Friday, February 20, 2015

Ol' Timey Drankin' - "Scotchem." (applejack/mustard/boiling water)

Let us say that the Applejack Fairy has lately visited your home and bequeathed upon you a surfeit of traditional freeze distilled applejack. What to do with all of this heavenly apple-fluid? Well, you should drink it down by its lonesome as the good lord intended (mayhaps throwing back a stonefence or two for variety's sake)... But what then? If you delve into the history of applejack you will surely come across the old timey drink that was known as "Scotchem."

What is/was "scotchem" you ask? Twas a drank consisting of applejack, mustard, and boiling water, that's what... Fascinating. Simply fascinating. I was intrigued. What sort of hack, micro-regional, semi-literate, food blog guy would I be if I didn't give it a whirl?

As per usual with many historical beverages, there aren't a lot of measured recipes around for scotchem. I did find one abomination of a recipe entitled "Modernized Scotchem" that involved sweet cider and sprigs of rosemary... Needless to say I would like to punt the milk-drinking dilettante who came up with that drivel square in the beanbag. Instead, I interpolated what I thought was fitting for proportions utilizing the narrative of this passage that I had came across.

I didn't have any Coleman's English mustard powder lying around which was annoying as it is generally my preferred spicy mustard. I think that Coleman's would have most closely approximated the sort of stuff that barkeeps were using in scotchem way back when. Instead I went with normal "spice cabinet" type mustard powder.

The passage I sited earlier mentioned a "good dash" of mustard powder going into a glass of scotchem. The official verdict on a "dash" is 1/8th of a teaspoon. For a "good dash" I used closer to 1/4 of a teaspoon. This went into the glass (an old mustard jar, seemed fitting) first. On top of the dry mustard I added approximately 2 ounces of boiling water. I figured equal parts applejack and water made sense and as the drink is described as quaffable in one gulp, 4 total ounces seemed reasonable. I am going by my intuition for these proportions.

There she is folks. 2 ounces of room temperature applejack on top of the boiling water/mustard mixture.

Then she went down the hatch...

My thoughts? I thoroughly understand this drink. This is not a "cocktail" meant for exciting the palate. It reminds me of the Russian tradition of horseradish vodka (which I have made myself in the distant past). No one drinks horseradish vodka for the nuanced flavor. It is a ward against the cold. Scotchem is similarly a utilitarian belly-warmer. It is something that you take and not something that you savor.

Were I chilled to the bone on a wet October day and looking for a constitutional one hundred years ago? Well then, a glass of scotchem would have been just the thing. It burns a bit going down, hits the sinuses, and then lights a warm furnace beneath your ribcage. The blessed magic of alcohol combined with mustard pushes the chill right out of your body. Amazing really. People had an innate sense of the usefulness of tonics like scotchem in the past. We have lost this sort of wisdom.

In any event, I am harping on applejack lately. Drinking/producing applejack is one of America's (and the Northeast's especially) few truly indigenous traditions. There are craft movements behind no end of nonsense products, so why not applejack? Applejack reminds me of us Appleknockers. It is a rough around the edges beverage that creeps up behind you with its unsophisticated ways and gruffly makes you love it.

Sigh... Looks like the weather is about to break, but during the present cold snap you should come over to my humble abode and let me chase away your chills with a little scotchem...


  1. Thank you, Mr. Dave, for once again bringing history alive in these modern times.

    This is recipe I shall be recreating at home, as I actually have all three ingredients on hand and boiling water is well within my purview.

    Bob W.

  2. I haven't heard the label "Appleknockers" in years. Thank you!


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