I went into the first floor cocktail bar of the Intercontinental on Collins Street in Melbourne at 5:00 one afternoon. A day of shopping – mostly successful – and I was ready to sit down and peruse the iPad. And I needed perusal oil to do it with.
I went to the bar and asked for a Highball.
The look of confusion on the face of the young man there should have warned me.
” You want a highball glass? ”
Yes, with a Highball in it. It transpired eventully that while he was familiar with the glassware, he had no idea what the drink for which it is named was made of…
So I told him – ice, rye whiskey, and ginger ale. In a highball glass…
He rose to the challenge, though his inexperience caused him to put two shots of rye in the glass before the ginger ale. I did not think it right to complain.
The next day the highball was served by a more experienced man – and it contained only one shot of rye. Ah, well, you can only win some of them.
Highball: rye, ice, and ginger ale. Named after the American railroad signal that all is clear and you can go ahead at full speed. The British railways do it with a whistle and a flag and the German railways do it with a red disc on a paddle. The American railroads do it with a lantern.
I do it with rye.
The old movies were right. A slug of rye whiskey is the best way to solve the world’s problems. Or cause a bar fight.
The fact that a bar fight is the best solution to international tensions and the post-existential angst of shifting paradigms™ says a lot about the state of human relations. I find it a comfort in a changing world. The slugging and crashing of wooden chairs – the bartender ducking down below the line of fire – and the drunk being hurled through the window into the street gives me a warm glow. It’s been that way since kindergarten.
For a time there it was hard to find a bar in Perth that would serve straight rye. I tried the Victoria Hotel in Subiaco in about 2012 and got refused service at 1:30 in the afternoon based upon asking for a simple shot glass of whiskey with no water or ice . Apparently it contravened the state government regulations of Liquor, Gaming, and Making People Feel Uncomfortable. Times have changed, and I might have better luck in Perth today…though probably not at the Victoria Hotel. I’m not fashed – it’s hard to get parking in Subiaco anyway.
Most local Dan Murphys and Liquor Barons can now sell quite decent rye. There is still not the selection than a North American customer might find, but the situation has improved vastly. A home consumer* can feel comfortable.
The link between rye and prohibition is undeniable – just as it is with rough gin. That’s one of the attractions to it. It can be made into sophisticated and seductive solutions like the Manhattan or bashed down in shots like a cowboy or a gangster. It can be a highball anywhere on the North American continent. The Europeans probably look upon it with disdain, but what have they not? They would probably sneer at God and good health if they thought they came from the New World…
As an Australian who migrated from North America – a person who has not only one but two new worlds between him and the continental pig pen – I can celebrate the joy of rye whiskey. Smoother than scotch, devoid of the flavour of burnt moss. More masculine than gin, and more feminine as well. Possessed of a colour and an opinion that vodka never has. And free of the class snobbery of brandy. The only brother spirit is rum, and I say no bad thing about that. Rum and rye can sing together and damn the Governors!
* ie a person not out on the roads. A person who can have another of the same and do it legally and safely. That second drink is the dangerous one – it either makes or breaks. Truth, sorrow, and appearances before the magistrate occur when the cork comes out for the second time. I only pull the cork twice when I am at home on front of my own hearth.