Death in the Gulf Stream

2 – 3 oz Bols Genever
Peel and Juice of 1 Lime
4 Large Dashes Angostura Bitters
1 tsp Sugar (optional)

Remove the peel from the lime, taking as little of the pith as possible
Muddle the lime peel in the lime juice
Fill a collins glass with crushed ice
Dash the Angostura into it
Add lime juice and peel, then genever, stir

* * *

We begin on a boat.  A sport fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico, to be specific.  It is January, sometime in the mid 1930s, and we find ourselves skipping the current alongside two giants of the mixological mythos.  The first of these titans, Charles H. Baker, is somewhat the worse for wear, here on his second day fishing the Gulf Stream.  Baker, along with his wife, a companion, and (in his own words), an insane steward, have ferried down to Key West to collect recipes from a friend for Baker’s forthcoming cookery book (“The Gentleman’s Companion: Knife, Fork, & Spoon”).  The friend – second and larger of the titans – is Ernest Hemingway.

As much as Hemingway knew about food, he knew even more about drink, and, in short order, he fixed up Baker with a reviver of his own invention — the Death in the Gulf Stream.  Having recently contributed a Champagne-Absinthe duet called “Death in the Afternoon” to the tongue-in-cheek celebrity cocktail tome “So Red the Nose, or, Breath in the Afternoon”, Hemingway’s (or was it Baker’s) name for our titular concoction was obviously a play on the earlier drink, as both were reached for after a bit of nautical unpleasantness.  As it turns out, both do the trick rather nicely.

It’s in this meeting of Charles H. Baker and Hemingway that 12 Bottle Bar finds its muse for 2011 – or, at least, the overriding theme to which we will be returning time and time again over the year.  For some, this will be the Year of the Rabbit; for us, we’re celebrating the Year of the Sportsman.  See, despite their collective literary magnitude, Baker and Hemingway are interesting to us for another reason — specifically, those days in the Gulf, trophy fishing.  It was sport, not their chronicles, which brought them together in drink.  And, it is sport that has done the same throughout history.  From John Morrissey and his (in)famous Saratoga Club House to Tom and Jerry’s encounter with Jacco Maccaccoo, the dog-fighting monkey.  Yes, it is sportsmen (and women… and monkeys) which we’ll be celebrating this year – from the seedy Dickensian underground to the luxury boxes of the finest turf clubs (sorry, Frisbee golfers, you’ll find no quarter).  We are also going to seek out some of the more arcane and obtuse beverages – delicious drinks which have been forgotten or those that buck convention and are all the better for it.

Such as Hemingway’s Death in the Gulf Stream.  With its four large dashes of bitters, copious amount of Genever, and no sweetener to speak of (Hemingway tended to remove sugar from his drinks, but he was a raging alcoholic;  Baker permits one teaspoon, which dulls the sharpest part of the edge), this is a drink that is meant to be assembled on the back of a boat, during the bucking of a gale.  There are no finicky measurements required, as the original recipe attests:

Take a tall thin water tumbler and fill it with finely cracked ice.  Lace this broken debris with 4 good purple splashes of Angostura, add the juice and crushed peel of 1 green lime, and fill glass almost full with Holland gin… No sugar, no fancying.  It’s strong, it’s bitter – but so is English ale strong and bitter, in many cases.  We don’t add sugar to ale, and we don’t need sugar in a Death in the Gulf Stream – or at least not more than 1 tsp.  Its tartness and its bitterness are its chief charm.

Again, I find that the scant allowance of sugar helps.  What’s more important, though, is Baker’s comparison of this drink to ale.  Chief among the reasons we chose Death in the Gulf Stream – a balmy weather tonic, if anything – to kick off 2011 is that, as the NFL playoffs continue and the Super Bowl looms (not to forget the Scottish Premier League, for our friends across the Pond) is because it makes a great, butched-up substitute for beer.  Sure, it’s out of season, but so is Budweiser.  At that is key to the point.  Can any of us doubt that Hemingway would have drunk what he wanted, when he wanted?  Damn the bell and its infernal tolling – so will we.

Death in the Gulf Stream also happens to be a remarkable showcase for Genever, which we’ll be featuring over the next couple of weeks.  Here in Los Angeles, with the richness of Christmas drinks still lingering while temperatures return to their normal highs, I found myself craving Genever as the perfect bridge spirit – beefy and funky enough to withstand the winter chill, yet spicy and lively enough to awaken the palate.  We’ve been remise in doing a proper feature on Genever, and no time seemed more apropos.  As luck would have it, there are few drinks which provide a more accessible approach to the spirit than Death in the Gulf Stream.  Even Charles Baker was converted.  As he writes “Drinking Holland gin is like the fanciful cliché about eating olives – when you like one you always like them.  For many years we had hated the stuff with a passion, holding its taste to be like fermented radishes mixed with spirits of turpentine.”  Hemingway’s little reviver changed that way of thinking, of course, and rightfully so – it’s a sportsman’s drink to satisfy a sportsman’s thirst.  Or, as Baker noted: “It is reviving and refreshing; cools the blood and inspires renewed interest in food, companions and life.”

Which is exactly how a new year should begin.


10 responses to “Death in the Gulf Stream

  1. Of course, you should be using a key (aka Mexican) lime! Less juice, more fragrance.

  2. of course, my friend, and this is but simply a semantic advisory to yet another terrific read, but to begin on a boat in 2011 and then jump to January in the mid-1930’s in the very next sentence…well, I have to admit that I was splashed with the proverbial bowspray of confusion and had to stumble to regain my footing…

    jah love,


    • JimBob — that’s a very good bit of editorial insight. I’ve remove “2011” from the first sentence; it should read better now. That’s the great thing about a blog, I’m allowed to both make mistakes and fix them. Thanks for the feedback.

  3. Well, I got some genever at last so onward and upward. That must have been one heck of a boat trip… I have made Hemingway’s absinthe drink and it is delicious…. thought about turning it into a ‘punch’ one of these days… frothy deliciousness with a killer alcohol content… what could be better! Can’t wait to try this one after I get some bitters.

    • Like Hemingway’s daiquiri, it’s dry and tangy and certainly quenches a big thirst. Will be curious to hear what you think of it. We’ll be doing all genever for this week and next, so you’ll find many uses for that bottle (the Holland Razor Blade is a great place to start as well).

  4. Another great photo. 🙂

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