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Mixologist's New Cocktail Menu Gets Historically Political

By Jeff Houck, Tampa Tribune, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 23, 2012--Anyone can put a silly name on a cocktail. All it takes is a little bit of word play on the flavor.

The Cough Drop tastes like a cough drop. The orange juice tang in a Screwdriver makes your face twist. The Buttery Nipple tastes like ... well, nevermind. Sex on the Beach? NEXT QUESTION!

Political-themed cocktails? Tread carefully. Along with the party comes politics.

Pick a name that mocks a candidate too hard or skewers a hot-button issue and a bar or restaurant can go negative with its customers.

Nathan DeWitt, bar manager and mixologist at Mise en Place in Tampa, knows this well.

DeWitt created a platform of drinks for customers to imbibe during a recent gathering of Mise's monthly Cocktail Club. They will be served at the restaurant during next week's Republican National Convention.

Because Mise is hosting conservative clients, DeWitt had to pour cocktails that were fair and balanced so he wouldn't offend.

Sure, a milk drink goofing on Mitt Romney would be funny. It also would bruise sensibilities. So would a cocktail named for health care reform or the tea party.

Even the cocktail napkins used at the bar need be proper.

Anything resembling the American flag might be viewed as a soggy desecration beneath the bottom of the sweaty glass. Red, white and blue combinations are fine, but stars and bars at the bar should be treated with more respect.

It should be noted that the word cocktail itself is believed to have originated from a political debate in the early 1800s in New York, according to Phillip Greene, co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail. An editor for The Balance, and Columbian Repository in 1806 defined a "cock tail" as a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.

The drink, he wrote, "is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head," the editor wrote. "It is said also, to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because, a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else."

DeWitt, who calls himself a history nerd when it comes to cocktails, went back in time to research the drinks for Mise en Place's convention menu. Among several reference books he uses, his go-to resource is a copy of Boothby's Cocktail Bible from 1934. He uses it frequently for Cocktail Club gatherings.

In those pages he found the recipe to make the The Liberal, a pre-Prohibition drink which uses rye whiskey, vermouth, a bittersweet Italian liqueur and orange bitters with a lime twist hanging over the rim.

A bittersweet alternate of the Manhattan from the early 1900s, the Liberal's dryness from the rye whiskey allows the floral notes of the bitters, the bite of the amaro, and the sweet kiss of the vermouth to shine.

Interestingly, he could find no corresponding Conservative cocktail at the time. Perhaps that was a sign of how far Republicans were out of favor in the post-Depression days after Herbert Hoover left office in 1933. His successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was popular enough to have a drink of Bacardi, Grenadine and orange juice named in his honor. Presiding over the repeal of Prohibition tends to make a politician's popularity soar.

DeWitt did find a more recent highball drink called The Conservative created by bourbon producer Maker's Mark, which modified a cocktail called the Presbyterian. Originally a non-alcoholic combination of ginger ale and club soda (which explains the original religious connotation), the Conservative now includes a bit of Maker's Mark Kentucky bourbon.

Speaking of the Roosevelts, DeWitt invoked the name of Franklin's cousin to create Tampa Teddy's Less Than Rough Ride. Theodore Roosevelt once passed through Tampa's Ybor City with his Roughriders during the Spanish-American War. It is said that during the conflict in Cuba, the future president discovered the magical flavor combination of rum mixed with a new beverage called Coca-Cola and the Cuba Libre was born. For the Rough Ride, DeWitt opted instead for an American spirit, Pritchard's Key lime rum, the only rum made in the U.S.

For a big finish, DeWitt concocted the Florida's I-4 Corridor Freedom Cocktail. The drink's original name was an homage to Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," but DeWitt changed the title out of trademark fears. The new handle now represents the crucial voting base located between Tampa and Orlando.

No matter the name, DeWitt uses fresh blueberries at the base and a toothpick of plump raspberries at the rim to give the drink a patriotic look.

"It's refreshing, easy to drink on a hot day in August, and I like the red, white and blue," DeWitt says.


(c)2012 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.)

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