Happy hour. Daily gift of metamorphosis, of ascension. An Old-fashioned tumbler is a lens through which worries seem smaller, more distant; a prism that takes the singular harsh white beam of the daily grind and transforms it into subtle, pastel stripes. Sun glides lower, spirits rise. Sky dims, smiles brighten. Eyes sparkle along with emerging stars, settling all into contented remembrance of a good day’s energy spent.
Pistols start footraces. Bugles announce the cavalry charge. A toy wooden train whistle kicks off happy hour. Yes, in our family one proclaims Happy Hour by blowing the whistle, then another announces, “Rules are rules!” as they amble toward the bottles and glasses. That is our tradition. There was a time when it was just the whistle, no announcement. We all knew when we heard it that labor had ended and leisure begun. The wooden train whistle, I suppose, could have been a Chinese gong, bike horn, anything. “Rules are rules,” well, that is irreplaceable. Let me explain.
Large family gathering. Four generations represented. Nine in the morning. The previous evening? A good old fashioned liver-spanking.
The most seasoned generation and the parents of young children are in the living room draped over easy chairs and couches. All are still and quiet so as not to provoke evil elves inside their booze-bleary heads. Each knowing if the demon is disturbed, he is likely to brandish an itsy ice pick and chip, chip, chip his way through skull. The young adults, those with lower burdens of responsibility, were still cocooned in linen and goose down. It would be hours before they would rise, stretch, then shuffle to Advil and seltzer. Unusual, there was no banging of pots, no sizzling sausage, no smells of hearty hash browns being prepared. There was no tousling of the grandchild, no teasing of the sibling. Just an occasional stifled yawn here, muted groan there.
Enter Gabe, a curious kindergartner. Struts right up to the bar, grabs the whistle, gives it one quizzical glance, then blows with all his might.
One silent beat, then another as the adults cut their eyes at each other, tacitly asking what to do, how to react, who should get up (a painful task) and retrieve the noisemaker from the lad.
Cousin Johnny pulls his sprawled feet under his weight, presses his knuckles into the coffee table and, with a grunt, rises to his feet, an early primate abandoning quadrupedal posture. Resigned, matter-of-fact, half under his breath he states,”Rules are rules.” and proceeds to pour his hair-of-the-dog cocktail.
Yessir, regardless of the hour, rules are indeed rules.
Back in 1806 a New York publication defined a cocktail as consisting of spirits, sugar, water and bitters. Sounds like the ingredients of an Old Fashioned.
1 Sugar Cube
3 dashes of Angostura Bitters
Splash of Club Soda
1 large Ice Cube
2 oz. Rye Whiskey
I keep a canning jar with sugar cubes that have had bitters sprinkled on them. The smell is amazing when you open it.
Place the bitters-infused sugar cube in an Old-Fashioned glass. Add a splash of club soda (or water in a pinch) just enough to dissolve the sugar. Muddle until dissolved. I then like to rotate the glass so that the sugar/soda/bitters liquid line the sides of the glass. Add a single large ice cube. Several smaller ice cubes tend to melt faster resulting in a diluted drink. Pour in the rye. Serve with a twist of orange peel.
So yes, rules are rules. And when the whistle blows we are obedient citizens of tradition. The Old Fashioned? That’s a warm wink and tip-of-the-hat to each of you who celebrate Happy Hour. To your health, my friends.