The “and Tonic” family of drinks is a wide one, and getting wide as people happily realize the breadth of tasty choices. Though still utilized mainly in summer and the sunnier months (especially the grandmother and matriarch G and T), don’t get stuck into thinking that a tonic number isn’t going to treat you rightly during other times of year, too (though cold winter nights can be a tougher sell, you can go for a vocational vibe in those situations). In the current fall time, which bridges summer months and fall months, I find an Apricot Eau De Vie (or fruit brandy) and Tonic especially nice. If you have the right Apricot brandy naturally! I’m using Oomrang’s version, which is a delight thanks to being based on apricots handpicked at the peak of ripeness, with the absolute perfect ones de-pitted, for a robust flavor of apricots tree-ripened in the summer sun. One note: this delicious apricot fruit brandy is not to be confused with some “Apricot brandies” out there, which are actually liqueurs, and tend to be treacly ones. I used Q tonic for that side of the “and,” but others could work, and tonic syrup would be a treat. I was just out!
Out final Vanity Fair Cocktail Talk, before we leave the legendary Thackeray (at least until I re-read or read another book of his!) in whatever afterlife bar he’s hanging out in today. But before leaving him and the book, we’re going to go along with one of the book’s large cast of characters for what I can only call a mighty mighty impressive day of drinking and eating. It’s, well, legendary (as are the Vanity Fair Cocktail Talks Part I, Part II, and Part III, which you should read).
Having partaken of a copious breakfast, with fish, and rice, and hard eggs, at Southampton, he had so far rallied at Winchester as to think a glass of sherry necessary. At Alton he stepped out of the carriage at his servant’s request and imbibed some of the ale for which the place is famous. At Farnham he stopped to view the Bishop’s Castle and to partake of a light dinner of stewed eels, veal cutlets, and French beans, with a bottle of claret. He was cold over Bagshot Heath, where the native chattered more and more, and Jos Sahib took some brandy-and-water; in fact, when he drove into town he was as full of wine, beer, meat, pickles, cherry-brandy, and tobacco as the steward’s cabin of a steam-packet.
Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair, what to do with you? I’m talking here about the book by Thackeray, of course, not the magazine. I’ll leave that to people who have read the magazine, and here we’ll stick to the book, which I recently re-read. And it took me a while, I will fully admit. I’ll also admit that the book is a classic, no matter how long it took. I mean, it’s so rich with stuff, in a way, and such a view into a certain milieu of the times, which is in some ways reflection of ones modern (maybe more than some ways). But it’s also a novel that to me reads completely (well, maybe not every single moment), or nearly completely, as if written in the sarcasm font, to bring it modern again. And if Mr. Thackeray, with respect, just scorns every character. Which means – very funny. Very realized characters. Now, he brings it together at the end in a friendlier way, and manages one of the best last lines ever, and when I was done, I was happy to have re-read it, and no doubt many Thackeray scholars if they read this post would school me! Understandably so. So, let’s change the narrative as they say. And instead let me say that I had forgotten how many swell Cocktail Talking scenes he brought into the book. We need to have at least two, maybe four. It makes sense, as Thackeray was known to enjoy, love, adore the clubs of the time (think port, not pulsating music), and not be ashamed to hit the late night brandy dens, etc. I’m all for it! And here we are! Our first Cocktail Talk. With Champagne! Seven glasses! And cherry brandy! And more!
“I think she’s going,” said the Rector’s wife. “She was very red in the face when we left dinner. I was obliged to unlace her.”
“She drank seven glasses of champagne,” said the reverend gentleman, in a low voice; “and filthy champagne it is, too, that my brother poisons us with–but you women never know what’s what.”
“We know nothing,” said Mrs. Bute Crawley.
“She drank cherry-brandy after dinner,” continued his Reverence, “and took curacao with her coffee. I wouldn’t take a glass for a five-pound note: it kills me with heartburn. She can’t stand it, Mrs. Crawley–she must go–flesh and blood won’t bear it! and I lay five to two, Matilda drops in a year.”
Here’s a nice number that straddles somehow the summer, while still having a base that seems more fall-ish (rye, specifically Woodinville Whiskey Co. delicious rye. If you can get their rye finished with toasted applewood staves, do that. Do it now). Probably cause of the ice and soda and sorta tiki-ish St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram and the citrus from some fresh oj, and some local robust and fruity cherry brandy (the real stuff, not the sugary stuff that calls itself cherry brandy — I used Oomrang cherry brandy, which is yummy), but whateves. It’s a dandy treat, even here in August. I originally created it during the lockdown year of 2020, which you might remember, and which you might like to forget. The drink’s heft – while still staying light-ish on its feet mind you – might help with that! Even though that time was tough, there were I’m sure good things to come out of it, so maybe let’s not forget it completely. Like this drink, for example! Well worth remembering and having again.
Just a week ago, I had a drink, The Ciliegia (a sort-of cherry-Negroni-influenced sipper, if you missed it), which featured Oomrang Cherry eau di vie, or fruit brandy, which is delicious, and, today, I’m following it up with another drink featuring another delicious Oomrang fruit brandy, this time their Blueberry Geist – featuring it in this drink, The Blueberry Cobbler. Whew, that was quite a sentence! And the Oomrang brandies are quite good brandies! About this time last year, I was lucky enough to be able to write an article about Oomrang (there are two umlauts by the way, in the name, so imagine them there) for the sparklicious Sip magazine. I don’t think it’s online as it was for subscribers only, perhaps, but research it up, see what you can find. Abbreviated version: Oomrang is a distillery and winery outside of Stanwood WA, and is a remarkable place, where they make lovely wine utilizing lesser-known German grapes: Mueller-Thurgau, Siegerrebe, Kerner, and Sylvaner. They also make fruit brandies – the real stuff, not the sickly sweet things sometimes marketed under that name. They have two kinds, the more traditional eaux de vies (when I say “more traditional” I mean in like Europe, as we aren’t as used to them yet in the U.S. – sadly) and geists. Because I don’t want to rewrite the whole article here, I’ll just quickly say that in eaux de vie the fruit is fermented, distilled, and bottled quickly, whereas with geists first you macerate the fruit in alcohol for a fair amount of time – Oomrang uses an alcohol made from grapes, and macerates a month – then distill and bottle it. Both brandy versions are strong spirits that taste yummy. I find the geists a wee bit more fragrant featuring an orchard-late-in-season vibe and fruit scrumptiousness. Which – we’ve finally gotten around to it – goes swell in this here drink.
A drink which is part of the Cobbler family, a family tracing its liquid lineage back to the early 1800s, when the Sherry Cobbler kicked off and kicked into gear, and then it and the Cobbler famile gained international name recognition when ol’ Chucky Dickens (as I called him, you may be more formal and all him Charles Dickens) included the drink in one of my favs, The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, in 1842. At one point, in 1888, bartender and writer Harry Johnson wrote “This drink is without doubt the most popular beverage in this country, with ladies as well as with gentlemen,” and though its popularity waned, the Cobbler is picking back up as more and more discover how swell it is for summer. Which leads us to the blueberry-rific Blueberry Cobbler, featuring Oomrang’s lush Blueberry Geist, a little simple, a little lemon (I feel Cobblers need both sweet and tang), a splash of soda (taking us off perhaps the super traditional Cobbler path, but it needed it, too, to me, especially when the sun’s high in the sky), and lots of crushed ice. It’s a summer hit, even if to get there you’ve now read a small novel.
1. Add the 10 blueberries, lemon juice, and simple to a cocktail shaker. Muddle well.
2. Add ice cubes to about the halfway full point, then the Blueberry Geist. Shake.
3. Fill a wine glass (or goblet) up with crushed or cracked ice. Strain the mix through a fine strainer into the glass. Top with the soda, stir briefly. Add more ice if needed. Garnish with blueberries and mint.
Have you ever started a book and thought “well, not sure I’m completely into this book, it’s not so bad, but I don’t really like the characters, and it’s not completely grabbing me,” and then kept reading anyway cause you have hope, and then all-of-a-sudden you find yourself unable to put it down? Well, that very sich happened to me recently with a book called Wall of Eyes, by Margaret Miller. I was saying to myself, “I can’t even stand the slightly quirky policeperson, Inspector Sands,” and nearly put the book down, but the cover is so good! And I had faith! And it was rewarded, as the book took a turn, focusing more on a wayward club manager, and then folding the Inspector back in interestingly, and then blam! A good solid twisty ending. I hear there’s a second Inspector Sands book, and might just try to track it down. Oh, the below Cocktail Talk quote was a good one, too.
“Johnny?” Alice said. “Have some?”
“Thanks. Maurice forgot the Cognac. I’ll ring.”
“I thought you’d be going teetotal,” Philip said.
“Me?” Johnny stared. “Why?”
“The new girl disapproves, doesn’t she?”
“Oh. Yes, she does. But you wouldn’t think she’d count a couple of drops of Cognac in coffee.”
You know (cause you’re you) that I’m a big fan by a country mile (as the saying says) of coming up with a new original amazing (or at least new) name when you concoct a new drink, even if said drink only changes one ingredient from an existing drink. That’s the way our bartending foremothers and forefathers did it back in the cocktail day (in this instance, meaning late 1800s, early 1900s) I believe, and if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. However! Sometimes, when the drink is really close, even I am tempted to just add an “ini” on the end or “insert word here + existing drink name” as the name and call it good. But I, even when lazy (which is most of the time) try to resist! Here, for example, I almost just said “Cherry Negroni” but then decided (still, lazily) to call it instead, The Ciliegia, which is Italian for cherry! But really, it’s mostly a Negroni (slightly different portions) with delightful Washington distillery Oomrang’s (in your mind, insert umlauts over the Os) delightful Cherry eau de vie in place of gin.
If you haven’t had it (you should!) Oomrang Cherry eau di vie, or fruit brandy, is made from natural Washington black cherries, picked at the peak of ripeness, at which time the finest of the fine have the stems removed, as well as any leafage, and then they’re rapidly turned into brandy via the joys and wonders of distillation. Fruit brandies (the real ones, not the fake ones – of which there are a lot, especially I think a lot of “cherry brandies” which are really just cherries muddled with vodka or another neutral spirit and a lot of sugaring agent, ending up oversweet and yucky) if you haven’t delved in are straight spirits, which – as demonstrated in this very drink – boast clear, crisp, flavors that catch the essence of a fruit in a way that’s wholly unique, and tasty. Here, the cherry notes mix a treat with the herbal sweetness of the sweet vermouth, and the bittery beauty of the Campari, without sacrificing the gin’s umph, as this real cherry brandy has the same ABV as the average gin. Heck, it’s a good enough combo that I’d drink it even if you did call it just a Cherry Negroni.
I haven’t read much by Dame Ngaio Marsh, the famous New Zealand mystery writer (and theater director) who was one of the Queens of Mystery during the golden age, and who wrote a fair number of books and stories featuring the well-mannered, but also slyly funny, Chief Inspector Alleyn of London’s Met police (later, Superintendent Alleyn, by the by). Not sure why I haven’t dug into her murderous oeuvre before, but hey, I make mistakes! Not too long ago, however, I came across a story by her featuring him, and liked it, and so picked up this here book, Death of a Fool. A dandy read, taking place in a small small British town, where there’s some pagen-ish annual ritual dancing, in which a dancer manages to lose their head! Literally! Which leads to the Inspector being called. Lots of fun for the mystery maven, but also the folklore lover. But be prepared for some dialect, as in the below wonderful quote.
“Fiddlededee. Let’s have some brandy. Where’s the grog-tray. Right the bell, Otters.”
The elderly parlour-maid answered the bell at once, like a servant in a fairy-tale, ready-armed with a tray, brandy-glasses and a bottle of fabulous Cognac.
“I ‘fer it at this stage,” Dame Alice said, “to havin’ it with the coffee. Papa used to say, ‘When dinner’s dead in yer and bed is still remote, ring for the brandy.’ Sound advice in my ‘pinion.”
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