December 8, 2010 by Amy Elliott Bragg
Last weekend I went to Milwaukee. It’s always really good to go to Milwaukee. I recommend it.
Saturday was also Repeal Day — the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. What a great holiday! Especially if you’re like me, and your idea of celebrating any holiday/festive occasion/minor triumph over daily toil is raising a glass. Because without Repeal Day, you wouldn’t be able to do that. (Legally.)
So on a snowy afternoon in the lakeside city that beer made famous, I drove down to Great Lakes Distillery to enjoy my freedom, hang out with a friend who works there and taste the world’s best absinthe.
I knew that I loved Great Lakes’ knock-out gin and their pumpkin whiskey (distilled from Lakefront‘s Pumpkin Lager), and their absinthe was electrifying. But I did not know they were making rum. And — in their tasting room — serving mai tais. Mai favorite.
From GLD’s website, for you spirit-lovers:
Roaring Dan’s Rum is distilled from fermented grade “A” sugar cane molasses. Before a second distillation, pure Wisconsin maple syrup is added. The rum is then aged in a combination of new charred American white oak barrels and used bourbon barrels. The hint of maple we add gives Roaring Dan’s Rum a buttery sweetness on palette entry followed by a dry finish.
This is all well and good. Here’s what’s BETTER:
SHOT STOPS A LAKE “PIRATE:” “Dan” Seavey, a weather-beaten mariner of the lakes … stole the schooner Nellie Johnson at Montague, Mich., on June 17. The Nellie Johnson was loaded with a cargo of lumber. The United States authorities were notified and the revenue cutter Tuscarora, with United States Deputy Marshal Currier on board, started in pursuit. After a chase up and down Lake Michigan, Seavey abandoned the schooner and went on board his own yacht, the Wanderer, in an endeavor to escape.
… Deputy Currier gave the order and a shot from the cutter’s forward gun went whizzing over the water past Seavey and his craft. That ended the chase.
And that’s the story of how “Roaring Dan” became the first, and only, Great Lakes pirate, at least in the eyes of the law.
It was a little late in the game for hijinks on the high inland seas, I think, which probably explains the character of the “last of the legends” tales that follow Roaring Dan’s name: rum-running, venison poaching, dropping pianos on his foes, hoarding skulls on his ship, beating a professional boxer at his own game on a frozen harbor in Northern Michigan, running a house of ill repute out of his Milwaukee saloon. On the waters he was known for “moon-cussing” — extinguishing and rearranging guide lights (or planting fake ones) to run ships aground so he could climb aboard and steal the haul. (Hence the “moon-cusser” cocktail on the menu at the Distillery. Make it at home: 1.5 oz of Roaring Dan’s and a dash of Angostura bitters on the rocks, topped with cream soda.)
But the capture of the Nellie Johnson and the seven-day chase that ensued sent Roaring Dan down in history (and later, into my cocktail glass). As the story goes, Roaring Dan came aboard the schooner with a few casks of rum, invited the captain and crew to join him for a drink, and pretty soon they were all passed out down below and the Nellie Johnson was his for the taking. Roaring Dan faced charges in Chicago for piracy, but the owner of the Nellie Johnson never showed up, and charges were dropped.
Hard to say what’s truth and fiction about the last bad ass Great Lakes pirate , but it’s nice to have an anti-hero rapscallion of our very own. Read more about him here.
Oh, and that nice friend I went to visit, Michael Cothroll, not only made a mean Wisconsin-style old fashioned, but designed the beautiful Roaring Dan’s label.