Don’t Give Up the Ship Cocktail

A bad day for the Titanic

Your cocktail calendar entry for: April
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Here at The Drunkard’s Almanac we’ll be mixing the Don’t Give Up The Ship cocktail on April 15.  No, it’s not to commemorate the nominal date on which income tax returns are due in the U.S. (even though there is a cocktail for that, it’s a day when we won’t judge if you swig straight from the bottle).  Rather, it’s to pay honor to the day the RMS Titanic went down in the North Atlantic, April 15, 1912.  Paying taxes is arguably less hazardous to your health than being tossed into frigid water, despite how it may feel.  But either one is a good reason to drink.

We would note that the Titanic disaster is the most apropos source of the widely used phrase ‘And the band played on’.  They did, you see, all the way to the end in an attempt to add calm to a dire situation.  But instead we’ll recall the story of Charles Joughin, a chef onboard, who credits booze with his survival.

The Titanic

The ship RMS Titanic was built in Belfast, Ireland as the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners.  These were big ships, the Titanic itself measuring just under 883 feet.  Construction of the ship’s design was authorized on September 17, 1908 and it entered service on April 10, 1912.  As you doubtless know its service life was distressingly short.

Titanic was designed for transatlantic travel and the maiden voyage was intended to be the first of many between southern England and New York.  The ship carried some of the wealthiest people in the world as well as hundreds of emigrants from Europe heading to the United States.  The first class accommodation was designed to be the pinnacle of luxury, but the majority of passengers traveled in steerage.  Not nearly so nice, but better than available on most ocean liners of the time.  All in all there were just over 1,300 passengers on board and about 885 crew members.

They had a lot of room for cargo, so it was only natural that they had a lot of booze.  According to the ship’s manifest, they carried 1,500 bottles of wine, 20,000 bottles of beer and at least 850 bottles of spirits.  They didn’t have bars onboard as we know them today, but they had a variety of drinking and smoking rooms.  One merely had to flag down a porter to have whatever drink you wanted delivered from a storeroom that had a bartender.

The End of the Party

The party, however, did not last too long.  At 11:40PM (ship’s time) on April 14 a lookout spotted an iceberg immediately ahead.  The bridge was notified and First Officer William Murdoch ordered the ship hard to port and the engines reversed.  But it was too late and the starboard side of the Titanic hit the iceberg.  This breached five of the ship’s watertight compartments.  Problem was, the ship had been designed to withstand four compartments being breached.  You know what happened about 2:20 AM on April 15, even if you haven’t seen the movie.  We should note that the captain, Edward Smith, did not give up the ship; he went down with it.

Charles Joughin, a chef and the ship’s chief baker, was off duty and in his bunk when they hit the iceberg.  He felt the shock and got up immediately.  When word came that lifeboats were being readied he sent 13 men up with food provisions for the lifeboats.  He then began forcibly throwing recalcitrant women and children into available lifeboats.

Joughin was assigned to captain Lifeboat 10, but he never boarded.  Once Lifeboat 10 had been put in the water he went to have a drink, quickly downing a tumbler half full of booze.  After that he was likely the last to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic when he threw about 50 overboard to act as flotation devices.

Eventually, though, he ended up overboard and became notable for surviving in the frigid water for an exceptionally long time.  He treaded water for about two hours and claimed to hardly feel the cold thanks to the booze he’d imbibed.  Eventually he was pulled on top of a capsized lifeboat and survived, a monument to the preservative powers of liquor.

The Don’t Give Up the Ship Cocktail

While staying onboard the Titanic was not a viable option, the Don’t Give Up the Ship cocktail still seems appropriate as Drink of the Day.  We don’t know the precise inventor, but it first appeared in print in Crosby Gaige’s Cocktail Guide and Ladies’ Companion in 1946.

It was largely forgotten until around 2004 when it was reawakened at the Zig Zag Café in Seattle, who we also have to thank for returning the Last Word to the modern cocktail vernacular.  It’s a strong and bracing drink, but one in which Fernet Branca, a bold ingredient, plays nicely with its companions in the glass.

We should also note that there’s a mezcal-based variation done in true Mr. Potato Head fashion.  Andrew Rice, at Attaboy in New York, substituted mezcal for the gin and called it the All Hands On Deck.  That’s another good one to try when you’re rallying the troops.

don't give up the ship cocktail

Don't Give Up the Ship Cocktail

A potent recipe that first appeared in 1946 within Crosby Gaige's Cocktail Guide and Ladies' Companion, the Don't Give Up the Ship cocktail makes good use of Fernet Branca. The influence of both sweet vermouth and Curacao tame this sometimes unruly ingredient, creating a pleasant bitter and sweet balance. If you would like to try another variation simply substitute mezcal for the gin as Andrew Rice did at Attaboy and you'll be drinking the All Hands On Deck cocktail.
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  • Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
  • Add ice and stir to chill.
  • Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
  • Express orange twist over drink and drop peel in.
  • Drink.
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