You know, I think this here lovely drink is such a nice and lovely one for lovely Valentine’s Day that I’ve probably had it on this (lovely) blog before around the heart-iest day of the year. But today is the actual day! Not just close. You knew this right? I mean, you are on it, and have the appropriate gifts etc. for your sweetest, or if single, for yourself (I mean, you deserve it)? It is, naturally, a holiday created for commerce (if you can spare me a non-lovely thought), but darn it all, still fun, or, at least, still a lovely excuse for the below drink for the lovely couples and lovely singles in the house. What a combo! Brandy! Aperol! Sweetness! Citrus! Lovely! Admittedly, a smidge on the dessert-y side for some lovely folks, but hey, if that’s not you, here’s what you do – up the lovely brandy a bit. Just like that, a Valentine’s Day dream, ideal for you, lovely you.
You know those days when you wake up and think, “you know, I really want to get into an adventure in NYC with a 1950s lawyer who likes his drinks, knows the best bars, also knows the law quite well, is a bit pugnacious while also flirty, and seems to be surrounded by murders,” those kinds of days? You know them? I had one recently, and so of course set myself up with a big dose of books by Hal Masur (aka Harold Q Masur), starring Scott Jordan, the pocket-book-y-est lawyer in the land! I’ve had a fair amount of Hal M. Cocktail Talks, including one from Tall, Dark and Deadly, a sort-of mid-career Jordan rollicker, with a divorce, double talk, drinks, and the tagline “Divorce is messy. Murder is messier.” Indeed! And the below quote, perhaps the only book with the Saratoga cocktail – though a version different then some I’ve seen. Sounds intriguing? Check it out:
String instruments only in the orchestra, no brass, Hazel created a mild stir from the male contingent as we followed the major dee to a corner table. He hovered solicitously, pad ready in his hand.
I know, I know, I’ve had a lot of Maigret Cocktail Talks, but when I put up a good boozy quote in The Silent Witness Cocktail Talk recently, I realized I had to have one from Maigret and the Informer, too. See, if you missed that recent Cocktail Talking, I picked up both of these in one of those books-that-contain-two-books, which used to be a thing, and which I think is fun. Often, it was two books by the same author, but sometimes, you see two different authors, sharing the same genre. Here, it worked wonderfully, with the dry, stoic (but funny, in his way) French Inspector Maigret back-to-back with an American PI, Jack Fenner, also a little dry and stoic (and funny in his way). Both crime-solvers like a drink, too. This George Simenon book is an good one (most are!), with a restaurateur killed, young gangsters, a trip to the south of France, an informer on the run, a quirky cop, a cheating wife – all you could want, really! Plus, it all starts with a dinner at the Maigret house (they have Doctor Pardon and his wife over for dinner once a month if you were wondering), one I would have liked to have been at.
The women would take advantage of the occasion to put on a great spread and to exchange recipes, while the men would gossip idly, drinking Alsatian gin or raspberry brandy.
The dinner had been particularly successful. Madame Maigret had made a guinea-hen pie and the superintendent had brought out of his cellar one of the last bottles of an old Chateauneuf de Pape he had once bought a case of, marked down, when he was in Rue Drouot.
The wine was exceptionally good, and the two men hadn’t left a drop. How many liqueur glasses of brandy had they had afterwards? At any rate, suddenly awakened at two o’clock in the morning, Maigret did not feel his best.
Well, I’ve now had a fair amount (a large amount, maybe? But all such good stuff I’m glad I haven’t skipped a one) of Maigret Cocktail Talks, and I’m hoping you haven’t missed a one. Because George Simenon’s Parisian Inspector is such an indelible character in mystery literary – and literature in total – that they tend to be un-missable, and lots of boozy fun. The book The Two-Penny Bar as you might expect takes our stoic Inspector to a bar! But how he gets there – via a confidence given by a criminal on death row – and how the mystery around a murder unfolds, and how Maigret’s inescapable solidity and persistence takes center stage, all set this one apart. As does the below quote, which sets up some of the odd-individual-nature of this read:
Corks were popping.
“Come and have a brandy!” said James. “I guess you aren’t a dancer.”
What an odd fellow! He had already drunk enough to lay out four or five normal men, but he wasn’t really drunk. He just slouched around, looking sour, not joining in. He took Maigret back into the house. He sat in the landlord’s high-backed armchair.
Yeah, yeah, I hear you – it’s summer, who sits around drinking brandy in the summer? Shouldn’t it be sipped in drawing rooms post-dinner during the chillier months? Shouldn’t you be wearing a cravat of some sort, or at least a dinner jacket, and not shorts and a t-shirt? You keep on tut-tut-ing in your corner and putting drinks into buckets, and I’ll keep on sipping whatever sounds good at this moment and enjoying myself. Deal? Deal!
And what sounds, tastes, and is good even this July moment is the delicious brandy released not too long ago by the swell Seattle Distilling Company. WA state should have way, way more delicious brandies, due to our wonderful wine industry (and I don’t need to tell you how wine and brandy go together). But, sadly, not yet. However, the (as I mentioned, swell) folks at the Seattle Distilling Company’s brandy is a WA-state treat, using grapes grown here, and aged five years in casks that previously held Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s smooth and worth savoring, with a fig, vanilla, raisin-ness, along with the underlying good grape-y-ness. Something just right to linger over any time of year, me thinks. You can’t disagree until you’ve tried it, which, sadly, might be tough as it was a limited-edition brandy release – though perhaps there are a few bottles left, so get to tracking one down. You deserve it!
Recently, I was talking about bottles to buy dad for Father’s Day on the mighty and mighty fun New Day Northwest. It was great, as I got to highlight some fantastic spirits and liqueurs made right here in way-out Washington state. And, I also got to make a special cocktail for dad using a number of those bottles. But here’s the thing – the drink, which is called Thy Noble Father (from Hamlet, you know), is a dandy one for any time of year, any day, with Woodinville Whiskey straight bourbon, Brovo Spirits Orange Curacao, Seattle Distilling Company brandy, and Scrappy’s Black Lemon bitters. I’m not sure I can conjure many better quartets than that for you, if you’re the type of person who like cocktails layered with flavor, underlined by two base spirits, cocktails with lots of earthy and celestial citrus, along with spice notes, and a little friendly sweetness that isn’t overly sweet, just an echo. And, you can make it for dad whenever you want – it’s not like he doesn’t deserve a good drink multiple times a year, right?
January isn’t called “the cold and flu” season as much as year’s end, but darnit, it’s still a month where you need your vitamins and need to have an eye (at least one) on your health. And what’s healthier than raspberries? Well nothing. Nothing but raspberries and vinegar, that is! Now that’s a healthy duo, especially when you combine it with soda water and Cognac (or brandy, in a pinch, another healthy item). Heck, that combo is so healthy that it was a top tipple of Count Louis Philippe Joseph de Roffignac, ex-French citizen and beloved Mayor of New Orleans from 1820 to 1828. If you can’t trust him (from whatever afterworld bar he may be at) on healthiness, then who can you trust? (Oh, you’ll need to make the raspberry-vinegar syrup to get full health benefits and to make this drink – see A Note, below – but you can do that. I have faith in you!)
2 ounces Cognac
1/2 ounce raspberry-vinegar syrup (which may once have been called Red Hembarig and various other names)
Chilled club soda
1. Fill a highball glass up with ice cubes. Add the cognac and the syrup. Stir once.
2. Top the glass off with club soda. Stir once again.
A Note: To make your syrup in a fairly-orderly and quick fashion, muddle two cups raspberries a bit in a bowl, then add a cup of apple cider vinegar, and stir briefly. Let sit overnight (I suggest putting a napkin or such on top). Then add it plus three cups sugar and 3/4 cup water to a saucepan. Heat to a simmer, let simmer for around 10 minutes, then take off the heat and let it cool completely in the pan. Strain through a fine strainer and then cheesecloth if you’re really worried about getting small bits of things in your teeth. Keep in the fridge.
If you’ve forgotten (though how could you, marketing being the horror that it is), tomorrow is Halloween! I’m guessing you have your costume set, but what about your drink? If not, then remember the Warlock! It has brandy, Strega, limoncello, orange juice, and Peychaud’s bitters. It will, when consumed, turn you into a zombie magician as the below video shows. But hey, it’s Halloween, that’s what you want!
The Man Behind the Evening's PlansA.J. Rathbun is a freelance food and entertainment writer, poet and author, a frequent guest on the Everyday Food program (Martha Stewart Living/Sirius satellite radio), and is a contributor to culinary & entertainment magazines such as Every Day with Rachael Ray, The Food Network Magazine, Real Simple, Wine Enthusiast, and many others. Of course, there's so much more to it than that...Read More