Hey Hamilton fans! You might have heard of a little thing called Hamiltines, AKA Hamilton Valentines. My set of 6 postcard valentines is available at The Casey BarberSHOP, along with pins, greeting cards, and stickers inspired by the musical.
I am not throwing away my shot. Like about half the country, I’ve been fully obsessed with the musical Hamilton since I first got my ears on the soundtrack a month ago. Any hype you’ve heard about the show is no exaggeration; this opus by Lin-Manuel Miranda about the 10-dollar Founding Father manages to take a long, convoluted story about the founding of America and turn it into a riveting, emotional, smart, modern, and life-changing two-and-a-half hours that will leave you helpless to its charms and ultimately satisfied.
(Full disclosure: I’ve been on Team Hamilton since I worked as a PR consultant on the New-York Historical Society”s exhibition tied to the bicentennial anniversary of the Hamilton-Burr duel. So this was really inevitable.)
As the Hamilton musical grows into more of a phenomenon, I feel compelled to celebrate its genius. I don’t have an acre of land, a troop to command, or a dollop of fame, but I can make a damn good cocktail. So here’s my way of adding my voice to the narrative: a boozy homage to the checkered, complex life of Alexander Hamilton, using spirits—rum, whiskey, cider, pimento dram, and applejack—that were popular during Hamilton’s lifetime. The glasses in the photos are from Fishs Eddy; use them to take your own shots, if you dare.
Alexander Hamilton was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis after his unmarried mother and father met on neighboring St. Kitts. As part of Britain’s West Indian colonies, the islands were coveted for their sugar plantations, rum distilleries, and slave labor. Hamilton experienced the import/export business firsthand as he struggled for a life beyond the poverty and squalor of his youth. Essentially orphaned after his father ditched the family and his mother died of a sudden violent illness, he started working as a merchant clerk, “trading sugar cane and rum and all the things he can’t afford.” Brinley Gold Shipwreck rum, made on St. Kitts, pays homage to Hamilton’s beginnings.
A dash of pimento dram, better known these days as allspice dram, adds a little spice to the cocktail. Though traditionally produced in Jamaica, not Nevis or St. Kitts, it adds roundness to the finished drink and serves as a metaphor. Hamilton never got over the public shame of being illegitimate, a “Creole bastard” as John Adams impudently referred to him. He was hypersensitive to personal and professional slights, and his fiery temper got him into a bunch of political and personal arguments throughout his forty-nine years of life, including the affair of honor that finally ended it on the cliffs of Weehawken, New Jersey. The sweet heat that comes from this liqueur is a hint of this long-simmering temperament.
Fast forward to Hamilton’s rise to the position of right hand man to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Even before Hamilton joined his staff, Washington became fond of a certain spirit being distilled by one of his New Jersey-based soldiers: William Laird’s applejack. According to William’s descendants, Washington is the only non-family member with whom the applejack recipe was shared. Near the Laird distillery in Monmouth County, a near-disastrous battle was salvaged from the jaws of defeat by America’s favorite fighting Frenchman, the Marquis de Lafayette. Incidentally, the Monmouth battlefields are now the orchards where I pick my sour cherries every June.
Once Washington became our nation’s first president, he named Hamilton as his Secretary of the Treasury and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. Recently returned to the nascent United States from his turn as French ambassador (yes, he escaped with his head before the French Revolution got too bloody), Jefferson had a markedly different vision as to how America should be governed than Washington and Hamilton did, leading to the two-party political system we know and… not so much love today. He and Hamilton fought as political archnemeses for pretty much the rest of Hamilton’s life.
For those casual history buffs who have no idea of the antagonism between Jefferson and Hamilton, our man of the Enlightenment is mostly known as the visionary squire of Monticello who had a fine taste for wine and, oh yeah, wrote the Declaration of Independence. (Wise words, and enterprising women quote ’em.) One of his acts during his first presidential term was to repeal the unpopular whiskey tax, instituted by Hamilton under Washington’s leadership as a way to build the burgeoning nation’s financial reserves and dig the country out of debt. And so we add a splash of Virginia Highland Malt Whisky from the Virginia Distilling Company, aged in Virginia wine barrels as a nod to America’s foremost oenophile.
Finally, we come to the man who wielded the other pistol in the fateful duel: Aaron Burr, sir. A man whose politics and personal morals seemed equally slippery, Burr used the state of New York as the home base for his career, where he flip-flopped between the Hamiltonian Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans depending on which was more politically convenient at the time. He served as a state senator before becoming vice president under Jefferson, and was still holding that office at the time of the fatal duel!
Amazingly, there’s a cidery based in upstate New York that takes its name from this polarizing figure. Aaron Burr Cider incorporates apples foraged from abandoned orchards—some of which have been around since before the American Revolution—into its blends. These wild apples are unpredictable and the cidery’s output changes from year to year based on the apples found and used, much like the changeability of Burr’s political leanings. A float of Aaron Burr cider finishes the drink as a bittersweet capper.
With all these elements combined, we’ve got a complex drink. Raise a glass to freedom and celebrate the life of the bastard orphan immigrant decorated war vet revolutionary manumission abolitionist non-stop Constitutional Conventionist lawyer essayist short-tempered protean creator of the Coast Guard founder of the New York Post adulterous Treasury Secretary polymath pain-in-the-ass whose story has been so brilliantly told in Hamilton. Let’s have another round tonight.
My Shot: An Alexander Hamilton Cocktail
Prep time:5 minutes
Total time:5 minutes
Makes 2 drinks
- 2 tablespoons (1 fluid ounce) Laird’s Applejack
- 2 tablespoons (1 fluid ounce) Virginia whiskey, such as Virginia Distillery’s Highland Malt Whisky
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 fluid ounce) spiced Caribbean rum, such as Brinley Gold Shipwreck
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 fluid ounce) St. Elizabeth allspice dram
- 1/3-1/2 cup (about 3 fluid ounces) dry cider, such as a selection from the Aaron Burr Cidery
Stir the applejack, whiskey, rum, and allspice dram together in a mixing glass.
Divide the liquor evenly between 2 3-ounce glasses such as shot glasses.
Top each cocktail with 1 to 1 1/2 ounces cider. Raise a glass and sip; do not throw away your shot.