The Commuter Challenge

1 April 2007

The April 2007 Challenge

by CC @ 00:00

Create a drink, and provide both the recipie and your fabricated account of the history/origin of the drink (unless you have actually made an original drink and have a good anecdote about its creation, in which case the history doesn’t need to be falsified). Look into the histories of drinks such as the Gibson, Zombie and the Gin and Tonic for examples and inspiration.

Be as fanciful as you like. Whether or not you attempt to mix or taste your creation is up to you; the drink does not have to be palatable. The ingredients don’t even have to exist. You may make up different ingredients and liquers if you like – consider the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.

The Results

Ryan Finholm

The Blind Bat

Fill a tall glass with ice. Add:

Everclear 1 oz.
Amaretto liquer 2 oz.
Water 1 oz.


The Blind Bat had a very limited heyday, only enjoying any popularity at all in the very early 1920s, immediately following the beginning of Prohibition and before the proliferation of speakeasies throughout the United States circa 1925. With the amendment to the Volstead Act on March 23, 1933, the general public perception of all versions of the Blind Bat (or “BB”) drinks changed forever from being considered merely shady and unfashionable to shameful obsolescence. By the time of the repeal of the 18th Amendment and ratification of the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933, Blind Bat drinks had receded from memory. Their mild resurgence among the urban hipster set in the late 1990s has been largely ignored as a historically inaccurate bastardization of an embarrassing mixologic footnote.

When Prohibition enforcement first took effect in America, the general alcohol supply in the country quickly dwindled. Bathtub gin and backyard stills would soon be commonplace solutions as crude, temporary supplies until the rum-runners and high-volume moonshiners could get their operations into full swing, but in those very earliest days of Prohibition the hapless alcohol dependent had few options. People resorted to whatever they could find.

Thus the creation of what was called the “Blind Bat”. The original Blind Bat never had a specific recipe, as the primary ingredient changed depending upon what was available at the time. A typical BB drink would be made with a dose of Sterno fuel, cheap aftershave, rubbing alcohol, or mouthwash, which would then be diluted with water and maple syrup in an attempt (mostly futile) to make the taste of the fluid bearable.

The Blind Bat got its moniker early on, mostly from the BB drinks made with Sterno or certain cleaning materials. These were toxic mixtures whose effecting ingredient was methyl alcohol. Methyl alcohol, even in small doses, is broken down into formaldehyde and formic acid in the body. The formic acid is metabolized slowly, and it can build up within the body in short order with the ingestion of any significant amount of methyl alcohol. Formic acid bioaccumulation can lead to visual impairment due to edema and the swelling of the optic cells, effectively blinding the drinker.

Reactions to the methyl alcohol Blind Bats varied wildly. Even at small doses, people could suffer seizures or fall comatose. For those less sensitive to the mixture, the side effects of BB drinks made with methyl alcohol could be comparable to those of any normal cocktail. This was dangerously deceiving, as the hallmark signs of methyl alcohol toxicity do not intensify along with an increasing amount of BB ingestion, while the risk certainly does increase in correlation with the volume of BB drunk. The BB swigger did not know he had drunk too much until his vision blurred, spotted, and then failed altogether. It is believed that approximately one out of every fifteen BB drunkards went blind, and as many as one out of thirty died from major methyl alcohol toxicity.

It is peculiarly ironic that ethanol (also called ethyl alcohol, which is the type of alcohol found in beer, wine and liquor) inhibits the metabolism of methyl alcohol, so patients suffering from methyl alcohol toxicity in hospital settings would often be given real booze orally or intravenously in the initial stages of treatment.

A Blind Bat made with rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) would sometimes be referred to as a Fruit Bat, and some variations of the basic Fruit Bat were made with apple juice or syrup from canned fruit preserves instead of the more common maple syrup and water. Fruit Bats were not nearly as dangerous as the Sterno BBs, but they could, and did, still cause severe gastrointestinal hemorrhaging. It is thought that the name “Fruit Bat” came from the odor of the drinker – much of the isopropanol in a Fruit Bat is turned into acetone by the liver, and a drinker with a whiff of acetone to him smells fruity rather than boozy. At the time, this was considered a plus to those alcoholics trying to hide their afflictions. Yet it would be inaccurate and irresponsible to portray a Fruit Bat as a safe or clever alternative to the Blind Bat – in addition to the aforementioned gastrointestinal bleeding, common side effects included abdominal pain, gas, nausea and vomiting. Drinking a large enough amount of it could cause terrible heart and liver problems.

The ‘better’ Blind Bats were made with cologne, aftershave or mouthwash, as the desired ingredient in those fluids was ethyl alcohol (the type of alcohol present in beer, wine and liquor). Unfortunately, cologne and aftershave – even the cheapest colognes and aftershaves – were (and are) excessively expensive to drink (on a per-ounce basis), so these were only prepared as a last resort when the imbiber’s need was particularly acute and nothing else was available. And even the cheapest of colognes was difficult for anyone to swallow without gagging, regardless of how much water and maple syrup was used to thin it. While mouthwash was certainly a more affordable option, it contains a natural emetic. Attempting to drink mouthwash BBs to any level intoxication was, to a large extent, a game of chicken with the body’s inclination to vomit after drinking it.

In its first incarnations, the Blind Bat was always considered a practical drink rather than a sought-after drink. Had any other legitimate alcohol been available, almost nobody would have attempted to swallow any sort of BB drink. The inherent risk associated with the Blind Bat added to the sense of idiocy surrounding the concoction. As alcohol availability and affordability gradually grew during Prohibition and flourished afterwards, the Blind Bat was increasingly seen as the vulgar drink of bums and compulsives. It was shelved as a joke, and one would only associate another person with the drink as an insult.

The above (comparably tame) recipe of the Blind Bat with the Everclear substitution inexplicably found its way into the hipster subculture of the late 1990s. It is assumed that a description of the drink was found somewhere in Prohibition-era literature and re-created in a vaguely more potable mixture. The Everclear makes the drink nearly as unappetizing as the Blind Bat must have been, and the Amaretto can only do so much to temper the burn. Not recommended.

Brian Raiter

The Papa-Guy (a.k.a. Christmas Tree)

In a shot glass, mix:
2 parts Green Chartreuse, and
1 part Grenadine.

This holiday-themed drink was taught to me by Thomas Hadrow, an older bartender with whom I worked at my first professional bartending gig, a bar in Minneapolis called The Out House (which despite the name was a pleasant place and very clean). Thomas was fond of showing us strange, little-known recipes. We would then trot these out for the odd customer who, when asked for their order, would annoyingly insist, “Surprise me!”

Thomas told us that the Papa-Guy had been invented at a Chicago bar called Georgie’s, a place he frequented in the 1950s, before becoming a bartender himself. Georgie, the owner, would make this drink during December, when people had all kinds of particular reasons, cheerful or otherwise, for spending their evening in a neighborhood bar. The drink was not advertised, so one could only learn of its existence from one of the regulars.

The taste of the Papa-Guy is indeed festive, tasting something like a maraschino cherry and a candy cane mixed together with a handful of pine needles. (A variant form that I myself created is to add a pinch of salt to the shot glass beforehand, so as to cut the sweetness.) Part of the appeal of the drink is the presentation. It is a layered drink when combined in the proper order, as the grenadine sinks to the bottom of the chartreuse. If the chartreuse is poured onto the grenadine, however, the two become thoroughly mixed, and instead of red and green layers you get a murky brown drink.

Thomas tells me that Georgie had a special deal of two Papa-Guys for the price of one when serving to a couple. In this situation he would put two shot glasses out on the bar, one in front of each customer, and take the bottle of grenadine in one hand and chartreuse in the other, and pour a half shot in each. He would then exchange the two bottles by throwing them both into the air and catching each in the other hand. He would then pour the second half shot into each glass. Thus the lady’s drink would be layered, and the man’s drink would be mixed. Thomas claimed that Georgie almost made it look like a magic trick, the way the two glasses appeared to have different contents even though they were poured from the same bottles.

When Thomas told me this story, I asked him why it was necessarily the woman that received the layered drink. He seemed bothered that I would even ask this, and he told that I obviously didn’t yet understand women, and when I finally did I wouldn’t have to ask such a question.

I guess that means that I was married for nine years without ever understanding women.

Another question that Thomas was unable to answer satisfactorily was why the drink was called a “Papa-Guy”. He stated that he believed it to be a reference to Father Christmas, but was unable to explain it any further than that. The fact that nobody, including Thomas, had ever heard Santa Claus referred to as Papa-Guy, made his explanation doubtful, but Thomas couldn’t supply a better one.

I learned the true origin of the name many years later. By an unusual coincidence, I met an gentleman named Aaron Clancy, who told me that he had been a regular at Georgie’s in the early forties. (The timing of this would suggest that either Aaron was in unusually good health for a barfly, or else he had become a regular at Georgie’s well before reaching his majority.) I was living in Chicago by this time, having moved there after my divorce, and I met Aaron while drinking at a nondescript bar called The Watering Hole, which Aaron told me was not ten blocks from the original site of Georgie’s.

Aaron did in fact remember the Papa-Guy drink, and verified further that it was in fact an original creation of Georgie. He explained that Georgie had originally given his drink the straighforward and obvious name of Christmas Tree. On a busy weekend night before Christmas, there was a man at the bar, possibly a regular, an immigrant who spoke with a strong German accent. When one of the regulars ordered a Christmas tree, the immigrant began singing “O Papa-Guy, O Papa-Guy …” to the tune of “O Tannenbaum”. A young couple who happened to be present inquired about the drink, but referred to it as a Papa-Guy, thinking that that was its proper name. This amused Georgie and some of the other regulars enough that the new name stuck, and the original name fell into disuse.

When I asked Aaron what “Papa-Guy” actually meant, he explained to me that it was a children’s parody of the old German carol. The first two lines of the original, which you’ve probably heard before, are:

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie grün sind deine Blätter!

Translated literally, this means: “Oh fir tree, oh fir tree, / How green are your branches!” The children’s parody, which the immigrant sang that night, begins:

O Papagei, o Papagei,
Wie grün sind deine Federn!

Or, translated literally: “Oh parrot, oh parrot, / How green are your feathers!” So it was this that gave Georgie’s drink its permanent name.

Aaron could not remember exactly when this had taken place, but was certain that it was before 1941. An immigrant singing songs in German, even children’s songs, would not have been so well received after America had entered the War and the draft registration had begun.

Before parting ways, I asked Aaron if he could explain to me why, when Georgie poured two Papaguys for a couple, the layered drink would necessarily be for the lady and the mixed drink for the man. Aaron laughed at me and said, “A man’s not going to want to be drinking something with layers in front of his date, now is he? Come on. That’s a girl drink!”

Lance Halbury
Chicago, Illinois
December 1993

1 comment

  1. I had a lot of fun researching my entry for this one. I’d been curious about methyl alcohol toxicity for a long time, and finally got to look into it. For the record, I’m not sure that any of the health information in my submission is all that accurate to the subject – in theory it’s all true, but for all I know the credibility could completely break down if anyone scrutinized the specific doses and types of alcohol involved against the risks and symptoms I assigned to them.

    Also for the record, none of this should be taken as encouragement for anyone to drink any kind of alcohol, whether ethyl, methyl, isopropyl, cetyl, or any other kind. Alcohol can be very dangerous when ingested at any dose, and should only be administered by a qualified health professional.

    Brian’s submission was great. He wove an interesting back story around it. And I like the idea of a green and red drink for the holidays. Grenadine and Chartreuse sounds more palatable than some other combination of, say, creme de menthe or Midori on the green side mixed with Campari or Chambord on the red side. And though Campari and Chartreuse might make an interesting mixture, I doubt you’d be able to layer them.

    I have not tried either of these recipes yet. And I’ll probably never bother trying to make a Blind Bat, not even the 90’s hipster poser version I created. I’ve never actually tasted Everclear, but its reputation doesn’t make it sound like anything I’d be interested in experimenting with.

    by RyanF — 26 February 2008 @ 22:37