Well, what can you say about Charlie Dickens that hasn’t already been said – much of it in the highly-regarded biography Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin, which I’ve been reading, and which is very well done, very researched, very well-written, and very in-depth. Reading biographies isn’t always my thing, I’d rather usually just read the work, but I’m a fairly decent Dickens-head (heck, read all the Charles Dickens Cocktail Talks to see), and had just visited the awesome Charles Dickens Museum in London, so thought I’d take the bio plunge. And I’m glad I did! But also a bit sad, because the more you learn, sometimes it’s too much. And though it’s a great bio book, she didn’t mention the greatest of all Dickens characters, Diogenes the dog, so that was a big black mark. But balanced by the below quote, where she’s talking about Dickens the party thrower, parties which certainly seem ones I would have enjoyed, and where Fortnum was involved (I’m a big Fortnum & Mason fan as well as a Dickens fan).
Accounts of his entertaining there, over which he sometimes presided in a velvet smoking coat, suggest that there was a high consumption of iced gin punch and hot brandy punch, much smoking of cigars, and delicious food brought in from Fortnum’s – pickled salmon, pigeon pie, cold meats, and hot asparagus – oysters from Maiden Lane and sometimes a baked leg of mutton stuffed with veal and oysters, a dish of his own invention.
What the saying – it’s always 6 o’clock somewhere (well, maybe that’s an hour off the saying, but it is none-the-less true)? With that, I believe that this beauty should be the cocktail du jour pretty much all the time somewhere in the world. Sadly, it’s fallen from knowledge in the main, if it ever was in the main. I found it, mostly recently, in a little pamphlet called Come for Cocktails. Published by The Taylor Wine Company in 1958, I’m guessing at 6 o’clock on a Friday in anticipation of everyone drinking this mix of both sweet and dry vermouth, dry sherry, and a lemon twist. It has that swell vermouth heavier and lighter balance, with a knock of sherry nuttiness (I suggest a fine fino if you find it), and a twinkle of citrus. The lack of a higher abv base spirit means it’s a nice one if you’ve been (gasp!) dry January-ing as well, and want to ease back into the cocktails at a more measured pace. Not a bad idea for anyone if starting at 6, really!
The 6 O’clock Cocktail
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce sherry
Lemon twist, for garnish
1. Fill a mixing glass or cocktail shaker halfway full with cracked ice. Add our trio of liquids. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with the lemon twist.
My filling out of my Maigret collection continues! Wait, you say, you aren’t sure what I mean? I can’t believe you aren’t joking. You’re joking. Well, just in case, I mean specifically the Inspector Maigret novels and stories by writer Georges Simenon, starring the taciturn (at times) and methodical (until the mood hits) Parisian police commissaire. Please check out past Maigret Cocktail Talks to learn more, if you haven’t already. In my latest pickup, Maigret not only leaves his normal Paris stomping grounds, but leaves France altogether (the book name may give this away) for Holland, where a French citizen is involved in a murder case in a small Dutch town. As he doesn’t speak the language, and isn’t an official local cop, the case provides some wrinkles for our tall Inspector. But he still manages to find a café and a hotel bar for some mid-case sipping. And to teach the locals what drinking is all about.
“You won’t refuse a little glass of brandy, will you? They have some good stuff here.”
“If you don’t mind, it’s my turn now,” said Maigret, in a tone that tolerated no opposition. “Only, since I don’t speak Dutch, I must ask you to order it for me. A bottle of brandy and some glasses.”
Pijpekamp meekly interpreted.
“Those glasses won’t do,” Maigret said when Madame Van Hasselt came bustling up.
He got up and went himself to get some bigger ones. Placing them on the table, he filled them right up to the rim.
“A toast for you, gentlemen,” he said gravely. “The Dutch police!”
“The stuff was so strong it brought tears to Pijpekamp’s eyes. But Maigret, with a smile on his face, gave no quarter. Again and again her raised his glass, repeating:
“Your health, Monsieur Pijpekamp! . . . To the Dutch police!”
For our last dally (for now, at least) into Anthony Trollope’s novel The Prime Minister, we’re ending with two of the (in my opinion, ‘natch) great characters in Trollope’s oeuvre, and perhaps in English fiction itself, Plantagenet Palliser and Glencora Palliser, his wife (Lord and Lady and then Duke and Duchess if you’re feeling formal). Their marriage and early days kick off the whole Palliser series of novels, and they surface here and there throughout the series, sometimes as bit parts, sometimes more supporting, sometimes starring. Which means it’s only fitting we end with a little brandy banter between them (don’t, of course, miss the earlier The Prime Minister Cocktail Talks, part I, part II, and part III, to learn more about the book, and for that matter, why not spend some with all the Anthony Trollope Cocktail Talks – you’ll have fun. Promise)!
“If you ask me, Plantagenet, you know I shall tell the truth.”
“Then tell the truth.”
“After drinking brandy so long I hardly think that 12s. claret will agree with my stomach. You ask for the truth, and there it is,—very plainly.”
“You asked, you know.”
“And I am glad to have been told, even though that which you tell me is not pleasant hearing. When a man has been drinking too much brandy, it may be well that he should be put on a course of 12s. claret.”
February is here, a month known for hearts and presidents and the birthdays of famous dog-owners (the last very subjective). As the presidents in reference here, in this month, calendarically are those who kick-started or had serious impact on the US, we’re talking males, fathers or father figures or both, and perhaps bourbon lovers (conjecture, unless time machines are on offer), and historically sort-of noble (naturally history is written by those who, well, are able to write it, and without the aforementioned time machines hard to declare nobility – which is a hard word to define anyway – in a way, but go with it, okay), which makes this the ideal month for this drink. A noble drink, I may say, especially if you live in and love WA state (as I do, in the main), as nearly every ingredient here is from WA – oranges excepted. We’re talking some seriously tasty state stalwarts, too: Woodinville Whiskey Co.’s delicious straight bourbon, Brovo Spirits’ bouncy Orange Curaçao, and Scrappy’s uniquely awesome Black Lemon bitters. Plus, a dollop of Seattle Distilling Company’s beautiful brandy – if you have it. That latter is hard to come by, unless you hoarded (like me) a last sip from a limited-release bottling. If you weren’t so lucky (or forward-thinking), then sub in another reputable brandy, please. It shouldn’t make the drink too less noble. It is a swell sipper, for February – or any ol’ month in the year.
For our third jaunt into the politics, romance, customs, and (most importantly) drinking in the upper-middle-and-upper-classes as shown in the Anthony Trollope book The Prime Minister, we go on a little vacation. This takes us back into contact with Sexty (!) Parker (for more on Sexty, see The Prime Minister Cocktail Talk Part II), and with his wife, and with Emily Wharton, here using her married name, Mrs. Lopez (for more on Emily and for a brief overview of the whole book, be sure to see The Prime Minister Cocktail Talk Part I, and don’t miss the past Anthony Trollope Cocktail Talks). The below quote is a bit long, forgive me! But I didn’t want to miss the so-called bubbly or the not-called (but still seems to be) whiskey toddy. You deserve both – and deserve to read the book, so do if you haven’t.
It was all his ordering, and if he bade her dine with a crossing-sweeper she would do it. But she could not but remember that not long since he had told her that his partner was not a person with whom she could fitly associate; and she did not fail to perceive that he must be going down in the world to admit such association for her after he had so spoken. And as she sipped the mixture which Sexty called champagne, she thought of Herefordshire and the banks of the Wye, and,— alas, alas, — she thought of Arthur Fletcher. Nevertheless, come what might, she would do her duty, even though it might call upon her to sit at dinner with Mr. Parker three days in the week. Lopez was her husband, and would be the father of her child, and she would make herself one with him. It mattered not what people might call him, — or even her. She had acted on her own judgment in marrying him, and had been a fool; and now she would bear the punishment without complaint.
When dinner was over Mrs. Parker helped the servant to remove the dinner things from the single sitting-room, and the two men went out to smoke their cigars in the covered porch. Mrs. Parker herself took out the whisky and hot water, and sugar and lemons, and then returned to have a little matronly discourse with her guest. “Does Mr. Lopez ever take a drop too much?” she asked.
“Never,” said Mrs. Lopez.
“Perhaps it don’t affect him as it do Sexty. He ain’t a drinker; — certainly not. And he’s one that works hard every day of his life. But he’s getting fond of it these last twelve months, and though he don’t take very much it hurries him and flurries him.
It’s nice to start the year (or to have near the start of the year) with a Martini. Classic, delicious, somehow it seems to portend good things. Fingers crossed. This year, I was lucky enough to have my January Martini with a gin I’d never even heard of until recently – and one that sadly isn’t available in the US yet (sorry US readers), Burning Berries gin. Made in Sydney Australia, and only available I believe in that country currently, Burning Berries is perhaps worth taking a trip for. I was lucky enough (lucky twice!) to have a bottle given to me by my sister, hopefully not breaking any international laws. It’s a very intriguing gin, one that shades contemporary in style as opposed to say classic London dry. The flavor profile leans delightfully into citrus from the get-go, orange and lime notes predominately, before easing into juniper, not too heavily, and then some pepper and spice on the back end. It makes a very intriguing Martini (I used Dolin dry with it)! Something quite new, in a way, sipping-wise, in this much revered drink, which is fun. In hindsight, I might have even gone with an orange twist instead of a lemon (I’m not an olive-er, but imagine it wouldn’t go well here), which might make it another drink entirely – for sure it would if this was 1901 or something. It’d be fun to try Burning Berries in another classic, The Bronx, now that I think about it, as the orange notes would be a treat with that drink’s orange juice nature. Now, I’ll just have to make it to Australia to get more of the gin!
For our Prime Minister Cocktail Talk the second, one of the best-named characters in the book pops up: Sextus Parker, nicknamed Sexty. Not at all what you might expect from the modern usage, or near-usage, of the word or words contained within. He’s a chap who works with Ferdinand Lopez – be sure to read The Prime Minister Cocktail Talk Part I to learn more about the book, the main characters, and my take on it in short form (cause who has time for long form?), and such. Anyway, back to Sexty. In the below you see he likes both sherry and brandy (who doesn’t?), and that the consumption of such effects his confidence, much like it does for modern folks.
Sextus Parker still thought that things would come round. Ferdinand, – he always now called his friend by his Christian name, – Ferdinand was beautifully, seraphically confident. And Sexty, who had been in a manner magnetized by Ferdinand, was confident too, – at certain periods of the day. He was very confident when he had had his two or three glasses of sherry at luncheon, and he was often delightfully confident with his cigar and brandy-and-water at night. But there were periods in the morning in which he would shake with fear and sweat with dismay.
The Man Behind the Evening's PlansA.J. Rathbun is a freelance food and entertainment writer, poet and author, a frequent guest on the Everyday Food program (Martha Stewart Living/Sirius satellite radio), and is a contributor to culinary & entertainment magazines such as Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, Wine Enthusiast, and many others. Of course, there's so much more to it than that...Read More