The Story Behind The Remember the Maine
Remember the Maine is an amped-up Manhattan and Sazerac hybrid with a splash of cherry liqueur and one hell of a backstory. While it bears a similar profile to the aforementioned cocktails, this drink — composed of rye, sweet vermouth, cherry liqueur, and absinthe — packs notes of chocolate-covered cherries on top of its anise-laced backbone. While World War II, the U.S. Air Force, and even the Mexican Civil War have all served as inspiration for cocktail naming, Remember the Maine harkens back to a certain mysterious event that took place along the Cuban coast in early 1898.
Throughout the almost four-year span of the Cuban War of Independence, U.S. news outlets published sensational headlines with exaggerated stories of Spain’s alleged harsh oppression of the Cuban population. This culminated in January of 1898 when Cuban Spanish loyalists kicked off a riot in Havana, during which they destroyed many of the local newspapers’ printing presses in protest of the anti-Spain propaganda. In a move to protect any Americans in Cuba, the U.S. government sent a battleship, the USS Maine, down to be stationed in Havana Harbor. About three weeks later, a sudden explosion sank the ship, killing 261 sailors and naval officials.
A U.S. Navy board of inquiry declared that the blast was caused by a mine, but some Navy officials contested that theory, claiming that it was caused by the ship’s magazines being accidentally ignited by a fire in a coal bunker. To this day, no one knows exactly what caused the explosion, but in the immediate aftermath, The New York Journal published a daily average of eight and a half pages of news around the event for a week straight, often exaggerating the information to inspire more eye-catching headlines. All in all, the Maine’s explosion proved to be a major catalyst for the Spanish-American War, which ignited that April. The phrase, “Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!” became a popular nationalist war cry throughout the duration of the war.
Oddly enough, the Remember the Maine cocktail didn’t come into existence until the 1930s, well after the war was over. Although its inventor is unknown, the recipe first appeared in Charles H. Baker Jr.’s “The Gentleman’s Companion” in 1939. Baker wasn’t a bartender, but a writer and traveler who found himself in Havana during the 1933 Cuban Revolution when rebel forces overthrew the then-dictator Gerardo Machado. Baker recalls his first encounter with the Remember the Maine as “a hazy memory of a night in Havana during the unpleasantness of 1933, when each swallow was punctuated with bombs going off on the Prado, or the sound of three-inch shells being fired at the Hotel NACIONAL, then haven for certain anti-revolutionary officers.” Since then, the drink has solidified itself as a canonical classic, even though it may not be as famous as its Manhattan and Sazerac brethren.
In his Remember the Maine recipe, Baker instructs the reader to “stir [the drink] briskly in clock-wise fashion — this makes it sea-going, presumably!” However, as long as you don’t stir it to the point of over-dilution, either direction will suffice. His recipe also calls for cherry brandy, but most versions of the drink since have swapped the brandy for the slightly sweeter Heering cherry liqueur. When picking out a rye, we recommend a well-rounded, affordable mixing rye like Old Overholt or Rittenhouse. Once the cocktail is strained and in a coupe, garnish it with a brandied cherry — Luxardo brand, if available.