For January 12 we’re mixing the Waterfront cocktail in honor of Herman the Cat. Herman the Cat? Yes, Herman the Cat. He was the first feline officially commissioned by the U.S. military.
Sure, there have been plenty of other naval cats. There was Simon, the ship’s cat who served as part of the Royal Navy aboard HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident of 1949. There was Oscar, aka Unsinkable Sam, who survived three significant WWII shipwrecks before retirement. And there were others, but none of them were commissioned. They were generally conscripts picked up off a dock somewhere and smuggled aboard ship. So despite their general valor and honorable service our award goes to Herman the Cat.
Herman plied his trade directly on the waterfront as well as aboard ship, so the Waterfront cocktail, something of a highball on steroids, is an appropriate drink to toast him.
Herman the Cat
A ship’s cat has been common since ancient times, usually carried to control rodents who carry disease or consume the ship’s food supplies. No small matter when you’re out to sea. Cats have long been considered somewhat magical and the ofttimes superstitious seafaring community took to such myths. Cats were believed to have mythical powers that could protect ships and foretell weather, so they received a high level of care from the crews.
Herman the Cat was eight months old when he became part of the U.S. Armed Forces. He joined the U.S. Coast Guard in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, on January 12, 1943. He was commissioned as an Expert Mouser and issued proper identification with serial number 05225058, an “X” for a signature and a paw print. We suspect that Expert Mouser is an enlisted rather than officer rank, but this remains unconfirmed.
Herman was entrusted with unrestricted access to the port waterfront at any time of night or day. That’s no small matter during wartime. His job, of course, was to hunt every mouse and rat on the docks or aboard ships. Like the distillery cats we discussed in the context of the Rob Roy on National Scotch Day, Herman was admired for his work ethic. Our crack research team was unable to find any statistics on his number of kills. That figure remains classified but we are confident it was a substantial number.
All British Navy ships sailed with a cat on board until the 1970s, but soon thereafter it seems every navy banned cats and other animals from their ships. Not that the military gave up on cats. As recently as 2019 the Barksdale Air Force Base Honor Guard made a cat named Captain their official mascot and mouser.
The Waterfront Cocktail
The Waterfront cocktail is one to add to your arsenal of highball drinks. A few of the examples we’ve covered include the Graduate, the Tiki Time or the Mountain Suze. This one, however, is not for the faint of heart.
The recipe comes from the now-closed Prime Meats in Brooklyn, where the bar was headed by bartender Damon Boelte. According to Punchdrink, Boelte describes the drink as a “pretty aggressive highball.” It was popular among people in the industry, but as it caught on Boelte asked servers to make sure customers knew what they were getting into. He’s quoted as saying “It’s a medicinal, bitter and minty Dark ‘n Stormy.”
That doesn’t mean it’s strong in terms of alcohol content, only flavor. The Waterfront employs Fernet Branca, an ingredient we’ve used before and discussed at length with the Eva Peron cocktail. But it also contains Fernet Brancamenta, the extra-minty version of this fernet. Not to worry, if you don’t have it we simply advise substituting a 2:1 mix of Fernet Branca and Crème de Menthe in its place.
- 2 oz Fernet Branca
- 1 oz Fernet Brancamenta
- ½ oz Fresh lime juice
- Ginger beer
- Garnish: lime wheel or wedge, mint sprig
- Add lime juice and fernets to an ice filled highball glass.
- Top with ginger beer.
- Stir gently and garnish.