August 11, 2020
First published in serial form in 1862/1863, No Name is not the book name (see what I did there!) that first pops up when one thinks of Mr. Wilkie Collins; instead, it’s The Moonstone, and then The Woman in White. Both of which have also had recent television adaptions. It makes some sense, too, especially as The Moonstone is in many ways arguably (gently, cause there is no need for a ruckus) the first, or one of the first, detective novels, kicking off a massive industry, and The Woman in White has a little of that action, too. However! Collins wrote many more novels, some good, some not as good, and strongly in the good column is No Name. It had been, maybe, twenty-odd years since I read this the first time, and on the second reading recently I was struck by just how good it is, and left wondering why more haven’t taken it up. It has, as you might expect, a fair dollop of Victorian melodramatics – meaning, lots of cliff’s edges or “oh that didn’t happen” ramped up moments, like a silent movie in a way, or like a fair amount of modern movies now that I think about it – and gets wordy at over 500 pages. But the story/stories of two sisters (Magdalen and Norah Vanstone) abandoned when their parents die, and left none of their inheritance due to the ridiculous legality of the times, and how they deal with it and the loss of standing and fortune (not to mention grief, degradation, all that) is done quite well, and gives us a heroine (Magdalen) that many readers at the time weren’t fond of, but which I quite liked in her “do whatever it takes” and “I’m not going to sit in a place others tell me to” attitude. It could, I think, also make a swell miniseries! Plus, it was Collins’ pal Charles Dickens favorite (of the Collins canon), and has a couple nearly Dickensian characters, including the rascally Captain Wragge, and his nemesis, the calculating Mrs. Lecount, who below gives us – along with cruel fool Noah Vanstone – our first of three Cocktail Talks from the book.
“The man has been drinking, sir,” said Mrs. Lecount. “It is easy to see and to smell that. But he is evidently used to drinking. If he is sober enough to walk quite straight–which he certainly does–and to sign his name in an excellent handwriting–which you may see for yourself on the Will–I venture to think he is sober enough to drive us to Dumfries.”
“Nothing of the sort! You’re a foreigner, Lecount; you don’t understand these people. They drink whisky from morning to night. Whisky is the strongest spirit that’s made; whisky is notorious for its effect on the brain. I tell you, I won’t run the risk. I never was driven, and I never will be driven, by anybody but a sober man.”
–Wilkie Collins, No Name
August 7, 2020
Sometimes you just have to say, damn the torpedoes, I’m doing this (“this” can mean a number of things, but I usually take it to mean I’m doing something that may be worthy, but also perhaps a bit foolish, or something most might not do, lacking the courage and/or foolishness, depending on your perspective). Often, for me, it’s something with, admittedly, very little real world consequences, revolving around using a snazzy base spirit that should probably be just sipped solo in a cocktail, or having what many consider a more serious spirit-forward drink in the heat of summer. Well, “I yam what I yam” as a famous philosopher once said. Today, said happening revolves around the scrumptious (people should say scrumptious about whiskey more) Four Roses Small Batch Select bourbon, a sample of which arrived in the mail recently (I know, I’m lucky).
Crafted by a mixing of six of the Four Roses bourbon recipes – said six all aged six years by the way, and lucky there’s not one more six in there or I’d be worried – and hitting a hardy 104 proof, this bourbon is a shining example of scrumptious. Hah! I am going to force the usage of scrumptious in! Scrumptious from the very first small, with oak, baking berries, and spices (including, I felt, a nice nutmeg, which is one of my favorites, and a soupçon of cloves and cinnamon). When it hits your mouth, there’s more fruit – summertime fruitiness, really – oak, a little pepper, a little vanilla, all of which trails off with a lingering sweeter vanilla, spice, and toasty oak. A lovely, dare I say again, scrumptious, sip, and then more sips.
However! As alluded to above, I couldn’t leave it at that, or even with just a cube of ice (nice!) or drops of water (also, nice!), I had to do a little mixing. Or, in this case, I had to have my whiskey-loving pal Jeremy do some mixing, as he was sampling too – from a safe distance and with proper safety stuff of course. With a bourbon this good, though, you don’t want to go too far afield; you want to let it shine and all. So, kept it to the classic, legendary, Old Fashioned. Now, I have to say, cause of distancing and sipping, I didn’t actually see Jeremy make said Old Fashioneds, so I’m not 100% sure if his recipe is the same as the below, which is mine – but it tasted darn close, and tasted, well, scrumptious! The little bit of extra sweet mingled in a most mighty manner with the bourbon’s sweetness, and the herbal from the bitters paired with the bourbon’s spice oh-so-pleasantly. Or, if you’d like, scrumptious-ly. I’d try it if I were you. You deserve it.
1 sugar cube (or 1 teaspoon sugar)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Orange slice (see Note on garnishes)
2-1/2 ounces Four Roses Small Batch Select Bourbon
1. Put the sugar in an old-fashioned glass, of course. Add the bitters and the orange slice, if you wish.
2. Using a muddler or very solid wooden spoon, muddle up the sugar and bitters, along with the orange slice.
3, Place a couple of ice cubes in the glass. Add the bourbon, slowly and with reverence.
4. Stir briefly. Think about scrumptiousness.
A Note: The hoohaw about the garnish on an Old Fashioned can go on forever. Today, orange slice. Tomorrow, cherry. The next, day, who knows. My take is always no fruit salad (meaning, don’t go overboard). But I’ll admit to switching my fruit alliance on occasion, and you can swear at me if you want, just don’t take my drink.
August 4, 2020
Our last (for now – the next time I read the book, and fates-willing there will be a next time, there may well be more) Cocktail Talk from The Old Curiosity Shop is also the longest, and it’s very long as far as Cocktail Talks go. But I couldn’t cut a word, as it highlights so well hot rum, the demon (though a man) Quilp, and his toady and lawyer Sampson Brass. Do heat it up, but don’t let said heating keep you from earlier The Old Curiosity Shop Cocktails Talk, including Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV, or from other past Charles Dickens Cocktail Talks.
‘No?’ said Quilp, heating some rum in a little saucepan, and watching it to prevent its boiling over. ‘Why not?’
‘Why, sir,’ returned Brass, ‘he — dear me, Mr. Quilp, sir — ‘
‘What’s the matter?’ said the dwarf, stopping his hand in the act of carrying the saucepan to his mouth.
‘You have forgotten the water, sir,’ said Brass. ‘And — excuse me, sir — but it’s burning hot.’
Deigning no other than a practical answer to this remonstrance, Mr. Quilp raised the hot saucepan to his lips, and deliberately drank off all the spirit it contained, which might have been in quantity about half a pint, and had been but a moment before, when he took it off the fire, bubbling and hissing fiercely. Having swallowed this gentle stimulant, and shaken his fist at the admiral, he bade Mr. Brass proceed.
‘But first,’ said Quilp, with his accustomed grin, ‘have a drop yourself — a nice drop — a good, warm, fiery drop.’
‘Why, sir,’ replied Brass, ‘if there was such a thing as a mouthful of water that could be got without trouble — ‘
‘There’s no such thing to be had here,’ cried the dwarf. ‘Water for lawyers! Melted lead and brimstone, you mean, nice hot blistering pitch and tar — that’s the thing for them — eh, Brass, eh?’
‘Ha ha ha!’ laughed Mr. Brass. ‘Oh very biting! and yet it’s like being tickled — there’s a pleasure in it too, sir!’
‘Drink that,’ said the dwarf, who had by this time heated some more.
‘Toss it off, don’t leave any heeltap, scorch your throat and be happy!’
The wretched Sampson took a few short sips of the liquor, which immediately distilled itself into burning tears, and in that form came rolling down his cheeks into the pipkin again, turning the colour of his face and eyelids to a deep red, and giving rise to a violent fit of coughing, in the midst of which he was still heard to declare, with the constancy of a martyr, that it was ‘beautiful indeed!’
–Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop
July 28, 2020
The Cocktail Talks from our old pal Charles Dickens’ classic story The Old Curiosity Shop are shading towards the longish (there’s so much good stuff, I don’t want to cull or cut if I can), and as I don’t want to distract, going to keep this intro short. For more about the book, more wonderful quotes about drinks and drinking shops in the delicious Dickens style, more about how I adore Dickens, and just more more more (which you should always want), don’t miss earlier Cocktail Talks from The Old Curiosity Shop: Part I, Part II (from longer ago), and Part III (from recent ago). And don’t miss the below either (or other Dickens Cocktail Talks), where a little mild porter is consumed, and where a window is opened to holler at a beer-boy – I wish I could do that now!
As a means towards his composure and self-possession, he entered into a more minute examination of the office than he had yet had time to make; looked into the wig-box, the books, and ink-bottle; untied and inspected all the papers; carved a few devices on the table with a sharp blade of Mr. Brass’s penknife; and wrote his name on the inside of the wooden coal-scuttle. Having, as it were, taken formal possession of his clerkship in virtue of these proceedings, he opened the window and leaned negligently out of it until a beer-boy happened to pass, whom he commanded to set down his tray and to serve him with a pint of mild porter, which he drank upon the spot and promptly paid for, with the view of breaking ground for a system of future credit and opening a correspondence tending thereto, without loss of time.
–Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop
July 24, 2020
I’ll admit, usually when doing infusions of any kind (and they are usually Luscious Liqueurs), I tend to do my own, pick the fruit and herbs (or pick up the phone and order them), all that. However! Only someone very silly doesn’t try anything new, and so when I recently heard about this cool company called InBooze (what an awesome name!) run by a cocktail-loving mother of four who wants to make it easier for people to have swell cocktails, well, I wanted to give it a whirl. So, I ordered the Caribbean Rum Punch alcohol infusion kit, and it was not only super fun, but also really tasty! It starts with this pouch of goodness:
which for this recipe contained a host of delectables in a little cheesecloth-y bag, including dehydrated pineapple, oranges, Michigan cherries, and limes, and also contained some bitters-infused cane sugar cubes. You just place it all in a Mason jar, or (in my case here, a big glass container):
and then you add rum (I went with white rum cause I had a bottle at hand, but you could use dark rum – which I think I’ll try next time! – or even spiced rum, but I might be wary of that, as the flavors here are tasty already):
and then seal it up, and store it in a cool, dark place for at least three days, giving it a little swirl now and then to make sure all is covered by rum, and so it knows you care about it! After that, you just remove the bag, and you’re ready for island-style drinking. She suggests adding a couple ounces of the mix to a lemon-lime soda, Fresca, or pineapple-flavored sparking water. I tend to stay away from sweetened sodas in drinks (outside of ginger ale!), cause they are, well, a bit too saccharine in the main for me. You do what’s best for you! I actually liked the infused booze all on its own, and suggest trying that, though it’s got a kick of course. I had a sip or two that way (with some pals, at a distance, natch), and then tried it with just soda and loved it. Super for summer, friends. Another suggestion from InBooze is garnishing with an orange or pineapple, and that seems perfect, though I had to go with lemon (I’m not sure how I was unstocked, but it happens), which also added a nice citrus burst, and mint, which felt punch-y! Overall, a flavorful, rummy charmer that I’m glad I tried. And I’m excited to try more InBooze creations – you should too!
July 21, 2020
Well, this should surprise no-one who knows me in the littlest, but I’ve been re-reading one of Charles Dickens’ legendary books (that category of “legendary” covers all his books, more-or-less), as I do on regular occasions. This time, The Old Curiosity Shop, and as with every time I re-read Dickens, I found more to love that I had forgotten, re-read passages I remembered and loved, and was reminded of the glorious humorousness of Dick Swiveller, the big horror of Quilp and the lesser (though still a horror) horror of Grandfather, the sturdy Kit and his bouncy pony, the mighty small Marchioness, and of course the sweet sad Little Nell – and about a million more! Not to mention the many Cocktail Talk moments, as Dickens (I hope you know this) loved his pubs, tipples, and consumers of beverages cold and hot. Actually, I’ve had two Cocktail Talk posts from The Old Curiosity Shop already, so be sure to read Part I and Part II to start things off with the right flavor (not to mention, though I will, all the other Charles Dickens Cocktail Talks). And then come back, so you can reach this quote about the above-mentioned Dick Swiveller, one of my (many many) Dickens favs, and about “rosy wine” which sounds a bit like Pink Gin in practice!
“’Fred,’ said Mr. Swiveller, ‘remember the once popular melody of Begone dull care; fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing of friendship; and pass the rosy wine.’ Mr. Richard Swiveller’s apartments were in the neighbourhood of Drury Lane, and in addition to this convenience of situation had the advantage of being over a tobacconist’s shop, so that he was enabled to procure a refreshing sneeze at any time by merely stepping out upon the staircase, and was saved the trouble and expense of maintaining a snuff-box. It was in these apartments that Mr. Swiveller made use of the expressions above recorded for the consolation and encouragement of his desponding friend; and it may not be uninteresting or improper to remark that even these brief observations partook in a double sense of the figurative and poetical character of Mr. Swiveller’s mind, as the rosy wine was in fact represented by one glass of cold gin-and-water, which was replenished as occasion required from a bottle and jug upon the table, and was passed from one to another, in a scarcity of tumblers which, as Mr. Swiveller’s was a bachelor’s establishment, may be acknowledged without a blush.”
–Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop
July 17, 2020
In the middle of summer, the heat is naturally on, but so is the barbecue-ing, the backyard smoking, and, one hopes, the sitting on the porch/picnic table/deck/backyard, consuming the edibles of the labors that have happened over the flames. Yummy, right? But not as yummy without the right drink to have not only with the consuming, but also afterwards, as you and your stomach are mellowing down. There are many worthy options for this summertime moment, but I’d like to throw another in the mix, one called At Once to Ashes, which I created. Really! See, a pal of mine (I am lucky in pals) gifted me some small bottles of smoked simple syrup recently, and while that sounds like she must have used magic to create it, she assures me it was not spells. Now, I don’t know how she (non-magically) made it, but do know it sure is delicious. I can’t ask her if you want? The syrup’s smoky-sweetness is crying out (listen, you’ll hear it) to be had after smoky eating, and also, I believe, crying out to be had with another smoky-ish, earth-y-ish favorite: mezcal. Which is what I’ve done here – I wouldn’t ignore the simple syrup, would I? No! But I wouldn’t stop there, either. I’ve also added Grandeza, a lush orange liqueur made here in WA. Its orange flavor really pops, and it also adds another sidge of sweet, too. You can sub another orange liqueur if you’d like, but Don Ho will not sing of it. But it’ll still taste good! I wanted to balance the sweetness a bit, and also wanted to add a few herbal notes, and a hint of a hot spice kick, so our final ingredients here are Scrappy’s Orange bitters, and Scrappy’s Firewater tincture. If you like heat (habanero heat), then Firewater better be on your radar pals, cause it brings it. End result: At Once to Ashes is smoky-spice-citrus-sweet loveliness in a glass. Enjoy!
At Once to Ashes
2 ounces mezcal
1/2 ounce smoked simple syrup
1/2 ounce Grandeza
Dash Scrappy’s Orange bitters
Dash Scrappy’s Firewater tincture
Big ice cube (or a few good-sized ice cubes)
Cherry, for garnish
1. Fill a mixing glass or cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the liquids. Shake well.
2. Add a big (really big) ice cubes to an Old Fashioned or comparable glass. Strain the mix from Step 1 into the glass. Garnish with a cherry. Rainer if you have it!
July 14, 2020
For our final quote from Trollope’s The Bertrams (which, while not the finest Trollope tale available, is well worth a few days’ or weeks’ read) we have a little pale ale, about which we have a fine bit of wisdom from one of our main characters. I love it! And I am also fond of The Bertrams Part I and The Bertrams Part II Cocktail Talk quotes, so if you haven’t seen them, go back in time (via the helpful links) and catch up, before we bid adieu to our pal Tony Trollope on the ol’ Spiked Punch – at least for now!
“’And at last Mrs. Price got her porter, and Mrs. Cox got her pale ale. ‘I do like pale ale,’ said she; ‘I suppose it’s vulgar, but I can’t help that. What amuses me is, that so many ladies drink it who are quite ashamed to say they like it.’
‘They take it for their health’s sake,’ said Bertram.
‘Oh, yes: of course they do.’”
–Anthony Trollope, The Bertrams