For August 7 we’re mixing the Scottish Play cocktail, a real Shakespeare drink. You see, it’s the likely day in 1606 that Shakespeare’s play Macbeth was first performed. You’ve heard of Macbeth, it’s one of the Bard’s most famous plays. But what you may not have realized is that it’s also known by the euphemism The Scottish Play because its name MUST NOT be spoken inside a theater.
The play Macbeth is afflicted by the Scottish Curse. Speaking its name inside a theater, other than as called for in the script during rehearsal or performance, will cause disaster. There is a cure if such an incident occurs, and we’ll get to that shortly. But curses and disasters require a stiff drink so we’ll also be mixing the Scottish Play cocktail. Far less dangerous than saying “Macbeth” inside a theater.
The Scottish Play and the Scottish Curse
Witches and witch hunts were big in 16th century Scotland. King James VI of Scotland was into it. It may have started when his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots got her head lopped off in 1857. It certainly picked up when James was nearly drowned at sea in a 1859 storm when he was sailing back to Scotland from Denmark.
James blamed the evil spells of witches for creating the storm so he ordered a witch hunt. When he became King James I of England in 1603 his new subjects were in the mood to appease him and his views on demons. Shakespeare’s Macbeth appeared in 1606 and referenced James’ nautical misfortunes: “Though is bark cannot be lost, Yet is shall be tempest-tost.”
The Bard was serious about this, and apparently researched the practices of witchcraft in depth. The chants in Macbeth are genuine and the ingredients eye of newt and toe of frog are essential witch pantry staples. This supposedly did not amuse the witches, who were none too pleased with the use of real spells in Macbeth. So they did as witches do and put a curse upon the play.
Legend has it that the play’s first performance was full of mayhem. The actor playing Lady Macbeth apparently died. An actor supposedly died when a real dagger was used instead of a stage prop for the murder of King Duncan. A falling stage weight only narrowly missed Laurence Olivier at the Old Vic in 1937.
Fortunately, there is a way to break the curse if the name Macbeth has been spoken inappropriately within the theater. One must exit the theater, spin around three times, spit, curse and then knock on the theater door to be let back in.
The Scottish Play Cocktail
The Scottish Play cocktail is an obvious choice as Drink of the Day. Sure, there is a Macbeth cocktail, but it’s clearly not safe to order if your theater has a bar. The Scottish Play avoids sending you outside to spin, spit and curse and joins drinks such as the Rob Roy, the Rusty Nail and the Penicillin in things we like to mix using a Scotch whisky base. Because it’s served up in an Old Fashioned glass it also bears a resemblance to a Sazerac.
The Scottish Play cocktail recipe emerged from experiments in creating Negroni variations. It comes from Aaron Butler of the Russell House Tavern in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It combines Laphroig, a heavily peated, smoky Scotch with the herbal component of Cynar. Drambuie brings in a bit of balancing sweetness and Aperol’s citrus elements sharpen the overall package. It may sound strange, but it really works.
Scottish Play Cocktail
- 1¾ oz Laphroaig A famously heavily-peated whisky, we strongly recommend using it. That said, if you're out you can try another whisky from the Islay region.
- 1¼ oz Cynar
- 1 oz Aperol
- ⅛ oz Drambuie
- Orange twist
- Add ice to Old Fashioned glass to chill the glass.
- Add all ingredients other than orange twist to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Discard ice from Old Fashioned glass. Strain drink into chilled glass.
- Express orange twist over drink and discard. The twist has given its all.