July 17, 2018
It had been a long, long stretch of days since I’ve had a Cocktail Talk post from a tale by one of our pocket-book specialists (in the 50s, that is), George Harmon Coxe – past hits here have covered his books The Groom Lay Dead
and Murder in Havana
. Those titles, along with the book we’re quoting here, The Crimson Clue
, give you insight into where his reads roll: mysteries and crimes and all that good stuff. In The Crimson Clue
, the hero is one I hadn’t seen before: a news photographer named Kent Murdock. I like the idea of a photographer shooting snaps and then solving crimes, and Kent’s a nice protagonist, and the book moves along at a persistent clip (as most pocketbooks do), has an intriguing cast (jazz musician, ex-cops, good cops, singer, rich folks doing bad things, and more), and a solid story. And, a fair amount of cocktailing and straight sipping, including the below, which asks an eternal question:
She watched him slip off his topcoat and put it on the arm of the divan, her head dipped, glance speculative. “Would you say it was too early for a drink?”
Murdock made an act out of looking at his watch and frowning over the proposition. When he looked at her she laughed.
“Bourbon?” she asked.
“That’ll be fine.”
“On the rocks, huh?”
She started for the kitchen and he asked if he could help and she said no. “On this kind of a drink,” she said, “no-body needs help. Sit down, will you? Park. Make yourself comfortable.”
— George Harmon Coxe, The Crimson Club
June 26, 2018
Just last week, I highlighted a Cocktail Talk quote from an old noir novel called Park Avenue Tramp
, which (as detailed there) was part of a Stark House Noir Classics collection that features three out-of-print noir novels all together. These collections are really worthy reads if you dig the pulps, noirs, and pocketbooks-with-saucy-covers, because they feature books not easily picked up today. In this collection, I liked all three reads, but my favorite might have been The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed
, by Charles Runyon. A small town serial killer search, in a way, it moved fast, had a fair amount of twists and turns, tight and creative lingo and well-written prose-ing, and a female lead who showed some gumption. All good stuff! And a good Cocktail Talk quote about a country bar, which you’ll see below.
It was a little gas station and honky-tonk; the kind you see around the country with names like Burntwood Inn and Cozy Dell. This one was called Pine Cover Tavern and was crowded (there was no work in the fields because of the rain) with men in overalls and a couple of women in print dresses. We drew stares as we walked to a booth in the back. I felt wicked and daring, and though it was unlikely that any Shermanites would see me, I found that I didn’t really care if they did. I told Curt to order me a boilermaker: a glass of beer with a shot of bourbon inside it. He ordered the same for himself and drank silently for a few minutes.
–Charles Runyon, The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed
May 4, 2018
Some days are difficult. Take tomorrow, for instance. It’s a tasty kind of difficult, because two solid drinking days are happening tomorrow, the fifth of May, 2018. First, it’s Cinco de Mayo, a fantastic day for having Mexican-inspired drinks, in celebration of the Mexican Army’s win over the French at the battle of Pueblo and Mexican-American culture. If you’re having sippers for Cinco, I dig it. However! It’s also the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby, a day when more Mint Juleps are consumed than any other day, and a day when many fine hats are worn. I’m going the Julep route tomorrow (admittedly, I may have a National Arms tomorrow, too). And one today, cause, well, I wanna make sure I have things right.
Why the Julep route this 5th? Well, a lot of the reason is because I received a bottle Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon in the mail the other day, and I’ve been itching to try it in a julep, and, well, the circumstances seemed too fortuitous to miss! Boasting a swell-looking bottle with visuals harkening back to the inspiration of the name, Clyde May that is, who legend says was a “moonshine icon who made the best whiskey Alabama ever tasted” starting back in 1946, and made by the Conecuh Ridge Distillery, this bourbon’s a nice 92 proof, is non-chill filtered, and aged for 5 years (hey, another 5 on 5/5!) in heavily charred American oak. Its aroma features vanilla, dried fruit, oak, and spice all playing together, and a taste that mirrors the vanilla and oak, but also delivers brown sugar, nuts, and more spice, including a peppery, near-peppermint-ness on the back end. Nicely balanced all around, and worth sipping solo, but also a solid cocktail bourbon that can provide flavor and backbone.
Especially in a Mint Julep, one of the older mixes bourbon pals around within. You love Mint Juleps, right? You’re a good person, so I’m thinking you do. It’s such a swell combo, not just for Derby day, but all spring long. Just remember, as S.B. Buckner, Jr. said in a letter to General Connor, 1937 “A Mint Julep is not the process of a formula. It is a ceremony and must be performed by a gentleman possessing a true sense of the artistic, a deep reverence for the ingredients, and a proper appreciation of the occasion.”
The Mint Julep
Fresh mint leaves (4 or 5)
3/4 ounce simple syrup (go lighter to taste, if that’s your desire)
3 ounces Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon
Fresh mint sprig for garnish
1. Take one mint leaf and rub it over the inside of a metal julep cup (if you have one) or a highball glass. Be sure the mint touches each inch of the glasses inside. Drop the leaf in the glass when done.
2. Add the remaining mint leaves and the simple syrup to the glass. Using a muddler or wooden spoon, muddle the leaves and syrup. You want to be strong, but respectful.
3. Fill the glass half way with crushed ice. Add the bourbon. Stir well.
4. Fill the glass the rest of the way with crushed ice. Stir once. Garnish with a mint sprig.
A Note: To be traditional, you must crush the ice in a cloth bag. But if this is too much work, just start with crushed ice.
December 22, 2017
Washington State distillers are dreamy (you probably have realized my feelings in this already, as I do go on – but they are awesome!), with so many worthy bottles out already, and more continuing to be released regularly. The latest example? Chambers Bay Straight Bourbon. A follow up to their highly-regarded 20-month aged Greenhorn bourbon, Chambers Bay Straight Bourbon is aged 3-1/2 years, and made from sweet yellow corn and soft white wheat from Grant County, WA, and the distiller’s proprietary wild-yeast strain harvested from a local apple orchard. If that wasn’t enough, though, the real sets-it-apart-thing here is that the aging takes place on a boathouse floating on the Puget Sound – from what I’ve been told, it’s the only whiskey in the world aged that long on the water, where the waves and tides speed up the aging (that’s the theory, at least). End result? A darn tasty tipple, with some nice sweetness from the wheat, and a mingling of sea-salted caramel, toffee, fig, orange, and chocolate.
It’s dandy to enjoy as a solo act, but of course I also wanted to try it in cocktails, and after trying this and then trying that, liked it best in The Hounds They Start to Roar. That drink has a bit of a history, which we won’t get it to too much here (you’ve already read the full story in Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz anyway, right? Right!), but I will remind you that the name comes from a Tom Waits’ song, as do the ingredients, in a way. Said ingredients are bourbon, naturally, but also St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram (the spice flavors contained therein, cinnamon, clove, and others, go wonderfully with the Chambers Bay bourbon mélange), brandy (which helps balance everything out), and Peychaud’s bitters (which adds another herbal tint or two). Together, it’s a drink fit for any sailor, dog lover, song-singer, or person reading this blog, which means you. Take it out for a walk or a sail and see if I’m right.
The Hounds They Start to Roar, from Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz
2 ounces Chambers Bay Straight Bourbon
3/4 ounce St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
1/2 ounce brandy
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add the whole bunch of ingredients. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass or comparable.
September 8, 2017
I recently posted a delicious Italian-inspired drink on the Spiked Punch called The Translation of Giuliana Monti, which I made up for a wonderful night of literature, laughs, and liquid libations. The night centered around the jolly and masterful writer Andrew Sean Greer’s newest, entitled LESS, a book you must buy (I talk about it more in that earlier post, which you should go read, and then you should go read LESS, and now you’re back), and during said night we chatted, joked, took questions, read from the book (well, Andy did), and drank two drinks came up for for the occasion and named after characters in the book.
This one, the second, is called Arturo’s Hairy Hands, named for the main character’s tour guide in Mexico City, and is a rare beast in that it has two base spirits. Savor it while savoring LESS and be a happy reader and drinker.
Arturo’s Hairy Hands
1-1/2 ounces Woodinville Whiskey Co. bourbon
1 ounce Maguey mezcal with agave syrup
1/2 ounce Alessio sweet vermouth
1 dash Bittermen’s Xocolati mole bitters
Orange twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with ice cubes. Add everything but the orange with your hands. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the orange twist. Sip and read. Sip and read.
March 21, 2017
If you missed Part I of our Cocktail Talk tour through lesser-known (though it should be known) noir classic Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze, then I strongly suggest you go read it now. You back? Cool! Here’s our second quote from that darkish crime tome, where main character Tim Sunblade is at a well-named bar drinking an old whiskey.
I drank a Coke in the Tuscany bar on Fifteenth. It tasted like gasoline. I went out and got a newspaper and came back into the Tuscany and sat in a booth with another Coke and the paper. Waiting. Somehow it got to be three o’clock. I bought myself a double I. W. Harper and water and four o’clock came around faster and then I went outside, walking toward the three-story building on Essex, not fast, but not slow, the whisky glowing just right in me.
— Elliott Chaze, Black Wings Has My Angel
March 14, 2017
Is there anything better than discovering a very good book you’ve never heard of, by an author you’ve never heard of? Well, okay, I can think of one or two things better, but that might be it! But then, when you find out said author didn’t really write a lot more, well, then you’re sad. But happy. But sad! But happy! It’s a crazy world, and Black Wings Has My Angel, by Elliott Chaze, is a crazy good noir book, dark, full of passion and crime, and right in the Goodis vein (if you know what I mean, and if you don’t, I mean David Goodis). It’s hard sometimes to like the main hero/heroine here, but also impossible to not keep reading at a rapid pace to see what happens. There’s a heist, a murder, lots of action, lots of strange love, and lots of drinking. Which puts this book perfectly in Cocktail Talk continuum here, so much so that I’m going to have three different posts, with three different quotes, in this very month. Though Mr. Chaze is no longer with us, from whatever afterworld bar he’s at, I’ll bet he’d glad to see his book getting some love on the Spiked Punch – and you’ll be glad if you pick Black Wings Has My Angel and give it a read.
She went into the kitchen and mixed a strong drink. It was almost red with bourbon. She brought it back to the couch and sat down and there was the business of the fringes jiggling all over again. Then after a time she began talking: “Tim, don’t ever be a gentleman again. Like you were out in the yard when I turned the hose on you. It made me want to puke to see you standing there dripping and grinning at me as if I’d done you a favor. For God’s sake don’t turn into a gentleman on me.
— Elliott Chaze, Black Wings Has My Angel
November 4, 2016
Well, you play that tarantella, all the hounds will start to roar
The boys all go to hell and then the Cubans hit the floor
They drive along the pipeline, they tango ’til they’re sore
They take apart their nightmares and they leave them by the door
Let me fall out of the window with confetti in my hair
Deal out Jacks or better on a blanket by the stairs
I’ll tell you all my secrets, but I lie about my past
And send me off to bed for evermore . . .
That’s Tom Waits, friends. Lyrics from the song “Tango ’til They’re Sore,” naturally. The inspiration, that song, and the record it’s on, for this very drink. You’ll need to listen to the whole thing and the whole of Rain Dogs, now. If you weren’t already.
The Hounds They Start to Roar
2 ounces bourbon
3/4 ounce St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram
1/2 ounce brandy (Spanish, of course)
2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with cracked ice. Add the whole bunch of ingredients. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass or goblet. Sing Tom songs, of course.