September 7, 2021
Don’t miss the weird (!) Owls Don’t Blink Cocktail Talk Part I, or you’ll be sorry (in little ways, maybe, but probably not losing sleep, which would make me sad), which not only has a strange New Orleans-y quote, but more info on this book by Erle Stanley Gardner, though writing as A.A. Fair. And, while being thorough about your research, check out all the Erle Stanley Gardner Cocktail Talks, to get the skinny of how I feel (hmm, is this too much all about me? You’ll get good cocktail quotes, too) about his famous creation Perry Mason, and private investigators Donald Lam and Betha Cool, who star in this particular mystery yarn. In the below quote, Lam is taking one of the potentially murderous (!) female characters in the book out for a ginormous dinner. I can’t imagine eating this much, but in the 40s, people were heartier.
The waiter brought our daiquiris. We touched glasses, took the first sip.
The waiter stood by our table, exerting a silent pressure for our orders.
“Could you bring some oysters on the half shell with a lot of cocktail sauce, some horseradish and lemon?” I asked. “Then bring us some of those cold, peppered shrimp, some onion soup, a steak about three inches thick, done medium rare, some French-fried onions, shoestring potatoes, cut some French bread, put on lots of butter, sprinkle on just a trace of garlic, put it in the oven, let it get good and hot so the butter melts all through the bread, put some sparkling Burgundy on the ice, and after that bring us a dish of ice cream, a huge pot of coffee, and the check.”
The waiter never batted an eyelash. “I could do that very nicely, sir.”
–Erle Stanley Gardner (writing as A.A. Fair), Owls Don’t Blink
August 27, 2021
It’s funny (to me, if no-one else) to have a very tough drink name like “Fugger’s Revenge” for a light-bodied, friendly, vermouthy (in a way, though I’m not calling this vermouth, cause I don’t want the vermouth board after me), aperitif-style sipper (the aperitif board is much less ferocious). But the backstory really is not so tough, but is one of my fav wine stories (one that some people say isn’t true, is just apocryphal, etc. Some people are also fuddy-duddies and no fun to have a drink with. Avoid them). Anyway, it starts early in the year 1111. A forward-thinking German bishop named Johann Fugger was getting ready to travel to Rome for the Holy Roman Emperor’s coronation (this one was Henry V). Because he was forward-thinking, Fugger sent his assistant along the road first, to scope out the local wine, chalking the pubs or bars or 12th-century what-have-yous that had good wine with the word “est,” which is Latin for “there is” (the full phrase he kept in his wine journal was I believe “vinum est bonum” or “wine is good” basically). When this intrepid wine scout came into the town of Montefiascone, he so enjoyed the wines that he A: had a lot, and B: wrote Est! Est!! Est!!! on the bar’s outside wall to show his enthusiasm. I believe bishop Fugger himself liked these particular wines so well he never made it to the coronation, just stayed in Montefiascone drinking wine, and is buried there today. And, the white wines designated Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone are still made and enjoyed. And (here’s where it also comes back around), this particular homemade aperitif uses an Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone wine as it’s base! Neat! Awesome! Story!
There aren’t a wide range of these whites available here, but Pietro Est! Est!! Est!!! tends to be available, and it’s what I used. Light, apple-y, dry, and very refreshing, it provided the perfect platform for building this summertime aperitif (and it won’t set you back too much). The other flavorings almost all came from my yard, including white currants (want to know way more about my white currant bush? Check out the Currant Current liqueur, Strawcurranterry, a white currant strawberry liqueur, and A Particular Friend, a white currant mint number), fresh mint, and fresh marjoram. A little gentian root because life is bitter (but not, one hopes too bitter most days), a little vodka to im-proof things a bit (but not too much, as this is a very light-on-its-feet charmer), and a little simple syrup to round our edges without making it sweet. Altogether, this late summer aperitif rises to the level of the wine story with delicate herbal and fruit notes. Pretty swell on its own, chilled or over ice, but also a pleasant pal in cocktails (heck, though it is not a vermouth, it would make a mean Martini-esque drink when paired with a London-style gin).
1/2 cup white currants
1/3 cup fresh mint
1/4 teaspoon gentian root
1 Tablespoon marjoram
1 750 ml bottle Pietro Est! Est!! Est!! white wine
1 cup vodka
1/2 cup simple syrup
1. Add the currants, mint, gentian, and marjoram to a large glass jar with a good lid. Muddle well, but not wackily (you do want to break up the currants as much as possible).
2. Add the wine and vodka, and stir. Put in a cool dry place and let sit for two weeks, swirling regularly.
3. Open up the jar of joy and add the simple syrup. Stir again, and re-place in that cool dry place. Let sit two more weeks, swirling as you will.
4. Strain – I like to strain once through a fine mesh strainer, then twice (or as needed) through cheesecloth – into a good glass bottle. Store in the fridge (to keep nice and chilled).
June 1, 2021
We’re going to continue from last week’s Maigret moment into a little Maigret-a-thon, starting with a few Cocktail Talks (hey, don’t miss all the Chief Inspector Maigret Cocktail Talks, by the way) from the story collection Maigret’s Pipe, which has a host of hits starring George Simenon’s Parisian Chief Inspector, mainly leaning towards the latter part of his career and even into retirement (where he can’t stop solving crimes even if no longer on the French force). The story the below quote comes from is actually in the retirement phase, though with him back in Paris, drinking wine, and having one of his favorite dishes.
As Maigret paid for the drinks, he was already looking sprightlier than he had been earlier that morning, for he felt things had begun to move.
Roughly speaking, his impression was that the police were over-simplifying the situation and Mademoiselle Berthe was complicating it. Not far off there was a small restaurant favoured by taxi-drivers, with a couple of tables on the terrace, and as one them was free he sat down and discovered on the menu fricandeau a l’oseille, veal with sorrel, one of his favorite dishes.
The atmosphere was so redolent of spring, with light puffs of air so warm and fragrant that, particularly after a bottle of Beaujolais, he felt light-headed and wanted nothing better than to lie down on the grass with a newspaper over his head.
–George Simenon, “Mademoiselle Bertha and her Lover”
May 25, 2021
I’ve been re-reading (until I can get my happy hands on some of the books and stories I don’t yet have) a couple of George Simenon’s marvelous Inspector Maigret stories and books lately. Like many of my favorite yarns by my favorite yarn-spinners, I like to read or re-read some Maigret every so often. It’s always enjoyable just to delve back into the wonderful Parisian/French and mystery/crime and memorable character atmosphere and world Simenon created. One of the books re-read not long ago was Maigret and the Madwoman, which touches on a murder and a crime, but also into the, oh, person of Maigret himself in a way that pulls you in – or me, at least! Since it’s a re-read, and since Maigret liked tipples of various sorts, not so surprising that there is already a Maigret and the Madwoman Cocktail Talk Part I (which you should read, along with all the Inspector Maigret Cocktail Talks). Part II, this one, is wine-centric, and ideal for a spring day like today. Actually, I think I’m going to continue my reading with a chilled glass of white wine myself!
On his way back to the Quai des Orfevres, Maigret stopped at the Brasserie Dauphine for a glass of white wine from the Loire. He didn’t feel like a beer. The white wine in the frosted glass, with just a hint of a sparkle, seemed more appropriate on this lovely spring day.
It was one of the slackest time of the day. Except for a delivery man in a blue apron, there was no in the café.
He decided to order another.
–George Simenon, Maigret and the Madwoman
March 9, 2021
While this isn’t going to turn into The Uncommercial Traveller blog – though that wouldn’t be a horrible idea, honestly – we do have a few more stops with the wandering Charles Dickens, as he wanders through London and the UK and other parts and places as well, writing essays along the way. Today, we’re taking a journey with him to the essay called “An Old Stage-Coaching House,” where he visits a bar and town that used to be a stop for stage coaches, when such ran, before the trains took the wind out of the stage coach business, leaving towns fading behind (as in some ways the highways did to a lot of train towns). Our actual Cocktail Talk is from the owner of the Dolphin (the inn mentioned above), who still wants to give the Traveller a good meal, even if there are no stages running. Oh, don’t miss The Uncommercial Traveller Cocktail Talks Part I, Part II, and Part III, for more about the book, and all the Dickens Cocktail Talks for more good Dickens quotes.
‘If I couldn’t give you a pint of good wine, I’d—there!—I’d take and drown myself in a pail. But I was deceived when I bought this business, and the stock was higgledy-piggledy, and I haven’t yet tasted my way quite through it with a view to sorting it. Therefore, if you order one kind and get another, change till it comes right. For what,’ said Mellows, unloading his hat as before, ‘what would you or any gentleman do, if you ordered one kind of wine and was required to drink another? Why, you’d (and naturally and properly, having the feelings of a gentleman), you’d take and drown yourself in a pail!’
–Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller
November 13, 2020
Once upon a time (a recent time, admittedly between us friends) I had a drink here on the Spiked Punch drinks blog called Spirit and Substance, within which I dropped tales of some homepage plum shrub and grenadine that a powerful pleasant pal had gifted me and mine. In that drink tale, the plum shrub was used, and now, here, As Luck Would Have It, we’re using the grenadine. And it’s key to have homemade grenadine me thinks, as (in the main) most store-bought grenadine isn’t all that fine. There are a few brands perhaps? But be safe, make your own, and have the lush, tanged, deeply good grenadine you deserve. There’s a homemade grenadine recipe below, if needed. But that’s just the beginning of our luck! With the grenadine here are many more lucky things, beginning with Montefalco Rosso, an Italian wine made of a bland of Sangiovese and Sagrantino. Specifically, here, I used Cantina dell’Alunno Montefalco Rosso, which is robust, fruity (cranberries and plummy-ness), herbal, and approachable. Delicious, I tell you, and the ideal base for a fall-time wine cocktail like we’re whipping up here. To bring more fruits (and a nice belly warming), we’re also adding Sidetrack Plum brandy, made with plums grown not but yards from where the still is that makes this clear, strong, bracing, lovely brandy – oh, made in WA, by the way, much like our next introduced ingredient, Brovo Spirits Jammy sweet vermouth. If you haven’t had the Jammy, then jump on it, cause it really lives up to its name, with a rich, cherry, chocolate, spice flavor. And then, to round and even the flavor, a slip of lemon juice, and a twist of orange. Altogether, a bounty of yumminess that’s lucky indeed.
As Luck Would Have It
2 ounces Cantina dell’Alunno Montefalco Rosso
3/4 ounce Sidetrack Distillery Plum brandy
3/4 ounce Brovo Spirits Jammy sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce homemade grenadine (see Note below)
1/8 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
Orange twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add everything but the twist. Feeling lucky yet? Shake well.
2. Strain the luck through a fine strainer into a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange.
A Note: Hey, homemade lovers! This grenadine recipe’s a snap to make, and a joy to add to cocktail or soda:
4 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice
1 pint fresh raspberries
4 cups sugar
2 ounces orange flower water
1. Add the pomegranate juice and raspberries to a large saucepan and place over high heat. Cook for 15 minutes.
2. Let the mixture stay at a steady boil, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes longer, reducing the heat if needed to prevent burning.
3. Slowly stir in the sugar, stirring continuously. When the sugar is completely dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the orange flower water. When the sugar is completely dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the orange flower water.
4. Let cool, and strain into bottles. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
October 27, 2020
Recently (just last week!) I had a Cocktail Talk from Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine, which if you missed, you should read, and in the past, I’ve had Qiu Xiaolong Cocktail Talks, from it as well as other books featuring Xiaolong’s Chief Inspector Chen (and his partner Detective Yu, and other reoccurring characters), and you should read those Cocktail Talks, too, as well as reading the books they come from, if you’re interested in well-written mysteries, modern Chinese cultural expositions, classical Chinese poetry, or food, because all of that flows through the books like fine wine. Enigma of China is nearer the latter stages of the series (to date), and is a definite page turner. But where we’re Cocktail Talking from today is a part focused a little more on Wang Xizi than modern day, Wang being a poet from the Jin dynasty. Chen is visiting a place famous for Wang associations, and talks about a wine-poem game Wang and other poets played. A wine-poem game!
“It’s here. This is Lanting,” he exclaimed. “Wang and the other poets gathered at this stream, engaged in a wine-poem game.”
“A wine-poem game?
“They let wine cups flow down from the head of the stream. If a cup came to a stop in front of someone, he had to write a poem. If he failed to do so, he had to drink three cups as punishment. The poems were then collected, and Want composed a preface to the collection. He must have been very drunk, flourishing his brush pen inspired by the exquisite scene.
–Qiu Xiaolong, Enigma of China
October 2, 2020
Here’s a fine kettle of various ingredients mixed with booze. I had the mad/smart/odd/random/bored/inventive/normal idea not more than a couple weeks ago that I should make up a wine-based liqueur or aperitivo if you like (I like, so I’m gonna call it that), and that it should have basil in it (cause my basil plants were doing so well then, if, admittedly, not as well now as summer has dwindled), and maybe orange (cause I had an orange), and a roasted peach (which also was around and needed to be used, sans pit, but the roasting felt important), and some spices but not too many, and a hint of bitterness cause the best aperitivos (or many of them) tend to have that, and it should be pretty as that hour on a sunny late-summer day when night is nearly there, but not quite there, the hour you realize once again that summer and all things are transient, ephemeral, lovely. Whew, seems like a lot to ask of something made in a big glass jar!
But, you know, it worked out quite well. Not sure I reached the full heights I wanted, but came close-ish, to my taste, which might be different than yours. The basil is the strangest part of the equation, as it lost some of its, well, basil-ness if that makes sense. There’s not overriding basil smell or taste, or any, or very little; instead, it adds a slightly vegetal minty-ness. Interesting! The orange notes come through strong, with a little other citrus (thanks to lemon) and a dream of toasty peach, and the spice notes (tiny bits of ginger, star anise) are more inferred than active, if that makes sense. Oh, I should have started with: the wine I used as the base was an Orvieto Classico white wine, which I love, and which is dry-ish, but fruit-y-ish (more peach notes here), and grape-ish enough to bring a lot of flavor. I also added some vodka, as the wine solo didn’t seem to have enough umph for the end-of-summer delicate sadness I wanted. Sure, I’m weird! Gentian, the bittering agent of choice for so many things, underlines that thought, as well as balancing the sweetness. Really, all joshing and flighty language aside, Caducitivo (caduco in Italian meaning transient or ephemeral) was an awfully fun, and tasty, experiment, a fine pre-dinner, sipper, with a layered, light, orange-citrus-herb flavor containing a friendly bitter back end. Heck, I think I’ll make it again next year! And, with the below recipe, you can try it, too. I like sipping it at room temp, but think it’s best over ice, or chilled a bit. While I haven’t tried it yet, my guess is it’d be great with Prosecco, and also as a cocktail ingredient.
2 cups basil
1 roasted peach (see Note)
1 whole star anise
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 wide orange twists
2 wide lemon twists
2-1/2 cups Orvieto Classico (I used Ruffino, which is nice, solid, and not overly pricey)
1/2 cup vodka (I used Prairie Organic vodka, which is swell and came in the mail)
1 cup simple syrup
1/4 teaspoon crushed gentian
1. Add the basil, peach, star anise, ginger, and citrus twists to a large glass container with a good lid. Muddle nicely. Add the wine and vodka, stir, and put that lid on it. Store in a cool dark place away from the sun. Let sit two weeks, swirling occasionally.
2. Open it back up, add the simple syrup and gentian (see Second Note), and stir well. Place it back in the cool dark place, and let sit two more weeks, swirling occasionally.
3. Strain – I went once through a decent fine strainer to get the fruit out, and then through cheesecloth to add more clarity. You might need a third straining, too.
A Note: For the peach, I just baked it at 425 F until it was slightly roasted, not charred. Also, I didn’t use the pit, just the peach itself.
A Second Note: You could add this in Step 1, but I had unexpectedly ran out, so couldn’t. And there’s something (probably nothing) in adding that bittering agent later, letting the other ingredients meet up first.