June 23 is Alan Turing’s birthday so we’re naming the Enigma cocktail as Drink of the Day. The drink, of course, is in recognition of his role in cryptography during World War II when he successfully led efforts to decode German messages encoded by the Enigma machine. It certainly led to shortening the war and saved countless lives, but it’s hardly the only significant thing he did. All in all he was a mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptologist and theoretical biologist of the highest order. For all practical purposes he created the field of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.
Alan Turing was born on June 23, 1912. Like most math prodigies his ability quickly became apparent, and the headmistress of his primary school noted that she “…had clever boys and hardworking boys, but Alan is a genius.”
By 1936, before he went to graduate school, he created a formal definition of algorithms and hypothetical devices now known as Turing machines. That provided the central concept of the modern computer. He also proved there is no solution to the decision problem posed by David Hilbert. Some scholars have called it “easily the most influential math paper in history”.
During World War II Turing worked on cryptology at Bletchley Park, most notably at breaking Nazi Germany’s Enigma code. He and a colleague designed a machine called the Bombe which aided in breaking the code in which ciphers changed daily. He went on to develop techniques to decode more complex signals, particularly the naval Enigma communications.
It’s hard to estimate the precise effect of this on the war, but war historian Henry Hinsley estimated that it shortened the war in Europe by two years and saved over 14 million lives. Those accomplishments before the age of 33 are pretty impressive.
Death and Later Recognition
Unfortunately, the story does not end happily. Turing was gay and when questioned about his relationship with a friend admitted as much. He saw nothing wrong with it, but the UK’s anti-homosexuality laws resulted in charges. That led to him accepting 12 months of hormone injections instead of prison, which left him impotent. His security clearance was also revoked, which ended his career in cryptanalysis.
He went on to do groundbreaking work in mathematical biology but died of cyanide poisoning at the age of 41. His death was attributed to suicide, but others maintain it was accidental from cyanide he kept in his home lab.
The Enigma story remained classified until the 1970s so the extent of Turing’s contributions wasn’t known until well after his death. The techniques Turing used and described in two papers were so valuable they weren’t declassified until 2013.
In 2013 charges against Turing were overturned and he received a Royal Pardon. In 2017 the UK passed a law that retroactively pardoned gay men convicted under the historical laws. It’s known as the Alan Turing Law.
The Enigma Cocktail
Turing’s work in breaking the Enigma was one of his most important achievements, so we’re mixing the Enigma cocktail on his birthday.
The drink itself comes from the Longroom Bar in Ponsonby, Auckland, New Zealand. It was the brainchild of Darren Mynes, who started bartending in New Zealand in 2012 after coming from Dublin, Ireland. He studied as an engineer but found his higher calling as a bartender.
The Enigma cocktail is similar in construction to the Remember the Maine cocktail we mixed in honor of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It differs in whiskey choice, using a well-peated Scotch instead of Rye, and replaces Absinthe with Yellow Chartreuse and some Peychaud’s bitters.
- Nick and Nora or coupe glass
- 1½ oz Scotch Whisky Use a well peated scotch, one from Islay. The original recipe calls for Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Original, but that specific bottle is in no way required.
- ⅔ oz Sweet Vermouth
- ¼ oz Cherry Heering
- ¼ oz Yellow Chartreuse
- 1 dash Peychaud’s Bitters
- Garnish: Orange 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 place in glass.
- Pour in the direction of your liver.