Skip to content

the vicar or whatever – a response

The preceding is a pretty piece of writing, but I expected better from an accomplished mixologist like Ouroboros. Maybe a little of the real history to go with it? And I’ll be blunt: that recipe needs work. Look, I’ve been to Scotland, I’ve drunk the Vicar or whatever in its birthplace.

The name Vicar or whatever is a northern Scots Protestant dig at the ostensibly overly complicated hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church (ironic or perhaps just faintly ridiculous given that the Scots Protestant equivalent was the Church of Scotland, hardly lacking in middle management, either), as well as the reputation of the Catholic clergy as devoted tipplers (this icon having been largely delegated in modern American society to the Irish equivalent). The name on the East coast of Scotland is sometimes rendered as the Bishop or whatever (clearly “Vicar…” is superior on the basis of aesthetic appeal and personal preference, just as the recipe I give below is clearly superior to the preceding).

Rural Scotland is not the friendliest part of the world in which to travel. I was lucky to have been able to get my foot in the door of some of those bars; early in my travels, I met with this drink, and it served me well to ingratiate myself as not just another American tourist. I was in a run down little joint in the Orkneys, ordering Manhattans and just generally by my very presence annoying the locals. They don’t get a lot of young Americans asking for mixed drinks. The bartender was relieved, I think, by the opportunity to serve something a little different than the usual stream of Highland Park neat and 80 shilling pints, and offered a “wee local thing”. Asking for this “wee local thing” became my standard introduction in the pubs of Bumfuck, Scotland (though take care when ordering the drink in Catholic towns! I am not even fucking joking here!) and it put me on the receiving end of more than a few drunken rambles about the good old days of fishing and running liquor.

While it may seem odd or just downright weird to think of grizzled old fisherman in remote Scotland villages drinking Maraschino, there are several explanations I’ve heard. The first seems a little fanciful, but I heard it from a young man who swore up and down (and bought me several drinks to show his sincerity) that his great-grandfather was on the boat I’m about to describe and that the story was absolutely true. It seems that some Highlands monsignor (dammit, I can’t read my notes here… no idea what the guy’s name was supposed to have been) had developed a taste for Maraschino in his travels in the Papal States, and began importing it for his private
enjoyment. At some point, a ship carrying a missive from the Holy See and his years’ supply of Maraschino was blown onto the rocks during a gale. Some few of these bottles were found in the wreckage. Needless to say, these bottles never made it to the monsignor’s table, and the drink is then said to have been named in his honor. The “Monsignor or whatever” is a pretty awkward name, though. It is interesting to note that this young man eschewed Drambuie (“posh shite”) for a bit of blended Scotch and a drizzle of straight honey. I’ve tried to repeat this formulation at home but I can’t quite get the proportions right, so I won’t attempt to offer a recipe. Drambuie has herbs in it, and honey from the Scottish heath, that compliment the rest of the drink quite nicely.

What seems more likely to me, and is roughly the story I heard in several places, is the following: a thriving smuggling industry developed along the North and East coasts (and continuing on to Ireland, you can be sure) bent on avoiding the high taxes and tariffs of the Crown on import liquors. Maraschino is strong stuff and while it didn’t seem to find its way inland much you can still see these old fishermen drinking it, in a Vicar or straight with a splash of whisky, all around the coast. It’s a strange sight. I can’t drink more than a couple sips of the straight stuff myself. But I’m amazed by a proper Vicar or whatever.

Here’s the recipe as I know it; as mentioned before there is a passable version involving straight honey and whisky rather than Drambuie. The important thing here is that the Maraschino version I present is vastly superior (and vastly more authentic to boot) than the [kirchwasser] version. Maraschino has so much more fire and depth to contribute, even in this smaller proportion, that the difference is really not subtle at all.

◇ 1½ oz vodka,
◇ ½ oz Drambuie,
◇ ¼ oz Luxardo maraschino.
Shake over ice and serve neat in a tumbler (certainly not any kind of stemmed glass).