The Trainspotter cocktail is Drink of the Day for January 13. That’s because it’s the anniversary of Johnny Cash holding his concerts at Folsom Prison and releasing one of the greatest live recordings of all time, Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison.
Sure, for January 13 we could celebrate things like National Peach Melba Day, the Greek flag design being accepted or the the National Geographic Society being founded. But none of these are anywhere near as cool as the Man in Black.
Cash’s first prison performance was at San Quentin State Prison in 1958. As one of his drummers remarked, “One thing he liked about playing prisons. If he did something the audience didn’t like they couldn’t leave.” But as his career started to flourish he began to drink heavily and became addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates. He also started to get in trouble here and there, landing in jail seven times for misdemeanors. But these were just one-night stays.
Cash at least got songs out of his jail stays, writing Starkville City Jail after trespassing private property late at night to pick flowers. He was last arrested in 1967 when after a car accident police found he was carrying illicit prescription pills. Sheriff Ralph Jones gave him a long talk and warned him about the danger of his behavior and wasted potential. Cash credited that experience with helping him turn his life around.
His career needed revitalizing by then and he decided to record a live prison concert album. Record company executives thought he was nuts and it took a management shake up at Columbia Records to make it happen.
On January 13, 1968 Johnny Cash recorded two shows in a packed cafeteria at Folsom State Prison. The Man in Black walked up to the microphone and started the concert with those famous words: “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” The crowd went wild. His first song, of course, was Folsom Prison Blues. He released two live prison albums, first Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison followed by Johnny Cash at San Quentin. These were huge hits and in 1969 he even eclipsed the Beatles by selling 6.5 million albums.
The Trainspotter Cocktail
When we look for a drink to honor the Folsom Prison concert first thoughts turn to pruno, or prison wine. You know, prison hooch, the drink of the socially condemned, the brew made from fruit salad, sugar, bread, ketchup, or whatever else you have that’s fermentable. If you are so inclined this is easy enough to do at home using the wikiHow recipe. But we’re not a wine review site and stick to cocktails.
Our Editorial Board went through a rigorous process to pay tribute to Mr. Cash and selected the Trainspotter cocktail. You see, trains were something of a recurring theme. The song Folsom Prison Blues starts with the line “I hear the train a-comin’; its rolling ‘round the bend.” And another track on the album, Orange Blossom Special, was named after a train by that name. We briefly considered the Orange Blossom cocktail but tend to stay away from drinks that use orange juice. Just a bias on the part of our Editorial palates.
The Trainspotter itself was invented by Thomas Newcomb at The Continental Room in Fullerton, California. It was first reported by the late Gaz Regan, the author of The Joy of Mixology and developer of the Satan’s Whiskers recipe we published. He named the Trainspotter cocktail to his list of 101 Best New Cocktails in 2013.
Newcomb considered the Trainspotter a variation on the Brooklyn cocktail (rye whiskey, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur and Amer Picon). Like the Brooklyn, it’s a spirit-forward drink blending both bitter and sweet flavors with a Rye whiskey base.
- 2 oz Rye whiskey
- ¾ oz Elderflower liqueur
- ½ oz Cherry Heering
- ¼ oz Fernet Branca
- Garnish: grapefruit twist
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass.
- Express grapefruit over drink and add to glass.
- Play the Folsom Prison Blues from the streaming service of your choice.
Great drink for a great song
Was leaning toward giving it 1 star as the herring gave it an overly salty aftertaste…went back and re-read the recipe…Cherry Heering. Nevermind.
Nice, wintry drink. Very Fernet forward. Need to try it with a few different ryes.