Getting into the Halloween spirit can be truly scary, in the boozy liquid sense of the word “spirit.” Three of the most frightening words in succession have to be “candy,” “corn” and “infusion.” Or worse, the variations of “blood” cocktails, often with some sort of gross mock insect or body part garnish. Come on, how many iterations of the “Vampyre’s Kiss” Martini do we need?
Last year we whipped up some scary good cocktails in honor of favorite horror movies. This year, let’s talk about the spirits in your spirits. Sure, we could show you more pictures of skull bottles and labels with evil demons, the poor brands that probably go on the liquor store clearance shelf November 1st. You’ve seen those. What we’re discussing here are everyday booze brands with a truly spooky backstory.
So tuck the children in, dim the lights, ignite the candles and let’s do some spooky sippin’!
Ever wonder what the stag and cross mean on a bottle of Jägermeister? The word itself is German for “Master Hunter” and they are the official symbols of Hubert, the 8th century Patron Saint of Hunters. According to legend, Hubert was in Ardennes Forest on Good Friday, deer hunting for pleasure, which was how he spent most of his time (as well as chasing other kinds of tail outside the forest, nudge nudge wink wink.) As he was descending on a particular stag, it supposedly turned to face him, and Hubert saw a vision of a crucifix appear between the stag’s antlers. Then a voice emanated from the crucifix itself, warning him that, basically, unless he spent more time worshipping the lord and less time hunting and carrying on, he would “fall into the abyss of Hell.” As you can imagine, Hubert was pretty freaked out, (the stag could not be reached for comment) and with the guidance of Lambert, the Bishop of Maastricht, lead a pious life henceforth to eventually become the 31st Bishop of Maastricht. So basically, the bottle depicts an image that is meant to put the fear of the Lord in whomever consumes it. There is also a longstanding legend that each bottle contains trace amounts of real elk or deer blood among its 56 herbs, fruits and botanicals. There are a TON of reasons why this is probably not true, importing regulations aside, but you never know. One thing is for sure – consume enough of it and you’ll probably hear voices too.
Blanton’s Bourbon: Many Kentucky distilleries are thought to be haunted, particularly the ones that have been mothballed since Prohibition. The Deep South is known for its convivial culture, and something about that environment seems to beckon the spectres to gather together. With so many abandoned warehouses and forbidden chain linked entries along “Bourbon’s Bones,” you likely have yourself a regular down home ghost party! Distilleries in operation have them too, often thought to be the spirit of distillers or workers checking in on the barrels. The Buffalo Trace compound, which houses many historical buildings, bottling centers and warehouses, where hundreds of souls have come and gone, actually holds ghost tours to the public. There are said to be numerous ghosts about, particularly in the Stony Point Mansion (which now houses the executive offices), where Col. Blanton himself died in 1959.
Tomatin Cù Bòcan: The Scottish Highland village of Tomatin, home of the Tomatin Scotch distillery, is also home to a strange doglike vision known as Cù Bòcan. For centuries, the vision of a big black dog has been known to stalk local residents, particularly at night when the sight of the smoke flaring from his nostrils is in full effect. On one occasion, a distillery worker spotted him, and for some bizarre reason thought it might be OK to reach out and try to touch his black fur. Well, that just made Ol’ Cù-ey get all flary and dramatic, eventually evaporating into a dark, smoky mist over the peat fields. Tomatin released this limited edition, lightly peated expression to honor this local legend.
Pusser’s Rum: (Warning, this is pretty explicit. If you’re at all squeamish, better skip to the next one.) During the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Admiral Horatio Nelson successfully led the British Navy to defeat Spain and France aboard the HMS Victory, sinking and capturing 17 enemy ships without losing any of his own. However, during the battle, Lord Nelson was mortally wounded and died at sea. The brand’s account of the story has it that in order to preserve Nelson’s body for transport for a proper funeral back home in London, it was placed in the grog tub on deck containing an early version of Pusser’s Rum. When it was opened on land, the navy hero’s pickled body was intact, but it was also discovered that several holes had been drilled, not shot into, drilled, in the tank, and the rum had been drained. Whoever drank it had to have consumed some of the actual… unpleasantness… coming from the corpse of Lord Nelson! Therefore, a nickname forever linked to Pusser’s Rum is “Nelson’s Blood.”
Herradura Tequila: Of course, Halloween coincides with the sacred Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), during which loved ones who have passed are honored with altars bearing skeletal figures. Certain brands of tequila and mezcal (always drink 100% agave, folks!), particularly since they often come from family distilleries steeped in tradition, should always be considered part of a Halloween/Day of the Dead celebration. However, Herradura boasts a particular spectral occurrence – In the village of Amatitàn, at the location of the old Herradura distillery, numerous ghost sightings have been reported, and they say phalanxes of ghosts in military costume, perhaps the spirits of conquistadors who perished in nearby battles, have been known to roam the fields nearby. There are even reports of fireballs appearing and disappearing over the roofs of houses in the village, where battles for independence once took place. ¡Viva la revolucion!
Whether or not you believe these legends, one thing’s for sure, you probably need a drink right now! Nighty night and have a spooktacular and delicious Halloween!
Amanda Schuster is the Senior Editor in Chief of Alcohol Professor and the author of NEW YORK COCKTAILs available from Cider Mill Press. Certified sommelier, former retail spirits and wine buyer - she likes to think of herself as "bi-spiritual." Please don't ever offer her a Pickleback. Complete bio here.