January 4 is Newton’s birthday and for the occasion we’ll be mixing the Alchemist cocktail. Here we mean Isaac Newton, the eminent figure born in 1642. Not the Fig Newton, the pastry born in 1891. Nonetheless, January 16 is National Fig Newton Day if you’re interested.
But back to our protagonist Isaac. He was, of course, famous, one of the greatest mathematicians and most influential scientists of all time. You’ve heard stories about an apple falling on his head. His role in developing calculus was probably drummed into your head in school.
But what you may not have known is that he wasn’t all analytical science. Legend has it that he invented the cat door. Apparently he had a carpenter at the University of Cambridge cut two holes in his door so he wouldn’t have to get up to let the cats out. One for the mother, another smaller door for kittens. This, of course, provided fodder for Irish writers who criticized the incompetence of the British, not realizing that the kittens would follow the cat through the same hole. The story is highly suspect but as they say, when the legend becomes fact print the legend.
What is certain is that he was also into alchemy and other mystical practices. So today we’re going to focus on the Dark Isaac and mix up the Alchemist cocktail.
Yes, it’s true that Newton developed seminal works on calculus, optics, gravitation, equations of motion, and published his Principia Mathematica by the time he was 25. But his scientific work may have had less personal importance to him than studies of the occult and rediscovering the wisdom of the ancients.
Newton began to study alchemy at a young age, at a time when chemistry was largely undeveloped and mystical. His writings indicate one of his main goals was discovering the philosophers’ stone, a mythical alchemical substance capable of turning base metals like mercury into gold. Along with this came the search for the Elixir of Life. Newton believed that metals possessed a sort of life, that the whole cosmos is alive, and that gravity is caused by emissions of an alchemical principle he called salniter.
Most alchemy practices were banned in England during Newton’s lifetime, due to unscrupulous practitioners swindling people and the Crown fearing devaluation of gold. Punishment sometimes involved hanging, so Isaac kept this on the lowdown and didn’t publish that side of his work. A lot of it, an unknown amount really, may have been lost in a fire within his laboratory.
Upon his death Newton’s manuscripts passed to the husband of his niece who involved a physician, Thomas Pellet, to evaluate them. Pellet found a lot of them to be “foul draughts of the Prophetic stile” and were unpublished. It took until 1936, when Sotheby’s auctioned off Newton’s manuscripts, for the alchemy work to become apparent.
The manuscripts were purchased by the famous economist John Maynard Keynes. After studying them he opined in 1942 that “Newton was not the first of the age of reason, he was the last of the magicians.”
The Alchemist Cocktail
Sir Isaac Newton as a closet alchemist inspires us to turn to that side of his work for cocktail inspiration. We have a fondness for alchemists here at The Drunkard’s Almanac. After all, the roots of modern distillation began with the work of Persian alchemists during the 8th century. Their methods are still in use today.
The Alchemist cocktail itself was created by the late Gary ‘Gaz’ Regan, a bartending legend and prolific author. He penned important works such as The Joy of Mixology and The Bartender’s Bible and developed the Alchemist recipe in 2011.
The Alchemist cocktail recipe does call for a somewhat obscure orange liqueur: Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur. Don’t be intimidated by this, it’s a supporting player rather than a star in the drink. You can substitute Cointreau or Grand Marnier. The Solerno liqueur adds the taste of orange juice to that of the peel but it’s not critical.
- 1½ oz Scotch Whisky The original specifies Balvenie 12 Doublewood, so stay away from Islay bottles.
- 1 oz Lillet Blanc
- ½ oz Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur Cointreau or Grand Marnier as substitutes.
- 2 dash Orange bitters
- Garnish: Lemon twist
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with lemon peel.