Posted on August 10, 2012 by Blane Bachelor
The night was winding down at a cozy Newfoundland b&b when I heard another guest say something along the lines of: “So when he got screeched in …”
“Wait a sec – what did you just say?” I interrupted this fine fellow by the name of Mark. “Did you just say screeched in? What in the name of heaven is that?”
I quickly learned from Mark, his girlfriend Stacey and our lovely b&b hostess, Doreen Canning, that getting screeched in is a longstanding Newfoundland tradition for visitors. Brave souls who want to partake do a shot of potent rum called Screech, kiss a cod (or the ass of a puffin), correctly recite a couple verses of Olde English, and are then awarded an official certificate from The Royal Order of Newfoundland Screechers – and proud status as an honourary Newfoundlander, or Newfie, as they’re fondly known.
And, with that, my evening was about to get a whole lot more interesting.
As Doreen dug up the props – yellow fisherman’s rain hats, a smoked capelin (sadly, she didn’t have any cod in the house, so capelin, another Newfoundland fish, would have to do) and Screechers certificates – she explained the history of screech. One version says that the spirit originated when some clever Newfie on the Atlantic trade route realized that the deposits at the bottom of barrels carrying molasses from Canada and rum back from Jamaica made for quite a libation when fermented or mixed with grain alcohol.
The story goes that the name Screech (not to be confused with that boneheaded Saved by the Bell character) was coined when visiting American servicemen during World War II would try the local spirit, and, bowled over by its potency, scream out in agony as soon as their scorched throat resumed working. (As you’ll see in the following photos, my experience backs up that legend.) Canada’s national Liquor Board eventually adopted the name, and now, you can find Screech on the shelves of just about any liquor store in Newfoundland.
Getting screeched in is also popular with tourists in bars of bigger cities like St. John’s, but I have to say I was grateful there were only four of us in Doreen’s homey kitchen that night. We poured our shots and put on our fisherman’s hats, and Doreen, as the native Newfoundlander and our Master of Ceremonies, kicked things off with a question:“Is ye a Screecher?” To which we responded: “’Deed I is me old cock, and long may your big jib draw!”
Not surprisingly, it took a few tries for me to get that one right without cracking up. The phrase isn’t nearly as naughty as it sounds: “Cock” is actually a rooster, another word for a buddy, and “long may your big jib draw” is a wish for good luck, referring to the front sail of a ship and the hope for favorable winds.
With that, we each kissed the smoked capelin (which reminded me of some of my early make-out sessions) and then took a bite of it, followed by the shot of Screech. As you can see from these photos (thanks, Stacey!), Mark, who’s from Ontario, was far less of a wuss than me.
And there you have it: A terrific Newfoundland tradition proudly carried on by Newfies, and enthusiastically received by visitors like me. Once I was back at home in San Francisco, a quick Google search revealed that I joined the ranks of late-night comedian Conan O’Brien, who was screeched in on-air by Newfoundland-born actress Natasha Henstridge.
And I think we can agree that Coco managed to upstage me by looking like complete ass in a basket.
Want to get screeched in yourself?
For the most authentic experience possible, you must get screeched in in Newfoundland. If you’re looking for a raucous, party-like atmosphere, there’s a two-block stretch of bars along George Street in the city of St. John’s with ample watering holes where you’ll likely be pulled on stage for the ceremony.
But most bars are stocked with Screech, and since every Newfie knows about getting screeched in, you really can make it happen anywhere. (And although Indian River Brook B&B owner Doreen Canning doesn’t list screech in ceremonies on her website, I’m sure if you asked nicely she’d be happy to oblige as well. Tell her I said hi.
If you’re really serious about getting screeched in but won’t be visiting Newfoundland any time soon, check out the official website of Screech liquor, which has its own Official Screech-In Guide with a step-by-step walk-through of the process (though hardcore traditionalists might scoff at some of the exceptions).
- Blane Bachelor on Carnival Triumph: Epic Media Fail on the High Seas
- Gerard ~ GQtrippin on Carnival Triumph: Epic Media Fail on the High Seas
- Beth Yost on My Guiltiest, Ugliest Travel Confessions
- Beth Yost on Hot Mess Monday: A New Year’s Eve Cabin Rental … With a Full Septic Tank
- jeff on Hot Mess Monday: A New Year’s Eve Cabin Rental … With a Full Septic Tank