June 21, 2022
It was recently my anniversary (thank you to my wife for marrying me!), which seemed the perfect time to re-read the 1944 mystery by George Harmon Coxe (a fairly well-known mystery writer from mid-last-century) called The Groom Lay Dead! It’s a nicely-paced (not breath-takingly-paced like Day Keene, but it keeps things moving) mystery around the death of a somewhat asshole-ish rich guy, with our protagonist being a slightly shell-shocked (this the WW II era) play director. So, there’s glamorous folks, an interesting upstate New York Finger Lakes setting, a few potentially shady (or moreso!) potential murderers, as well as a sort-of cult-ish health farm run by a hypnotic man – always a good addition. Worth checking out, especially if you can get the cover pictured here. I had a The Groom Lay Dead Cocktail Talk on here after the first time I read it, many years in the past (do, don’t miss that, ya’hear?), but I’d forgotten about this minor character I liked, and felt he (George Vernon, vaguely trapped up the health farm/cult) and his night out deserved a second Cocktail Talk quote.
Apparently it had been quite a while since George Vernon had been out and he’d made up his mind to enjoy himself. He had four drinks at the bar in addition to the two he’d had at Yager’s house: he had another Scotch and soda with his dinner and called for brandy with his coffee. Parks was doing all right, too. He got a lot of laughs of Vernon, who long ago had insisted that we call him George.
— George Harmon Coxe, The Groom Lay Dead
May 24, 2022
Are you ready to celebrate tomorrow? I certainly hope so! Wait, celebrate what I hear someone in the back asking? Well, The Thin Man release date day of course! That’s right friends, one of the drinky-est movies of all time (and a swell mystery, too, natch), where the Martinis and such flow like rain in a Seattle winter, was released on 5/25, 1934, if memory serves. Based on the Dashiell Hammett book of the same name (which you must read), and kicking off a series of movies, The Thin Man for those whose lives have been sad so far, features drinking-and-joking-and-quipping-and-drinking-and-just-having-a-swell-time private detectives Nick and Nora Charles. And, for my money (what there is of it), the scene where we meet them for the first time is one of the best scenes in any movie, where a camera swerves through a crowded dance floor before you hear Nick telling the bartender the below, right after which Nora shows and orders seven Martinis. Amazing, as is this quote:
The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry Martini you always shake to waltz time.
–The Thin Man
March 18, 2022
I realize some may be saying “wait, has A.J. lost it, shouldn’t this drink have been made for yesterday, the actual Saint Patrick’s Day?” And while I can’t say I haven’t lost “it” (whatever “it” may be), I can say that I am fully of the opinion that while Saint Patrick’s Day can be a jolly time, and while I’m all for savoring and celebrating Irish culture and history (and other cultures and histories, too, for that matter), I don’t think that it should be regulated to just one day! Especially (for the sake of this particular blog’s focus, but not overall naturally) when it comes to drinks highlighting Irish whiskey or other Irish-made imbibables. Hence, the Mike Collins, the Tom Collins sibling (a once-large family now sadly less-known) that subs in Irish whiskey instead of Old Tom gin. I love ‘em both, but if you’ve yet to be introduced, Mike’s whiskey undertones of vanilla and spice and grain (I’m going with Teeling Small Batch today) and sweet nature go rather nicely with the citrus zing and bubbles here – while also providing a nice kick to the affair. It’s a springtime favorite, but one I’ve found lends itself more to early spring, to sitting outside and sipping on the porch while there’s an echo of chill still in the air (as opposed to running full-on through a late-spring field of flowers). A swell celebration today, as well as yesterday and tomorrow.
2 ounces Teeling Small Batch Irish whiskey
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup
Chilled club soda
Lemon slice for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the whiskey, juice, and simple syrup. Shake well.
2. Fill a Collins glass or comparable three-quarters full with ice cubes. Strain the mix over the ice. Fill almost to the top with chilly club soda. Garnish with the lemon slice (stirring briefly if you want Mike mixed more).
March 15, 2022
Just a week ago I talked about the double book book I’d recently picked up, talked about in The Deadly Pick-up Cocktail Talk post, that is, and therein mentioned the second book of the one-book duo, Killer Take All, by James O. Causey. And you know what? Today we are Cocktail Talking from that very book. It’s a swell piece of pulp pleasure, too, hitting the same pace and at least near the style of longtime fav Day Keene (read more Day Keene Cocktail Talks while you’re here why dontacha). By that I mean, our hero/narrator (who happens to be a golfer! Of all pulpy things) gets into trouble, then more trouble, then trouble piles on another layer of troubles, and troubling on and on until you feel there is no way he can get outta the trouble hole. Plus: some mobsters and ex-mobsters, an ex-girlfriend who may be untrustworthy, a cop who may be the opposite, loads of other shady intriguing figures, and (if that wasn’t enough) an old master painting playing a big part. Plus booze! And bars! A dandy, dandy read.
Stephen reached into his jacket pocket and brought out a pint of bonded bourbon. “Open it, Tony? We could both stand some anti-freeze.”
I took a deep slug. It was good whiskey. Stephen kept his eyes on the compass as he reached for the pint and downed almost half of it.
“Hey, you’re driving, remember?”
He took another slug and grinned, showing even white teeth. “Breakfast, man.”
–James O. Causey, Killer Take All
March 8, 2022
I recently picked up (hahaha) a type of book I dig, and one you don’t see as much anymore (though maybe they’re making a small comeback? Here’s hoping): the double book book. The two-complete-novels-under-one-spine book, the a-cover-on-each-side book, the take-the-awesome-and-twice-it (in the best circumstances) book! I love the idea of having two books at once, so was stoked to get the Armchair Fiction (a publisher it seems I need to look out for) double book book that combines a pulsating pulp twosome: The Deadly Pick-up, by Milton K. Ozaki, and Killer Take All, by James O. Causey. Were these two noir-sters put together cause they both utilize that middle initial so well? Maybe? But I think it’s mainly cause both of these books hit that pulpy, noiry, sweet spot of fast pace, seemingly inescapable problems for our narrators, some swell and shady characters (and often trouble deciding which is which), some trouble, some dark nights, and some booze-y boozing. Today’s Cocktail Talk is from The Deadly Pick-up, which is about as straightforward a title as you could imagine: recent Chicago transplant Gordon Banner offers a ride to a blond beauty, who then is murdered in her apartment while salesman Mr. Banner is waiting in his car downstairs, leading to him being the prime suspect, gangsters, other ladies and gentlemen who help, hinder, and harass him, and stops at many bars, including the one below.
It was 8:30 when I entered the Flask Club and wormed my way past a long crowded bar where four white jacketed bartenders were performing feats of alcoholic interest. At the rear was a huge room littered with closely spaced tables and chairs. The walls looked as though a whirlwind had flung huge gusts of newspapers against it and plastered them there, permanently imbedding their headlines in the calcimine. A dark-haired red-mouthed girl in black slacks and tight white blouse swung toward me and lead the way to a tiny table against a wall. She leaned against my shoulder, giving me a whiff of her body odor and glimpse of the dep V between her breasts while she lit a stub of candle, which projected from a wax-dappled Ehrlenmeyer flask set between the salt and pepper shakers. That rite duly performed to her satisfaction, she straightened and asked, “What’ll ya have?”
“Something to eat,” I told her.
“Okay. I’ll get a menu. Drink?”
“You might bring me an Old Fashioned.”
— Milton K. Ozaki, The Deadly Pick-up
February 11, 2022
You might guess, after looking at the title here, that this drink is named after a particularly feisty pup of some sort, or one who swears like a doggy sailor, and knowing how much (as you know me so well) I love dogs, it’d be a good guess! But, sadly, a wrong one. Really, I just fancied up a name (as I am fancy) for a whiskey and ginger-y combo I made recently (Whiskey And Ginger – WAG! Hilarious, right?). Not whiskey and ginger ale, which is a wonderful classic combo especially in spring and early summer, and not the Whisky Mac, which is a Scottish classic combo of whisky and ginger wine that I like to have when visiting the UK. Instead, this whiskey ginger mélange utilizes Portland Syrups Ginger Syrup, a bottle of which I was lucky enough to receive not many moons ago (along with a few more delicious Portland Syrups)!
This Ginger Syrup has a very fresh, strong ginger flavor, one accented by the addition of Japanese chilies, which gives a nice bit of heat mingling with the ginger spice on the tongue at the end of a sip. It’s not overly sweet, either, but well-balanced. It’s also brewed by hand in Oregon (as the name might have you guessing), which is just south of me, so neighbors really. I’m excited to try it just with soda as well as with classic ginger-y mixes like a Moscow Mule, but for the maiden voyage wanted to keep things simple, so just mixed it with Seattle Distilling Brockway Hill whiskey, a yummy whiskey made from Washington-grown rye, and one with an amiable-but-strong-in-personality rye spice flavor. This was, I am sad to admit, a small batch whiskey release, so might not be easy to find – sub in your fav rye, or bourbon, and I’ll bet you’ll still end up with a spiced boozy treat you’ll want to have twice!
The Spicy WAG
Cracked ice (see Note 1)
2-1/2 ounces Seattle Distilling Brockway Hill whisky
3/4 ounce Portland Syrups Ginger Syrup (see Note 2)
Big ice cube
1. Fill a mixing glass or cocktail shaker halfway full with cracked ice. Add the whisky and syrup. Stir well.
2. Add a big ice cube to an Old Fashioned or comparable glass. Strain the WAG over the ice cube and into the glass. Enjoy!
A Note: This is syrup in here, so I could see some shaking this. I just wasn’t feeling it. Really, you could even skip the ice while stirring if you aren’t sitting in front of a heater.
A Second Note: You could go down to 1/2 an ounce here, too, but I was feeling the ginger buzz and felt I’d better ride it!
February 7, 2022
I haven’t perused many pages written by Sax Rohmer, who was one of – if not the, at least for a moment or two – best-selling mystery/adventure/action writers of his early-to-mid last century timeframe. Like too many of his contemporaries, he was fairly awful or deplorable, or really, in how he depicted people not exactly like him (other races, other genders, pretty much anything he would have thought of as “other”), and it makes reading much of his work not something I want to delve into, when there are many other things to read! However, I did receive a copy of stories by him recently, called The Secret of Holm Peel, and Other Strange Stories, and felt I should give it a whirl, and can admit that in the main, not too bad a collection. More adventure than strange (though there’s a demonic presence or two), and covering the basis of last-century adventure stories: meaning, there’s a pirate story, a swashbuckling story (the difference between those two genres is there, my friends!), a haunted castle and a haunted cliff story, all that. And a WW II story, naturally, which is called “Brother Wing Commanders,” and which is really a bird story combined with a hospital story and a little romance! That’s where this Cocktail Talk is coming from, a quote which contains a whisky line I hope to remember to use in the future!
“Inquiry from Buckingham Palace yesterday – and the eats and drinks! Why, Charles will be fatter than Goering if he goes to it! Yes, thanks a lot, it would set me up . . . Please excuse me reminding you, but your whisky is too good to deserve drowning. That’s fine.” There was a breathless interval.
–Sax Rohmer, “Brother Wing Commanders”
February 1, 2022
On a rainy days like today, and yesterday, and probably tomorrow, I start to think “wouldn’t it be nice if it was sunny and I was on a train riding through the English countryside, with curious and attractive small towns and verdant and buzzing fields and such passing by outside my window?” And then I go back to reading the excellent collection of Golden Age British train-fueled mystery short stories Blood on the Tracks, and start to think, “hmm, maybe I’m safer inside with the rain outside dampening murderous thoughts?” One of the British Library Crime Classics collections (a fine series edited by writer and editor Martin Edwards, and one which unearths many mystery and crime gems nearly lost to history, usually placing them alongside some better-known hits), Blood on the Tracks boasts 15 stories that all share a train connection, making it a top choice for railway enthusiasts as well as mystery hounds – and for those, like me, who fit both categories? It’s dreamy! Our particular Cocktail Talk here comes from a story by R. Austin Freeman, a writer from that late 1800s, early 1900s Golden Age of crime fiction, one I don’t know well, but look forward to reading more from (probably with the help of more British Library Crime Classics!). In it, there are diamonds, a nefarious deed, actual blood on the tracks, a doctor detective of note, and wonderful usage of the wonderful word, “jorum.”
“Have a biscuit?” said Hickler, as he placed a whisky-bottle on the table together with a couple of his best star-pattern tumblers and a siphon.
“Thanks, I think will,” said Brodski. “The railway journey and all this confounded tramping about, you know.”
“Yes,” agreed Silas. “Doesn’t do you good to start with an empty stomach. Hope you don’t mind oat-cakes; I see they’re the only biscuit I have.”
Brodski hastened to assure him that oat-cakes were his special and peculiar fancy; and in confirmation, having mixed himself a stiff jorum, he fell to upon the biscuits with evident gusto.
–R. Austin Freeman, “The Case of Oscar Brodski”