1796. A pretty big year when it comes to years.
- The Netherlands held their first general elections as a unitary state.
- Napoleon gave his new bride the gift of Milan by invading it.
- The smallpox vaccine began use.
- The U.S. took possession of Detroit from the British Empire, which is now widely regarded as a mistake.
- John Adams beat Thomas Jefferson in the presidential election.
- Jane Austen began writing a draft of Pride & Prejudice.
Most importantly, as I’m sure you all know, on November 22nd, Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert was born.
GO GO GADGET GOTTLIEB!!!
You don’t know who Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert is?
I honestly don’t have time to write everything out here. I had expected you do have read a book or two before we started this whole thing. Here’s the highlights. Jesus.
Born in 1796 in Lowenberg, Silesia (a province of Prussia), he later studied medicine at the University of Berlin in Prussia (Yeah, Germany wasn’t technically a thing yet). After university, the young doctor joined the 2nd Regiment of the Prussian army, a part of the allied forces who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. He served as a surgeon, so you can assume Siegert saw some serious shit back in the day.
After figuratively kicking Napoleon’s ass, he took a breather, sailed to South America, and almost immediately enlisted in the wars of liberation. Whatever. No big deal. Simon “The Great Liberator” Bolivar, appointed Siegert to Surgeon General of his army, stationed on the Orinoco River in Venezuela at the town of Angostura (a name which translates to “the narrows”, describing the valley through which the river flows).
While the smallpox vaccine had been invented, it was literally the first one in the history of ever, science and modern medicine were still in their infancy. Siegert tested all the local herbs and plants, consulted local amerindians on their traditional remedies, and began concocting a cure-all. In 1823, after many years of formulation, he arrived at a product he dubbed Angostura Amargo Aromatica, which is Spanish for “Aromatic Bitters”. Initially distributed to Bolivar’s forces, Dr. Seigert eventually began selling it abroad, where it quickly became popular with the British Royal Navy as treatment for nausea.
Sailors. They’re a different breed. You may have heard the song, A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down? A sailor has no use for spoons. Or sugar. They fill cups with Plymouth Gin. Why? Because they didn’t like the taste of the bitters alone, so they “softened” it. With 18th century distilled alcohol. Ever so smooth. It is entirely undocumented exactly how effective Siegert’s bitters were at curing anything. But when the British Empire decides it likes something, it tends to do well in the marketplace, effective or not.
Another example of less than scientific medical practice from the 1870’s would be the case of Edith Mary Maugham. In and around 1873, Edith was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a condition for which her doctor prescribed, get this, childbirth. Yep. Her doctor figured the best way to kick her terrible fever and chronic cough, was to put a bun in the oven. Feed a fever, starve a cold, impregnate a TB patient. Point is, the same year Angostura Bitters were winning awards at the World’s Fair in Vienna, a young boy by the name of William Somerset Maugham was being conceived in Paris. Perhaps over a glass of gin and bitters. Hard to say.
If you don’t know who W. Somerset Maugham is, or how to pronounce his name, then I’m not sure why I’m even still writing this because you either don’t know how to read, or you can’t sit still long enough to watch any of the ninety-some film and television adaptations made of his literary works. Actually, one good reason you might not have heard much about him is his Will demanded his beneficiaries not cooperate with any attempts to write a biography about him. For good reason, considering the Royal Courts treatment of other homosexuals, such as Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing. Hard Labour and Correctional Hormonal Treatment respectively. Maugham was rightfully afraid of what might happen if someone poked their noses too closely into his private life, and thus, preferred his writing illuminate his life, rather than a biographer. T’was perhaps wise of him. Anywho, the entire reason we’re talking about him right now is his novel, Ashenden: Or the British Agent. If you’ve never heard of it, I’ll give you a small handful of reasons why you should find a copy and give it a read:
- Maugham was an ambulance driver during World War I and while on break from his duties, he released and promoted his book On Human Bondage. After the book was released, he wanted to rejoin the war effort in some capacity and was referred to a high-ranking intelligence officer known simply as “R”. Maugham was recruited to act as a spy for the British Secret Intelligence Service, (BSIS, later renamed to something you may have heard of. A little organization known fondly as MI6) in both Switzerland and Russia.
- His later writings on espionage were the first true works of the spy genre, and are often cited as inspiration for the writers who popularized the field, such as Ian Fleming. Some even say Ashenden’s aloof, foppish character is the archetype on which Bond was draped. Truth be told, Fleming had his own intelligence résumé, and certainly had no need to borrow ideas, regardless, Maugham got there first.
- If there was ever a man who loved write about gin and bitters, it was W. Somerset Maugham. Though he would have referred to it what the Mayla’s dubbed Gin Pahit (pahit is malay for bitter). And if you were James Bond, ordering the drink in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, you’d call it what the Brits do:
PINK GIN (aka Pinkers)
- 3-6 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 2 oz Plymouth Gin
Dash bitters into a chilled old-fashioned glass. Swirl it around so it coats the inside of the glass. Depending on how much bitters you like in your drink, you may either toss out the excess, or leave it in. Pour in the gin, and stir. (If you must weaken the drink, add an ice cube or two, but it would be much preferred for you to just start with cold gin, rather than watering this drink down.)
Garnish with a lemon wedge or peel (This is optional).
Number one. The drink isn’t very pink, is it? Perhaps Angostura changed their recipe. Maybe the color of the ingredients changed with modern agriculture. Either way, this drink will look a rosy orange in the glass, almost like whiskey. The other thing to note is what I said I would eventually get to, the distinction of Plymouth Gin.
You might think I’m talking about the brand which also has the name Plymouth Gin, however, you would inadvertently be correct. There used to be a shitload of gin made in the Plymouth region of England. When London Dry Gin became fashionable, it all but killed the distilleries in Plymouth (remember what I said about what happens when the British Empire decides it likes something?). The brand Plymouth is actually the ONLY maker of what is, by definition, truly Plymouth Gin. A bloody shame if you ask me.
Commendable substitutes: Tanqueray Malacca. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin. Ransom Old Tom Gin.
P.S. I’m really sorry about how spectacularly underwhelmed you’ll be when you see this drink in the episode. It does not play a very large role. Sorry. I don’t control a lot of things, among them are the weather and Adam Reed.
Rye Whisky and Coffee. Or any kind of whisky and coffee. Or just whisky. I’m not forcing you to make the decision here. Just drink what you like.
Shitty fast food burgers, and lots of em. Make a goddamn mess with all the wrappers and shit. Don’t even pretend like you have self respect. Just eat.