September 15, 2020
Not too long ago (if you consider the amount of time within all of time, for sure) I had a couple Cocktail Talks from a book by Martha Grimes called The Man With a Load of Mischief, a book I liked pretty well. Not sure why (as this often happens) I didn’t search out more books by Martha G at the time, but, well, I didn’t. However, recently (being at home more and thereby reading more) I was scouring the shelves for a book to re-read, and I picked up said Load, and liked it again. It – as it seems all her books starring Scotland Yard’s Richard Jury – is very pub-focused, which I also like (pubs, that is! and pub-focused books), and so decided I’d keep my eyes open for more. And, low and behold, with open eyes I found one, called The Dirty Duck. Now, Grimes in the book-back blurbs gets compared at times to Agatha Christie, and while she isn’t anywhere for me as good as the best Agatha, she may not be as bad as the worst Agatha either (cause when Agatha goes off the mark, it can be far off). With that said, The Dirty Duck isn’t a bad read. It’s a little, oh, lazy at times, and a little dated for being 1984 (though that was, now that I think about it, a ways behind us in time), but it’s also a lot of fun, has some pretty neat twists and a good mystery, and is very readable. Best of all – it takes place in Stratford Upon Avon! At least for the main, and you probably can guess that means lots of Shakespeare, which I’m always for, and also the main pub (the Dirty Duck pub, that is) is one I know, and one that features mightily (under the name The Mucky Mallard) in the tv show Shakespeare and Hathaway, which I am mightily (two “mightily”s!) fond of. If that wasn’t enough to get you going, the Thomas Nashe poem “Litany in a Time of Plague” provided key clues, and is not only a swell poem, but incredibly apt right now with our own plague. And if that wasn’t enough, there are some good drinking quotes in the book, starting with the below.
One of these Americans, Miss Gwendolyn Bracegirdle, who had never had more than an ounce of sweet sherry at a time on the veranda of her huge pink-stuccoed house in Sarasota, Florida, was standing with a friend in a shadowy corner of the terrace getting sloshed.
“Oh honey, not another! This here’s my second – what do they call it?”
“Gin.” Her companion laughed.
“Gin!” She giggled. “I definitely couldn’t.” But she held her glass in a way that said she definitely could.
–Martha Grimes, The Dirty Duck
September 1, 2020
You’ll be forgiven if you dive in here thinking, automatically, that they’ll be a murder and a portly Belgian detective within this here Cocktail Talk, cause m’lady Christie’s book that shares the two words of the title is rather a big deal, but nope! Today, we’re Cocktail Talking with gregarious Graham Greene, which is also rather a big deal of course. But while his Orient Express isn’t the best known, or most highly thought of, book within Greene’s healthy and unmissable canon, it was the first of his (to use his own phrasing) “entertainment” books, and one written specifically with the movies in mind – though it begs, in many ways, for an updated film or tv treatment as there isn’t a good one that I know of. While not the top of the Greene list, the book’s a rollicking read in many ways, dated in some ways here and there, but moving at a fast clip, and with characters you begin to really care about, or, if that’s too fancy, become involved with, their stories, that is, and a few you might be happier to do without. Read it, if you haven’t, to see if you agree. And for now, enjoy the below drunkenness.
‘Oh, for God’s sake, come on, Mabel,’ Janet said.
Miss Warren’s mood changed. She straightened herself and barred the way. ‘You say I’m drunk. I am drunk. But I’m going to be drunker.’
‘Oh, come on.’
‘You are going to have one more drink with me or I shan’t let you on the platform.’
Janet Pardoe gave way. ‘One. Only one, mind.’ She guided Mabel Warren across a vast black shining hall into a room where a few tired men and women were snatching cups of coffee, ‘Another gin,’ said Miss Warren, and Janet ordered it.
–Graham Greene, Orient Express
August 25, 2020
This is our final Cocktail Talk from Wilkie Collins’ dandy (if long, as a warning – not a scary warning, but just a “know what you’re getting into” warning – book) No Name. If you haven’t read the No Name Part I Cocktail Talk or the No Name Part II Cocktail Talk, I strongly suggest, in an amiable way, that you do, just to get more background on the book, learn about monks drinking grog and whiskey-swilling carriage drivers, and feel your day is complete. Also, those two follow the more traditional Spiked Punch Cocktail Talk style, in that they actually talk about drinks, spirits, booze, and all of that. WHAT! I can hear you say. “How can the below quote be a Cocktail Talk, without, well, cocktails (or such) in it?” Well, it is my site, but instead of belaboring that point, let me site precedence, in a past Cocktail Talk from one of Collins’ bosom buddies (in the main, though authors can be cranky, am I right?), Charles Dickens. Specifically, the Dombey and Son, Part IV Cocktail Talk, which is about one of my (which is saying a lot), maybe my all-time (which would really be saying a lot) Dickens’ characters, Diogenes the dog. And the below No Name Cocktail Talk is about dogs, too, in this case two dogs. Brutus and Cassius. They aren’t at Diogenes’ level – only some dogs are! – but they are good dogs, and this scene of their owner Admiral Bartram at dinner (being served by the books heroine – in disguise! – Magdalen) is charming. So, forgive the lack of booze below, but enjoy the abundance of pups.
The two magnificent dogs sat squatted on their haunches, with their great heads over the table, watching the progress of the meal, with the profoundest attention, but apparently expecting no share in it. The roast meat was removed, the admiral’s plate was changed, and Magdalen took the silver covers off the two made-dishes on either side of the table. As she handed the first of the savory dishes to her master, the dogs suddenly exhibited a breathless personal interest in the proceedings. Brutus gluttonously watered at the mouth; and the tongue of Cassius, protruding in unutterable expectation, smoked again between his enormous jaws.
The admiral helped himself liberally from the dish; sent Magdalen to the side-table to get him some bread; and, when he thought her eye was off him, furtively tumbled the whole contents of his plate into Brutus’s mouth. Cassius whined faintly as his fortunate comrade swallowed the savory mess at a gulp. “Hush! you fool,” whispered the admiral. “Your turn next!”
Magdalen presented the second dish. Once more the old gentleman helped himself largely – once more he sent her away to the side-table, once more he tumbled the entire contents of the plate down the dog’s throat, selecting Cassius this time, as became a considerate master and an impartial man. When the next course followed – consisting of a plain pudding and an unwholesome “cream” – Magdalen’s suspicion of the function of the dogs at the dinner-table was confirmed. While the master took the simple pudding, the dogs swallowed the elaborate cream. The admiral was plainly afraid of offending his cook on the one hand, and of offending his digestion on the other – and Brutus and Cassius were the two trained accomplices who regularly helped him every day off the horns of his dilemma. “Very good! very good!” said the old gentleman, with the most transparent duplicity. “Tell the cook, my dear, a capital cream!”
–Wilkie Collins, No Name
August 21, 2020
Whoa, summer is already deep into its summerness, and I feel I haven’t had nearly enough bubbly sparkly shimmery (while still cooling) drinks yet. It goes so fast! Could be that with all that’s happening in the world, having a celebratory effervescent mix seems, oh, off a bit? But that’d be silly, cause there is still so much to celebrate, every day, if I can be a little starry-eyed. Maybe I’m just lazy (far more likely)? Or maybe I haven’t had the right mixing option?
Luckily, at least for the latter open-ended (potentially rhetorical) question, a nice selection of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s new line of wine in single-serve aluminum bottles recently showed up in the mail (see, that’s something worth celebrating), and the selection included the “Bubbly” white wine variety (or varietal, if you will, hahaha). All of the four different options have screw-top caps for those that don’t finish in one go – but at 250 ml, I can’t see that happening for you! – lovely artsy decoratives (I made that word up!), and come in a 2-pack. The non-Bubbly choices include a crisp, citrus-y Pinot Grigio and a summer-y and strawberry-and-currant-y Rosé that I’ve tasted, and a Something Sweet white wine blend I’m excited to taste.
But back to Bubbly! It’s made from a bountiful blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Muscat Canelli, and Gruner Veltliner, and delivers a nice apple core flavor, with a little spice, a hint of summer, a dry enough nature, and a clean inviting bubbly-ness. Well worth having chilled all on its own under the shining sun (though I suppose some might be too much in the wine snob category to sip something from an aluminum container – let’s pity them, shall we?), Bubbly also is convivial enough to serve as a solid base for a classic Champagne Cocktail or other sparkling-based cocktail. And the 250 ml size makes it ideal for making two drinks, which is what you’ll want to do so your paramour, bestie, spouse, sanitized neighbor, or other personality doesn’t feel left out. It’s what I did! With that very-legendary and mentioned-above Champagne Cocktail. Side-non-Bubbly-note: I suggest you choose Scrappy’s Orange bitters for your bitters here. Because it has a rich, herbal, bitter-y flavor that goes perfectly (so well that I just ran out of my bottle. That’s the opposite of an occasion worth celebrating).
Champagne Cocktail (using the recipe from Champagne Cocktails: 50 Cork-Popping Concoctions and Scintillating Sparklers, of course!)
1 sugar cube
3 dashes Scrappy’s Orange bitters
Chilled Chateau Ste. Michelle Bubbly white wine
Lemon twist, for garnish
1. Add your sugar cube to a flute in any manner you see fit. Dash the 3 dashes orange bitters over it. Let it settle in for a minute.
2. Fill the flute almost to the top with Bubbly. Garnish with the lemon twist.
August 18, 2020
We are back for more Cocktail Talking from 1800s writer Wilkie Collins’ lesser-known gem No Name. If you haven’t read the No Name Part I Cocktail Talk, then I strongly suggest you do, to get a little background on the book, and the author (and if you really want to go into history, of a slightly less recent sort, but far more recent than the author himself, check out another Wilkie via The Yellow Mask and Other Stories Cocktail Talk). Did all that? Fan-Victorian-tastic! In this, our second No Name treat, our heroine Magdalen Vanstone is (in disguise – just letting you know that to be intriguing!) getting a tour of a house from one of its occupants, the charming (and tipsy) old sailor Mazey, who is a well-done memorable character, especially when he’s talking about monks drinking grog!
“No more, my dear — we’ve run aground here, and we may as well wear round and put back again,” said old Mazey. “There’s another side of the house — due south of you as you stand now — which is all tumbling about our ears. You must go out into the garden if you want to see it; it’s built off from us by a brick bulkhead, t’other side of this wall here. The monks lived due south of us, my dear, hundreds of years afore his honor the admiral was born or thought of, and a fine time of it they had, as I’ve heard. They sang in the church all the morning, and drank grog in the orchard all the afternoon. They slept off their grog on the best of feather-beds, and they fattened on the neighborhood all the year round. Lucky beggars! lucky beggars!”
–Wilkie Collins, No Name
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 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