(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘spirits

“When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading”*…

As we’ve seen before, Prohibition spawned a number of creative work-arounds, some more legal than others. Most of them faded away with the 21st Amendment; but as Olivia White explains, one is still going strong…

Just off the coast of Winsconsin, in the frigid depths of Lake Michigan, sits Washington Island, a tiny island home to just over 700 people. Despite the small, three-digit population, Washington Island outsells every other town in the world when it comes to the amount of Angostura bitters consumed per capita. What could possibly be driving such impressive sales in such a small, remote place? Turns out the answer points back to one bar — Nelsen’s Hall — and it’s not because they’re dishing out thousands of Old Fashioneds.

Rather than garnering the title of largest Angostura purveyor by using the ingredient in an abundance of cocktails, Nelsen’s is famous for kick-starting the bizarre tradition of taking shots of Angostura. Not shots containing various spirits and a dash or two of Angostura, but 1.5-ounce servings of straight-up bitters.

First opened as a dance hall in 1899, Nelsen’s Hall was founded by Tom Nelsen, who expanded the space into a bar three years later. Less than two decades later, when Prohibition threatened the security of his bar, Nelsen was forced to get crafty in coming up with ways to remain open. Instead of operating with an alcohol license — which had for obvious reasons been stripped away — Nelsen acquired a pharmaceutical license as a sneaky way to legally sell the shots.

As Angostura bitters are only intended to be used a few drops at a time, at the time of Prohibition, they were classified as a “stomach tonic for medicinal purposes,” despite the fact that they contain 44.7 percent alcohol by volume. As such, Nelsen acquired a pharmaceutical license that allowed him to legally distribute Angostura as a medical tincture…

Today, the Angostura shot remains one of the most popular menu items at Nelsen’s Hall, which is known to go through three cases of bitters on busier weekends. Annually, the bar sells upwards of 10,000 Angostura shots; every person who chooses to partake earns a spot in the “Bitters Club” and receives a card certifying that they have “taken ‘the Cure’ by consuming the prescribed measure of bitters and as such [are] a fully initiated member of the Bitters Club.” Upon signing their own name in a decades-old book, shot-takers are “considered a full-fledged Islander and entitled to mingle, dance, etc. with all the other islanders.”

The vestigial remains of long-dead regulation: “Wisconsinites Drink an Ungodly Amount of Angostura — Blame It on a Prohibition Loophole,” from @VinePair.

* Henny Youngman


As we contemplate unintended consequences, we might send dry birthday greetings to Alphonso Alvah Hopkins; he was born on this date in 1843. A teacher, author, journalist, editor, publisher, and politician, he is best remembered as one of the leading Temperance activists of his time. Hopkins ran as the Temperance Party’s candidate for New York State’s Secretary of State, member of Congress, and Governor; he published several books, including two temperance novels entitled His Prison Bars, and Sinner and Saint, and Wealth and Waste, a treatise which applies the principle of political economy to the problems of labor, law, and the liquor traffic; and throughout, he taught at the American Temperance University.


“The idea that there might be limits to growth is for many people impossible to imagine”*…

Brother Jean-Jacques, one of monks who knows the secret recipe of Chartreuse, checking on the barrels

Jason Wilson on the Carthusian monks’ decision to limit production of their famed liqueur and what it says about quality and scale in our modern world…

[In January, 2023] a letter from the Carthusian monks in Voiron, France circulated through the world of spirits. It was, in the hackneyed parlance of journalism, a “bombshell.” The letter explains a decision by the monks to limit the production of Charteuse, their famed Alpine liqueur dating to 1605, in order “to focus on their primary goal: protect their monastic life and devote their time to solitude and prayer.”

Apparently this decision had been made quietly in 2021 (quietly being how most decisions are made in a monastic order sworn to a vow of silence). A growing Chartreuse shortage started being noticed by spirits enthusiasts during 2022. The drinks website Punch verified the letter a couple of weeks ago. Chartreuse will now only be sold exclusively under allocation, making it much more difficult to find.

First of all, allow me to applaud this stance by the Carthusian monks. I deeply admire their willingness to say “enough” to the relentless market forces pushing them to produce more, more, more, at all costs. It’s honestly inspiring that the monks refuse to see their earthly purpose as satisfying the demands of some knucklehead mixologist doing his little riff on the Last Word at some lame speakeasy in some third-tier city.

Less but better and for longer. What a refreshing thing to hear in 2023. In nearly every other realm of our soul-crushing age, the focus is to scale everything as big as possible, quality be damned. As someone who operates in a media industry that values an endless stream of cheap, SEO-driven clickbait over well-written, thoughtful content that costs effort and money to produce, I stand with the monks…

Where Has All the Chartreuse Gone?” from @boozecolumnist.

* Donella Meadows


As we find balance, we might recall that it was on this date in 1915 that Absinthe is outlawed in France and several other countries.

Absinthe was a licorice/anise flavored liqueur that contained wormwood, and was 132 proof. The high alcohol content, and the presence of the toxic oil thujone from the wormwood, seemed to cause hallucinations, convulsions, and severe mental problems amongst hard core absinthe drinkers.

In response to the ban, Henry-Louis Pernod, who manufactured Absinthe, came out with the lower alcohol, wormwood free liqueur ‘Pernod’, to replace Absinthe… though Absinthe sales were subsequently reinstated in the E.U.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 16, 2023 at 1:00 am

You say “to-may-to,” I say “to-mat-to”…


From Godchecker (“your guide to the gods”): the fully searchable Holy Database Of All Known Gods— over 2,850 and counting (over 3,700, including spirits, demons and saints)…

As we marvel at the miraculousness of it all, we might recall that it was on this date in 1769 that the La Brea Tar Pits were first noticed by Spanish explorers in what is now known as Los Angeles.  Juan Crespi, a Franciscan friar with the expedition of Gaspar de Portola (the first Spanish governor of the Californias) reported: “The 3rd, we proceeded for three hours on a good road; to the right were extensive swamps of bitumen which is called chapapote. We debated whether this substance, which flows melted from underneath the earth, could occasion so many earthquakes.”  (The English name of the site is redundant, as “La Brea” comes from the Spanish word for “tar.”)

While evidence suggests that prehistoric native Americans used and traded the asphalt, the site is now noted for the fossils found there (first by Professor William Denton in 1875).

A “re-creation” at the La Brea Site (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 3, 2010 at 12:01 am

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