2 oz Chairman´s Reserve Spiced Rum
0.25 oz Orange Curaçao
0.25 oz light brown Muscovado Sugar
1 cup freshly brewed strong full-bodied Coffee
Master of Malt Curaçao Bitters
Add spiced rum, orange Curaçao, coffee and bitters to a large mug or heat-resistant glass and stir together. Top with whipped cream and dust cinnamon or nutmeg over
Garnish the glass by wrapping a golden bow around it
Featured Glassware: NewWave Caffè by Villeroy & Boch
* * *
Today, we officially kick off our ‘Tis the Season… for Drinking campaign featuring 12 holiday drinks brought to us by some of our favorite people. As it happens, today is also St. Lucia Day, the celebration of an Italian saint particularly popular among Scandinavians. For me, the day holds special significance as a reminder of my Swedish heritage – but not in the way that you might initially think.
With the name David Solmonson, more often than not, people assume that I’m Jewish. It’s never been an issue – I don’t know why it would be – with the sole exception of the time in 4th or 5th grade when I was randomly called upon and asked to regale my classe with the story of how my family celebrated Hanukah. There was no preamble or warning, just “David, make with the menorah story.” Not knowing the menorah story or anything about Hanukah, I did the only thing that came to mind – I told everyone about St. Lucia instead.
Growing up, my family wasn’t particularly religious – we were fair-weather Catholics at best – but we certainly had a strong sense of our Swedish ancestry. My grandmother was a first-generation American (I have suspicions that although Grandpa was Swedish, she may have been Norwegian), and as matriarch of the family, she defined the holidays for me. December meant lefse, krumkake, rosettes, fruit soup, and (ugh) pickled herring. It still does, and to this day, Christmas dinner isn’t quite the same without at least some of the above, as well as meatballs – lots of meatballs. Grandma was a god-fearing woman but never pushy about faith. Somehow, along the line, however, I was exposed to St. Lucia and, for me, she became symbolic of all it meant to be Swedish at the holidays.
I’ll briefly cover the tale of St. Lucy here, but it’s more important that we move on to the Swedish bits. As with many Christian holidays, St. Lucia’s Day seems to be an amalgam of old pagan tradition and more modern Christian scripture. According to the old stories, Lucia Night or Lussinatta was the longest night of the year, when an evil witch and her minions roamed the earth. What I find most interesting here are the uses of the date, December 13th (the 13th always being a bad omen) and the name Lucia, which is pretty darn close to Lucifer. Or course, if Lussinatta marked the longest night of the year – the winter solstice (according to the old calendar) – a celebration of death and rebirth makes perfect sense. Some versions of the story even ascribe Lucia to being Adam’s first wife, the one who joined the dark side, which is a very thinly veiled retelling of the Lilith myth.
The Christian Saint Lucia (a good name for an Italian girl, if ever there was one) appears to come from the island of Sicily around the time of Constantine (AD 300-ish). There are various versions of how she earned her canonization, but one of the more accepted stories tells us that she chose Christ over a would-be husband and that the husband sold her out as a Christian to the Romans. The Romans, always looking for inventive ways to dispatch Christians, sentenced her to forced prostitution but, when the guards came to fetch her, they could not move her, even when they strapped her to a team of oxen. Not to be disappointed, the Romans killed her instead – tearing out her eyes and setting her on fire. Like I said, inventive.
Another story of Lucia tells us that before the Romans captured her, she worked in the catacombs of Rome, assisting persecuted Christians. In order to be able to carry supplies and whatnot, she illuminated her way by wearing a crown of candles – the image most associated with Lucia today. Of course, it’s no small coincidence that “Lucia” means “light”, and when the new Christian holidays were grafted onto the old pagan ones, it was also probably no small leap for clerics to see the Lussinatta of old and decide “Hey, that’s a perfect place for the St. Lucia shindig.” By the mid 18th century, the modern Lucia image – white robe, red sash, crown of candles – had been established, although the real popularity of the custom didn’t emerge until the early 20th century, a time when Scandinavian countries found themselves looking for a bit of national identity.
Today, of course, Swedish culture is as vast and far reaching as the rest of Europe and America. I shouldn’t be surprised by this, I know, but I’m an American, and generalizations tend to be useful crutches as we make our way through the day. I guess this is why I was tickled when I first ran across A Mountain of Crushed Ice, a temple to tiki drinks brought to us by Sweden-based Tiare Olsen. I’m going to run with my prejudices here so that I can get them out of the way. For me, female drink writers are inevitably cool (I live with one, so I should know), and although I’ve never played in a space more open to all-comers than the cocktail world, the vast majority of bartenders, writers, and bloggers tend to be men. The fact that someone was obsessed with tiki drinks in one of the coldest (I’m assuming) countries on earth similarly fascinated me. Why? Or, even more to the point: Why not? Then there was Tiare’s fanatical devotion to the New Orleans Saints. A Swedish female mixologist with a wicked black-and-gold streak running through her? We had to become friends (not that I’m a Saints fans, mind you, I go for the more traditional Swedish-American choice of the Vikings, but Lars loves his Saints, and Lars ain’t so bad).
Like us, Tiare came to cocktail writing simply out of a passion for spirits – rum, in particular. She told me that this stems from a life-long fascination with Polynesia and all things tropical. This translated into a zest for tiki drinks, which exploded when she found compatriots online. Over the past several months, Tiare and I have started a budding friendship, and I certainly have come to greatly respect her drink-making abilities and dedication not only to all things containing rum but the whole cocktail scene in general. It was for these reasons that I was very excited to ask Tiare for a contribution to our holiday drinks. This has been an amazingly fun series for us because, for the first time ever, we have completely turned over control of the drinks which appear on the site.
Of course, we picked guests like Tiare specifically because we had absolute blind faith in the drinks they would provide, and if reading the recipe alone doesn’t convince you that Spiced Curaçao Coffee is a delicious winter warmer – rum, coffee, layers of orange – we’ll let Tiare herself do the job:
“To me the Christmas holidays sums up in warm spices, candle light, fruits like orange, pineapple and cherry, nuts and chocolate – paired with a portion of festivities and a dust of magic…
These things are reflected in this holiday drink by the sweet muscovado sugar, orange Curaçao, warm spices and bitters. The golden wrapping adds that festive touch.”
I had to whip one up just reading that. Yum. Curaçao, if you’re not familiar, is an orange liqueur, and the Curaçao bitters, a specific variety of orange bitters. You can use your standard 12BB bottles here, but we encourage you to trust Tiare’s choices implicitly.
While the Swedish tiki scene still in its infancy, Tiare can often be found at Stockholm’s only tiki bar, Tiki Room. Still, with the Spiced Curaçao Coffee, she proves to us that there’s more than one way to enjoy your rum. Happy St. Lucia Day to Tiare and to you all. Even if you don’t celebrate this particular part of the holiday, you can raise a toast to our Swedish friends and the official start of our 2011 holiday drinking season. Skol!
Esoterica: Early in her life, St. Lucia of Syracuse prayed at the tomb of St. Agatha and asked that her mother’s hemorrhagic illness be cured. It was, and to this day, St. Lucia is the patron saint of hemorrhagic conditions. She is also, apparently, the patron saint of sore throats, authors, salesmen, peasants, and stained glass workers. Busy girl.