2 oz Bourbon, Wild Turkey 101
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth, Dolin Rouge
1/2 oz Cynar
1/4 oz Green Chartreuse
1 Heavy Dash Angostura
Stir, strain, up
2 oz Bourbon, Wild Turkey 101
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth, Dolin Rouge
1/2 oz Cynar
1/4 oz Green Chartreuse
1 Heavy Dash Angostura
Stir, strain, up
My oldest daughter had a friend over to play recently. She's eleven and actually has corrected us regarding the terminology of such get togethers. They are no longer 'play dates'. They don't have a name. I sometimes start to refer to them as 'hang out time' but realize instantly how ridiculous that sounds.
Somehow, on this particular day, while my wife was at work I managed to do a bunch of kitchen stuff. It's a rarity but I think I pretty much did everything that needed to be done. I did some cooking. I beat back the day's tidal wreckage of papers, receipts, boxes, wrappers, books, and arts and crafts supplies from the kitchen table. I washed dishes. Silverware even. And still had time to sit down with a book.
Such pleasure is always short lived however. My daughter came into the kitchen with her friend and informed me that they wanted to go back to her friend's house to get her first-day-of-school outfit. And then do makeup. Which, don't get me started. I knew, however, that her friend's mom was running errands and since I didn't think they should be wandering about in an empty house I nixed the clothes-gathering journey.
"You can just do the makeup though right?"
"Dad! I can't believe you would even say that." Smirking derisively, slightly embarrassed in front of her friend, annoyed and amused that I would dare offer any suggestion in the world of hair or clothing or makeup. A world she long ago planted a flag in and claimed as her own. Because no one else around here noticed that such a territory was up for grabs.
"Seriously? You need to have the right clothes to do the makeup and stuff?" Part of me is doubling down here, in a way that I hoped would be funny, but part of me is also genuinely oblivious to the mechanics of what is happening. Which is probably not a good time to double down. I think I figured if it fell flat, which is surely the only way it was going to fall, that the fall would at least be somewhat humorous.
She just shook her head in disbelief though. She's a sweet kid and still finds the degree to which we're out of touch to be largely comical. Which I think is why her reaction to our rules and opinions is often met with open and playful mockery. She does a good job following the path we try to clear in front of her and thankfully, her frustrations (with our internet, makeup, tv, cell phone, etc. policies) have not yet led her to seek an alternate route, to cut through the woods and emerge with outright contempt. Sometimes however, there's a tone of voice announcing a coming change in weather the way thunder rumbling long and low in the distance foreshadows an ominous horizon. I guess those will be the teenage years.
On this day though she just sighed, turned and chuckled at the absurdity of what just happened and the oafishness of her father. I'm sure her eyes were rolling as she walked back down the hall to her bedroom.
I sat for a moment, at the table in the kitchen I had been so proud of cleaning up and began to wonder what our tonic situation was like.
There are some good homemade tonic recipes out there. Sometimes I go that route. If you drink G&Ts regularly and opt for the homemade stuff this post is post worth reading. It addresses safe levels of quinine consumption (and what happens when you exceed those levels).
The perfect Gin & Tonic can be its own sort of quest. If you find yourself headed in that direction you would do well to bring along a copy of Dave Arnold's Liquid Intelligence. He's devoted a ton of time to that drink as evidenced by the amount of attention it gets in his book. I haven't pursued it with that much gusto but believe me, a Gin & Tonic at Booker and Dax is definitely on my Someday-I-Want-To-Drink-These-Drinks-At-These-Places list.
There's a reason Negroni variations abound online and in books. The template, solid and simple, is also amazingly flexible and accommodating. Which makes it tough to leave alone.
This one takes your standard Negroni (equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari), subs Cynar for the vermouth and adds some soda. That's pretty much it.
I find this drink to be a welcome diversion from the numerous house and yard projects that constantly threaten to derail an otherwise pleasant day in the sun. Procrastinating involves putting something off. It doesn't bother with promises but it does at least suggest the potential for accomplishment. The thing that needs to be done...will be done soon, very soon. If you're harboring notions of some grand endeavor involving large rocks and a small retaining wall or the thorough and heartless removal of basement-clogging accumulations what you really need to do, before you even start, is figure out some sort of strategy*. This part of the process is significant enough to warrant special attention. As such, I find it's best approached from a position of comfort. Why not then have a seat. Get your rest in before the hard work. Store, nay fortify!, the required energy.
Besides, at this point there's still plenty of time...
1 oz Gin
1 oz Cynar
1 oz Campari
Garnish - Orange Wedge
Build over ice in a rocks glass
- I have no doubt that this would also be good with sparkling wine. If I'd had some on hand that's exactly how I would have made it.
* You could skip this step and slog through the task itself, convinced that it will get done simply because you are doing it and will continue to do it until it is finished. You'll persevere, with or without a plan. Ambrose Bierce had this to say about perseverance though - it's "[a] lowly virtue whereby mediocrity achieves an inglorious success." Of course, that's to be expected from one whose brand of cynicism tended toward the caustic.
David Foster Wallace wrote an article for Harper's that appeared in the April, 2001 issue. He was reviewing Bryan Garner's A Dictionary of Modern American Usage and used the occasion to discuss a variety of factors that rarely get addressed when considering how best to use a particular word. What does this have to do with cocktails? Nothing. And everything. Or at least something. Possibly. I think.
Here's how Wallace opens:
Did you know that probing the seamy underbelly of U.S. lexicography reveals ideological strife and controversy and intrigue and nastiness and fervor on a nearly hanging-chad scale? For instance, did you know that some modern dictionaries are notoriously liberal and others notoriously conservative, and that certain conservative dictionaries were actually conceived and designed as corrective responses to the "corruption" and "permissiveness" of certain liberal dictionaries? That the oligarchic device of having a special "Distinguished Usage Panel...of outstanding professional speakers and writers" is an attempted compromise between the forces of egalitarianism and traditionalism in English, but that most linguistic liberals dismiss the Usage Panel as mere sham-populism?
Did you know that U.S. lexicography even had a seamy underbelly?
I have to tell you, this led to some real nerding-out for me. Like a lot of people, I grew up hearing "look it up!" when I wanted to know how to spell a word. Beyond that I didn't think much about dictionaries. This whole subtext of Prescriptivism (how words should be used) versus Descriptivism (how words are used) and the subsequent friction between those two camps, often characterized as 'usage wars'...this, was a whole new thing. And I loved it. I felt like dictionaries, those massive bookshelf hogs, had a secret life, a mission that I had been unaware of. Like cocktail lore (specifically, Ted Haigh's book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails) this was a rabbit hole and it led, inevitably, to more usage manuals, books about words, books about dictionaries and of course, more dictionaries*.
Whether we're conscious of it or not, most of us are fluent in more than one major English dialect and in a large number of subdialects and are probably at least passable in countless others. Which dialect you choose to use depends, of course, on whom you're addressing. More to the point, I submit that the dialect you use depends mostly on what sort of Group your listener is part of and whether you wish to present yourself as a fellow member of that Group.
After re-reading this article I started thinking about drinks. How drinks change over time and how that change is shaped by regional customs (and laws), shifting palettes, who's drinking, who's mixing, new products, old products, and products that disappear completely. When preferred versions of a particular drink differ, how best to reconcile notions of what is permissible and what is correct? For the purpose at hand, those preferences, or at least some of them, are the connection between Wallace's article and the drinks that follow. Here, I focused on the Old Fashioned but it could just have easily been the Martini, Manhattan, Mint Julep...**
Wallace's review of Garner's book is thorough but since it's David Foster Wallace you also get numerous engaging, often humorous side trips complete with a host of footnotes. It's a review of a book on language usage and I get how that probably sounds dry and really boring. It's not though. While discussing Garner's Dictionary, Wallace addresses many aspects of language usage: its role in various American sub-cultures, the education system's myopic take on usage and the ideologies and politics constantly at play when communicating with words.
Issues of tradition vs. egalitarianism in U.S. English are at root political issues and can be effectively addressed only in what this article hereby terms a "Democratic Spirit." A Democratic Spirit is one that combines rigor and humility, i.e., passionate conviction plus sedulous respect for the convictions of others. As any American knows, this is a very difficult spirit to cultivate and maintain, particularly when it comes to issues you feel strongly about. Equally tough is a D.S.'s criterion of 100 percent intellectual integrity - you have to be willing to look honestly at yourself and your motives for believing what you believe, and to do it more or less continually.
This kind of stuff is advanced U.S. citizenship. A true Democratic Spirit is up there with religious faith and emotional maturity and all those other top-of-the-Maslow-Pyramid-type qualities people spend their whole lives working on. A Democratic Spirit's constituent rigor and humility and honesty are in fact so hard to maintain on certain issues that it's almost irresistibly tempting to fall in with some established dogmatic camp and to follow that camp's line on the issue and to let your position harden within the camp and become inflexible and to believe that any other camp is either evil or insane and to spend all your time and energy trying to shout over them.
You knew there were going to be drinks right? Prescriptivism, Descriptivism...what we like, what we know, how things were versus how they are and how we think they should be. Drinks are drinks and I don't wish to over-emphasize their role in the world but like language, they adapt and change. And these changes are often attended to by adamant supporters and detractors. Some drinks have histories, ingredients and rituals that inspire heated debate. While this can lead to some head-scratching confusion it doesn't have to be a bad thing. Not always.
Adjusting an established recipe is practically a tradition and one which history accommodates...to a point. That point is not fixed however and will vary depending on whom you're talking to. That's part of the fun though. At least in a rhetorical sense. Which in this case requires substituting rhetoric's persuasive arguments for drink making's better efforts and what's not fun about that? When there's a deviation - ratios, ingredient substitution, role of sweetener, etc., why is that? Does it make sense? Does it nod to the original or is the lineage distant and blurry? Does it work in the glass? Because if it does then maybe that should be the end of it. Exactly how hard and fast are these rules anyway?***
We regular citizens tend to go to The Dictionary for authoritative guidance.(10) Rarely, however, do we ask ourselves who decides what gets in The Dictionary or what words or spellings or pronunciations get deemed "sub-standard" or "incorrect.' Whence the authority of dictionary-makers to decide what's OK (11) and what isn't? Nobody elected them, after all. And simply appealing to precedent or tradition won't work, because what's considered correct changes over time. In the 1600s, for instance, the second-singular pronoun took a singular conjugation - "You is." Earlier still, the standard 2-S pronoun wasn't you but thou. Huge numbers of now acceptable words like clever, fun, banter, and prestigious entered English as what usage authorities considered errors or egregious slang. And not just usage conventions but English itself changes over time; if it didn't, we'd all still be talking like Chaucer. Who's to say which changes are natural and which are corruptions? And when Bryan Garner or E. Ward Gilman do in fact presume to say, why should we believe them?
In ADMAU's Preface, Garner himself addresses the Authority Question with a Trumanesque simplicity and candor that simultaneously disguise the author's cunning and exemplifies it:
As you might already suspect, I don't shy away from making judgments. I can't imagine that most readers would want me to. Linguists don't like it, of course, because judgment involves subjectivity.(12) It isn't scientific. But rhetoric and usage, in the view of most professional writers, aren't scientific endeavors. You don't want dispassionate descriptions; you want sound guidance. And that requires judgment.
Whole monographs could be written just on the masterful rhetoric of this passage. Note for example the ingenious equivocation of judgment in "I don't shy away from making judgments" vs. "And that requires judgment." Suffice it to say that Garner is at all times keenly aware of the Authority Crisis in modern usage; and his response to this crisis is - in the best Democratic Spirit - rhetorical.
In the end, if I'm making an Old Fashioned I'm keeping it simple. Drinks do change over time, some more than others, but I see the Old Fashioned as a style of drink with the sugar-water-bitters-spirit version being the progenitor (and the one you're likely to get, with whiskey, if you order it). The gist of Wallace's article is that the rules of 'Standard Written English' do not apply to every situation in which English is being used. It may be a stretch to apply that to drinks, but, well...that's what I did. People who swear by a variation of a certain drink usually do so for reasons that aren't mine to question. I'll listen to those reasons though, often happily. And preferably with some version of the above drink in hand.
Old Fashioned - Whiskey, Genever, Rum, etc
2-3 oz Spirit
1/2 tsp Sugar
Water - about 1 tsp
2-3 dashes Bitters
Garnish - Orange or Lemon peel, cherry
In a mixing glass dissolve sugar in water and bitters. Add booze and ice. Stir and strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Or, if you're so inclined, just build it in the glass.
Absinthe Old Fashioned - Doug Petry, Rye, Louisville, KY
1 1/2 oz Absinthe, Kubler
1 oz Simple Syrup
1/2 oz St. Germain
3-4 dashes Peychaud's
Stir absinthe, simple and St. Germain with ice, strain over fresh ice, top with bitters.
Brandy Old Fashioned - via Morgenthaler here
2 oz Brandy
1 sugar cube or 1 tsp 2:1 simple
2 dashes Angostura
1 Orange Wedge
1 Cherry preferably Amarena or Maraska
Muddle sugar, bitters, orange (try to avoid the peel) and cherry in the bottom of an Old Fashioned glass. Add the brandy, stir and fill with crushed ice.
10 - There's no better indication of The Dictionary's authority than that we use it to settle wagers. My own father is still to this day living down the outcome of a high-stakes bet on the correct spelling of meringue, a wager made on 14 September 1978.
11 - Editor's Note: The Harper's style manual prescribes okay.
12 - This is a clever half-truth. Linguists compose only one part of the anti-judgment camp, and their objections to usage judgments involve way more than just "subjectivity".
Double Layer Footnotes!
* Unfortunately, enjoying usage manuals has never made me immune to making numerous boneheaded grammatical errors.
** If you're keen on the Old Fashioned, Robert Simonson's book on the subject, The Old Fashioned, is worth checking out. While tracing the drink's history he touches on various adjustments that have been made to it over the years. Including the whole to-muddle-or-not-to-muddle business. Recipes abound from bona fide classics to those for which that template serves as inspiration. The Absinthe Old Fashioned is from the Modern Classics section of his book. Here's another one from a previous post.
*** For more on menus full of signature drinks see Derek Brown's excellent article article here.
From Wells Tower's The Brown Coast with thanks to Ron for turning me on to Tower's short story collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.
In an attempt to pull his life back together Bob Munroe spends some time in a neglected beach house. His father, who passed away recently, co-owned the place with Bob's shifty uncle Randall. The death took a toll on Bob and Randall offered up the use of the house so that Bob could "recombobulate." Armed with a list of house projects Bob does some work, hangs out with a neighbor and gathers sea life from a tidal pool. Things seem to be getting better.
In the morning Bob went out to the patio. It was beyond hope. Even to weed it wasn't half worth the little money Randall had vaguely promised, and he'd be damned if he'd rip up those bricks and fix the grade as the note instructed. Still, he guessed he could pull a weed or two, if only to justify a long afternoon down on the shore watching the waves come in.
The work made him angry, first at Randall, who it was obvious hadn't so much as dragged a broom across this patio in the six years he'd owned it, and then at himself, for letting his life drift back to a place where he'd had to take the kind of ape work he had not done in years. Bob had helped build five whole homes, from the mudsills, to the shingles. He'd put up a house for himself and Vicky, and when she first saw it finished, she couldn't stop laughing because it looked so good. What a gentle decent kind of life he'd had with her. What a perfect pageant of disgrace he'd cast himself in now: down on all fours, clawing like an animal at thorns and marsh cherries whose yellow fruit left his hands smelling like bad breath, the red weight of the sun on him, and nobody around to pity his cracked hands or bring him something cool to drink.
With all the weeds gone, the patio did not look good. It was tidy, but now the big swells where the tree roots lay were easier and more unpleasant to see. The sight seemed an insult to the work he'd already done. Despite himself, he started on the bricks. When he'd pulled and stacked them, he set upon the roots below, snatching at the young pale ones with his bare hands and chipping at the stout pine roots with Randall's rusty ax. It took the rest of the day, and by the time Bob knocked off in the afternoon he was aching and had a raw sunburn on his face and arms. He went inside and mixed up some old Kool-Aid which hardly masked the sulfurous bite of the water that ran up from the tap. Then he walked down toward the shore, and he brought the soup pot with him. - Wells Tower, The Brown Coast, 2002
I know this blog is pretty much all cocktails but after (or during) a long bout of yard work I usually opt for a tall can of beer.
A while ago I made some Bloody Mary powder in an attempt to remake that drink as a fizz. I don't really use it for that though because...well, I'm just not a huge Bloody Mary fan. It works out alright in other applications though. If I'm using it chances are it's being applied to the rim of a glass which is simple and effective while allowing the recipient some control over things after the first sip. Now that Ancho Reyes is available in the state I figured it could factor nicely in a quick and easy Michelada variation.
1 oz Ancho Reyes
Garnish - Bloody Mary Powder mixed with some sea salt*
Garnish - Lime Wedge
*mixing the powder with salt was Andrew's suggestion and it's a good one - it keeps it from being too sticky.
Another short story with an increasingly ominous tone. Evelyn Waugh's The Man Who Liked Dickens which would eventually factor into his novel A Handful of Dust. Catastrophe befalls an Englishman while on expedition deep in the Brazilian jungle. Perilously close to death Henty is rescued and nursed back to health by Mr. McMaster who can not read yet has an abiding love for Dickens. As Henty's health improves he is only too happy to read to McMaster. For a while at least.
At their midday meal Mr. McMaster said, "Mr. Henty, the Indians tell me that you have been trying to speak with them. It is easier that you say anything you wish through me. You realize, do you not, that they would do nothing without my authority. They regard themselves, quite rightly in most cases, as my children."
"Well, as a matter of fact, I was asking them about a canoe."
"So they gave me to understand…and now if you have finished your meal perhaps we might have another chapter. I am quite absorbed in the book."
They finished Dombey and Son; nearly a year had passed since Henty had left England, and his gloomy foreboding of permanent exile became suddenly acute when, between the pages of Martin Chuzzlewit, he found a document written in pencil in irregular characters.
I James McMaster of Brazil do swear to Barnabas Washington of Georgetown that if he finish this book in fact Martin Chuzzlewit I will let him go away back as soon as finished.
[McMaster has mentioned a previous reader to Henty; one who was educated at Georgetown, and who now lies buried on McMaster's property. The particulars of his demise however were not addressed.]
There followed a heavy pencil X, and after it: Mr. McMaster made this mark signed Barnabas Washington.
"Mr. McMaster," said Henty. "I must speak frankly. You saved my life, and when I get back to civilization I will reward you to the best of my ability. I will give you anything within reason. But at present you are keeping me here against my will. I demand to be released."
"But, my friend, what is keeping you? You are under no restraint. Go when you like."
"You know very well that I can't get away without your help."
"In that case you must humor an old man. Read me another chapter."
- Evelyn Waugh, The Man Who Liked Dickens, 1933
I'm trying to take it easy on these posts and just let them happen as they happen. Ideally, the words will run the show as elements of the text overlap, or nod to, qualities embodied by a drink (not too dissimilar from the section in the 69 Colebrooke Row book where stories were written specifically for a drink). Mood, location, ingredients...whatever, I just want to get out of the way and see what unfolds. And in the spirit of getting out of the way I don't mind it when that connection is a shortcut tying in only to the drink's name. When I saw the title of this drink from Food & Wine's Cocktails 2015 this story came immediately to mind. So I got some stuff together and set about making a drink*.
To Alleviate Apparent Death - Jay Schroeder, Frontera Grill, Chicago
2 oz Dark Cocoa Tequila
1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth, Antica
1/4 oz Walnut Liqueur, Nux Alpina
-1/2 tsp Simple
1/2 inch long piece of guajillo chile
Garnish - Orange Peel
Muddle chile with simple, add the rest, stir with ice, strain, up.
Dark Cocoa Tequila - In a jar muddle 1/4 tsp dark cocoa nibs with 1/4 oz anejo tequila (Chinaco specified) until nibs are finely crushed. Add six oz tequila, cover and shake once daily for three days. Strain.
- I cheated on the walnut liqueur. After trying sub-par versions with hazelnut and amaretto because they have been languishing in the back of the cabinet for who-knows-how-long I ended up increasing the simple to 1 tsp and muddled a chunk of walnut with the chile. I suppose, short of buying a bottle of walnut liqueur, making a walnut simple would have been the way to go. However, the muddled version (after several strainings) worked out fine.
*or at least started the prep so I could make the drink a couple days later.
Next up, John Cheever. From one of his better-known stories, The Swimmer. In it, Ned Merrill decides to head home from a friend's house and plans a route that will allow him to swim through the pools of numerous other friends and acquaintances. It starts off bright and vibrant but a surreal and unsettling quality descends throughout the course of the afternoon.
The Hallorans were friends, an elderly couple of enormous wealth who seemed to bask in the suspicion that they might be Communists. They were zealous reformers but they were not Communists, and yet when they were accused, as they sometimes were, of subversion, it seemed to gratify and excite them. Their beech hedge was yellow and he guessed this had been blighted like the Levys' maple. He called hullo, hullo, to warn the Hallorans of his approach, to palliate his invasion of their privacy. The Hallorans, for reasons that had never been explained to him, did not wear bathing suits. No explanations were in order, really. Their nakedness was a detail in their uncompromising zeal for reform and he stepped politely out of his trunks before he went through the opening in the hedge.
Mrs. Halloran, a stout woman with white hair and a serene face, was reading the Times. Mr. Halloran was taking beech leaves out of the water with a scoop. They seemed not surprised or displeased to see him. Their pool was perhaps the oldest in the country, a fieldstone rectangle, fed by a brook. It had no filter or pump and its waters were the opaque gold of the stream.
"I'm swimming across the county," Ned said.
"Why, I didn't know one could," exclaimed Mrs. Halloran.
"Well, I've made it from the Westerhazys'," Ned said. "That must be about four miles."
He left his trunks at the deep end, walked to the shallow end, and swam this stretch. As he was pulling himself out of the water he heard Mrs. Halloran say, "We've been terribly sorry to hear about all your misfortunes, Neddy."
"My misfortunes?" Ned asked. "I don't know what you mean."
"Why, we heard that you'd sold the house and that your poor children..."
"I don't recall having sold the house," Ned said, "and the girls are at home."
"Yes," Mrs. Halloran sighed. "Yes..." Her voice filled the air with an unseasonable melancholy and Ned spoke briskly. "Thank you for the swim."
"Well, have a nice trip," said Mrs. Halloran.
Beyond the hedge he pulled on his trunks and fastened them. They were loose and he wondered if, during the space of an afternoon, he could have lost some weight. He was cold and he was tired and the naked Hallorans and their dark water had depressed him. The swim was too much for his strength but how could he have guessed this, sliding down the banister that morning and sitting in the Westerhazys' sun? His arms were lame. His legs felt rubbery and ached at the joints. The worst of it was the cold in his bones and the feeling that he might never be warm again. Leaves were falling down around him and he smelled wood smoke on the wind. Who would be burning wood at this time of year? - John Cheever, The Swimmer, 1964
By the end of the afternoon it becomes clear that summer has transitioned to fall and Ned's perceived status is at serious odds with the actual circumstances of his life. His tour of swimming pools seemed whimsical at first but interactions along the way gradually turn sour and reveal that he is broke, alienated and somewhat delusional. The effect on Ned is disorienting. He finishes his journey but the house which he returns to, his home, is abandoned and appears to have been that way for a while.
If I had focused more on ingredients and what I thought Ned was probably drinking throughout his journey I probably would have chosen a Martini or a Gin and Tonic. Or maybe just a shot of whiskey. However, I like the way the afternoon hours get distorted here. How long was the second half of this day? Weeks? Months? Years?
Which got me to thinking of this drink from Beta Cocktails:
The Arbitrary Nature of Time - Maks Pazuniak, Beta Cocktails, 2011
1 1/4 oz Wild Turkey 101
1 oz Campari
3/4 oz Cherry Heering
1 dash Regan's Orange Bitters
2 dashes Bitterman's Mole Bitters
Garnish - Orange Peel
Stir, strain, large cube
I'm going to dispense with the normal format for a little bit and focus instead on someone else's words. That someone else will change from time to time unless I get in a rut. Which I don't mind. Ruts aren't always bad. There will still be drinks of course and they'll be connected to the text but at times that connection may be tenuous. There's also a very good chance drinks will be featured which we have previously written about (but not with random passages from books and stuff).
Up first, Thomas Pynchon and the banana madness at the beginning of Gravity's Rainbow.
With a clattering of chairs, upended shell cases, benches, and ottomans, Pirate's mob gather at the shores of the great refectory table, a southern island well across a tropic or two from chill Corydon Throsp's mediaeval fantasies, crowded now over the swirling dark grain of its walnut uplands with banana omelets, banana sandwiches, banana casseroles, mashed bananas molded in the shape of a British lion rampant, blended with eggs into batter for French toast, squeezed out a pastry nozzle across the quivering creamy reaches of a banana blancmange to spell out the words C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre* (attributed to a French observer during the Charge of the Light Brigade) which Pirate has appropriated as his motto...tall cruets of pale banana syrup to pour oozing over banana waffles, a giant glazed crock where diced bananas have been fermenting since the summer with wild honey and muscat raisins, up out of which, this winter morning, one now dips foam mugsfull of banana mead...banana croissants and banana kreplach, and banana oatmeal and banana jam and banana bread, and bananas flamed in ancient brandy Pirate brought back last year from a cellar in the Pyrenees also containing a clandestine radio transmitter...
The phone call, when it comes, rips easily across the room, the hangovers, the grabassing, the clatter of dishes, the shoptalk, the bitter chuckles, like a rude metal double-fart, and Pirate knows it's got to be for him. Bloat, who's nearest, takes it, forkful of bananes glacees poised fashionably in the air. Pirate takes up a last dipper of mead, feels it go valving down his throat as if it's time, time in its summer tranquility, he swallows. - Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow, 1973
Bananas. I'm not a big banana person. I eat them a lot more than I mix with them...and I hardly ever eat them. The passage above left a mark though. I can still picture it years and years later. People hanging out of bunks and milling about sleepily while banana insanity commences in the kitchen. I love it even though I do not love bananas.
This one, the drink and its creation, was fun. At first I thought something with chocolate and maybe a 20th Century riff. The ill-conceived nature of this experiment became apparent immediately. Eventually though...what about bananas and cream? And while we're at it, why not some sort of weird Ramos-inspired concoction? Why not indeed.
If bananas aren't a part of your regular diet this one might start off weird. Heck, it might stay that way. This is after all an odd duck. It may not get regular attention around the house but I liked it alright at the beginning and even more at the end.
2 oz Aged Rum
1 oz Lime Juice
1 oz Banana Simple
1 oz Heavy Cream
1/2 Egg White
2-3 dashes Peychaud's
Soda - go easy here, just an ounce or so
Dry shake, shake, Collins, soda, fine strain.
If I do make it again I might sub vanilla for the Peychaud's.
Banana simple - Cut a peeled banana into discs and warm in a skillet over medium heat until the slices get pretty soft. Or just use an old banana. Add 100g sugar and 100g water. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Cool and strain.
*It's magnificent, but it's not war.
More snow = more botched plans = more time at home = a few more drinks.
The Violet Hour. I like how those words call to mind the transition from late afternoon to evening. In addition to being the evocative term DeVoto used to describe the cocktail hour*, the Violet Hour is also the name of a great drink from a well-known Chicago bar of the same name. And it's the title of an excellent album by The Clientele.
While DeVoto may have shunned the Manhattan (there were only two drinks he considered worthwhile - straight whiskey and the Martini) the Violet Hour (drink) is a Manhattan at heart. Some of the vermouth used is dry so I suppose it's a twist on the 'perfect' variation. Either way, it carves out its own territory by tweaking the vermouth and adding a little bit of rum to the mix. Hearty, flavorful, rich and molasses-y Black Strap rum. Less than a teaspoon, but that's enough. Perhaps not as elegant and rich as your favorite Manhattan (we all have favorites) but, in this case, sacrificing a little luxury offers a glimpse of adventure.
The Gatehouse started out as a reverse Black Manhattan. I tweaked things a little bit and, probably because the snow is making me crazy, I added some vodka. Actually, that's only partially true. The snow is making me crazy but I also took some inspiration from the Gypsy Queen. I often neglect vodka based drinks but I like how the vodka in the Gypsy Queen allows the Benedictine an opportunity to stretch out and anchor the drink. Half of the Gatehouse is Averna, the other half is split between bourbon and vodka. Averna drives things for sure (rich, dark, bitter) but its sweeter and heavier qualities are lengthened by the vodka which also frees up some space for the bourbon.
Lastly, the Meanwhile. Oh wait, what's this? A drink with Cynar and Campari? No way. I'll forgo the usual business about how much I love those two ingredients and mix them with almost everything and just say that combining them with Yellow Chartreuse (equal parts) is delicious. Silky smooth and intensely herbal. There's a bitter quality of course, especially on the finish, but the full ounce of Yellow Chartreuse is what makes this drink work. It softens things and keeps the Cynar and Campari in check but stops short of overwhelming the drink with its own sweet and herbal flavor. This is one of those drinks that kind of tastes like cough syrup. For some people that might be a deal breaker. For me, it's a deal maker (sorry, I plead the snow). Really though, I liked the cough syrup we always had on hand when I was a kid. It was yellow...medicinal...rich...sweet...wait a second, that sounds familiar.
Violet Hour- Toby Maloney, The Violet Hour, Chicago, Il
2 oz Bourbon
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth
1/4 oz Dry Vermouth
+1/2 tsp Cruzan Blackstrap
3 dashes Fee's Old Fashioned Bitters
Build over ice
1 1/2 oz Averna
3/4 oz Bourbon
3/4 oz Vodka
Garnish - Lemon Peel
Build over ice
1 oz Cynar
1 oz Campari
1 oz Yellow Chartreuse
Stir, strain, up
*This is the violet hour, the hour of hush and wonder, when the affectations glow and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn. - Bernard DeVoto, The Hour, 1948
We've received a fair amount of snow over the last week. I'm not sure of the exact amount. Probably somewhere between three and four feet. Sure, shoveling and dealing with parking bans is a pain. In general though, I don't mind the snow too much. Mostly because it has a tendency to reinforce, heck, encourage even, a natural tendency of mine - to stay at home. Who wants to drive around in a blizzard? Nobody, that's who. The following drinks have helped us get through numerous rounds of snow removal while softening the impact of repeated 'Did-the-furnace-just-kick-on-again?' groans.
Up first is the Puritan. Gin, dry vermouth, Yellow Chartreuse. This one falls somewhere between another favorite, the California Palace (gin, dry vermouth, Green Chartreuse, maraschino) and the Alaska (gin, Yellow Chartreuse). More rounded and complete than the latter but not quite as heavy and herbal as the former. The end result is a gentle variation on a classic (not dry) Martini.
Next, a riff on the Boulevardier that has been a house staple for a couple of years now. I love splitting the vermouth called for in various recipes with Cynar. In the case of the Boulevardier however, using Cynar to replace it altogether makes for a darker, heavier and more bitter version. Whiskey, Campari, Cynar - I'm sure I'm not the first person to go down that road. That's probably because drinks like the Boulevardier, while fantastic in their own right, are incredibly malleable and a lot of fun to experiment with. Toby Cecchini has a great article along those lines here.
Lastly, a punch. Ever since reading David Wondrich's book on the subject I have found myself turning toward this festive and often (but not always) low alcohol crowd-pleaser.
You need people around for punch. Usually. There are times however, when there are no plans involving company yet the afternoon seems to lend itself to a glass or two of punch. You could, in such a situation, scale everything down and make a small batch. Or, if the punch in question happens to be your most favorite punch in the world and you have all of the ingredients on hand and you were planning on making it for a get together anyway that got called off...well, in that case, you might as well go ahead with the full amount. There are worse things than having a few day's worth of punch bottled and chilling in the fridge. Such was the case this past Sunday. Super Bowl plans fell through but I had already psyched myself up for a batch of Regent's Punch.
There are many worthwhile punches out there. Books, blogs and articles abound with punches new and old. For my money however, Regent's Punch stands alone. Brandy, rum, maraschino, tea, citrus and sparkling wine? I'm in! It's much more than that though. It's rich with super funky rums and brandy yet light and festive with sparkling wine and citrus. The green tea is subtle and the maraschino lingers in the background adding to the sweetness and texture. That description falls well short though. Regent's Punch is sublime. This one is a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Much greater. Seville oranges are only available around here for a couple of months. When I got a text from Sean, who had spotted them at Whole Foods, I knew this one was in my immediate future.
Puritan - Frederick Knowles, The Cocktail Book: A Sideboard Manual for Gentleman, 1900 (or 1912, or 1926 sources seem somewhat inconsistent)
2 oz Gin
3/4 oz Dry Vermouth
2 tsp Yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes Orange Bitters
Garnish - Lemon Peel
Stir, Strain, Up
2 oz Bourbon
3/4 oz Campari
3/4 oz Cynar
Garnish - Orange Peel
Build over ice
I usually make the Boulevardier with 1 1/2 oz Bourbon but lately I find that an extra half ounce comes in handy for this one. Probably because it's been below freezing for weeks and I love bourbon.
Regent's Punch - early 18th century, via David Wondrich's Punch
1 Seville Orange
4 oz Sugar
1 pint Green Tea
8 oz Cognac
2 oz Jamaican Rum
2 oz Batavia Arrack
2 oz Maraschino*
1 bottle Champagne
Peel the citrus and muddle the sugar with the peels in a bowl. Let this sit for at least half an hour. You want the oil from the peels to mix thoroughly with the sugar. Make the tea and add it to the sugar/citrus stirring to dissolve the sugar. Juice and strain the citrus and add that to the mix as well. Strain, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Add the liquor and refrigerate for an hour. Pour into a bowl, add the Champagne and a large block of ice.
*Rich pineapple syrup can be subbed for the maraschino. Make a 2:1 simple syrup dissolving 4 cups demerara sugar with 2 cups water over low heat. Let cool. Add a pineapple cut into half inch pieces to the syrup and let sit overnight. Strain.