Drinking in the War of 1812

Best Cocktail Bar in Portland MaineFew people today give much thought to the War of 1812. But when Josh Miranda was growing up in Portland, Maine, he obsessed over it and one battle in particular. The skirmish had taken place off the shores of the city and had claimed the lives of two ship captains, Britain’s William Burrows and America’s Samuel Blyth. Miranda would often take breaks from his paper route and sit atop the raised box tombs of Blyth and Burrows, who were buried side by side in his city.


Thoughts of the dead captains never ceased. In fact, last summer, Miranda opened a cocktail lounge on Exchange Street, the same road that had hosted the funeral processions for both men more than two centuries earlier. Blyth & Burrows—the bar—feels much like a ship’s galley. But probably unlike the vessels that had met grim ends, the cocktail lounge features much more than rum. The forgotten war, the captains, and their naval routes have inspired all of the seasonal cocktail recipes and most of the drink names, (each of which is crafted after weeks of research and discussed over a dice game that the staff plays each note, an homage to the men who had played it on board those boats).


For instance, a dandelion infused bourbon had been crossed with rum and clement agricole, along with another half dozen ingredients that did everything but overwhelm the drink. Even the pecan-wood smoke, which had been stoppered within the bottle, imbued the spirit only subtly. Expertly. As curious and complex was the coconut cream corn washed rum, flavored also with pineapple, coconut, orange, and marjoram.


Besides its cocktails, Blyth & Burrows likely serves as the premier museum for this one battle. Behind the bar, Miranda keeps a medal that had been awarded to William Burrows. Displayed on the wall hang paintings of the dead men. While Burrows’ portrait is an original, Miranda had to commission an artist to paint Blyth, as no other painting of the fallen soldier appeared to exist.


The most incongruous item in the bar is a false bookshelf near the rear of the establishment. It leads to a secret bar, where drams and shots are paired together and named for (in)famous couples. But why step through that doorway, when Blyth & Burrows allows you to step into the War of 1812?



Posted on by Noah Lederman in I Ate What?

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