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A sinner’s guide to a holy happy hour: 5 cocktails to feast on

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Thanks to a new generation of discriminating imbibers, the Age of Cocktails has returned with a vengeance. But which cocktails should a good Christian drink, and more to the point, on what night? To answer these vexing questions, we pair five of the world’s greatest cocktails with several feast days of the liturgical calendar.

  1. Sazerac

The Sazerac is considered by some to be the world’s oldest cocktail, invented in antebellum New Orleans and designated the Official Cocktail of that fair city in 2008. Originally, Sazeracs were made with absinthe, an anise-flavored spirit, but unwarranted fears that absinthe caused insanity led to its being declared illegal in the United States in 1912. The federal government finally wised up and lifted its ban in 2007. In the meantime, Herbsaint liqueur came to be used as a substitute for absinthe in sazeracs.

Given New Orleans’s association with Mardi Gras, sazeracs are ideal during the season of Carnival or pre-Lent, which begins two and a half weeks before Ash Wednesday. Or, since absinthe is traditionally made with wormwood, make yourself a Sazerac on a feast day celebrating the Bible’s most famous woodworker, Saint Joseph. The foster-father of Jesus has a feast on March 19 in the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran calendars as well as a second feast in the Catholic calendar (Saint Joseph the Worker) on May 1.

  1. Margarita

A Happy Hour favorite, the margarita — consisting of tequila, triple sec and lime juice — was invented in Mexico some time in the late 1930s or early 1940s and popularized in Southern California. Today, bartenders will typically ask you if you want your margarita frozen or on the rocks; if you choose the former, the drink comes blended with ice, usually in an iconic double-bowled “margarita” glass rimmed with salt. The original presentation, however, involved a simple cocktail glass, no mention of salt, and no option for an alcoholic slushy.

“Margarita” is the word for “pearl” or “daisy” in several languages, but it is also the Latin version of Margaret. Use a margarita to honor the great medieval queen Saint Margaret of Scotland (June 10 in the traditional Catholic calendar and Nov. 16 in the Anglican and post-Vatican-II Catholic calendars). Or better yet, have a margarita for Saint Margaret of Cortona, the paramour-turned-penitent whose feast day on Feb. 22 (Catholic calendar) providentially falls on National Margarita Day.

  1. Manhattan

According to one legend, this smooth cocktail was invented at the Manhattan Club in New York in the early 1870s. The Manhattan originally used rye as the main ingredient and Canadian whisky during Prohibition; today bourbon is also popular.

Manhattans are an excellent choice for the feast of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini (December 22 in the traditional Catholic calendar and November 13 in the post-Vatican-II Catholic calendar). Better known as Mother Cabrini, this tireless champion of the poor became the first U.S. citizen to be canonized a saint by the Catholic Church. Although she established 67 institutions throughout the United States, South America and Europe, the Big Apple is particularly in her debt. She founded two hospitals in the metropolis as well as Cabrini High School in Manhattan and an orphanage in West Park, N.Y.

Another nice tie-in: the Manhattan was invented during the same decade that Mother Cabrini took religious vows and was advised by the Pope to look West (America) rather than East (China) for missionary work. It was destiny that these two should meet, at least on the lips of the pious quaffer.

Or, to toast Mother Cabrini’s heroic virtue, try the slightly drier Perfect Manhattan.

Perfect Manhattan

1½ oz. bourbon

¼ oz. sweet vermouth

¼ oz. dry vermouth

Pour all ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake forty times. Strain into a cocktail glass.

  1. Old fashioned

This signature cocktail from the late 1800s was all but forgotten by 2007 when “Mad Men” character Don Draper put it back on the map. Many sorts of whiskeys were originally used but consensus has settled on rye or bourbon as the main ingredient.

“Old fashioned” is also an apt description for Pope Saint Pius X whose feast day falls on September 3 in the traditional Catholic calendar and August 21 in the new Catholic calendar. As supreme pontiff, Pius X worked to restore the traditional liturgy to its proper place in peoples’ hearts, promoting Gregorian chant, frequent reception of Holy Communion, and active participation properly understood. He also declared war on the heresy of Modernism, the infatuation with all things modern to the detriment of the ancient and unchanging faith. 

  1. Martini

Some say that this King of the Cocktails was invented in Martinez, Calif.; others, that it was invented by a bartender named Martinez in San Francisco; still others, that it was named after Martini and Ross vermouth. Whatever its origins, there would be no “Martini” or “Martinez” had there been no saint called Martin to make the name popular in Christian lands. And the Martin to do this was Martin of Tours, whose feast day on Nov. 11 (in the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran calendars) was once the occasion of great festivity. Martin was a Roman soldier who, on seeing a shivering beggar, tore his cloak in two and gave the man half. That night Jesus Christ appeared to him in a dream with the half-cloak and said, “Martin the catechumen hath clothed Me.” Martin eventually became a monk and tried unsuccessfully to avoid becoming bishop of Tours when his hiding spot was betrayed by a flock of honking geese.

The traditional martini has gin as the main ingredient, but a vodka martini — made popular in the 1950s and 60s and enjoyed by Ian Fleming’s James Bond — is also acceptable. If you choose the latter, have what we call a Martlemas martini, a martini made with Grey Goose vodka and a lemon twist. The brand hearkens to the goose legend and the twist to Martin’s torn cloak.

But why stop there? The martini can also be piously consumed on the feast of Saint Martina, an early virgin and martyr whose symbol in Christian art is a two-pronged fork. For her feast day on Jan. 30, you can garnish a gin martini (same recipe as above but with gin instead of vodka) with an olive fixed by a forked cocktail spear instead of a twist.

Lastly, have an impishly garnished martini on the feast of Saint Lucy (Dec. 13 on the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran calendars), a virgin and martyr whose eyes were gouged out but miraculously restored. Lucy is typically featured in Christian art holding a tray with her eyes on them. You can honor this memorable tradition with a “Sancta Lucia martini,” a regular gin martini with two olives transfixed by a cocktail sword so that the pimentos are positioned like eyeballs facing the same direction. Take the olives and place them horizontally on the glass rim so that they are staring at you before you toast to the saint.

Michael P. Foley, an associate professor in the Great Texts Program at Baylor University, is the author of “Drinking With the Saints: The Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour” (Regnery, 2015). You can learn more about Drinking With the Saints here or fan the book on Facebook.

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