It was in the bar of a small hotel in Ticino that I drank my first Vicar or whatever.

Business – I was an agent for an Italian publishing house – had brought me to the district, for the reclusive author Silas Flannery had rented a chalet in the area to complete his latest novel and I was to find him and negotiate for the publication rights to it. I would strike out after luncheon, walking the roads and forests of the canton, attempting to flush out any rumor or scent of the man. Upon returning, wind-chilled and tired, to the hotel, I made it my habit to stop in the bar and take in the warmth of a brandy.

Afternoons, a young woman occupied a seat at one end of the bar. It was obvious that she was carrying on some coy flirtation with the bartender; the meeting of their eyes would cause the faintest hint of a smile to form on her lips. Between these charged glimpses, she took delicate sips from a heavy conical glass of some gilded cocktail I could not identify.

After observing their tacit dialogue for maybe a week, one afternoon I returned early from a disappointing interview with the proprietress of a local dairy. I stood at one end of the zinc bar, warming a snifter of brandy over a candle, and noted her absence. An hour later, she arrived, wearing an ankle-length black wool skirt, her auburn hair a halo. She nodded to the bartender, and this once, I was able to discreetly watch him mix the drink for her.

The next day I went to the bar directly following my luncheon. The bartender at first refused to confirm my description of the young woman. However, once I made it clear that I had no interest in her name or family, but only her preferred cocktail, the application of a few francs brought me into possession of the recipe, inexplicably named the Vicar or whatever. While disappointed with the resolution of the matter of the manuscript, Signor Garamond found some consolation in the acquisition of this recipe for the cocktail.

Pour ingredients over crushed ice and shake.
Strain into cocktail glass.
Garnish with a (thoroughly rinsed) maraschino cherry.

This slightly golden elixir is a marriage of two liqueurs from opposite ends of Europe. The honey in the Drambuie lends its sweetness to the cherry bouquet of the kirschwasser; its spices and smoky peat supports the almond flavor of the cherrystones. The vodka provides a neutral base in which these liqueurs may achieve a symbiosis.

The above 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 explainations 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 tarriffs 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 Marschino 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.

Shake over ice and serve neat in a tumbler (certainly not any kind of stemmed glass).

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