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
March 2, 2021
As we continue traveling with our pal Charles Dickens writing as The Uncommercial Traveller (be sure to read The Uncommercial Traveller Cocktail Talks Part I and Part II, to have a little more background on this collection of essays that isn’t perhaps read enough – oh, and be sure to see all Dickens Cocktail Talks, too), today we walk with him through London into a dining establishment that he’s very positive on, due to it’s low prices and big portions (remaining taste throughout), all focused it seems to me to be supportive of all income ranges. Great, right! Except there’s one facet that Dickens isn’t a fan of, and, really, who can blame him.
The most enthusiastic admirer of those substantials, would probably not object to occasional inconstancy in respect of pork and mutton: or, especially in cold weather, to a little innocent trifling with Irish stews, meat pies, and toads in holes. Another drawback on the Whitechapel establishment, is the absence of beer. Regarded merely as a question of policy, it is very impolitic, as having a tendency to send the working men to the public-house, where gin is reported to be sold. But, there is a much higher ground on which this absence of beer is objectionable. It expresses distrust of the working man.
— Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller
February 26, 2021
Sometimes, even in the shortest month of the year, time seems to drag – perhaps you agree? Maybe not? Either way, the days (lovely as they are) on occasion go slow, which is sometimes good, as that way we can enjoy each hour and second to the fullest, but sometimes isn’t as good, as we wait for travel to be easier and all that. And as we can’t do much about it (and maybe shouldn’t) cause time is as far as we know so far is a constant, why not ratchet up the rapidity by feeling that you’re moving fast by drinking a drink called Supersonic! Not that this drink moves the drinker, or time itself, faster, but it is called Supersonic! And even saying it makes it seem that speed is going Supersonic! That gin, Green Chartreuse, lime juice, and simple syrup make up this drink called Supersonic! At least when you add a lemon twist to the glass, then it’s Supersonic! The green and gold together is Supersonic! While none of the above does change time, it certainly makes the passing time more fun, and, well, more Supersonic!
The Supersonic, from Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz
1-1/2 ounces gin
1 ounce Green Chartreuse
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 ounce Simple Syrup
Lemon twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the gin, Chartreuse, lime juice, and simple syrup. Shake as if you were changing the speed of time.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Squeeze the twist over the drink, and then swish it into the glass.
February 23, 2021
This is going to be a long quote (as a warning – but not to push you away from reading it, cause it is awesome), so not much in the way of introduction here. For more of that, be sure to read The Uncommercial Traveller Cocktail Talk Part I. Here in Part II, we’re going to hang outside another public house, but this time with a very wonderful dog, in an essay all about London “shy neighborhoods” and the animals (and people, thought a little less) that hang out within them. Dickens from all I can tell, had a big fondness for dogs – check out the Dombey and Son Cocktail Talk all about Diogenes the dog, my favorite Dickens character, for another example. Perhaps after you read the below, which has rockets up my list of favorite Dickens quotes quite rapidly. For the whole thing, but highlighted by the phrase “an intelligence of ears and tail” which I find absolutely spot on and lovely.
At a small butcher’s, in a shy neighbourhood (there is no reason for suppressing the name; it is by Notting-hill, and gives upon the district called the Potteries), I know a shaggy black and white dog who keeps a drover. He is a dog of an easy disposition, and too frequently allows this drover to get drunk. On these occasions, it is the dog’s custom to sit outside the public-house, keeping his eye on a few sheep, and thinking. I have seen him with six sheep, plainly casting up in his mind how many he began with when he left the market, and at what places he has left the rest. I have seen him perplexed by not being able to account to himself for certain particular sheep. A light has gradually broken on him, he has remembered at what butcher’s he left them, and in a burst of grave satisfaction has caught a fly off his nose, and shown himself much relieved. If I could at any time have doubted the fact that it was he who kept the drover, and not the drover who kept him, it would have been abundantly proved by his way of taking undivided charge of the six sheep, when the drover came out besmeared with red ochre and beer, and gave him wrong directions, which he calmly disregarded. He has taken the sheep entirely into his own hands, has merely remarked with respectful firmness, ‘That instruction would place them under an omnibus; you had better confine your attention to yourself—you will want it all;’ and has driven his charge away, with an intelligence of ears and tail, and a knowledge of business, that has left his lout of a man very, very far behind.
— Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller
February 19, 2021
You know (cause I’ve mentioned it before and you’ve memorized every word I ever typed, which is a bit, oh, nice but also maybe makes me wonder if you need to get out more, which is, I realize, a bit difficult to do right now, but I’m wandering) I sometimes like to go to my liquor/cocktail book shelves, grab a book at random, and then make a drink from said book. But you may not know that on rare occasions I do the same, but instead of the shelves go to a little container I have of drink-related, let’s call them pamphlets, or little soft-back-y things, mini-books perhaps. A lot of these used to float around, and some still do, but in their late 50s, 60s, maybe even early 70s heydays, lots of liquor brands, and even some stores, used to make these, doll them up, and use them as recipe-filled promo pieces. Neat, right? I have a stack, not a large stack, but a stack, and just reached into it and pulled out a pretty one called Come for Cocktails. Published by The Taylor Wine Company in 1958, it leans as heavily towards food recipes as drinks, and is squarely in the “more entertaining is better” camp, one I agree with (when pandemics make such a thing safe). It has some recipes you’d expect, some you might not, and some really sweet illustrations, including this jolly jumping shrimp one:
And this dancing sherry and glasses one:
The latter one is important to us here and now, as the drink I picked to make from our Come for Cocktails mini-book is called The 6 O’clock Cocktail, and features sherry, along with equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. There has to be (I’m wracking my brain, but my brain is old and full of cocktails) a drink with a different name that has equal parts of these three lovelies, right? There are the classic Adonis and Bamboo cocktails with sherry and one each of our vermouth pair naturally. But both with a different name? I can’t recall, but really, it doesn’t matter that much, or enough to stop me drinking this perfectly-balanced beaut, which lets all those herb-y, nut-y, botanical-y scents and tastes play around the palate like a dance party. A lot depends on what variety of such you use. Sadly, in a way, I did not use Taylor branded sherry and vermouth – which I think has been lost to the liquor shelves of time. I did use Punt e’ Mes Italian vermouth (I felt its drier, herb-forward umph would be good), Dolin dry vermouth (cause I like it), and Williams & Humbert Dry Sack medium sherry, which is a dandy nutty mixing sherry. Altogether: yummy. Try it, and next time you pass a rack of booze-pamphlets in your house or a used bookstore or antique mart, maybe pick one up and make a drink from it. It worked for me!
The 6 O’clock cocktail
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce sherry
Lemon twist, for garnish
1. Fill a mixing glass or cocktail shaker halfway full with cracked ice. Add our trio of liquids. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with the lemon twist.
February 16, 2021
The Uncommercial Traveller by our pal Charles Dickens is not a book one hears about enough – heck, even a Dickens head like me hadn’t had it in his hands until recently. But I scored a copy, which isn’t really that hard, though said copy is like a print-to-order thing, with no, like TOC, or copyright notes, or title page, anything. Which is fine, and definitely better than no copy at all! If you don’t know (and I’ll admit, I didn’t know much until I got said copy), The Uncommercial Traveller is a collection of personal essays, or literary sketches as they say, that Dickens originally published in a journal he founded called “All the Year Round” (if anyone wants to gift me a few original copies of that, go right ahead), and really involves the main character (Dickens, that is, as far as it goes) writing about his wanderings around London, the UK, and (in a dreamy sort-of way and regular ways) Europe, including visiting the site of a famous shipwreck, strolling the city in the wee hours due to insomnia, mapping out the haunts of neighborhood dogs, visiting the town he grew up in, and more. They are all written in the Dickensian style, with wit, insights that remain relevant today, details rendered through his particular peculiar eye, and all. He stops at pubs and hotels and other watering holes, too, as he loved such, and drinks, so it makes for good Cocktail Talk-ing (oh, don’t miss all the past Charles Dickens Cocktail Talks, as there are many jolly ones). I’m not sure yet how many Uncommercial Traveller Cocktails Talks I’ll have yet, but you can bet they’ll be more! We’re going to start at one of those neighborhood public houses, one attended by theatre-goers during intermission. And while it does have drinks! It’s really an ode to the sandwich. But I love sandwiches! Especially with drinks.
Between the pieces, we almost all of us went out and refreshed. Many of us went the length of drinking beer at the bar of the neighbouring public-house, some of us drank spirits, crowds of us had sandwiches and ginger-beer at the refreshment-bars established for us in the Theatre. The sandwich—as substantial as was consistent with portability, and as cheap as possible—we hailed as one of our greatest institutions. It forced its way among us at all stages of the entertainment, and we were always delighted to see it; its adaptability to the varying moods of our nature was surprising; we could never weep so comfortably as when our tears fell on our sandwich; we could never laugh so heartily as when we choked with sandwich; Virtue never looked so beautiful or Vice so deformed as when we paused, sandwich in hand, to consider what would come of that resolution of Wickedness in boots, to sever Innocence in flowered chintz from Honest Industry in striped stockings. When the curtain fell for the night, we still fell back upon sandwich, to help us through the rain and mire, and home to bed.
–Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller
February 12, 2021
Here’s something that may have confused you for years (heck, it confused me – maybe still does): citrus fruits, those sunny suntime suntreats, are often associated with gloomy old greytime cloudypants winter months. Weird, right? I suppose (this is how I’m telling it to myself at least, and, I guess, you) that it’s because said citrus fruit delivers said sunshine within these wintery grey months, a juicy daydream of the beach when the rain or snow or ice is descending from unfriendly skies. Why this fruity ramble? Well, as an intro way of saying that recently I felt the need to make a little Mandarino, the mandarin orange liqueur, to bring said sun beams into my glass and my dreary days, and, well, let me assure you that it did just that! I was hulu-ing and be-shorted in no time. I first made this, my version of Mandarino, way back for Luscious Liqueurs, and you can sip it solo, on ice, or as the orange component in a Margarita or other cocktail, any time of the year. Though maybe it’s best in winter.
6 Mandarin oranges
2 cups vodka
2 cups simple syrup
1. Wash, dry, and peel the oranges and 1/2 of the lemon, working to not end up with any of the white pith (if the Mandarin peels just slip off, as they often do, then scrap any excess pith off the inner sides with a paring knife). Put the peels in a glass container that gets cozy with its lid (meaning, the lid fits well). Use the fruit for juicing or cooking or just eating.
2. Add the vodka, stir a little, and seal. Place the container in a cool, dry spot away from the sun. Let it relax for two weeks, swirling every 3 or 4 days.
3. Add the simple syrup, stir well, and reseal. Leave the Mandarino to get pretty for two more weeks, stopping by to swirl every 3 or 4 days.
4. Strain the liqueur through double sheets of cheesecloth into a pitcher or other easy pouring vessel. Strain again through 2 new sheets of cheesecloth into bottles or jars, or one larger bottle or jar.
February 5, 2021
Yes, I agree with you! This warming winner does deserve a much more imaginative and inventive and intriguing and just better name. But I suppose that on occasion being straightforward isn’t a bad thing – it is cold outside, so something hot is needed. And this drink does have spices and Scotch. So that name isn’t wrong by any means, but, c’mon, the spice layers here, allspices, cloves, nutmeg, and the toddy-ness, and the butter, and a little smooch of sweet, and Scotch (did I mention that?), altogether raising this drink into the high heights of hot drinkness, the tempting tops of cold-curing drink mountain, the level of a drink that needs a name to match. It should have been called Hercules! However, it was first called Hot Spiced Scotch I think in Applegreen’s Bar Book, or at least that’s where I saw it (my edition is copyright 1909, published by the Hotel Monthly Press, though an earlier edition came out in 1899), and since it’s been called that for now over 100 years, let’s keep it that way, shall we? We shall.
Hot Spiced Scotch
1/2 ounce Simple Syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3 to 4 whole cloves
2 ounces Scotch
3-1/2 ounces water
1/2 teaspoon butter
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg for garnish
Lemon twist for garnish
1. Heat a sturdy goblet by running it under warm water, then drying it quickly.
2. Add the simple syrup, allspice, and cloves to a cocktail shaker. Using a muddler or wooden spoon, muddle well.
3. Add the Scotch to the shaker. Swirl the contents together, and then strain into the warm goblet.
4. Heat the water in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Pour the hot water into the goblet. Add the butter and stir a couple of times (not once for every year between now and 1909, though).
5. Top the drink with the nutmeg and the lemon twist.