin to oxygenate more, thus improving the flavor and allowing the different botanical elements to present.
Be sure to check back for more of the Booze, Glorious Booze series, and please enjoy your Martinis responsibly.
It has taken 10 years, but gin has grown on me. I had a hard time getting past the pine tree scent, and I am allergic to limes so the classic gin and tonic with a twist of lime was out of my reach. Nevertheless, family members are fans so eventually I was won over. I knew a little about gin and it’s place in London’s poor society going in to this research, but I had no idea about its origins.
The earliest confirmed gin distillation was in Holland in the 17th century. Dutch chemists sold it as a medicine to treat a number of ailments such as stomach ache. They later started to add the juniper flavor to it in order to make it more palatable. This flavor is the deciding factor in what makes gin, gin. Most spirits have strict rules when it comes to the recipe and distillation process, but to qualify as gin, all it needs is to be predominantly juniper-flavored. Some recipes infuse the alcohol with the botanical flavors during the distillation process, while others add the flavor in later. Either way you end up with “gin”, and there can be lots of other flavors such as citrus or cucumber in there as well. And despite gin’s long history, juniper is very rarely cultivated so the tons of juniper berries used every year to make gin are picked wild.
This spirit found its way from its country of origin to the United Kingdom through the military. During the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), British troops who were stationed in Holland, where they were offered a swig of “Dutch courage” to keep them warm. After the conflict was over, they brought bottles of gin back to the Motherland, and pharmacists also began stocking it as a remedy. At this time, the distillation of spirits was tightly regulated so the quality of gin was very good. However, in 1689 the ban on home distillation was lifted by William of Orange when he took the throne. Gin was cheaper than beer or wine, so it soon outstripped the old favorites and became the drink of choice for London’s poor. By 1736, the government tried to intervene by raising the levies on gin as well as making the minimum quantity available for purchase to be 2 gallons through the Gin Act. The general public rioted in response, and the law was disdainfully and widely broken.
In 1742, the Gin Act was repealed and replaced with new regulations which were easier to swallow for producers, sellers and patrons. Licenses to sell gin were still required, but the levies were more reasonable and the quantity was at the sellers discretion. These changes led to interest by larger, more respectable companies who elevated gin’s social status out of the East End gutters and into fashionable parlors. “Gin Palaces” arose, giving well-to-do fans of the drink a luxurious place to enjoy it. This was in contrast to beer shops, which were darker, quieter and aimed at poorer patrons.
In a funny twist, gin ended up going back to its roots as a medicine in the mid-1800’s. At this time, Britain had the largest empire the world has ever seen, and British officers were occupying posts in many exotic locales all over the world. This meant that they were confronted by strange diseases, or familiar maladies in more potent strains, such as Malaria. According to an article on Slate, the treatment for Malaria at this time “included throwing the patient head-first into a bush in the hope he would get out quickly enough to leave his fever behind.”
The Spanish colonizers in the new world were introduced to a much more effective remedy. Native people employed the bark of the cinchona tree to treat a number of maladies, including the high fevers associated with Malaria. Scientists later discovered the the quinine in the bark not only could be used to treat Malaria, but also to prevent it. By the 1840’s, British troops were importing tons of quinine powder to India to protect their health, but unfortunately for them it didn’t taste very good. Soldiers would mix it with sugar and soda to improve the flavor, and so the first tonic water was born. The British soldiers and civilians had to take a dose everyday in order to ward off infection which, led to the commercialization of the drink by Bond in 1858 and Schweppes in 1870, which are still in fizzy drink business today. Gin had been making its comeback to respectability all through the 1800’s, so really it was only a matter of time before some aristocratic British officer decided to add a splash of gin to his “medicine” to further improve the taste.
Though it is really a very simple cocktail, the gin and tonic has continued to evolve. Because the definition of a gin is so wishy-washy, there are lots of specialty and small-batch versions available which draw on a number of other botanicals besides Juniper. The juice or peel of citrus fruits are often added as well. An hey, that makes it even MORE healthy because vitamin C is good for you.
So be good boys and girls, and take your medicine 🙂
Want to get more booze news? Check out my article on cider, or follow me for new articles throughout December!
That’s right friends, during this holiday season I will be bringing you the scoop on some of your favorite adult beverages. I have noticed since starting this blog that there seem to be many brands of liquor who boast a start date sometime in the 1880’s, which made me wonder about the favorite drinks of the steam era. I’ll start us off with that most festive of fall libations, cider.
First of all, apple cider and apple juice are NOT the same thing. Accept no substitutions! When it comes to enjoying non-fermented cider, it must be opaque in order to be really good. There is generally no added sugar and no filtration, though often it does get pasteurized. It goes really well with sweet spices such as cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.
Generally speaking, I am a beer or whiskey gal myself, but I also love hard cider. Cold and fizzy in the summer, or hot and spiced in the winter, it is a versatile and yummy companion to a variety of foods, but especially sharp cheeses and salted meats. Apples are a natural source for making an alcoholic beverage due to their high levels of sugar, and the result is something with the same approximate alcohol content as beer or wine. For centuries, people in Europe, and later in North America, would mix cider with their water in order to kill the nasty germs, and John Addams (the second US president) was known to drink a whole tankard of cider with breakfast every morning because he believed it was good for his health. Perhaps he was right, because he lived to the ripe old age of 90 during a harsh era in history!
People in the young United States were enjoying so much hard cider in fact, that it was railed against in sermons. But in an interesting twist, cider was actually one of the good guys during the 1820’s temperance movement. Some advocates believed that cider and beer were good alternatives to spirits, which were so much stronger. There was a new wave of temperance advocates following the American Civil War, and they successfully banned alcoholic beverages for a short period in 1919, but the popularity of cider began slipping long beforehand.
Any American school kid can probably tell you the story of Johnny Appleseed, but for my readers hailing from elsewhere here is the story we all learn as children. Once upon a time there was a man named Johnny Appleseed. He wandered throughout the countryside planting apples because he loved the land and the people so much he didn’t want them to starve. He was a simple man who preferred to go barefoot and was totally without pretense, and is known as one of the great American folk heroes. In truth, Mr. John Chapman’s intentions were not quite so noble, though the barefoot thing does seem to be historically accurate. During the period of America’s westward expansion, all a person had to do in order to claim land was to improve it in some way. This was usually done by building a house, but occupancy could also be proven by the planting of fruit trees. By the time Chapman died at the age of 70 in 1844, he had managed to claim over 1200 acres of frontier for himself by scattering his seeds. In an interesting side note, Chapman spread no “seeds” of his own, so there were no children to take over his vast estate upon his death.
And he wasn’t the only one using apple trees this way. Many people planted apple trees on their new farms, but they probably weren’t intending to eat those apples. Apple trees are a very interesting anomaly in the plant world because even if you plant a seed one from one type of tree you do not end up with the same variety. Unless there is intervention from humans, the apples of each individual tree will be unique. The only way to achieve an orchard of the same type is through grafting a bit of an existing tree into a sapling. So between Johnny and the other settlers who simple scattered seeds, huge swathes of the Western United States became covered in a wide variety of trees that produced different types, quantities and qualities of apples.
I grew up in apple country. I have many fond memories of going to apple orchards on weekends or on school trips. In addition to sometimes having pumpkin patches and hay rides, you can usually get raw apples, apple cider and a wide variety of apple products such as my favorite, apple butter. Apple cider donuts are also often available and if you haven’t ever tried them you haven’t really lived. Wow, I am making myself hungry. I’d better go down to the kitchen and rustle up some breakfast to wash down with some nice, cold apple cider.