THE REVELATOR! At one time those words conjured more to the mind than just the nation’s preeminent and trusted news magazine. To quote Ernest Hemingway, in a letter to his editor at the Toronto Star newspaper: “Paris is a nice city, but no Revelators. If one can condemn a city for its taste in cocktails then Paris be damned. Gertrude says, ‘A revelator is a revelator is a revelator,’ but offers me rosewater.”
Yes, oh loyal readers, the Revelator was once a cocktail. It was never the most popular drink, although in its heyday it achieved a ranking of number 27 in a poll of Chicago bartenders, barely missing the top 25 due to the transient popularity of the Yellow Beet Express and the Tapioca Sunrise. But the Revelator was certainly the most distinguished of these cocktails, being preferred by artists, pick-pockets, and vice-presidents of multi-national mining corporations.
Then came Prohibition, and the hegemonistic control of alcohol distribution and consumption by organized crime. The Revelator as a drink declined in popularity for the obvious reasons and by 1933, with the repeal of Prohibition, was all but forgotten. Certainly the secrets of its concoction, at one time a closely guarded recipe, shared only with initiates into the bloody Bartenders’ Cult of Agony, were lost in that final and ignominious blaze that destroyed so many good men in so short a time.
Skip ahead four score years, and one of our interns is filing a 1928 edition of THE REVELATOR recovered from a Chicago estate sale, when what should slip from its brittle pages but the following crumpled slip of paper. At first glance, nothing more than a piece of comic call-and-response so popular at the time. Thankfully, Lillie Elliot, a noted cryptomixologist then in residence at REVELATOR mansion, was intrigued by the distinctive aroma of whisky still adhering to the paper (subsequent chemical analysis also revealed residues of blood, spit, and dog hair). It was Lillie who discovered within its inane phraseology the long-lost recipe to the Revelator cocktail, that slip of paper being in fact the crib sheet by which its barer ordered the drink at their favorite speakeasy. It is with justifiable pride that we reintroduce THE REVELATOR cocktail to our discerning and imbibing readership.
A Transcription of the Original Instructions
Q: Where have you been my well-wetted (1) young man on this droughty day?
A: I’ve been to Templeton’s farm to sleep in the rye (2).
Q: Who did you see there my well-wetted young man on this droughty day?
A: A Revelator (3) baptized me beneath the Rock Candy Crick (4).
Q: Who joined you there my well-wetted young man on this droughty day?
A. A venerable patriot jumped off his rocker and punched me in the eye (5).
Q: Who else joined you there my well-wetted young man on this droughty day?
A. A Scotsman, no taller than my buckle but he wore the smoke of a battlefield with the pride befitting an immigrant to our land (6).
Q: And did you see no-one else there my well-wetted young man on this droughty day?
A: I saw the sun sneak behind the barn wearing an old brown coat (7).
Q: Were there no ladies present there my well-wetted young man on this droughty day?
A: Aye, one, and she with golden hair and hankering for a kiss (8).
Q: Did you requite the lady’s passion my well-wetted young man on this droughty day?
A: I kissed her twice and would have sampled more, but on the thrice she bit my lip. I dashed for the door and now finished I be (9).
(2) Templeton’s Rye was a Prohibition-era whiskey from Iowa, said to be a favorite of Al Capone.
(3) The drink, not God’s spokesman, although some might call them one and the same.
(4) At big rock candy mountain, “little streams of alcohol come bubbling from the rocks,” so the young man was baptized in alcohol.
(5) Another reference to rye whisky, reminding us of its American history and its strength.
(6) Reference to a smoky scotch whisky, being present in half a proportion (“no taller than my buckle”) to the rye whisky.
(7) A fairly common reference, at the time, to ginger.
(8) A lemon, since it makes your lips pucker as if awaiting a kiss.
(9) Two dashes of bitters.
Make your own REVELATOR
The Ingredients (in short)
1 oz straight rye whiskey (Bulleit rye works well)
½ oz Scotch whisky (a good smoky scotch such as Laphroaig)
½ oz ginger syrup
juice of ½ lemon
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Addendum: Recipe for Ginger syrup
Wash but do not peel the fresh ginger root. Roughly chop enough of ginger root so that you have 2 cups worth, then finely chop this in a food processor. Add 2 cups sugar and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about one hour until the mixture is syrupy. Strain syrup through a sieve to remove the pieces of ginger. Refrigerate the ginger syrup in a sealed jar or bottle. You will end up with about 2 1⁄2 cups of ginger syrup.
Lillie Elliot is a photojournalist, crytomixologist, and cocktail enthusiast living in Denver, Colorado. When she’s not bartending or taking pictures, she’s probably hiking, skiing, watching live music or sipping on her latest cocktail experiment. Lillie and THE REVELATOR extend our sincerest thanks to The Crunkleton club of Chapel Hill, NC, for making available their research facilities and premises for our resurrection of this classic cocktail.