My alcoholic beverage of choice is wine, but I also admit to a fondness for an occasional gin or whisky-based cocktail. (Okay, maybe not so occasional, but rarely do I have more than a single cocktail per occasion.) I like almost everything about cocktails: the taste, obviously, the glassware, the names of the drinks, the poetry, the history. The history of cocktails didn’t begin in America, of course--the smart set in Edwardian London, for example, was notorious for partying like mad while downing White Ladies (gin, Cointreau, lemon juice) and Whiskey sours (whiskey, lemon juice, egg white)--but after World War II, people descended on the United States from all over the world, bringing with them their native beverage preferences: Gin drinkers from England, beer guzzlers from Germany, vodka disciples from Eastern Europe, whiskey imbibers from Ireland and Scotland. The inevitable result was the evolution of a liquid melting pot, otherwise known as the cocktail.
American veterans returning home after World War II were fond of a cocktail named the One-Balled Dictator.
[These last words will serve as a warning to Puritans that this won’t be a column for the entire family, though it shouldn’t prove too shocking for most who have chosen to visit a website devoted to alcoholic beverages. Ed.]
This drink is said to have originated in Cincinnati in the late 1940s, where it was concocted by veteran members of the 82nd Airborne Division. The recipe called for 1 part good Champagne and 5 parts cheap Liebfraumilch. The concoction is to be shaken very violently, but for a short duration, then poured into a rocks glass. To top it off, a large cinnamon ball is dropped into the glass. (A splash of Galliano liqueur added before shaking will create a “Mussolini”.) I’ve never tasted one myself, but the One-Balled Dictator is said to be an unusual and pleasant drink, with the cinnamon ball adding a fiery element to the white wines. As to the name, it is clearly a reference to the lyrics of a crude song that was sung by British soldiers during the war to the tune of the Colonel Bogey March: Hitler had just one ball / Goering had two but they were very small / Himmler had something sim’lar / And Goebbels had no balls at all.
If you prefer real poetry to soldiers’ songs with your cocktail, you might turn to Pablo Neruda. One of the 20th century’s greatest poets, Neruda was a Nobel Prize winner, poet laureate, and diplomat for his native Chile. He also invented a cocktail that he named El Coquetelon, which calls for equal parts Cognac and Champagne, plus orange juice and a few drops of Cointreau. (Serve it only in a colored glass, he advised, “because it tastes better.”)
Neruda, whose enthusiasm for booze may have been as intense as his passion for women, owned homes in Santiago, Valparaiso, and Isle Negro, each one furnished with more bars than bathrooms. His love poetry often describes his overlapping physical and emotional feelings for wine and women, as this detail from Ode to Wine (written in 1971) demonstrates:
My darling, suddenly
the line of your hip
becomes the brimming curve
of the wine goblet,
your breast is the grape cluster,
your nipples are the grapes,
the gleam of spirits lights your hair,
and your navel is a chaste seal
stamped on the vessel of your belly,
your love an inexhaustible
cascade of wine,
light that illuminates my senses,
the earthly splendor of life.
The last word here goes to Dorothy Parker. Writer, poet, critic, satirist and a founder of the Algonquin Round Table, Parker was known for her considerable wit and her sharp tongue (“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue”). She may or may not have actually penned the following boozy quatrain, but she’s given credit for it, and it’s a good one:
I think I’ll have a martini
Two at the very most.
Three I’m under the table,
Four I’m under the host.