Colonial Ties Cocktail

Benjamin Franklin's kite experiment

Your cocktail calendar entry for: June
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On June 15th we’re mixing the Colonial Ties cocktail for the anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s famous kite experiment in 1752.  It’s a legendary event – with the legend far larger than truth – but it was still quite a stunt.  He didn’t discover electricity.  It had been known at least since ancient Egypt through the discharges of certain fish.  But he was among the first to realize it would have practical use beyond the parlor tricks others enjoyed.

The Colonial Ties recipe itself is simple – it’s a an Old Fashioned, mixed with elements of the Sazerac.  It splits the base between rye whiskey and Jamaican rum, both spirits available during the US Colonial times.

Benjamin Franklin and Electricity

We already know a bit about Franklin as we mixed the Statesman cocktail in honor of him first publishing Sir Richard’s Almanack [sic].  But that was in 1752.  By 1745, when he got interested in electricity, he had already retired from the printing business.

He studied it seriously with relatively simple things like Leyden jars, glass rods, silk, various metals and so on.  He attempted to explain what he observed.  But not all of those experiments went well.  In 1750 he tried electrocuting a holiday turkey to make it more tender.  But he shocked himself badly, saying “I have lately made an experiment in electricity that I desire never to repeat.”  Witnesses reported a large flash, a cracking noise and Franklin being shocked senseless.  The turkey did not issue a statement.

Somewhere along the way Franklin set out to prove that lightning was an electrical phenomenon.  He was particularly interested in this because lightning strikes had caused a lot of fires in towns where houses were made of wood.  If lightning was electrical then a lightning rod, a metal rod at the top of a building with a conductor to ground, would be an effective cure.

Lucky for him it was a pretty simple experiment.  He stood inside a shed during a thunderstorm and flew a kite with two strings attached.  The first string was made of hemp and had a metal key attached.  The second string was silk.  The hemp string got soaked and at least the end of the silk string he held remained dry.

Franklin noticed the hemp strands standing on end as they accumulated electrical charge from the atmosphere.  But when he reached out to touch the key a spark jumped to his hand.  Wha la, he had proven that lightning storms were electrical events.

How to make the Colonial Ties cocktail

Benjamin Franklin was clearly a daredevil when it came to electricity but he wasn’t too adventurous when it came to drinking.  He leaned toward wine, beer and milk punch.  But let’s face it – residents of the thirteen Colonies had it rough and they drank plenty.

Among the things available to drink at the time were rye whiskey, rum, cider, beer and wine.  But for majority of society without the means to import wine from France the only good cocktail ingredients at hand were whiskey and rum.  Rye whiskey was first distilled in 1750 in Pennsylvania and rum had been distilled since 1664 in Staten Island.

We already mixed the Jive Turkey cocktail for Thanksgiving, so we’re out of options to use the electrocuted turkey for drink inspiration.  Other drinks naming electricity, lightning or storms are largely neon-hued stunt drinks or unpalatable combinations that don’t meet our strict editorial standards.

Hence, we turn to the Colonial Ties cocktail.  After all, Franklin was a colonist and he certainly tied knots for his kite experiment.  That’s good enough for us.

The Colonial Ties comes to us from well-known bartender Eric Alperin at The Varnish in downtown Los Angeles.  Mr. Alperin got his start at Milk & Honey, the home of such drinks as the Gold Rush.  He authored Unvarnished:  A Gimlet-eyed Look at Life Behind the Bar and we used his specs for the Tuxedo cocktail we mixed on Cary Grant’s birthday.

The Colonial Ties is pretty much a split-base Old Fashioned that uses orange bitters.  It’s one of many variations, like the Oaxaca Old Fashioned or Green Hat cocktail on the most classic of drinks.  But it’s also a bit like a Sazerac by virtue of using a chilled, absinthe-rinsed glass without ice.  Either way, it’s good to electrify the taste buds.

colonial ties cocktail

Colonial Ties cocktail

Something of a blend between an Old Fashioned and a Sazerac, the Colonial Ties cocktail comes to us from Eric Alperin at Varnish in Los Angeles. It splits the base spirit of an Old Fashioned but then serves it like a Sazerac, in a chilled rocks glass without ice.
While the original recipe calls for using a brown sugar cube we find it far easier to simply employ a strong (2 parts sugar to 1 part water) simple syrup.
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  • Add water and ice to an Old Fashioned glass to chill it.
  • If using a brown sugar cube add it to mixing glass and wet with two dashes of orange bitters. Add a splash of water or soda water and muddle to dissolve sugar. Alternatively use about 1 tsp of simple syrup without added water.
  • Discard water and ice in Old Fashioned glass and add the splash of Absinthe. Rotate glass to coat the inside and discard any that has pooled.
  • Add rye whiskey and Jamaican rum to mixing glass. Add ice and stir to chill.
  • Strain into chilled Old Fashioned glass.
  • Express lemon twist over drink and discard. It has given its all.
  • Drink.
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