Celebrate July 4th with this Patriotic Beauty
In the US, Fourth of July means a picnic or cookout. You probably have your own favorite menu. Mine includes grilled or barbecued meat (often served on buns, in the form of hot dogs or hamburgers), sides of potato salad and coleslaw, and a yummy dessert.
To drink? Well, most cookouts feature cold beer. But this year I’m serving something different: the Betsy Ross Cocktail. Seems appropriate, don’t you think?
It’s an obscure drink, but tasty. It’s also easy to make (none of the ingredients are obscure!) — and even easier to drink.
All in all, it’s a bang-up cocktail. Perfect for July 4th fireworks.
Recipe: Betsy Ross Cocktail
No one seems to know how this cocktail got its name, or when it was invented. I first learned about it from Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology. As far as I know, the recipe first appeared in print in 1941, in Grosby Gaige’s Cocktail Guide and Ladies’ Companion (they don’t write book titles like that anymore).
But who cares where this cocktail came from? It’s flavor we’re after, and the Betsy Ross delivers. It’s a great combination of cognac (or brandy) and port wine, with some orange liqueur thrown into the mix to liven things up.
This recipe serves one, and takes about 5 minutes to prepare.
- 1½ ounces cognac (or brandy; nothing too expensive — a moderately priced VSOP, or even VO, like St. Remy or Raynal, works well)
- 1½ ounces ruby port (Taylor’s Port is fine and costs about $10; see Notes)
- ½ ounce Cointreau (see Notes)
- 2 - 3 dashes Angostura bitters (or to taste; may substitute orange bitters)
- Combine ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir vigorously until the drink is cold.
- Strain into a cocktail glass (preferably chilled), and serve. No garnish needed (or wanted) for this drink.
- You should stir, rather than shake, this drink to keep it clear (shaking creates bubbles, which can make drinks cloudy). For more info on when to stir and when to shake, see Cocktail Basics.
- The original recipe for this drink specifies curacao. I’ve tried it with both Grand Marnier (a premium curacao) and Marie Brizard Curacao (also premium, but much less pricy than Grand Marnier). My verdict? Curacao is just too sweet. But Cointreau — a triple sec — is perfect. (I discuss the difference between curacao and triple sec in my Cocktail Basics post.)
- The Betsy Ross is one of the few cocktails to contain port — a fortified wine. Vintage ports can be expensive, but you don’t need one of those for this drink. You want a ruby port, which is inexpensive (and always drunk young). A good supermarket brand, like Taylor’s Port — the (New York State Taylor’s, not the Taylor’s from Portugal) — works fine.
- Although port is fortified (it contains 18% alcohol), it will oxidize after opening. Not right away (it’ll take several weeks), but eventually the flavor will go off. To prevent that, merely refrigerate it. It will still oxidize, but the process will take much longer (as in months).
- What to do with leftover port? You could just drink it - it's good by the glass.
- Or you might try a Port Wine Sangaree: Add 4 ounces ruby port and a teaspoon of simple syrup to an old-fashioned glass. Stir to dissolve the simple syrup, garnish with a lemon wheel or two and a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg. Some people float ½ ounce or so of brandy on top.
- Port is also great for cooking. Use it instead of wine or stock to make little pan gravies.
- Or you can make a terrific sauce with it. Paula Wolfert, in The Cooking of Southwest France, has a wonderful recipe for Duck Breasts with Port Wine Sauce.
- Another recipe that looks good — and is available online — is Stuffed Macadamia Chicken with Sage and Port Cream Sauce by Maureen over at The Orgasmic Chef. I haven’t tried this yet (it’s on my list!) but it looks great.
- Bottom line: Using up leftover port should be no problem. Me? I think I’ll have another Betsy Ross. But be careful: If you have too many of these, you’ll be seeing stars and stripes!
Was Your First Grade Teacher Wrong?
Speaking of stars and stripes, we all know that Betsy Ross is famous for designing and sewing the first American flag. Legend says she did so at the request of George Washington.
But no one knows whether that story is actually true. She was never publically credited until 1870, when her grandson, William Canby, made the claim in an address to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
We do know that Betsy Ross was an upholsterer during the Revolutionary War. At that time, upholsterers didn’t just finish furniture, they did all kinds of sewing — including flag making. And there’s good evidence that Ross did indeed make flags during this period. But the first US flag? Well, maybe — or maybe not. The USHistory.org has a whole page on Betsy Ross and her history including analysis and point/counterpoint.
My position? Well, I learned as a schoolchild that Betsy Ross sewed the first US flag. And who am I to argue with my first grade teacher?
At least we know for sure that July 4th is the official Independence Day of the US — Wikipedia says so, right?
Except it also says that Congress actually approved the resolution of independence on July 2. The 4th became the celebratory date because Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin “later wrote that they had also signed [the resolution] on that day.” And most historians now think “that the Declaration was signed nearly a month after its adoption, on August 2, 1776.”
I just hope my first grade teacher isn’t reading this.
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