The Glorious Guyana from Ken Albala
2 oz Peated Scotch Whisky
2.5 oz Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
1 Ripe Banana
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Add all ingredients to a blender with 1 cup of crushed ice
Blend until smooth and pour into a tall glass or tiki glass
Feel free to garnish with fruit, but it may just get in the way
Featured Glassware: Boston Double Old-Fashioned by Villeroy & Boch
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There’s no way around it, so I’ll just cut to the chase: If forced to be a member of the Donner Party, my one condition would be that I was allowed to bring along Ken Albala. My reasoning is simply that if we were going to have to eat people, at least Ken would know how to make them delicious. I do not mean to imply that Ken has cannibalistic tendencies – it’s just that, if ever a method for preparing a food item existed, Ken would not only know about it, he probably would have replicated it. Except for cooking people – I’ll pay Ken the courtesy of drawing the line there.
For the past year, Ken has been a key resource for some of our most historical recipes, namely Buttered Beere and Punch Biscuits. This past October, during our Halloween series, I mentioned to Ken that we were doing a drink called the Bloodbath, and he excitedly replied “With real blood?” and proceeded to advise me on how to acquire and handle the same. As a food historian and professor at the University of the Pacific – not to mention author or co-author of books including Food in Early Modern Europe, Cooking in Europe 1250-1650, The Lost Art of Real Cooking, Beans: A History, and the just-released Food and Faith in Christian Culture – Ken is a man who obviously knows his way around a slab of ribs and then some.
With his unique perspective on food and drink, Ken was among the first people we asked to join us for our holiday festivities. More than anything, I was curious as to what ancient relic he might bring to the party – wine from the Last Supper, Socrates’ hemlock, Beowulf’s mead? Of course, any of those would have been too easy and on-the-nose. For Ken, being a master of the subject of arcane cuisine doesn’t mean being bound by it. In fact, the underlying truth of historic cooking is that it was much less regimented – for better or worse – than today’s recipe-based world. In the forward to The Lost Art of Real Cooking (a brilliant book which I gave to Lesley last Christmas), Ken and co-author Rosanna Nafzinger stress that “ingredients can vary significantly in potency and composition, and sometimes you’re better off measuring with your senses than a scale. How does the dough feel? Does the sauerkraut smell right? How does the soup taste?” This is the true secret of great cooking – and drink-making – learning techniques and becoming tuned-in to what you’re making. Once you are comfortable with the techniques, the world is literally your oyster.
To this end, Ken’s choice of drink should have come as no surprise: a Scotch tiki drink. Say what? For a winter holiday post? We double-checked with the professor to make sure that he had understood the assignment. As it turns out, he did – and then some. First, here’s the provenance of the Glorious Guyana:
I began to mix drinks much younger than most people, around 15 or so. It was partly because I learned to like liquor at my best friend’s house, whose parents drank like fish. But I learned to experiment at my house, where my parents drank nothing at all, but always had a closet stocked with excellent booze given as presents. I recall many a high school party at my place with a few friends, polishing off a bottle of Remy Martin or Hennessy XO. Spoiled me for life.
We got it in our mind to mix outrageously good liquor with fruit juices, inventing drinks that might have been conjured up at 19th century colonial outposts by desperate civil servants. A Dutchman mixing gin with coconut milk and lime in Jakarta (awfully good) or a Frenchman drinking warm cognac with apple juice and a dash of maple syrup in 17th century Quebec. But the best of all these perversities, as odd as it sounds, was especially designed for Christmas: The Glorious Guyana. British Empire, circa 1820.
Let’s answer some of your obvious questions up front. First, it’s delicious – if you’re not opposed to peaty Scotch, that is. I love the stuff, so I had no problems there. Strangely, the peat and the banana are natural soul mates. It’s not a combination that would have naturally occurred to me, but with one taste, I knew that it was on the money. The orange juice sits in the background and rounds things out, while the bitters work their magic, providing accent and a hint of Christmas spices. There’s great balance to the drink as well as – another unexpected surprise – a great sense of seasonality. While sugary and tart rum drinks nicely fill the summer months, the smoky richness of the Glorious Guyana certainly makes it a wintery tiki. Now, while I’m not sure that the world is clamoring for such a thing, after a sip or two, you’ll certainly see not only the place for it but also the inherent wisdom therein.
Simultaneously brutish and sophisticated, there’s an anachronistic quality to Ken’s creation that smacks of something Hemingway might have conjured up on some long afternoon while pondering old men and the sea. As Ken himself states, there’s a bit of desperation – or at least, clever efficiency – in the making of the drink, and the simple preparation instills in the maker the dangerous delusion that one is doing something healthful for oneself. Pull out the blender, add some fresh orange juice, a nice banana, ice, Scotch – what the heck? Then again, at certain moments – like the holidays – it may prove exactly what a body needs.
The Glorious Guyana also serves to remind us to occasionally take the stick out of our collective asses once in a while. A tiki drink in winter? Why the hell not? On his must-read site, Ken Albala’s Food Rant, Ken recently wrote: “Have you noticed how the world is filled with stupid arbitrary rules? I don’t mean practical moral precepts, which are eminently useful. I’m talking about things people tell you to do which serve no purpose whatsoever. Cooking is rife with examples. People do things one way, it gets repeated a million times, then everyone thinks it’s inviolable law.” As purveyor of the 12 Bottle Bar – a strict rule set if ever there was one – I particularly liked that Ken’s drink captured so much of what we are trying to promote this Christmas, namely: don’t take it all so seriously, have fun, and enjoy. In fact, it’s exactly when you break the rules that you’re most likely to discover something glorious.
With the Glorious Guyana, Ken Albala cements in my mind the fact that he’s the kind of guy with whom I need to hang out more often. Ken, Papa, Bear Grylls, and Beowulf – masters of their worlds, one and all, who aren’t/weren’t afraid to steal fire from the gods just to see how it works. In Ken’s case, he’d use that fire to roast bear butt (not Grylls, mind you, but the beast itself) in his living room fireplace on some suburban night, a flagon of homemade mead or Greek wine, as Socrates would have enjoyed, in hand. Heck, the drink might even contain the blood of the bear itself. Should that be the case, no offense Ken, but I’ll stick with the Glorious Guyana.
Esoterica: The Donner Party is also known as the Donner-Reed Party, which has always busted me up. Also, I can’t let Ken Albala completely off on the cannibal front, as he did co-edit Human Cuisine, a book on the subject, which includes a recipe for Donner Party Mix.
Another Scotch Tiki: I asked around and didn’t find much in the way of Scotch tiki drinks. The one I did come across is the Scotch Zombie from our friend Keith over at theSpeakista. Since I’m always looking to promote our friends – and have an excuse to use the word “zombie” – I’m linking to it here.