The Tackler from Camper English
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Shake or stir ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass
Featured Glassware: Scotch Whisky Tumbler by Villeroy & Boch
* * *
In putting together this year’s selection of drinks, we chose the term “Holiday” over “Christmas” for the simple reason that we were going to include two drinks which focused on celebrations outside of Christmas. Yesterday, we kicked off Hanukkah with Daniel Handler’s Jewish Manhattan, and today we toast another holiday tradition – one that transcends religions – football. For better or worse, Christmas Day isn’t going to see much in the way of football this year. In 2011, Christmas Day falls on a Sunday. The NCAA traditionally avoids Sunday in deference to the NFL and, this year, the NFL has moved most of its Sunday games to Saturday, Christmas Eve. So, even though we’ll still get the Bears at Green Bay, there will be very little football on Christmas proper.
Drinks writer extraordinaire Camper English concocted The Tackler while watching football, but we’ll let him tell the story:
I’ve never been a fan of winter or cold weather in general, but I do like fall-winter flavors. To me that means baking spices: nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, clove, etc. In this cocktail, named for the cold-weather sport of football, I added allspice liqueur to ginger with a base of genever. It’s surprisingly spicy and might help you warm up while you drink up.
As one of the world’s leading experts on spirits, cocktails, bar trends, and all of the other things we love – not to mention drinks writer for the Los Angeles Times Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, Tasting Panel Magazine, Every Day with Rachel Ray, Wired, and many, many more cool publications – Camper is one of our favorite people to follow (check out Alcademics.com) and the guy we want to be when we grow up. Naturally, we had to invite him over for a holiday drink.
As Camper tells us, The Tackler is Christmas spices in a glass. This is certainly a sipping drink – there’s an overall viscosity and gravitas that precludes just throwing it back. Now, if you’ve never tasted genever before, I’ll say that it can be a challenging mixer. The woody-floral profile doesn’t cozy up to just anything under the sun, but when you find the perfect combination, it is pure cocktail heaven. The Tackler is the perfect combination. The dram not only accents but enhances the spice notes, while the ginger liqueur brings in just enough sweetness to keep the heat of the drink in check. Outside of the 12BB lineup, both the St. Elizabeth Dram and the Domaine de Canton are two of our favorite bottles, especially around the holidays.
Beyond just the holiday-conjuring ginger and spices, The Tackler basically hits you like its namesake – it’s a drink best enjoyed over the course of a football game (while watching – or playing, we suppose, as long as you’re putting points on the board). In the photo above, we’ve taken the liberty of opting for a small tumbler over Camper’s suggestion of a cocktail glass only for football-specific applications of the drink. Somehow, a weighty tumbler seems more appropriate than a coupe when hanging out with the guys, sporting your team colors and yelling at the refs. In all other situations, go with the cocktail glass. And ignore our lemon peel garnish – it’s just there to be pretty.
So, let’s talk football and Christmas. As with Thanksgiving, watching a game – or ten – over the holiday is an American tradition. But, what about the rest of the world? They enjoy football too, with the obvious footnote of their football being a completely different game. As it so happens, during the winter of 1914 and a handful of years before the formation of the American Professional Football Association (later the NFL), a game of football/soccer came to symbolize everything that Christmas truly stands for.
The Great War ravaging Europe was just five months old when Christmas 1914 arrived. Fighting along the Western Front – the series of trenches and fortifications dividing France in the west from Germany and German-controlled Belgium in the east – had escalated over the past few months as the two sides raced to extend their positions to the North Sea and outflank each other. By November 22nd, the first battle for the western Belgian city of Ypres had ended and the lines of the Western Front had essentially been drawn. Despite an Allied victory at Ypres, the causality count was so high that some claim that Britain’s entire pre-war professional army was killed. (The British army had arrived in France with 84,000 foot soldiers. It suffered 86,237 total casualties at Ypres, mostly to the infantry).
Winter soon approached, as did a break – save a few noted exceptions – in the fighting. Christmas was fast approaching and many were calling for an official cease fire. Pope Benedict XV, elected just after the war had broken out, and the American Senate were among those appealing for a temporary truce, but a cease-fire was thought to be “impossible” by both sides. The New Republic chimed in that a wartime Christmas would be “so empty that it jeers at us.” As December approached in Flanders, trench life worsened. With the rains came flooding in the trenches – soldiers had to continue moving for fearing of sinking, and many soldiers slept standing up. Decomposing bodies floated to the surface. Latrines were scarce. Neither side was moving – quite the opposite – and everyone was preparing for a long war to come. Needless to say, morale was not high.
Oddly enough, commanding the two opposing armies were cousins George V and Kaiser Wilhelm II, both grandsons of Queen Victoria. With the exception of the troops from India and Africa, the soldiers on both sides shared many traditions in common, not the least of which was Christmas. With little fighting, miserable conditions, and not much else to occupy their days, plus only 60 yards separating them, the soldiers began to form loose “friendships” with the opposing side. They would throw newspapers across the trenches or share rations and cigarettes. They also used the break in action to retrieve and bury their dead, which lead to fraternization among troops as they mingled in No Man’s Land. As holiday care packages began to arrive, both sides found themselves flush with cigars, cigarettes, beer, schnapps, sweets, sausages, plum puddings, and personal gifts from loved ones back home.
On Christmas Eve, the Germans began to place candles along their trenches and decorate trees. Signs reading “Merry Christmas” and “You No Fight, We No Fight” appeared. There was no command from up high to lay down arms and step into No Man’s Land – it had come from the soldiers themselves – and it certainly was not universally accepted; firing continued here and there along the trenches. But, in a moment destined to never be repeated – both sides forbade it in subsequent years – men put aside their differences for two days and shared in each other’s company. They ate together, drank together, sang, exchanged gifts – and played football.
Known as the Christmas Truce, on December 24th and 25th, 1914, Christmas and football together brought a brief respite from one of the bloodiest conflicts in history. The story is beautifully chronicled in Michael Foreman’s acclaimed children’s book, War Game, which was subsequently made into an animated film. The book follows the story of a handful of English country youths who are gung-ho to go to war only to quickly realize the grim reality of the trenches. Here’s a clip from the film.
Even if you don’t work football of any stripe into your holiday festivities, The Tackler will be there to warm you. It’s an inspired evocation of the season, and it does a fine job of warming the bones and fortifying the soul. Many thanks for today’s drink and best holiday wishes to Camper English, wherever his globe-trotting may find him this season. Be sure to stay abreast of his latest dispatches at Alcademics.com as he keeps tabs on the world of spirits.
Esoterica: The purple coaster is to lend a bit of moral support to our Vikings. They need it.