Despite my more or less indisputable status as an adult, Halloween remains one of my favorite holidays. I’m now the one passing out candy instead of receiving it, but I still enjoy all the trappings of the season. Corn mazes, haunted houses, and costume parties are all good fun to be had with good friends. Carving jack-o’-lanterns – or smashing them, if you’re that sort of kid. It’s gratifying to see little ones enjoy the same harmless scares as we did and take the same joy in dressing as their hero, or a ghoul, or a fairy princess, or anything at all – absent a firm grasp of the written or spoken word, it can be a major avenue of expression for them and a happy memory.
Or, a touch more darkly: On what other day are we reminded so frequently of our own inevitable death? Monsters speak to the dangers of the world, whether disease, predation, violence, or misfortune. Imagery of skulls, weathered gravestones, and ruined houses reminds us that the works of men are so much dust, and though we may rage against it there will come a day when our eyes close forever and we are gone from this place.
All that and leftover candy, too.
As it is such a valuable reminder of our impending demise while also an opportunity to score Kit-Kat bars, I’ve always thought it was unfortunate that some choose to shun All Hallows’ Eve. The holiday (“hallow” is actually a word meaning “saint”) has been saddled with the spurious charge that it originated in paganism. For that bunkum we must thank, in a roundabout way, the unquestioned cultural hegemony of the late British Empire, and the work of its 19th century scholars. The no doubt very-finely-mustachioed fellows applied a distinctly anti-Irish, anti-Catholic bias to their uncritically accepted work, in service to a wackadoo notion that the Catholic Church glommed onto existing pagan holidays – rather than, over a thousand years or so, formalizing the pious practices of its adherents. Their speculative notions of history are so firmly implanted in the public consciousness that they are rarely, if ever, questioned. This has led many a person to wrongly – sadly – deprive themselves of the satisfaction of a lively Halloween. Perversely, that attitude has also ceded ground to the unlovely, warped, and grotesque, leaving Halloween even further from its sanctified origin as the night before All Saints Day.
(For a much, much more in-depth look at the subject, see here)
Interesting as all that might be, it’s best to avoid getting too into the weeds vis-à-vis religion, as it tends to irritate people – especially while drinking. Let’s switch gears to explore a pleasant little potion that might go very well with a horror movie or your favorite creepy novel. You might enjoy sipping it alone, at night, as you tell yourself that your locked door will keep you safe from the things watching you in the darkness.
Blackberry on Rye
- 1 oz rye whiskey
- 1 1/2 oz red wine
- 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 oz simple syrup
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 3 blackberries
To begin, gently muddle the blackberries and simple syrup in your shaker. You’ll want to break apart the berries, but don’t go all Jason Voorhees here. Add the rest of the ingredients; shake for several seconds until the mixture is very cold and a bit frothy. Pour over ice into a tumbler, making sure to double strain through a fine mesh to catch the seeds and pulp, preserving the clarity of the drink. Garnish with additional whole blackberries.
For the red wine, you’ll want to use something with a bit of depth and presence. I used the “Claret” from Virginia winery First Colony – a cheap sweet red – and picked up pleasing grape and cherry flavors throughout the drink. The color was a fantastic dark ruby. The rye played along nicely and gave it a touch of spice, but it isn’t the star. At different points along the way, this cocktail reminded me of a port, or sangria, or mulled wine. But the tart of the lemon and blackberries meant it was always refreshing and balanced.
The appeal of this drink is in its conceivably endless permutations. A more complex rye will add depth and spice, but a different wine will change the entire character of the drink. Merlot might give it a much more earthy profile, while Cabernet Sauvignon would lend more fruit and body. And from vintner to vintner the characteristics of the wine will be still more varied.
The good news is that you don’t have to uncork a bottle of $30 wine to find something that exceeds the quality of say, an Arbor Mist or Franzia. Many of the bottles in the $10-20 range on display at your grocery store are perfect for everyday drinking and for use in cocktails like these. I’d say that the less complex the wine, the better off you’ll be with this particular mix. However, this is one that lends itself to experimentation. As with all your drinking, let your own tastes guide you.