Halloween is a time for raising and rising spirits
If there ever was a day of the year custom-made for cocktails, it’s Oct. 31.
After all, what is Halloween all about if not spirits?
OK, granted, Halloween spirits are more the kind that go bump in the night as opposed to cocktail spirits that tend to cause one to do the bumping. But let’s not nitpick this.
In fact, it raises the question of just why alcohols are called spirits in the first place.
People who are wise in word origins believe the word alcohol comes from the Arabic word al-kuhl, which happens to be the word for a body-eating spirit.
That word was believed to have developed in old English into al-ghawl, which, coincidentally, is the base for the English word ghoul, which also happens to be a creature said to eat human flesh. These creatures are better known as the weirdly popular zombies of today. Zombies also are known to be large Tiki drinks made of several kinds of rum, juices from limes, lemons, orange and passion fruit, brandy, grenadine and a few dashes of bitters. Several of these put one in high spirits.
How perfectly good drinks came to be synonymous with flesh-eating monsters apparently gets back to the making of the alcohol. The vapors given off and collected during distillation were thought to be spirits of whatever was being fermented, having escaped by eating away the flesh of that material. That leftover “flesh” is better known today as mash.
There is another folkloric tale from long ago that ties alcohol to spirits seeking to do no good. This theory claims that each step toward intoxication lowers a person’s natural ability to ward off spirits, thus at a certain point, with defenses down, an outside spirit gets in. Signs of this are dancing on tables, wearing lampshades, feeling very witty and hitting on the boss’s wife.
In one of the most famous Halloween ghost stories of American literature — “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” — the doomed Ichabod Crane is “spirited away by supernatural means,” after leaving a harvest party during which other spirits were undoubtedly present. In the story, he disappears, fleeing from a headless horseman who lobs a pumpkin at him.
One would assume the aggressor in this case was a horseback-riding ogre and not two ounces of vodka, three dashes of bitters and a bit of ginger ale over ice — a concoction also known as a Headless Horseman.
While no one ever found poor Ichabod, the townsfolk of nearby Tarry Town did find his horse, his hat and the remains of the pumpkin. Those pumpkin chunks may or may not have been the inspiration for a special Halloween cocktail planned for October at Fisherman’s Wharf, 2200 Harborside Drive in Galveston, called the Pumpkin Pie Martini. It also will be riding high at Fish Tales, 2502 Seawall Blvd. on the island.
It’s an appropriate Halloween drink for the pumpkin alone, but in the spiritual sense, even more so. It’s laced with Frangelico, a liqueur best known for its friar-shaped bottle — complete with a rope sash around its waist.
While everyone knows there are good spirits and bad spirits in a kind of Grey Goose vs. bathtub gin sort of way, most Halloween spirits are bad. Ghosts haunt, scare and generally make life uncomfortable. Then again, it’s also the best time to contact, via séance, the ghosts of the dead.
Or, one can go a less paranormal route with 3 tablespoons of brandy added to 1½ teaspoons each of sweet vermouth and applejack mixed with ice. This is one of at least four recipes for a Corpse Reviver, which is a Victorian-era drink that promises with one to revive a corpse and with four to return it to a reclining position.
Even in modern times, the idea of alcohol being the tool of evil forces was espoused. The cries of “devil rum” from Prohibitionists suggested it was a tool of Satan. The keg-smashing, street-marching temperance women of the late 19th century preached that alcohol was filled with evil spirits that were released in the body when swallowed, thus defiling God’s temple and angering Him.
To get an idea of what happens after that, take an egg yolk, a little powdered sugar and a full jigger of brandy, then shake with ice. Soon, you have a glass of Thunder and Lightning.
On the subject of religion, around this same time, evangelicals in the United States also spoke not very highly of alcoholic spirits, and they weren’t all that crazy about Halloween either. They began a movement that continues today to ban both.
They are correct that Halloween had a kind of pagan beginning. Some 2,000 years ago in what is now France, the United Kingdom and Ireland, the ancient Celts celebrated the festival of Samhain at the end of what is now October.
During this festival, people would light huge fires and wear costumes to scare away ghosts of the dead, which were thought to rise on this night. There is no record of them going hovel door to hovel door asking for Snickers and Milky Way bars.
Not being a big fan of this pagan festival, the eighth century Pope Gregory III decided to declare Nov. 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs. Not totally reinventing the wheel, so to speak, the pope took his holiday, All Saints’ Day, and grabbed a lot of the stuff from Samhain, so many of the old traditions remained.
While his intentions were good, the results have been a little mixed. Halloween certainly gets more attention than All Saints’ Day, and it has a lot more to do with ghosts, goblins, hauntings and monsters than it does with religion.
For example, count the number of movies and sequels there are called “Halloween.” Now count how many there are called “All Saints’ Day.”
Even in Galveston, the island’s most famous houses and locations will be hosting events to make one’s skin crawl. Being scared is part of the fun.
And you can try this at home.
Just combine a full jigger of 100 proof gin, a half ounce of rye and a teaspoon of lemon juice over ice, and you have an actual Hair Raiser.
Halloween has become a major adult holiday in the United States. It has created a billion-dollar industry making food, costumes, masks and other related merchandise. And it all makes sense. Who cannot appreciate a special day made just for spirits rising and raising them as well?
Pumpkin Pie Martini
Halloween cocktail provided by Fisherman’s Wharf in Galveston
1.5 ounces Kahlúa
½ ounce Frangelico
1.5 ounces Pumpkin Reàl Infused Syrup plus 1 tablespoon for garnish
2 ounces whipping cream
Pour the Kahlúa, Frangelico, 1.5 ounces of the Pumpkin Reàl Infused Syrup and cream over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into martini glass. Garnish with dollop of whipped cream and then drizzle the remaining pumpkin syrup over the whipped cream.