A good flailing through the cobwebs of antiquity is required to locate the embers of early school days and rote indoctrination to religion, but at this holiest time of the year they glow sufficiently to once again renew my faith. The catechism rings true yet.
What happened on Holy Saturday? Somebody, maybe Raymond Floyd because he was kind of a dude, first called it “Moving Day at Augusta,” and we celebrate it still, sister.
What happened on Easter Sunday? Nothing yet, sister, but according to the prophet Jenkins, Arnold Palmer so loves the world that he will send his son, Jack Nicklaus, to save our wretched souls. We’ll treat him badly at first, of course, because people suck. But on a future Easter Sunday, he shall rise again and shoot 30 on the back nine to win his sixth green jacket. [Thwack! of ruler on desk] Do not say “suck!” Yes, sister.
Life is replete with traditions like the historically accurate and Vatican-verified oral tradition shared above and the green jacket, which was renamed in honor of Nicklaus. (It was originally known as “the green upper-body garment with lapels that will get you laughed out of any place other than Augusta National.”)
Other dimming but still kicking memories of this time of year include visiting a butcher called Swiacki in the section of Philly known as Port Richmond, which is the ancestral home of my lot. These visits, with my grandfather Walt, who was born in 1890 in Poland (Prussia at the time), were to secure the traditional crown jewel of Easter celebrations in our family — yards of kielbasa measured in arm lengths, slashed free with a knife and coiled into brown paper for safe passage.
The smoked meat was prepped to meet its doom in a large pot of boiling water and upon extraction left a steaming pond accented by bobbing lily pads of fat globules. Long after Walt passed on, I started another tradition with my father: After the kielbasa was readied, I would ladle a few scoops of the heated liquid grease into a snifter and offer him an aperitif of Kielboisier (pronounced to the tune of Courvoisier). Thusly was born a signature drink never drank by even the most desperate drunk.
It’s impossible to know whether we invent special occasions and events so we can drink, or we like to drink as part of celebrating traditions, but who cares so long as there are drinks enough for everyone. What’s undeniable is that to varying degrees we identify specific drinks with specific events or moments in life — champagne with New Year’s and winning things in general, mint juleps with the first Saturday in May, a Pimm’s Cup at Wimbledon and so on. The mint julep is what can safely be called a true signature drink — at the shindig for Kentucky Derby winners, the state’s governor offers up a toast using a sterling julep cup, and the cocktail’s history with the event dates back to the 19th century.
Masters week is golf ’s clubbiest bit of merrymaking and includes no small amount of tippling. There is not a drink or cocktail universally associated with the club or the tournament, however. Patrons with basic tickets have access to beer at concession stands but no hooch. For those with Willy Wonka golden tickets and friends in green jackets, a sit on the veranda outside the clubhouse or a trip to Berckmans Place will include the opportunity to knock back a few Azaleas, the unofficial signature cocktail for seven days at Augusta National.
A man in green I know informs me that you generally don’t see folks drinking Azaleas at the club other than during the Masters, so it isn’t exactly a mainstay. Nevertheless, the Azalea has qualities that recommend it for your home consumption when you tune in this month — it’s tasty, it goes down easy, its colors scream “Oh glorious spring!” and, best of all, it ranks among the most malleable of cocktails.
Mess with a martini too much and it’s not a martini at all. Get too cute with a manhattan and next thing you know you’re drinking a Newark. The Azalea, bless its heart, was made for tinkering.
It’s impossible to know whether we invent special occasions and events so we can drink, or we like to drink as part of celebrating traditions.
Some mixers and shakers posit that the Azalea was conceived as a gin-based drink. I can’t argue the point — I’ll just observe that most gin-based professionals of my acquaintance don’t muck about with fruit juice. If you want some firepower in your Azalea, go for the gin.
Vodka will result in a smoother experience, but you should make it in your own image. The mass-produced version available at the Masters seems to be a lot of ice, a shot or two of vodka, lemonade to near the brim and enough grenadine to change the hue. I mixed up a few different Azalea recipes and poured them down Corknolia Lane (my drinkhole). The Masters’ version would be my choice for a session, but were I having just one or two, I’d opt for the more nuanced recipe described above.
In the second half of my at-home taste test, I had a deep conversation with Hamilton, our newish pug (RIP Churchill), about religion and the whole god-dog thing. He hinted that his faith revolves around a saliva-covered tennis ball, then cocked his head and stared at me a bit. It was a sign to make another drink, I deduced. After a few sips, I thought about my departed cousin Jimmy Dooley, who squeezed more laughs out of life than anyone ever. A priest once admonished Jimmy, who was Port Richmond through and through, for his wayward pursuits and fondness for drink.
“Father,” said Jimmy, “all the things you call sinning are the highlights of my life.”
How to make an Azalea
-Pour 2 oz good vodka (or gin if you prefer), 2 oz pineapple juice, 1 oz lemon juice (not lemonade) and a spoonful of grenadine into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
-Shake, shake, shake, then pour through a strainer into a tall glass filled halfway with rocks.
-Note: A lemon garnish on your Azalea is lovely. Just don’t use actual azalea leaves — they’re highly toxic.