Ships Sail Past My Heart: Rhubarb Whiskey, Cautionary Tales

Photo by Flip Cassidy

Rhubarb Whiskey are Boylamayka Sazerac (Oakland Wine Drinkers Union, Subincision; vocals, guitar, upright bass, mandolin, metal chain, railroad spike on accordion case) Emchy (Vagabondage, Oakland Wine Drinkers Union; vocal, accordion, clapping, musical saw mallet on spice jar) and Sizzle La Fey (The Sweet Trade; fiddle, mandolin, whiskey bottle). They are from San Francisco, and Cautionary Tales is their first full length release.

It is aptly named, as it is jammed full of blood- and whiskey-soaked tales, such as Banks of the Ohio and Birch Bones, both of which are far too bouncy to be called murder ballads. Murder gavottes, maybe, or murder hooligan’s jigs.1

There’s also Bears in the Lot, which is an extremely entertaining meditation on the perils of losing bets and drinking in Alaska, and Whiskey Neat which is mainly about the joys of drinking whiskey, pretty girls and narrowly avoided bar fights. But my favorite song, the one I have been listening to somewhat, er, obsessively, is We All Come to the Same Place.

It’s a song about chosen family; for me, it’s the song I would (will probably) put at the end of a mixtape for a new friend, or lover, to say: this is sound of my ravens rising and soaring over the frozen lake, wing to wing, and my swallows, descending after a long journey home; this is the song of the travelers lantern always kept burning on my porch, for loved ones, and because I, too, often take flight, and need the light in the distance to call me home; these are my people, this is my tribe, and we are the wandering, traveling kind.

Here is a live version, recorded at the Starry Plough in Berekeley, CA:


And if after reading all of that, you would like a strong drink, Rhubarb Whiskey can help you out there as well, for the name of the band refers to an actual drink.

For those of you who have ever tasted raw rhubarb2 and are now thinking Rhubarb and whiskey? Together? But I like having tastebuds!, know that I had the same concern, and inquired how it was possible to drink such a thing and not expire of acute bitterness. It turns out there is a secret ingredient.

Not so secret anymore, though, since below you will find the Official Recipe for Rhubarb Whiskey, courtesy of (and created by) Emchy:

Official Recipe
Rhubarb Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup peeled and chopped rhubarb
Boil 1 cup of water, add 1 cup sugar, stir until sugar is completely dissolved, add 1 cup coarsely chopped and peeled rhubarb, lower water to a simmer, let simmer covered for one hour. Put into glass mason jar to cool and then refrigerate. Let sit at least one hour (a full day is better for flavor).

Once your rhubarb simple syrup is cool, add one part syrup to two parts rye whiskey (brand of your choice but don’t go too high end, that insults the whiskey and brings bad luck — we suggest Beam Rye or Makers if you need to get a little fancy). 1-3 ice cubes recommended. Now put on your favorite murder ballads album, drink up, and be careful — it goes down a little too easy.

1 The Hooligan’s Jig was a set dance I encountered at ceilidhs put on by the Cecilian Society at the University of Glasgow, while I was there. It’s not so much a set dance as it an endurance test. Basically you line up two rows of couples and then spend 10 (or more) diizzying minutes running through sets that involve swinging your partner, trading partners, and swinging some more. It’s tremendous fun, especially if you’re dancing with a large group of people who treat ceilidh dancing as a contact sport.

2 My grandmother had rhubarb growing in her backyard – wild or planted, I don’t know, but it was mixed in with asparagus – and I took a nibble of a stalk one afternoon, expecting it to be sweet, like rhubarb pie. It wasn’t; in fact it is still in among the top five unhappy food surprises I have ever had.

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