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Had the Puritans been bigger whiskey drinkers, the Salem Witch Trials might have never happened. Yeah, it's a historical stretch of the imagination, but check it out: Behavioral psychologist Linnda Caporael linked the bizarre hallucinations, convulsions and skin-crawling sensations the accusers (most of whom were young women) experienced to ergotism—poisoning through the consumption of rye affected by a kind of fungus (Claviceps purpurea, aka ergot) that grows on grain in damp conditions—exactly the environment present during the rye harvest preceding the village hysteria of 1692. In modern times, ergot is used in useful things like ergotomine (a migraine medication) and is a component of lysergic acid, the drug also known as LSD.
"If they'd distilled that rye to make whiskey, they would have been alright," Sugar House Distillery owner James Fowler says. "The distillation process and resulting high alcohol levels remove all contaminants like fungi and bacteria." Plus, who are we kidding? We'd rather drink rye whiskey than eat funked-up bread any day.
Embracing the Halloween holiday spirit (get it?), here are some spooky sippers to try out on the town or stir up right at home with your own stash of (hopefully unadulterated) rye. After all, there's something about Halloween that encourages even the tamest of tipplers to break out their freak flag and wave it high and proud. With Halloween on a Monday this year, that just means an extended weekend of costumes and cocktails galore.
- Darby Doyle
"Black Sabbath" Manhattan
Mahogany-hued Manhattans made with bittersweet amari instead of the typical vermouth are called "black Manhattans" by barkeeps. They're a snap to make with just a few ingredients, giving you more time to dial in the costume and makeup sitch before shenanigans commence in earnest.
To a mixing glass with cracked ice add:
1.5 ounces rye whiskey (Keep it local with Sugar House Distillery or High West).
0.75 ounces Averna (or other amaro).
2 generous dashes Bitters Lab Charred Cedar & Currant bitters.
Stir with a barspoon for 50 revolutions, strain into a Morticia Addams-worthy goblet and garnish with a whiskey-soaked black cherry as dark as your soul.
- Darby Doyle
O.P. Rockwell, 268 Main, Park City, OPRockwell.com
Thursday nights at O.P. Rockwell mean tiki drinks, reggae music and one of the best local's nights in PC. This year on the Thursday preceding Halloween, Panarelli and crew host an epic tiki-themed costume party, complete with dry-ice burbling Headless Horsemen-style pumpkin heads to up the fab factor. Made with Bacardi eight-year rum, rye whiskey and a truly delish housemade Wasatch pumpkin beer syrup, "The Rumkin" is as delectable as it is diverting.
- Darby Doyle
The Rest/Bodega, 331 S. Main, Bodega331.com
Ask anyone who's ever worked in the spooky speakeasy-like space if they think the joint's haunted, and nine out of 10 times you'll get a wide-eyed, bobble-headed nod in reply. Keeping with this spot's seriously clandestine vibe, owner Sara Lund shuts down the restaurant one night around Halloween to host her own private shindig, and it's one of the hottest invites of the season. Lund's theme this year is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for which barman Adam Albro has mixed up this sweet-tart of a treat to echo the absinthe-soaked world of Victorian-era England. With London dry gin, absinthe, housemade burnt sugar syrup and their own cherry-chocolate bitters blend, it's a very grown-up steampunk cocktail that tastes like a boozy Good & Plenty—in the best possible way.
- Tracy Gomez/ELTH
East Liberty Tap House, 850 E. 900 South, EastLibertyTapHouse.com
There's nothing "fluffy" about this seriously boozy cocktail. Well, except for the locally made "lollipuff" coconut cotton candy gracing the top of ELTH's spirituous concoction mixed up by bar manager Tracy Gomez with a wink and a devilish smile. Shaken up with local rum, lime, simple syrup, coconut milk and topped with Thai basil soda, it's well worth the stroll to funky 9th & 9th to check it out. Instead of doling out sugar to the short set from home, why not turn down the lights, leave a big bowl of candy on the front porch to be stolen by the neighborhood asshole kids, and sit by the tavern's wide windows to watch the trick-or-treaters run by with their exhausted parents—while you order another cocktail. Win-win.
- Darby Doyle
Bar X, 155 E. 200 South, BeerBarSLC.com
On Halloween night (yes, Monday), Under Current Bar, Copper Common and Bar X/Beer Bar are hosting a neighborhood "Blocktail" costume bar crawl. How's it going to work? Go to the bars any time between open/close that night and tag yourself on Instagram for a chance to win prizes. Then the real fun starts; each bar picks winners in the following categories: best costume, best couple's costume and best overall. And there's live music er'rywhere, to boot. At Bar X, check out the eerie and elegant "Hangman's Tree"—a powerful potion concocted by barman Michael Eccleston to resemble a spooky graveyard. It's made with over-proof Wray and Nephews Jamaican rum, velvet falernum for a nice sweet note, a touch of tart lime and Batavia Arrack to add some grassy notes to the party. Eccleston stirs it up to order and flames a sprig of toasted rosemary, giving it a singularly smoky appeal.
Now, get to work on your costume, update your Uber app and stay safe out there, party people.