See No Evil; Drink No Evil
I was at a plein air cocktail party recently sipping some lip-numbing, jalapeno-infused margaritas and nibbling some homemade tortilla chips. In the spirit of full disclosure, this party followed an afternoon sipping watermelon mojitos on my front porch.
Needless to say, by dinnertime my brain was infused.
With creative cocktailing on the cranium, the talk among some of the “more experienced” gentlemen turned to the favorite forgotten cocktails of our youth: Kamikaze, Harvey Wallbanger, Tequila Sunrise, Sloe Gin Fizz, Singapore Sling. These were cocktails the younger set among us had only heard of.
I was somewhat surprised, however, when none of the old boys in the room seemed to remember the Brass Monkey, one of the early pre-mixed cocktails in a bottle sold by the Heublein Company in the 1970s and 1980s. It was a sweet mix of gin, tequila, triple sec, orange juice, and sour mix meant to be enjoyed over ice. Some of us just used straws….
Brass Monkey is actually a name given to a couple of different drinks varying in color from a light bright “yellowish” to a moderately dark “reddish” color. They look like brass. In addition to the bottle mix, there’s a Brass Monkey made from dark rum, vodka, and orange juice. A Brass Monkey Miami is made with dark rum, light rum, and orange juice. Probably the most “famous” Brass Monkey drink is a concoction of malt liquor and OJ and made famous in a song of the same name by the Beastie Boys in the late 1980s.
Brass Monkey—that funky Monkey;
That funky Monkey.
I can’t tell you how many times my pals and I would cram a cooler with cans of beers and bottles of Brass Monkeys and set out on a Friday night road trip to “Mary Wash” or “Randy Mac” in search of college girls. Of course, that was back when drinking and driving was a sport and a gold add-a-bead necklace could catch my eye.
It was all very Animal House and the fact that the Brass Monkey came with a legend made it all the more exciting. Here’s how it goes…
During World War II, there was a sin-infested drinking club on the waterfront in Macao on the Chinese coast called the Brass Monkey. It got its name from a brass figurine that guarded the door. The specialty of the house was a yellow drink made by its proprietor Henri Rasske, an American spy who also ran an import-export business. The drink quickly became the favorite of the American spies who frequented the club in the neutral city. It inevitably became known as a “Brass Monkey.”
Spies wishing to contact Rasske had only one way to do so. They ordered a Brass Monkey, which was served and placed on a coaster with a drawing of three monkeys and the words “see, hear, speak, no evil,” written at the top directly above the monkey heads. At the bottom of the coaster are the words “The Brass Monkey.” The spy first crossed off the letters “no evil” and then removed all the letters in “The Brass Monkey” not contained in the words “see, hear, speak.” This would leave “he rasske.”
Servers were trained to watch for coasters and to inform Rasske’s manager who would then relay the message to Rasske. The Japanese never caught on.
All this was written on the back of the bottle—in very small lettering. With the Brass Monkey, Heublein was proud to present Rasske’s original recipe, a secret combination of ingredients the color of sunlight with the mystery of moonlight. A cocktail for men who don’t just wait for things to happen! How could we resist? It was so much more exciting than a can of beer or a bourbon and coke. And potent, I might add. Sickly potent. It didn’t even lose that brass color when regurgitated.
I mixed myself a Brass Monkey the other night—a fancy one—just for old times sakes. As I sipped the jaundiced-colored juice, I started thinking about how cocktails are more than just booze sloshed into a glass. They’re about culture, history, and memories. And while we’re living in an era where classic cocktails are being resurrected and reinvented, I can say with assurance that there are some better left forgotten.