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The Crimson Hour: Beyond Yummy and Disgusting

Wherein we partake in local Chicago custom and haze ourselves or expand our horizons, whichever perspective you wish to take. Either way its what Phillies 2015 calls for.

A liquor so strong even Nails wouldn't down a whole bottle and drive himself and friends into a tree?
A liquor so strong even Nails wouldn't down a whole bottle and drive himself and friends into a tree?
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

When fans' feet on the pavement quicken toward the gates, we cease to measure the length of the day with clocks, whose ticks and tocks now distend ever more noiselessly until we count beats and rhythms in pitches and swings. We frame periods in innings and recover a more intimate acquaintance with beginnings and endings, with the origin of finitude. This is the hour for hushed vitality, for precise attention, for active sensation—sight, sound, touch, but most of all smell and taste. This is the crimson hour.

As the Phillies fly into Chicago for a weekender with the Cubs, we might expect to hear a story along the following lines. Theo Epstein meets with Cole Hamels in Wrigleyville to discuss the possibility that Hamels would waive his no-trade clause to come to Chicago. As a sign of friendship, Theo offers to do a shot with Cole. Cole sheepishly nods, after checking to make sure no one in the bar looks especially punchable, then Theo tells him he'll treat him to a Chicago specialty. "Two Malörts, barkeep!" Epstein commands. The bartender saunters over choking a tall, clear bottle with an orange label, sets it down with two shot glasses, and eyebrow raised rasps, "Do you like grapefruit?" "Y-yes," Cole replies. "Do you like the rind?" "Ummmmm..." The bartender pours two shots and slides them over. Theo and Cole throw them back and then, something like this happens:

Malört is a Swedish wormwood based, herb liquor that Chicagoans pride themselves on drinking and use to troll visitors. It resides in the bitter liquor family, along with Campari and Cynar, and it is the most intense vintage of bitter liquor I've ever tasted. The grapefruit-rind flavor often shades towards roasted tire, and for that reason it is a perfect pairing with this year's Phillies team.

You can drink Malört straight without dying. Indeed, I did it once at a bar (Barrelhouse Flat, if you're curious) while talking comic books with the executive bartender. If you put yourself in an objective mood—which depending on the philosopher could be one of reverence for structure of the world, wonder at its magnificence, or anxiety at its possibility of dissolution—drinking Malört can be a fascinating experience, not unlike watching Jodorowski's El Topo. By suppressing your disgust, you can open up a realm of experience so unfamiliar that it is freeing by comparison, and then you might discover, hey, Jesus really was the first cowboy and fastest six-shooter slinger in the Levant. The bravery in drinking Malört arises not from pushing through your disgust, but taking the perspective beyond yummy and disgusting.

But drinking Malört straight is not something one can do very often, if ever. It is best imbibed as a flavor enhancer and not the main ingredient. Like the call of conscience, Malört only permits one to live a life absorbed in the everyday world if it is a faint harbinger that everything could be otherwise than it is. So, we'll need a cocktail in which to enjoy this Chicago delicacy.

In order to design the cocktail let's pair it with the Phillies 2015. The Malört will provide the bitter taste that has accompanied so many plays through this season. Whether it was Freddy Galvis gracefully pirouetting to snare a sharp groundball only to flip that ball into the voritices between the dirt particles engulfing second base, or Cody Asche playing like a kid out there by pretending to have Rickey Henderson's speed from first to third, I'm sure you've scrunched your eyes and lips towards your nose just before shutting off the TV in frustration and then turning it back on moments later because, well, sitting with one's own thoughts is frightening and alienating. I'm thinking of moments like:

But the season has not been totally joyless. And that joy has come from two different sources. First, Cole Hamels has continued to give us reasons to anticipate the sublime. When his changeup fades micrometers from the fully extended flail of the batsman, I—and I suspect you too—find it hard to repress the surge that erupts from below the gut, charges the larynx, and ejects over the tongue. Here just try to repress it:

Since Hamels is the well-aged, reliable all-star of this team whose performance has sweetened our slog through this season I propose we represent him with whisky, specifically bourbon because it will pair best with the Malört.

But Hamels is not the only sweetener. Two rookies have given us something to dream on while most of the team mocks the very concept of replacement level. In Maikel Franco we've seen prodigious power. Like this:

And in Aaron Nola we've briefly glimpsed his potential to dominate hitters with precision in the location and shape of his hand-launched ballistic.

Since they are young, sweet, and underexposed so far, we use sweet vermouth to represent them.

Altogether then we have whiskey, Malört, and sweet vermouth, which gives us a take on the Boulevardier. I'll call it the Malört Boulevard, although I'm also tempted by the name Malört and Waveland. Recipe follows.

Malört Boulevard

Tools: Mixing Glass, Rocks Glass, Mixing Spoon, Strainer, Paring Knife

Ingredients: Bourbon, Sweet Vermouth, Malört, Orange Peel

  1. Fill Mixing Glass with Ice.
  2. Pare a 1-2 inch section of Orange Peel from an orange.
  3. Pour 1.5 oz. Bourbon, 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth, 1 oz. Malört into the Glass.
  4. Stir until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
  5. Strain contents of Mixing Glass into Rocks Glass
  6. Squeeze Orange Peel over Cocktail until it snaps. Rub lip of Glass with Peel.
  7. Toss Peel or use as garnish. Enjoy!

This is a new drink for me; so, your feedback on it would be very welcome. Of course, I suspect many of you do not currently own Malört nor will own it very soon since you can only buy it in Chicago and handful of places around DC. But for all you trollish imps out there, I recommend a bottle, a friend, and