September 13, 2022
For our final What Rhymes with Murder? Cocktail Talk (and don’t miss What Rhymes with Murder? Part I and Part II to get some more boozing, sure, but also to learn more about this Jack Iams’ 1950 mystery, where a British flirty poet gets shot, a reporter hero tries to track down the murder as he’s a suspect, and where the society page grand dame reporter might be the best shamus of the bunch!) I have what I’m thinking is one of the finest moments in the however many years I’ve been writing here: the mention of grappa in a 1950s pulp pocketbook! Really! Amazing! I love grappa, being like one of the big grappa pushers I know, and someone who brings back bottles of obscure-in-the-US grappas in my suitcase when traveling to Italy every year. So, when I saw the below, I was very, very happy. You will be, too.
I went around the corner to Frascini’s, a restaurant where a lot of newspapermen and politicians and cops hung out. It was crowded, and I had a feeling that people were staring at me, and after a bowl of minestrone, I didn’t want anything more.
“Whatsa matter, you sick?” asked Tony Frascini.
“No, just shaky.”
“Have a grappa. Fix you up.”
–Jack Iams, What Rhymes with Murder?
July 5, 2022
I’m sometimes the tiniest bit sad when re-reading The Murder at the Vicarage, knowing that it will never again be like the first time (though some say nothing is the like a first time, I’m not sure that’s as true a cliché as one might think, in general, by the way). Just cause, it’s the first book featuring Agatha Christie’s incomparable Miss Marple (I believe there was a story with her published before this book, funny enough, but for so many, this book was her introduction), and so when reading it without knowing much about her, she seems at the beginning a minor character, a charmingly (maybe this is hindsight) gossipy, watchful, inquisitive small village older lady (or old maid, in a non-pejorative way). And then as the book unfolds, you – dear reader – slowly become aware that she’s the stuff, the one with the insights, and the sharpest tool the St. Mary Mead (the village in question) shed. Now, while that feeling can’t return on subsequent readings, I still enjoy the re-read. It’s jolly good fun to see how Agatha C plays against the preconceived notions around the elderly, and how she unveils Miss Marple being Marple. And you see clues you may have missed, pick up on characterizations that might have seemed less important, and of course get to revel in the language again. Heck, now I sort-of want to read it once more (I’m sure I will, if life allows). And, there’s cherry brandy! What a book.
I agreed, and at that moment the door opened and Miss Marple made her appearance.
“Very sorry to bother you, Miss Marple,” said the Colonel when I had introduced him, putting on his bluff, military manner, which he had an idea was attractive to elderly ladies. “Got to do my duty, you know?”
“Of course, of course,” said Miss Marple. “I quite understand. Won’t you sit down? And might I offer you a little glass of cherry brandy? My own making. A recipe of my grandmother’s.”
–Agatha Christie, The Murder at the Vicarage
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
June 14, 2022
This, friends, is a solemn time here on the Spiked Punch. I’ve just now this moment realized that I’ve never had a Cocktail Talk (unless I’ve lost it over the years, which is possible as my mind is old and there are many posts on there) from the immortal Anthony Trollope novel Phineas Finn. Or, from the also immortal Phineas Redux. What in the world? Y’all know I love me some Anthony Trollope (you know this from reading the many Trollope Cocktail Talks), and of all the Trollopian fictional gems, the two Phineas books – which are the second and fourth I believe in the Palliser series of novels by Trollope, books which revolve around politics, and how those taking part in them acted and talked and such, of his time in the main, while still being fiction – may well be my favorite. Not saying they are the best or making any canonical pronouncements. But they may be my favorites. I’m not even sure I can type out why! But I have a soft spot perhaps for the hero (Phineas), an Irish-born fella who makes his way into the London political world and has adventures and mis-adventures and romances and at least one duel and fox hunts and trials and ups and downs and brandy and all kinds of things. Perhaps I just love the scope and insights into the time period? Or how the characters mingle through the books, some coming and some going until there’s this whole feeling of being a part of the world Trollope is creating, or how the motivations seem to mirror modern ones (with different trapping of course)? Or his “complete appreciation of the usual” as they say? All of that? The one thing I know for sure is that I can’t believe I haven’t had a quote in the form of a Cocktail Talk from either Phineas book! Well, let’s remedy that with the below, shall we? This particular one doesn’t actually feature said hero, but one of the other fairly important, let’s call them sub-main characters, Lord Chiltern.
He told nothing to Captain Clutterbuck of his sorrow, but Captain Clutterbuck could see that he was unhappy.
“Let’s have another bottle of ‘cham,’” said Captain Clutterbuck, when their dinner was nearly over. “‘Cham’ is the only thing to screw one up when one is down a peg.”
“You can have what you like,” said Lord Chiltern; “but I shall have some brandy-and-water.”
“The worst of brandy-and-water is, that one gets tired of it before the night is over,” said Captain Clutterbuck.
–Anthony Trollope, Phineas Finn
May 31, 2022
Hello Anthony Trollope fans! Which is everyone! Who likes to read, at least (which is also hopefully everyone)! Speaking of reading, long-time readers of this blog (which is everyone!) know that I love reading Trollope novels in the main, and know this due to the many many Trollope Cocktail Talks from years past. A long list that includes one Can You Forgive Her? Cocktail Talk. However! I was re-reading this book – the first in the amazing Palliser series, or series-esque – recently, and realized I needed way more in the way of Cocktail Talks from it. So, another is happening today, with the below quote. First a quick note: the novel is about a lady who goes a bit back-and-forth, not in her affections per se, but in how she decides to deal with them and her life, with a few other stories intertwined (including one which introduces Glencora Palliser, who shows up in most of the other books, and re-introduces Plantagenet Palliser, who shows up even more in them). All good Trollopian stuff! Including the below.
On the night before Christmas Eve two men were sitting together in George Vavasor’s rooms in Cecil Street. It was past twelve o’clock, and they were both smoking; there were square bottles on the table containing spirits, with hot water and cold water in jugs, and one of the two men was using, and had been using, these materials for enjoyment.
–Anthony Trollope, Can You Forgive Her?
May 10, 2022
Our second Cocktail Talk from David Frome’s fits-in-the-pocket-sized-book (be sure to read Mr. Pinkerton Goes to Scotland Yard Part I to learn more about the books, the murdering, and such) is brandy-based. It’s a little long, but wanted to set the whole scene, because it calls up multiple deficiencies in modern life. First: not enough people have brandy at hand like this for emergencies. Second: people don’t use the word “nip” enough to refer to a small drink. And third, people also don’t use the phrase “stiff peg” enough for a slightly larger strong pour of spirits in a glass. Let’s all work on bring these three things back into daily life, shall we?
“That Ellinger woman says my sister’s dead – is that true?
“Quite true, Mr. Ripley,” Bull said quietly. “Steady on, sir!”
He caught Hugh Ripley round the shoulders as he swayed in the doorway.
Superintendent Miller jumped to his feet and came over.
“Get some brandy,” he said to the maid. He pushed a chair up. Bull helped Ripley into it.
“I’m all right,” the young man said in a second. “Thanks.”
“This is Sir Charles Debenham, the Assistant Commissioner, and this is Superintendent Miller, of Scotland Yard,” Bull said. “They’re taking a hand in the investigation. Ah, here you are. Take a nip of this, sir.”
He took the decanter that Gaskins had fetched from the dining-room and poured out a stiff peg in the glass she held. Hugh Ripley poured it down his throat.
–David Frome, Mr. Pinkerton Goes to Scotland Yard
March 11, 2022
This is a cozy drink for a chilly March day! It reminds me, too (as I’ve been making it for a bit), of the dark days before Aperol was available in the U.S., and when the now-everywhere (a good thing!) stateside Spritz was just something Italian sipped. Doesn’t seem that long ago to me (I am very old) when I used to have to always bring two bottles of Aperol back in my suitcase when traveling back from lovely Italy, one for personal use and one for a pal. What changes have come since then (now I just have to fill my suitcase with grappa unavailable here)! Back to this here, drink. It mingles in a cuddly manner bountiful brandy with that Aperol I was going on about, with a tiny salute of simple syrup and a fresh orange for a tint of tang. It can be a bit sweet, like you, so if you want to take the simple to even tinier levels or out altogether, it’s okay. Things will still be cuddly.
Ti Penso Sempre, from Dark Spirits
1-1/2 ounces brandy
1 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Orange slices, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the brandy, Aperol, and simple syrup. Shake well.
2. Strain the mix into a cocktail glass and be glad your local liquor store shelves are well-stocked (one hopes, at least).
December 3, 2021
Can you believe it – it’s December, 2021, already. Holy time-moves-quickly! Though, even if we didn’t have calendars and suchlike to alert us to the fact, the weather outside might cause one (in the northern hemisphere, and suchlike) to think through chattering teeth, “I believe it’s December, because the cold has infested my bones.” Or, suchlike. What to do, as time machines are out of the question, currently? I mean, you can’t go back in time to escape the cold, and while putting layers of blanketing devices on your person will perhaps reduce the chill, it certainly isn’t as jolly as a good warm (or hot, even) drink. May I suggest, in this warming manner, Aunt Betsy’ Favorite? It’s a wine-based treat, one fortified as the season demands with port and brandy, and well-spiced (the season also seems to demand this – just look at holiday desserts). It also serves, depending on temperature, temperament, and suchlike, somewhere between 5 and 8 people – and, as well all know, a crowd of pals is a warming thing. So, this is doubly-warming! Take the edge off of December with it, and stay cozy, and suchlike!
Aunt Betsy’s Favorite, from Dark Spirits
24 ounces red wine (I suggest a Cabernet Sauvignon)
16 ounces tawny port
8 ounces brandy
4 ounces simple syrup
1 orange peel
3 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon
1. Add all of the ingredients to a medium-size saucepan. Cook on medium heat, stirring regularly, for 10 minutes. You want it to get good and hot, but not start boiling, or even simmering. Reduce the heat midway through the cooking time if needed.
2. Once the 10 minutes have passed and the room smells wonderful, ladle the mix into heavy mugs. Avoid serving the orange peel, cloves, and cinnamon stick if your pals are worried about clunking up their smiles.