May 29, 2018
I was at the amazing Seattle Public Library annual booksale
not to long back, and came across a great box of book (well, lots of boxes of book, many, many, many were there, but this was a particular
one) that had a fair amount of old pocket-sized books, the ones with good covers, including books from heavy-hitters like Hammett and Chandler. But also some names I didn’t know, which is where this beauty by Adam Knight, The Sunburned Corpse
, comes into the picture. It wasn’t the best pulpy pick-up, but it’s lots of fun – I mean, it has the subtitle “Murder in a Tropical Paradise” and what’s more fun than that! There was a tough detective, a bunch of double-dealing, a murder on a boat, rum, and more, including the below quote that isn’t about rum. I love booksales!
“Forgive me,” she said, after a great lurch of the boat. “If I’m making passes at you under the table, please blame it on Davy Jones.”
“I’m not complaining,” I said.
“You’re really nice,” she smiled. “What are you drinking?”
“Drambuie. It sits well after a big meal.”
“A man of discernment.” She cased me slyly, weighing me with her wise eyes. “You don’t find many Drambuie drinkers on a boat like this. I would have judged you a Scotch and soda man.”
“I didn’t think it showed.” I lifted her glass and sniffed it. “You fooled me, too. I would have called you the Manhattan type. Instead, you’re sipping Aquavit. Scandinavian ancestors?”
“I love the Swedes?” She laughed. “I also love Aquavit because it warms me and excites me. But Aquavit is a kind friend the morning after.”
–Adam Knight, The Sunburned Corpse
May 20, 2011
Back in April (when still living in Italy), wife Nat and I took the road north from our Italian pre-tirement home, driving up to Milan so we could make a visit to the Fratelli Branca Distillerie, where Fernet Branca and many other delicious drinkables are made. When we showed up in the morning for our tour, we weren’t sure at all what to expect—a little talking, a little walking around the building, we just didn’t know. But it ended up being an amazing day, where we learned a ton and had some fun (huge props to Laura Baddish for helping to set it up, too). Once past the guards (serious liqueurs always need guards at the gates, cause secret formulas are too tempting to weaker minded individuals), we were met by three swell Italian folks: Elisa, Marco, and Valeria. Marco gave most of the tour, with tons of expert translating (his English is better than our Italian, but not by enough to carry on in-depth conversations) and more touring by Elisa, with Valeria filling in the cracks.
The tour started in the Collezione Branca, which is a museum created by the Branca family, a museum in the distillery (the aromas of Fernet Branca and other drinks waft up as you wander the museum), collecting Branca historical items, memorabilia, and more. It really serves as a tangible history of the company in many ways, and was full of intriguing artifacts. Right at the beginning are portraits of those family members who were there at the beginning, with a picture of Bernardino Branca in the middle:
Bernardino was the original creator of the famous Fernet Branca, developing the formula with Dr. Fernet, a Swedish doctor, to assist malaria and cholera patients. With this aim, it was first tested in hospitals (where it was shown to help patients) and first sold in local farmacias, or pharmacies (quick aside: Italian pharmacists have a lot more leeway than those here in the States, in prescribing and diagnosing). The first cask that Bernardino made this herbal health mixture in is also in the museum, and lives right under his portrait:
When walking through the museum, we learned more about the Branca family, which still runs the company today (the head of the company, Count Niccolo Branca, is the 5th generation of the family to make Fernet Branca). The family focus isn’t just with the Brancas, either, as our tour guide Marco is the 4th generation of his family to work at Branca (he’s been there since 1972). This lengthy dedication and devotion is quite remarkable, and shows in the end results: the liqueurs. There are lots more interesting family stories, such as those about Maria Scala, who married the third son of Bernardino and eventually became one of the first women in charge of a large company, and who originally developed the focus on continually creative Branca advertising—the company has always been on the forefront of advertising and advertising trends. One of my favorite, and a somewhat obscure, piece of marketing is this Branca suitcase:
I would carry one of those in an instant (if you have one you’re tired of, please let me take it off your hands). The museum also has loads of production implements from the past, and some that were used in the past but are still utilized today, which points towards the Branca philosophy of novare serbando, or renew but conserve. For one example, Marco showed us these giant iron pots for herb maceration and heating, which are still used today, though the stirring is done mechanically instead of by hand:
The pots were at one point stirred with both iron and wood stirrers (depending on the spices), and as the iron sticks were “cleaning” the pots, many thought that Fer-net came from some rendition of “clean iron.” Which is, I have to say, a great story. Fernet Branca gets its signature bitter, herbal, rich taste from an wide assortment of herbs, roots, spices, and other ingredients, and there’s a giant, mind-blowing, round table in the museum where you can see the complete layout of ingredients:
I knew (hey, I’ve done a little research before) that there were around 40 ingredients, and that the list included such far-reaching items as gentian root, rhubarb, myrrh, cinchona bark, galanga, saffron, and others, but I learned while there that all the products used are completely natural, and that all the suppliers have to sign a code of sorts, that says the products were obtained in a non-exploitive way. Another (and this was fascinating to me, but hey, I’m interested in odd things) fact I learned is that the real secret in the secret recipe for Fernet-Branca is how the ingredients are treated in production. Only the family knows, and the Count himself still does the treating (which means he has to go to the other distillery, in Argentina, regularly). Cool, isn’t it? After spices, we got to see tons of hip old Fernet-Branca ads, including the first one to use the eagle-over-the-world logo:
This logo was created in 1895, due to the large amount of Fernet Branca imitations being shuffled out of back alleys—always look for the eagle bringing the Branca over the world to ensure you get the real thing. There are a number of side rooms along the museum’s main path, where you can get a better picture of how Branca workers worked back in the day (as they say), with an herbalist’s room, chemist’s room:
and more. The museum is persistent in remembering not just what was made, but those who made it—not to mention that the museum itself was built by current workers at the plant. Again, there’s that whole atmosphere of devotion to people and product, to stories and to history. After looking over the production process, the spices, and hearing about the history contained within, we walked into a room full of bottles, whole tables of old Fernet Branca bottles, and bottles of other products brought out by the company, including older bottles of Branca Menta (a minty-er and sweeter version of Fernet Branca released in 1965), bottles of Carpano Antica (Branca bought the Carpano company years ago in a particularly astute moment—Carpano Antica being the first Italian vermouth, and one still made partially by hand, and the Carpano company also making Italian vermouth Punt e’ Mes), and more bottles. There’s even a whole cabinet of Fernet Branca impersonators (I suppose success always leads to imitation):
Then we stopped in the bar room (of course the museum was going to have a bar at some point), talked a bit more about advertising, had some Carpano Antica (which I loved even before stopping, and which I was happy to have a glass of even at 11:30 AM), and saw a host of happening ads for the non-Fernet-Branca-Branca brands. If the tour ended now, I would have been more than happy–but we still had the actual distillery to see! Which I’ll talk more about in Part 2, so come on back. Oh, first, check out this sweet and colorful Punt e’ Mes ad (one of about, say, 96, that I wished I had on my walls at home):
June 22, 2010
After my below post about the Champagne of malt liquors, Champale, pal Philip (who writes a blog about the cutest girl in the world) was kind enough to send me a few choice Champale items he found, items which are now bound to be sitting atop yr holiday gift wish list. Because I know you love Champale. Admit it. You love it in the best way possible, which is by wearing this lovely Champale badge (I know I’ll be wearing one):
I especially like the smell lines coming off. And where better to wear your Champale-badged attire, then in your home bar, under your Champale light (I almost feel like I’m announcing a showcase showdown here):
Though really, that light is too modern for me. Give me the class of the oldies, the aged Champale, or at least this aged Champale light:
Now that’s classy. You know what’s best of all? You can buy both lights, and then have a whole Champale room, and, for that matter, buy a whole bunch of Champale badges and make a complete Champale outfit, and then send a picture of you in it, standing under your lights, to me, and I will post it here. Promise.
April 2, 2010
I’ve enjoyed some Early Times Kentucky bourbon in my time (as has Hoke Moseley, detailed below). But I’ve never received it “handsomely wrapped at no extra cost.” Which is probably why my eyes never went to the wacky angle like the lady’s below–looking directly at her man’s neck? Adam’s apple? She looks a little frightened too, right? There is fear in those eyes. Maybe she knows what Early Times does to her man? Or maybe she forgot to wash her hair this morning and is worried that he’s smelling it without having a drink first, ruining the Early Times’ bouquet? Or maybe (shudder to think) he’s giving her a bit of a spanking in the part of the photo we can’t see, because she was supposed to buy the Early Times yesterday and forgot? Did I take it too far? It is Friday, and something about this is eerie to me. Maybe I need some Early Times, is my problem. Or maybe the 50s weren’t all well-wrapped bourbon and flowers.
March 23, 2010
Okay, I’m just thirsty. So thirsty I don’t have the energy to write the full-on over-the-top legendary journey of cocktails blog post I want to write about the weekend before last, a weekend of amazing cocktails that would leave every other blog post in the dusty dust, that would make you want to stroll in my shoes (or at least borrow my throat and tastebuds for awhile), a blog post that would involve at least 74.5% of the top cocktail creators in Seattle, and me tasting their drinks, a blog that would make you drool like George the Animal Steel before a cage match, a blog that might just have you (if you don’t live in Seattle already) running screaming to your suitcase, packing said suitcase, and getting a ticket here poste haste, a blog that if you already lived in Seattle would make you instantly descend to the floor crying tears of joy in front of your liquor cabinet, shelf, or box, happy that you could follow my footsteps in cocktails, a blog that might just cause the whole internet to go silent as a lonely ice cube due to everyone shaking off the electronic shackles to go on a drinks quest, the blog I want to write but just am too thirsty to write (but write it, someday, I will), so instead I’m just writing this post about how much I’d like to be drinking an Athenian at Cicchetti, a drink made with Metaxa, Martini and Rossi Bianco vermouth, and Scrappy’s grapefruit bitters, the very drink pictured below. Look at it, friends, and dream along with me (and if you’re not on the Scrappy’s bitters wagon, then get on it.)
March 16, 2010
Oh, poor pouty Muffy dear–she’s run out of the most delectable beer. Schlitz. I like Schlitz okay (though it’s harder to find these days, or at least hard for me, thank you very much WA state liquor board), and a nice American lager in the lighter style. And, it’s the “beer that made Milwaukee famous.” But no one likes Schlitz as well as Muffy in the below ad. Look how sad she is–you’d think someone just canceled her deb ball. She does have a cute pout though. And look at those nails! And the dress, with sparkles. Schlitz is much more of a playa beer if it’s pulling Muffy’s lush lower lip down. I think I’m gonna go track down some Schlitz. Right now. And then track down Muffy, and turn that frown upside down with the healing power of cheap beer.
December 29, 2009
Everyone is asking it: was Champagne created by the devil (providing your belief system has a devil in it–if not, just fake it for now) to entrap people into getting loopy and lustful as the old year ends? I mean, we do consume a lot of Champagne and bubbly (and Champagne and bubbly cocktails, one hopes, to get away from the mundane-ity) this time of year, and it is sort-a like the death of the year, and the devil is on people’s minds when they think of death. And drunken revelry has mistakenly been touted as evil before (when, in actuality, it is really full of goodness a full 87.463% of the time). What do I think about the whole “Champagne was created by the devil” rigmarole that’s being tossed around so much on TV news shows and talk radio? Well, let’s see what the ads say, because advertising is the most trustworthy business there is (after used-car selling, prostitution, and the NBA). First, check out this ad, from way back in 1908 (I think):
You see the devil is, actually, involved, using the bubbly to entice a lovely young maiden and a dancing, prancing (romancing), satyr. Or is it a faun? Or just a drunk kid? I get those confused. Wait, what’s that you say? The woman is pouring the bubbly for the devilish character? That makes it less probable that he created it. But wait, though, wait (again), what about this ad from a little later in history:
Here, mean ol’ scratch is pouring it out with an evil grin. No doubt about it. Well, maybe a little doubt. I mean, he is pouring it a long way–why would he want to potentially spill what he created? It almost seems like he’s showing off his bar skills, maybe looking for a new gig behind the stick, and not trying to drunky up the masses at all. Maybe, just maybe, the devil didn’t create Champagne in the least bit (and maybe, just maybe, I’m just devil’d up from reading too many pre-code devilish horror comics during The Horrors of It All’s Devilcember). Wait, though, wait (again): this last ad below definitely points to the possibilities of the devil at least being associated with Champagne. Because if this isn’t a minion of the devil pushing the Champagne in the ad, I don’t know my religious cosmology:
Okay, wait, though, wait (one last time): I think I get it, finally. The devil is only responsible for Champagne or bubbly in a can. I think I can believe that. Now, go stock up for New Year’s Eve, devilish ones, and don’t forget to save a glass of bubbliciousness for me (as long as it’s poured from a bottle).
December 22, 2009
I’m not saying I won’t post again before any more holidays hit in the second to the last week of 2009 (I’ll definitely post again before 2010, so c’mon back y’all), but just in case I don’t, and in the spirit (and spirits) of the season, I wanted to wish every reader of this blog (all four of you, or five when certain people are out on parole) a happy and boozy holiday of your choice and holiday season. Now, it might seem like my sentiments would be enough, but because I’m always willing to go the extra mile (or mile of bottles), I brought in hunky (still) Sean Connery and a bottle of Beam to help with the wishes. Go on, fill up a glass and look into his eyes . . . that’ll make your holiday extra happy, I promise (unless you pass out from the dreaminess. Well, that might make your holiday happier, too).