taking your tipple’s temp
Nov. 12, 2009 4:06 pm
Updated: Nov. 21, 2009 9:18 am
Back when America was just a pup, it was seriously awash in booze. I’m talking late 18th, early 19th centuries, when people were regularly drinking with the dawn and carrying on well into the evening, when presumably they fell on their noses.
President Thomas Jefferson, for one, was sure that we might help ourselves simply by switching from spirits to wine. He said, "Wine is, in truth, the only antidote to the bane of whiskey." And also, "No nation is drunken where wine is cheap."
Meanwhile, another person whose name you might recall from the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Benjamin Rush, (I just googled the document, and there’s Dr. Rush, just to the right of the loopity-looping K of John Hancock), was creating a Thermometer of Drink, basically an annotated list that ranks potable liquids (alcoholic and non-alcoholic alike) according to how moral they are.
Dr. Rush divided the list into temperance drinks and intemperance drinks. Water and milk top the temperance drinks, not surprisingly. But wine and beer also make the temperance list.
According to Rush’s thermometer, we can expect wine to offer "cheerfulness, strength and nourishment," but take care to enjoy it "only at meals, and in moderate quantities." This advice sounds thoroughly modern and suspiciously reasonable. I can imagine my own doctor saying something like this to me.
But as we dip below zero on the thermometer, we hazard into the intemperate drinks. That’s when the real fun begins. First, punch, then toddy and grog, followed by flip and sling...until, finally, we come across a cocktail that I'm particularly fond of, "bitters, infused in spirits." Which I assume is another way of saying "old fashioned."
As I read the list of "vices" associated with "bitters, infused in spirits," I am alarmed to discover that I’ve been living as dangerously as I have dissolutely. According to the notations, I have moved well beyond obscenity, am full on into fraud, and am leaning in tantalizingly close to anarchy.
To be fair, anarchy ranges more closely toward "morning drams," as we might expect. And morning drams brings us just a hair’s width from "hatred of just government" (which I have to assume means “government that is just” rather than “hatred of government, sure, but only government; everything else I adore.”)
Ultimately, when at last we’ve slid all the way down the thermometer to arrive at “pepper in rum,” we find that things have deteriorated to the point of…MURDER! What an unexpected twist, eh?
Luckily, I would not think of peppering my rum. Or at least not until now. But for the time being at least, it's probably best to just dig a toe hold in at “bitters, infused in spirits.” And for those wishing to join me on the doorstep of anarchy, here's a favorite rye Old Fashioned recipe.
sick and wrong