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Newton’s Special

By Lesley Jacobs Solmonson


2.25 oz Brandy
0.75 oz Orange Liqueur (Cointreau specified)
1 Dash Angostura Bitters

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass


Featured Glassware: New Cottage Amber by Villeroy & Boch


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Given that we have dubbed 2012 as The Year of the Doctor, it seems only fitting that we begin with a short preamble paying tribute to a scientist whose work has helped shape our concepts of Ye Olde Space-Time Continuum.  In considering the myriad of choices available to us – Einstein, Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg – we decided to travel a bit further back in time as it were, opting not for the scientists who “invented” time travel, but rather the man without whose theories none of these men could have created their own – the giant on whose shoulders the others stood, if you will.  The man of whom I speak is, of course, the inimitable Sir Isaac Newton. 

To be brief, Newton’s theories form the foundations of modern mathematics and science.  He wrote one of the single most important scientific tracts in history – the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687) – which details, among other things, the three laws of motion (as in, “an object in motion stays in motion”, etc.)  A true Renaissance man, he built the first reflecting telescope, was warden of the Royal Mint, and shares credit for the invention of differential and integral calculus.  As a member of the Royal Society of London, he helped usher in an era of Enlightenment, where reason took precedence over society’s reigning chaos.  Plus, he had really, really cool hair.


And, of course, there’s that little incident with the apple, which is just the sort of earth-changing event Dr. Who himself might have chosen to casually stumble upon – or instigate – in his universal ramblings.  As school kids, we heard the more apocryphal version of the tale in which a laconic Newton was resting idly beneath an apple tree when he was literally struck on the head by an errant piece of fruit, thus inspiring his theory of gravity.  The truth is a bit more prosaic, holding that the scientist was wandering in his gardens when he watched an apple fall from a tree and thus came upon his formula.

Wondering just how groundbreaking the theory of gravity was at the time?  Back in the 15th century, Copernicus had hit upon the concept of a heliocentric solar system.  Then, Galileo helped prove that God’s “perfect” universe wasn’t exactly perfect (the moon wasn’t smooth; Saturn had rings), and Kepler introduced the world to the idea of elliptical planetary orbits.  All well and good.  But how, everyone kept asking, did it all work? That is where Sir Isaac stepped in with his theory that (as defined by Merriam-Webster) “any particle in the universe attracts any other particle with a force that is proportional to the product of the masses of the two particles and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.”  Using calculus and other proofs, Newton explained just how that apple fell in a straight line, rather than sideways or upwards.  And he changed our understanding of the universe in the process.

Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity has superseded Newton’s concept of fixed space and time, but gravity, at its core, is still gravity.   More importantly, Newton freed our minds from a narrow, archaic construct of beliefs and literally allowed us to look to the stars where space and time collide.  As James Burke put it in his book The Day the Universe Changed, “Newton destroyed the medieval picture of the world as a structure moved by unseen but ever-present hand of God.”

In all fairness, we have to admit that what really made us gravitate, as it were, to Newton was less his theories and more the convenient fact that there is a drink called Newton’s Special, can be found in the Savoy Cocktail Book.  Can you blame us?  We thought not.  And it doesn’t hurt that the beverage in question is as simple and elegant as one of Newton’s theories, while employing an ingredient – brandy – that would have found its way onto many a distinguished gentleman’s sideboard of the era.  The warmth of the brandy finds a natural complement in the orange notes of the Cointreau.  As bitters should, the Angostura adds literally just a dash of interest, breaking up the drink’s gravitas.  Use apple brandy in place of the regular brandy and you’d have a Newton’s Apple, which isn’t such a bad idea.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that Newton would have partaken of such lovely, winter-warming stuff.  As Edward Dolnick, author of the Newtonian-themed Clockwork Universe notes, “he was a terribly Puritanical fellow.  He was probably the last person in the world you would want to go to a bar with.”  But, while Sir Isaac might have made a disappointing drinking buddy, he is as essential to modern ideas of space and time as black holes (the ultimate expression of gravity) and string theory, making our trip through time all but impossible without him.


Esoterica:  In episodes 152 and 153 (titled Descent) of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Lt. Commander Data plays a poker game with holographic representations of Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Isaac Newton, played by a curly-locked John Neville, of Terry Gilliam’s Baron Munchhausen fame.  Hawking played himself and while on set allegedly asked to sit in the captain’s chair.