Well, it’s December. A lovely month in many ways, indeed. But also one where, here in the northernly hemisphere, at least, the mornings can get dark and chilly, and then darker and chillier, making them not always the coziest, especially when one has to take the dog out for their walk first thing after the alarm bells ring. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to have a dog, and even if you have a fire blazing, I’m guessing you have a few chilly dark mornings where you want to call morning out for not being more charming. This drink is a tasty way to do that, and to wake up (it also provides a spark to brunches when the cold air has caused a slowing of movement and conversations). Partially, the base of absinthe and its kick combined with spice. Partially, the nutty maraschino (mornings are nutty), whose sweet side helps round the absinthe’s sharper corners. Partially, the hearty helping of lemon juice, whose tang is sure to get the brainpan rocking (sidenote: that much lemon might be too much for some modern tastes. If that’s you, feel free to pull back a bit on it). Combined, these three are a trumpeting cocktail sure to balance even a morning that’s mostly bereft of good cheer. In short: this’ll wake you up and then some.
Our final Cocktail Talk featuring the mostly mild crime-solving Father Brown (now even more famous from the wonderful BBC show that I’ve watched, and that you should watch) takes place in France – Father Brown’s a bit of a globe trotter in the stories. And may not like absinthe, though that could be writer G.K. Chesterton, too. If you want a little more Father Brown – and you should – quick, then for gosh sakes don’t miss Father Brown Cocktail Talks Part I and Part II. And then maybe have a little absinthe and sip it while reading, good on you.
M. Armagnac looked at M. Brun. M. Brun borrowed the letter, read it, and looked at M. Armagnac. Then both betook themselves briskly to one of the little tables under the chestnuts opposite, where they procured two tall glasses of horrible green absinthe, which they could drink apparently in any weather and at any time. Otherwise the cafe seemed empty, except for one soldier drinking coffee at one table, and at another a large man drinking a small syrup and a priest drinking nothing.
Hey, first up: don’t forget to read the Father Brown Part I Cocktail Talk, or you’ll hate yourself when you wake up from your nap. Done? Back? We are into the second now, from the Complete Father Brown Stories by ol’ G.K. Chesterton. In this story (as in many) the good Father is traipsing around the globe, solving mysteries, making friends, spreading the legend. In this particular story, he’s in the midst of millionaires and revolutionaries (the amount of millionaires Father Brown hangs with is wild, really), and drinks, a bit, with murder right around the corner.
Perhaps the one point in common to the two council chambers was that both violated the American Constitution by the display of strong drink. Cocktails, of various colors had stood before the three millionaires. Halket, the most violent of the Bolshevists, thought it only appropriate to drink vodka. He was a long, hulking fellow with a menacing stoop, and his very profile was aggressive, the nose and lips thrust out together, the latter carrying a ragged red moustache and the whole curling outwards with perpetual scorn. John Elias was a dark watchful man in spectacles, with a black pointed beard, and he had learnt in many European cafes a taste for absinthe.
This is not a spelling error (not that I don’t make those a lot); if you didn’t know, there really is a drink called The Zazarac. It wants you to know that it, while not renowned and legendary and all that, it in its own way is also worthy of your attention, much like its very distant cousin (though maybe not the same amount of attention, admittedly). It has a rare rye and rum combo, some friendly supporting players in anisette (go Meletti) and absinthe and Angostura and orange bitters (go Regan’s), and takes the edges off with a splash of simple, and tops things with a twist. Will it have you stopping your Sazerac consumption? Nope. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a sip.
Hey, it’s time for another Cocktail Talk featuring George Simenon’s legendary French detective Maigret, the stoic, large, over-coated, café-visiting crime solver. If you haven’t yet, check out past Maigret Cocktail Talks. This particular one, though, is from the very first of his books, which I was super excited to find in a little bookstore in Edmunds, WA. Sometimes the world lines up in great ways. And sometimes you have to drink an absinthe substitute with guttersnips in a dive bar.
Overall the man fitted a type that Maigret knew well: the migrant low-lifer of Eastern European origin who slept in squalid lodging houses and sometimes in railway stations. A type not often seen outside Paris, but accustomed to travelling in third-class carriages when not riding the footboards or hopping freight trains.
He got proof of his insight a few minutes later. Fécamp doesn’t have any genuine low dives, but behind the harbour there are two or three squalid bars favoured by dockhands and seamen. Ten metres before these places there’s a regular café kept clean and bright. The man in the trench coat walked right past it and straight into the least prepossessing of the bars where he put his elbow on the counter in a way that Maigret saw right through.
It was the straightforwardly vulgar body-language of a guttersnipe. Even if he’d tried, Maigret couldn’t have imitated it. The inspector followed the man into the bar. He’d ordered an absinthe substitute and was just standing there, wordless, with a blank stare on his face. He didn’t register Maigret’s presence, though the inspector was now right next to him.
Well, it’s the day after St. Patrick’s Day, so you may be up to your ears already in drinks utilizing Irish whiskey this week – but really, can you have too many? Not when you’re using some deliciousness like The Quiet Man Traditional blended Irish whiskey, which is re-casked in first-fill bourbon casks. It carries a very approachable nature, along with a vanilla, honey, apple, spice, and oak flavor that’s sippable, sure, but which also plays well with others – as in this drink. This drink, by the way, you’ll sometimes see with other ingredients (mostly a sloe gin variety). Well, the name you’ll see on other ingredients I suppose would be proper. But this time of year, this is the only way to go, as many have gone before you (it is a fairly old drink). Have a few, and you’ll be telling stories in no time. Unlike The Quiet Man founder Ciaran Mulgrew’s father, John Mulgrew, who this whiskey was named after and who worked many years in the Irish bar world, and who, as they say “told no tales.” A good story! Which also always makes a drink taste better.
I know many of the Cocktail Talk posts here (at least 89.6%) follow along one or two lines. Either a pulp-hardboiled-detective-murderous-noir selection, or a Trollope selection, with the occasionally Dickens thrown in for good measure. Sure, there are some others, but I usually run my routes with precision. But once in awhile, we need to shake things up. Combine that with the fact that I was doing an event not long ago and about half of the folks there had never had absinthe, and, well, we end up with the below quote which I love from the famous politician, historian, and journalist:
One’s emotions in Rome were one’s private affair, like one’s glass of absinthe before dinner in the Palais Royal.
This drink comes from one of my favorite old cocktail books, Crosby Gaige’s Cocktail Guide and Ladies Companion. If you can track it down, it’s well worth investing in, as it’s jovial as a good cocktail party, and it has some random but delicious recipes that I haven’t seen elsewhere. One of those is this one, Headlong Hall.
It’s really a distant cousin of the Martini, as it’s heavy of gin and half-as-heavy of vermouth, but then taken down a curvy boozy road by the addition of two whispers: one of Bénédictine, and one of absinthe. Which gives it a personality all of its own.
Of course, with the main players being such to the front of the stage (wow, I am all over the place on the metaphors and such), however, you need some serious actors – or, seriously flavorful gin and vermouth. Recently, I was in the UK, and in the lovely city of Bath, in a lovely little wine and liquor store, I picked up a bottle of Psychopomp Wōden gin, which is made at a “micro-distillery” in Bristol, not far from Bath. The gin is singular – don’t get me wrong, it starts with a rich juniper, but that’s backed by a mingling of coriander, grapefruit zest, angelica root and cassia bark, and fennel seed, the last of which really delivers on the back end when sipping. If you’re in the UK, track it down.
To go with it, I picked La Quintinye Vermouth Royal, the extra dry version (full disclosure and bragging – I received this in the mail not too long ago). Made in the Charente region of France, La Quintinye extra dry vermouth is crafted from 27 plants and spices on a base of white wines and Pineau des Charentes Blanc. Lush is a good way to describe it, with floral and citrus notes all coming together and delivering a result that’s fantastic in cocktails (especially I think matched with a flavorful gin), but also dandy before dinner over one or two pieces of ice. Combined with the Wōden gin and our two whispers in this drink? Well, try it, but I sure found it all fantastic.
2 ounces Psychopomp Wōden gin
1 ounce La Quintinye Extra Dry Vermouth Royal
1 teaspoon Bénédictine
1/2 teaspoon absinthe
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Drink, but not in a headlong manner (no matter the title. Sorry Crosby).
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