A massive, sudden explosion lit up the late Havana evening. Such is how we remember February 15, 1898, and such is how the USS Maine met it’s tragic demise. Who did it? The question remains to this day, but it’s no secret that a willing lapse in journalistic integrity stoked a thirst for violence, and war came to both the United States and Spain. American newspapers at the time beat the drums of war with the slogan, “Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain,” and a conflict that would touch the far corners of the Earth, and quickly end with Spain’s defeat and Cuba’s independence, began. It was over 30 years later when another intrepid journalist, one Charles H. Baker, in the midst of another revolution in Cuba, soothed his frazzled nerves in a Havana bar with a drink fittingly named Remember the Maine.
Baker’s account of his encounter with both revolution and cocktails can be found in his volume, The Gentleman’s Companion: Being an Exotic Drinking Book or Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask, the second in his 2 volume set concerning worldwide food and drink. It’s a great and amusing read if you can find it, but we’re concerned mostly with his time in Havana, and the delicious cross between a Manhattan and Sazerac he found there.
On paper, the recipe doesn’t seem like it would be as good as it is, but made with care, the Remember the Maine is an exceptionally well balanced cocktail, and gets sweetness from both sweet vermouth and cherry liqueur. Using a high proof rye is a wise move here, but be warned, this is a drink of Hemmingway proportions; high in alcohol and easily consumed. Oh, yeah, it has absinthe in it, too. Our absinthe choice is Haint, as you might expect, and our choice of rye is, no surprise, James Oliver. James Oliver is a 100 proof rye, and seems almost designed for drinks like this, but the real star of the show is the vermouth. We tried this with various choices, and found it absolutely comes alive when using Ransom Sweet Vermouth. Ransom Sweet Vermouth is perfect all by itself, and if you enjoy vermouth straight, it’s definitely for you, but when mixed in a Remember the Maine, it adds a dimension others can’t match. Maybe it’s the alcohol content in the finished drink, maybe it’s the Clear Creek Cherry Liqueur, but, whatever it is, it’s the key ingredient.
Even though it’s named for a tragedy, and the resulting slogan of revenge, the Remember the Maine is a quality drink that deserves remembering, and pouring. Spare yourself the experience of revolution and pour one at home. It’s just easier that way.
The recipe is given 2 ways, Baker’s original, and our preferred version.
The Charles H. Baker Remember the Maine
2 oz Rye
3/4 oz Sweet vermouth
2 barspoons Cherry liqueur
1/2 barspoon Absinthe
“Stir briskly in a clockwise fashion - this makes it sea-going, presumably!”
The Portland Pour Remember the Maine
2 oz James Oliver Rye
3/4 oz Ransom Sweet Vermouth
1/2 oz Clear Creek Cherry Liqueur
2-3 dashes Haint Absinthe
Stir and serve up. Garnish with a lemon twist.