The 'Headers In Life & Legend
by Russell W. Knight
|Back in the early days, life in Marblehead was far from easy, comfortable and tranquil. Time and time again, the town's shores were battered by bonechilling no'theasters, its fleet of sturdy heeltappers mauled by horrendous gales, wracked by turbulent seas, blanketed by clammy pea-soup fogs, and lashed by squalls of stinging sleet. And every so often, strange maladies and morbid complaints would sweep the town and leave in their wakes hardship, want, anguish and despair.
But thanks to the restorative powers of a now forgotten brew -- once revered for its character, integrity, bite, unique flavor, and staying qualities -- our forefathers were able to master those years of stress and strain.
Whistlebelly Vengeance ... a truly noble drink!
It slaked parched throats, revived the spirits of the sore-beset, gave comfort to the ill, and bestowed upon the downhearted a much needed lift.
To the town's devotees of Bacchus, as numerous as flounder in its harbor, Whistlebelly Vengeance was the Nectar of the Gods, a potable beyond compare. When taken at day's end, a dram or two not only soothed aching muscles but enabled scores of toil-weary shipwrights and dockworkers to enjoy a convivial hour or so at their favorite grogshop. With few exceptions, the spiced flips and toddies so popular throughout the colonies were ignored by our forebears. In their opinion, this oddly-named brew out-rivaled all others.
Curiously enough, the unpretentious little-known drink was said to possess several rather singular properties: it was esteemed as an eyeopener, a pick-me-up and a nightcap! It was also much favored as a painkiller and cure-all. In fact, it was said that one dram of it would purify a gallon of contaminated water. And when taken neat, they swore it would promptly relieve an attack of the Green Apple Two-Step.
A most remarkable specific!
Yet, like most colonial brews, Whistlebelly Vengeance was a simple, unsophisticated concoction. To make a modest supply, all one needed was a large kettle, five gallons of sour beer, eight quarts of stale bread crumbs and a brisk fire. After bread crumbs had been roasted brown, they were then stirred into the beer and allowed to simmer for several minutes. The brew was set aside to cool; then, and then only, the resulting mixture was considered "fit to drink."
(Those who advocated this were criticized roundly by a horde of angry, thirsty tipplers. They agreed that Whistlebelly Vengeance was a connoisseur's delight when properly aged. They had learned from long experience that no one should sip, slurp or guzzle the concoction until it had mellowed no fewer than 24 hours!)
Yet, despite its popularity, the humble libation was maligned, reviled and condemned. Whistlebelly Vengeance was deemed an unsavory, Godawful, nasty drink by a group of teetotalers, insisting that it was offensive to the nose and distasteful to the tongue.
(In turn, they were ridiculed by a host of dedicated elbowbenders as dour-faced water drinkers and pettifogging snufflers.)
And still worse, these teetotalers inferred that within the drink's limpid depths lurked properties that boggled the mind, properties far beyond man's comprehension. In short, they branded Whistlebelly Vengeance as an abomination, an unwholesome, disgusting brew. One that generated brawls, fostered unbridled profligacy and sowed the seed of extravagance. Furthermore, those who drank too much of the concoction were prone to rashes, warts, inflamed eyelids and the dry bellyache.
On the other hand, champions of Whistlebelly Vengeance resented such scathing attacks. If the brew ever caused such disorders, they figured that the cause was obvious: whoever brewed the batch was either inexperienced, careless, incompetent or a complete dolt. For when properly made, it was neither vile nor harmful. In fact, the drink was truly a wonder-working elixir, a catalytic agent and an awe-inspiring revolutionary beverage. It has been reported that a few beakers transformed a foul-mouthed rogue into a polished gentleman and a mean and ornery skinflint into an affable, open-handed almsgiver.
Whistlebelly Vengeance ...
A brew teeming with virtues never found in the Aqua Pura, which our forefathers drew from the depths of Redd's Pond!
"Whistlebelly Vengeance!" snorted an Old Timer. "'Twern't nothin' but bellywash ... hardly fittin' to drink, according to my old man.
"I recollect his tellin' us boys how him and a few cronies licked the tar out'a a slew of British lobsterbacks. 'Twas at Frog's Neck, (Pelham Bay, October 18, 1776). My old man said they was able to do it 'cause their spirits was bolstered by what he called a few slugs of 'corpse reviver'.
"He always swore Whistlebelly Vengeance lacked a certain some-thin' ... that somethin' found only in a quart of gin, fortified with a handful of horseradish and a spoonful of mustard seed! And he swore that after a man had downed a glass of this gullet-searing beverage, he could lick the hell out of anybody."