To celebrate John Steinbeck’s birthday on February 27 we’ll be mixing up his favorite cocktail, the Jack Rose.
Of course you all know John Steinbeck as a man of words, one of the great contributors to the American literary canon and winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature. Not many folks bang out sixteen novels and 33 books altogether, especially when such work includes vaguely comedic pieces like Tortilla Flats and Cannery Row, novellas such as Of Mice and Men and true epics like The Grapes of Wrath. After all, he was from Salinas, from a well-off family that helped him avoid the worker struggles of that era.
“Writers are a little below clowns and a little above trained seals.” – John Steinbeck
Writers and Drinking
There appears to be something about drink unleashing creative energy for writing, and your correspondent is not the first to notice. After all, modern American literature is full of drunkards. In 1988 the late psychiatrist Donald Goodman, MD, wrote Alcohol and the Writer. As he noted, “…writers drank a lot – maybe more than anyone else.” At the time of publication, when you consider the US-based Nobel Prize in Literature winners that were actually from the U.S. and writing in English (Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, Pearl S. Buck, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Saul Bellow) it turns out that five of seven were serious drinkers. There were practitioners across the pond as well, notably Sir Kingsley Amis for whom we mixed up the Suffering Bastard.
Even great writers who didn’t win the Nobel Prize – Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allen Poe, Truman Capote, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson and others – drank with vigor. Dr. Goodwin’s theory, in fact, is that there is some nexus in which writing, schizophrenia and alcohol meet. He said “creative writing requires a rich fantasy life; loners have rich fantasy lives – the ultimate loner is the schizophrenic who lives in a prison of fantasy. Alcohol promotes fantasy”.
Being a writer, of course, Steinbeck said it more eloquently when in The Log from the Sea of Cortez he wrote “…to the race in general, alcohol has been an anodyne, a warmer of the soul, a strengthener of muscle and spirit. It has given courage to cowards and has made very ugly people attractive. There is a story told of a Swedish tramp, sitting in a ditch on Midsummer Night. He was ragged and dirty and drunk, and he said to himself softly and in wonder, ‘I am rich and happy and perhaps a little beautiful’”.
The Jack Rose
But enough of quotes from great author-drinkers. It’s time to get to the Drink of the Day. For John Steinbeck this is easy: his favorite cocktail, bar none, was the Jack Rose. As noted in Hemingway and Bailey’s Bartending Guide, the Jack Rose is for “the brandy drinker who also happens to be a champion of the working class.” That’s Steinbeck alright, both the author and the drink being true American classics, while other iconic figures like Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn also counted it among their favorites.
As usual, when drunks are involved multiple stories exist about the origin of the recipe. Some like to claim it relates to “Bald” Jack Rose, a notorious gangster. But that falls apart when one notes that the drink was famous long before he was. Of the remaining claimants, the two leaders are Frank J. May and Frank Haas. May in fact took out an ad in the Police Gazette sometime in 1905, claiming to be “better known as Jack Rose, [and] is the inventor of a very popular cocktail by that name.” But Frank Haas was a bartender at Eberlin’s on Wall St. and all the way back in 1899 a reporter wrote about drinking a Jack Rose at Eberlin’s, with Haas claiming in an interview to have invented the drink. So based upon dates our Editorial Board believes the Haas story is the most credible.
Either way, this is a solid, pre-Prohibition cocktail that enjoyed its heyday in the last decade before the abominable 18th Amendment. As usual the Drink of the Day utilizes only ordinary household supplies. It’s just a slightly fancy apple brandy sour and is quick and easy to assemble. Here’s how you do it:
- 2 oz Laird’s Apple Brandy
- 1 oz Fresh lemon juice
- ½ - 1 oz Grenadine
- Add ingredients to your trusty cocktail shaker.
- Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
- Strain into a pre-chilled coupe.
- Rinse and repeat. Especially if you want to improve your odds of winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.