It’s January 29 so we’re mixing the Breakfast Martini for W.C. Fields’ birthday. You see, in 1880 William Claude Dukenfield, who you know as W.C. Fields, emerged from the womb. Turns out it’s also William McKinley’s birthday.
One might consider it a tough choice, and while McKinley enjoyed drinking that aspect of his life was largely kept under wraps due to the insanity of the temperance movement during his presidency. There is a cocktail known as McKinley’s Delight that was conceived around the time of his nomination. But we already covered the Remember the Maine cocktail on October 22 in recognition of the Bay of Pigs invasion. It turns out they’re really the same thing so we’ll abandon that path for today. Besides, W.C. Fields is a prodigious source of good one-liners about drinking.
The W.C. Fields Story
Born in Darby, Pennsylvania, Fields apparently did not get along too well with his father and got in the habit of running away. He ended up embellishing the stories of his childhood and depicted himself as a runaway who lived by his wits on the streets of Philadelphia. Despite what he said, his childhood is believed to have been reasonably happy overall. He never got beyond grade school but developed a facility for juggling. He started doing performances and in 1898 he adopted a costume of a scruffy beard with shabby tuxedo and entered vaudeville as a “tramp juggler” using the name W.C. Fields. He was good at it: by the early 1900s he was often called the world’s greatest juggler. Unfortunately juggling and drinking do not generally mix well, so that stunted his development.
Fast forwarding through Broadway and silent movies, Fields’ first appearance in a major studio film was International House in which he played professor Henry R. Quail. The protagonist was flying his autogyro to Kansas City, got drunk and confused, and wound up in China. Hilarity ensued. This film was released only months before the repeal of Prohibition (see Drink of the Day December 5). It nailed down his brand for good: an irascible, misanthropic drunk. The drinking part actually fit. There is a story that during Prohibition Fields and a friend drove out to Long Island to pick up some bootlegged Irish whiskey. On the way back, three bottles in, they noticed that Long Island seemed awfully long. By the time they sobered up enough to focus they were apparently in Florida.
When his film career took off his drinking followed. One of his famous lines, “I exercise extreme control. I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast” was true. That said, it’s also true that he tended to rise around 9AM and start the day with two martinis. He was well known to be soused on the movie set. He always brought a flask filled with gin to work but explained that it was pineapple juice. When a studio employee once refilled it with actual juice he took a swig and bellowed “Somebody’s been putting pineapple juice in my pineapple juice.” Let’s face it, he drank often and mostly martinis, saying “I work better with them inside me.” His staff estimated he drank about two quarts of liquor a day. As he once said, “what contemptible scoundrel stole the cork from my lunch?”
Despite saying “Now don’t say you can’t swear off drinking; it’s easy. I’ve done it a thousand times” our protagonist kept at it the rest of his life. At his rate that included a prominently red nose from rosacea. In his last days a friend visited his room and was surprised to find him thumbing through a Bible. When asked what, as a devoted atheist, he was doing with a Bible Fields replied “I’m looking for loopholes.”
The Breakfast Martini
So where does this leave us in terms of our Drink of the Day? We’ve touched on martinis a few times already, both with FDR and Winston Churchill. But we haven’t yet had a Breakfast Martini so that is now declared as Drink of the Day.
This isn’t quite what our protagonist actually had for breakfast, but the active ingredient is the same and that’s close enough for our purposes. The Breakfast Martini itself was created in 1996 by the long-term president of the United Kingdom Bartender’s Guild, Salvatore Calabrese. Salvatore normally had nothing more than an espresso for breakfast, but one day his English wife insisted he eat some breakfast and set out some toast and marmalade, which prompted the idea. That day he took the marmalade to work and perfected the recipe. The recipe itself is along the general template of a sour, like the Rock and Rye or the Rattlesnake cocktail.
Your correspondent will advise that if you’re prone to solid food in the morning this will pair well with hash browns. For drunkards that is most readily accomplished by firing up the waffle iron and throwing tater tots right in. Heat and squish until browned and crusty.
- Add gin and marmalade to shaker.
- Stir until marmalade dissolves.
- Add Cointreau and lemon juice.
- Shake until frosty cold.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass. And please, double strain to avoid bits of orange peel in your drink.
- Garnish with orange twist and toast.
- Ponder your already productive day.