Commemoration Whiskey Sour

Grandpa during World War II
About a month ago, during a day of wandering in Washington, DC, I found myself at the War World II Memorial. On the copings around the fountain, there are inscriptions noting the many locations of the Pacific and Atlantic theaters. I recognized "Kwajalein,"as the island where my grandfather was stationed near the end of the war. His job there was to maintain and load the gun cameras on B-29 planes.

Like many, I typically spend Memorial Day weekend over-imbibing without much recognition beyond, perhaps, a few minutes thought about the purpose of the day. This year, I spent some time perusing the transcript of an oral history session that I taped with my grandfather the year before he died.

While reading, I thought I might sip a PBR by the light of my vintage bar sign in one of my illuminating Schlitz glasses. (Both are inheritances from my grandparent's basement bar.)

But, then I came across a passage that inspired me to change directions and make a classic cocktail that I've never mixed at home. My grandfather was in training near Kingman, AZ and decided to go into town to buy a Valentine's Day gift for his "sweetheart Arlene" (my grandmother). This is what he had to say:

"I bought her a beautiful rhinestone choker necklace and bracelet and earrings and everything. Oh, it was beautiful. Six deep rows of rhinestones all the way around. Being a soldier with a private’s pay... well a PFC salary at that time was hardly any money… I bought it anyway. What the hell, the army’s gonna feed me the rest of the month! I did [still] have a few dollars in my pocket too. So after I bought it, I went in this little tavern down the street [to have] a few drinks before I went back... At that time, I loved to have whiskey sours."

Yes, my friends, there is good reason that I'm on the lushous side of life. It's in my genes.

The story goes on to describe how Grandpa got off the stool to use the men's room and stepped in eight inches of water. The "lady bartender" was unfazed. She said, “Don’t worry that’s nothin there. That’s just a flash flood up there several miles up. It’s comin down here.”

Well, it was new to Grandpa, and he told me it was “one heck of an experience.”

Here is another excerpt which I quite enjoyed and which is further testament to my fondness for whiskey:

"My mom sent me a bottle of Old Taylor whiskey. I loved Old Taylor whiskey at that time. To me that was the cream of the crop as far as whiskey was concerned. During the war years you weren’t supposed to ship whiskey. Oh yeah. They had to camouflage it in baked bread... carved the inside of the bread out, put the bottle in there for cushion so it wouldn’t break, and then wrapped it in tinfoil so when it went through the machines in postal stations, it didn’t show that there was a bottle in there. But the thing was, it wasn’t sent to Kwajalein, it was sent to me at Lawry and it followed all the way around until I got it in Kwajalein.  Did I get drunk! I got that bottle. I showed the two buddies [in my tent]. I shared a little bit with them. Then I said, 'We’re going down to the beach. We’re going to lay down and watch the surf come in, and when it hits our feet, we’ll wake up!' Baloney! That never happened. We got drunk, sailed that bottle out there in the sea in one of the old pill boxes that was in the water. We got wet and everything else."

I can see why one would go to such lengths to get a bottle of whiskey, particularly during wartime when you need it most! And why not enjoy it on the beach! I also think it's grand that his mom would send him a bottle.

Old Taylor whisky was a bourbon made at a distillery of the same name that was established in 1887 by Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr., who did important things for the modern bourbon industry. According to an old ad from the company on the Heart Pine Reserve website, he was also quite hard to get along with, a quality that led to great whisky:

"He could be a rough, tough, mean son-of-a-something, our Colonel. But, oh, the bourbon whiskey he made. Gentle on your tongue, soft in your gullet and as smooth as limestone rocks worn slick by spring water."

Sadly, Taylor's distillery was sold after his death and then closed subsequently. But, his spirit does indeed live on. Buffalo Trace has a line of whisky named after Taylor, and they pay homage to his contributions on their website.

So, it is only right and proper that on this Memorial Day, I am enjoying a whiskey sour made with Buffalo Trace. Here is a recipe from Dale Degroff's The Essential Cocktail:

1.5 oz. base spirit (e.g., bourbon)
1 oz. simple syrup
.75 oz lemon juice
.25 oz egg white (optional)

Combine in a mixing glass with ice and shake. Strain into an old fashioned glass with ice and garnish with cherry and a citrus slice (orange for the American version and lemon for the English).

Mr. Degroff notes that 95 percent of drinkers are happy with the ratio of sweet to sour. I prefer less sweet, so I reduced the simple syrup to .75 oz.

Coincidentally, Buffalo Trace just released a Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Barrel Proof Bourbon which will be available in June. At $70 a bottle, I wouldn't mix it in a sour, though. Best enjoyed straight!

I hope that you had a similarly enjoyable, and potentially retrospective, Memorial Day.

Finally, before I leave you, the chive blossoms on my counter are reminding me that May is a great time to enjoy floral delights in the garden and in the glass. See Yes, Please Eat the Flowers! from last May for ideas!


  1. Lovely mixology of family, patriotism, and spirits, Chris!

    The drink I had at Seven Saints on Saturday was Jameson and muddled mint and some other stuff. It was not sweet. Really good. Bill took a picture of the ingredient list, so I'll try to get him to send it to you. Cheers!


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