Unexpected Nostalgia and the Kill Devil Cocktail

Some cocktails have the ability to take on a life outside the boundaries of the bar and become imbued with a time and place. It can happen at any time, and the cocktail becomes more of a signifier, a carrier of meaning. Perhaps it would seem more likely for a cocktail to represent a change in taste or an entrance into a new stage. The Vesper certainly always reminds me of my awakening to the lovely attributes of gin. The Pink Lady marked my first foray into the world of egg white drinks. And it was with the Improved Genever Cocktail that I first really understood and appreciated how absinthe can transform a cocktail. But when you spend as much time as I do thinking about cocktails, researching and reading, hell even imbibing cocktails, some of them stray into other territories.

I first ran into the Kill Devil Cocktail at Pegu Club in New York City three years ago. For summer, the city was unseasonably cool. The humidity was barely on my radar--a blessing since my years in the Pacific Northwest have lowered my tolerance. Five years had passed since I lived in Brooklyn, and I could feel how far I had moved away from that life. In the intervening years, I had changed coasts and moved three times before finally settling in Seattle. But some things never really go away. As I walked the streets on the edge of the East Village across to SoHo, I could feel the energy, could feel myself picking up the familiar pace as I wove through crowds and dodged traffic. I felt very much at home and yet not. So much had changed and yet so little. Of course, the pang of nostalgia was as present then as it is for me now while I write this. And while all of this self-awareness slipped away as I found myself staring at tiny blue flames that were flickering from a lime coin floating on the surface of my cocktail, I certainly knew at that moment that my taste buds were entering new territory.

The Kill Devil Cocktail is a strange concoction. It looks curious on paper--a drink that you aren't really sure will work in the glass, but that is too interesting to pass up. These cocktails are my weakness, and I have succumbed many times. The only surety is that the experience will be wholly new, regardless of whether you will ever want to relive it. This cocktail combines two ingredients not often seen together--rum agricole and green chartreuse. And while you may instantly think, there must be lime juice in there or something else to smooth out those big bold flavors, you would be wrong. This is not a Daiquiri or Last Word variation. While a bit of sweetener does help these two ingredients meld together better, it tends to stay out of the spotlight. When I first saw this cocktail on the menu, I was intrigued. When I tasted it, I was mesmerized. The flavors were intense and beyond anything I had ever tasted before. And as I sat there, taking in the complexity of each sip, it struck me how much I had changed. Even two years earlier I would have never been able to enjoy the Kill Devil. In fact, I probably never would have even considered ordering it.  

Kill Devil

2 ounces rhum agricole
3/4 ounce green chartreuse
1/4 ounce simple syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. The original garnish was a "coin" of lime peel with a small amount of Stroh rum set alight. I have seen this drink garnished differently elsewhere, but I leave mine ungarnished.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Rhum J.M and a 1:1 simple syrup.

Earlier this spring, I found myself back in the Big Apple. It seems I can't visit my family without tacking on a trip back to New York. Very few things in my life are the same as they were on that trip so long ago. But those same pangs of nostalgia were there, though weaker. As soon as I arrived back in Seattle, I found myself craving a Kill Devil. This drink has come to symbolize that strange feeling of belonging in a place and yet not--the push and pull of how we change over time--a feeling I experience most keenly when I visit the East Coast. No longer does the Kill Devil seem novel and overpowering. I now understand its refined simplicity, how the disparate ingredients have been tamed. But regardless, the Kill Devil serves to remind me of how things change in spite of what we choose to hold onto. It makes me remember how the things that define us at one point in time, never really go away, but are just markers on the path.

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