Behind the Drink: Rooster-Tail

It was during the darkest days of the Civil War. The spring of 1863. With the Union Army still licking its wounds from its disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg the previous December, President Lincoln had just been forced to institute a draft, a measure that did nothing to help his popularity. Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee’s army was cold and hungry, and he couldn’t see a way to actually win the war. With both sides dispirited and demoralized and no end to the slaughter in sight, you’d think they’d try again to get together to talk things out.

They almost did. On April 1 of that grim year, two men happened to ride up at the same time to a rural tavern in one of those corners of the Maryland countryside that no army particularly wanted. Neither of them young, they shared the hard-bitten look of men accustomed to tough decisions and issuing orders that did not make them happy. Neither, however, was wearing any sort of uniform. The strangers exchanged simple courtesies, tied up their horses and stepped inside. The owner—one Geoffrey Morningvale, if his sign was to be believed—leaned forward on the bar and spoke the eternal phrase, “Gentlemen, what will it be?”

“I’ll trouble you for one of those, brother barkeep,” said the taller of the two men in a reedy voice that echoed the forests of Kentucky. He pointed at the little paper placard hanging behind the bar. “Morningvale Rooster-Tail, 50¢” it read. The other man, whose soft tones carried the warmth of the Mississippi sun, ventured that he might as well try the same.

Bottles were uncapped, liquids poured in rainbow arcs, ice chipped, mint spanked and bitters dashed. There was a mighty shaking, a gurgling through a silver strainer and before long the two travelers were sipping their Rooster-Tails with much smacking of the lips and sighs of satisfaction. Another round was ordered. Their conversation turned to the war. Couldn’t see any point in continuing it, really. Neither one of them. It was remarkable the extent to which they agreed. The more Rooster-Tail they drank, the more their ideas harmonized.

Who knows how far their agreement would have gone, under the influence of those delightful, delightful Rooster-Tails? Unfortunately, before Morningvale’s creation got to cement its accomplishment, a young rider in blue pulled up in front of the little tavern. Recognizing one of the horses, he shouted, “Mr. President, Mr. President, come quick! There’s Rebel cavalry out!” With that, the Kentuckian reluctantly set his (empty) glass aside, thanked his companion for the conversation, paid the barkeeper and let his long legs carry him out. Moments later a cavalryman in butternut gray dashed in. “President Davis, sir! Thank God! There are Yankees everywhere; we must fly.”

If only they’d had just one more round, 150 April 1sts ago…

(Editor’s Note: Check the date on this story. April Fool’s! No, Lincoln and Davis never met over cocktails. But we had you going, didn’t we? For more tricky drinks, click here.)


Contributed by David Wondrich

  • 2 oz Peach brandy (not peach liqueur; may substitute 1.5 oz bonded applejack and .5 oz peach liqueur)
  • 1 oz Rainwater Madeira
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • .5 oz Raspberry syrup
  • 3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Garnish: Mint sprig and raspberries
  • Glass: Small goblet

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a small goblet filled with fresh cracked ice. Garnish with a mint sprig and a raspberry or two.

David Wondrich is the author of Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl and Esquire magazine’s drinks correspondent. He is also a advisory board member.

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