For April 4 we’re mixing the Death & Taxes cocktail because it’s the day in 1772 that Tsarina Catherine the Great repealed the Beard Tax in Russia. The edict of former Tsar Peter I was a relic of the past and whiskers were again free to flourish. The record is thin on just how many beards sprang into existence, but it couldn’t have been good for barbers or the purveyors of razors. They certainly needed a drink.
The Beard Tax
There have been plenty of regulations governing hair over the course of history. Many still exist, particularly with respect to military personnel and other government employees. But when it comes to beards Tsar Peter I of Russia wins the prize. There are legends of other beard taxes, like Henry VII of England supposedly imposing such a tax, but the historical record doesn’t bear it out. And Henry wore a beard. Peter I’s Beard Tax, however, is well documented.
Peter I instituted a beard tax in 1698 as part of his effort to bring Russian society in line with Western Europe. He sought to modernize Russia and its governance to better compete with Western European powers, so he based his plans off what he considered more modern models. Just how beards play into all that is a bit sketchy, but he figured he could make some money for the State and he went ahead.
To enforce the ban on beards he authorized police to forcibly and publicly shave those who refused to pay the tax. To some this was a big deal, as many believed it a religious requirement for men to wear a beard and the Russian Orthodox Church considered being clean-shaven as blasphemous.
Those who paid had to carry a “beard token” which was basically a coin with a Russian eagle on one side and the lower portion of a face with a beard on the other. The whole thing was a bust, raising an average of only 3,566 rubles annually from 1705 to 1708. Most men just decided to shave rather than pay to keep their beards.
The beard tax languished for years, and it wasn’t until 1772 that a later Tsarina, Catherine the Great, repealed the whole thing and whiskers again ran wild and free.
Death & Taxes Cocktail
Determining a Drink of the Day appropriate for repeal of the Beard Tax was wrought with difficulties. Razor-related drinks, like the Occam’s Razor, have entirely different meanings. There are drinks related to shaving cream that are stunt drinks we wouldn’t want to drink. Our Editorial Board rejected all those candidates and selected the Death & Taxes cocktail.
After all, the “Nothing is certain except death and taxes” quote came from Benjamin Franklin, for whom we mixed the Statesman cocktail. Death hasn’t been repealed, but it’s always nice when a tax goes away.
The Death & Taxes cocktail has a top-shelf provenance, coming from Michael Madrusan at Milk & Honey around 2009. Many consider that bar to be the single most influential bar of the 21st century and its founder, Sasha Petraske, developed the Gold Rush cocktail.
The Death & Taxes cocktail is really a variation on an old New Orleans classic, the Vieux Carre. It basically substitutes Scotch whisky and gin for rye whiskey and Cognac, and leaves out the decidedly New Orleans-ish Peychaud’s Bitters. This drink should be served up rather than over ice like the Vieux Carre, but that’s really up to the user. You do you.
Death & Taxes Cocktail
- 1 oz Scotch Whisky
- 1 oz Gin
- ¾ oz Sweet Vermouth
- ¼ oz Benedictine
- 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.
- Express twist over drink and garnish glass.