Well, what can you say about Charlie Dickens that hasn’t already been said – much of it in the highly-regarded biography Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin, which I’ve been reading, and which is very well done, very researched, very well-written, and very in-depth. Reading biographies isn’t always my thing, I’d rather usually just read the work, but I’m a fairly decent Dickens-head (heck, read all the Charles Dickens Cocktail Talks to see), and had just visited the awesome Charles Dickens Museum in London, so thought I’d take the bio plunge. And I’m glad I did! But also a bit sad, because the more you learn, sometimes it’s too much. And though it’s a great bio book, she didn’t mention the greatest of all Dickens characters, Diogenes the dog, so that was a big black mark. But balanced by the below quote, where she’s talking about Dickens the party thrower, parties which certainly seem ones I would have enjoyed, and where Fortnum was involved (I’m a big Fortnum & Mason fan as well as a Dickens fan).
Accounts of his entertaining there, over which he sometimes presided in a velvet smoking coat, suggest that there was a high consumption of iced gin punch and hot brandy punch, much smoking of cigars, and delicious food brought in from Fortnum’s – pickled salmon, pigeon pie, cold meats, and hot asparagus – oysters from Maiden Lane and sometimes a baked leg of mutton stuffed with veal and oysters, a dish of his own invention.
My filling out of my Maigret collection continues! Wait, you say, you aren’t sure what I mean? I can’t believe you aren’t joking. You’re joking. Well, just in case, I mean specifically the Inspector Maigret novels and stories by writer Georges Simenon, starring the taciturn (at times) and methodical (until the mood hits) Parisian police commissaire. Please check out past Maigret Cocktail Talks to learn more, if you haven’t already. In my latest pickup, Maigret not only leaves his normal Paris stomping grounds, but leaves France altogether (the book name may give this away) for Holland, where a French citizen is involved in a murder case in a small Dutch town. As he doesn’t speak the language, and isn’t an official local cop, the case provides some wrinkles for our tall Inspector. But he still manages to find a café and a hotel bar for some mid-case sipping. And to teach the locals what drinking is all about.
“You won’t refuse a little glass of brandy, will you? They have some good stuff here.”
“If you don’t mind, it’s my turn now,” said Maigret, in a tone that tolerated no opposition. “Only, since I don’t speak Dutch, I must ask you to order it for me. A bottle of brandy and some glasses.”
Pijpekamp meekly interpreted.
“Those glasses won’t do,” Maigret said when Madame Van Hasselt came bustling up.
He got up and went himself to get some bigger ones. Placing them on the table, he filled them right up to the rim.
“A toast for you, gentlemen,” he said gravely. “The Dutch police!”
“The stuff was so strong it brought tears to Pijpekamp’s eyes. But Maigret, with a smile on his face, gave no quarter. Again and again her raised his glass, repeating:
“Your health, Monsieur Pijpekamp! . . . To the Dutch police!”
For our last dally (for now, at least) into Anthony Trollope’s novel The Prime Minister, we’re ending with two of the (in my opinion, ‘natch) great characters in Trollope’s oeuvre, and perhaps in English fiction itself, Plantagenet Palliser and Glencora Palliser, his wife (Lord and Lady and then Duke and Duchess if you’re feeling formal). Their marriage and early days kick off the whole Palliser series of novels, and they surface here and there throughout the series, sometimes as bit parts, sometimes more supporting, sometimes starring. Which means it’s only fitting we end with a little brandy banter between them (don’t, of course, miss the earlier The Prime Minister Cocktail Talks, part I, part II, and part III, to learn more about the book, and for that matter, why not spend some with all the Anthony Trollope Cocktail Talks – you’ll have fun. Promise)!
“If you ask me, Plantagenet, you know I shall tell the truth.”
“Then tell the truth.”
“After drinking brandy so long I hardly think that 12s. claret will agree with my stomach. You ask for the truth, and there it is,—very plainly.”
“You asked, you know.”
“And I am glad to have been told, even though that which you tell me is not pleasant hearing. When a man has been drinking too much brandy, it may be well that he should be put on a course of 12s. claret.”
February is here, a month known for hearts and presidents and the birthdays of famous dog-owners (the last very subjective). As the presidents in reference here, in this month, calendarically are those who kick-started or had serious impact on the US, we’re talking males, fathers or father figures or both, and perhaps bourbon lovers (conjecture, unless time machines are on offer), and historically sort-of noble (naturally history is written by those who, well, are able to write it, and without the aforementioned time machines hard to declare nobility – which is a hard word to define anyway – in a way, but go with it, okay), which makes this the ideal month for this drink. A noble drink, I may say, especially if you live in and love WA state (as I do, in the main), as nearly every ingredient here is from WA – oranges excepted. We’re talking some seriously tasty state stalwarts, too: Woodinville Whiskey Co.’s delicious straight bourbon, Brovo Spirits’ bouncy Orange Curaçao, and Scrappy’s uniquely awesome Black Lemon bitters. Plus, a dollop of Seattle Distilling Company’s beautiful brandy – if you have it. That latter is hard to come by, unless you hoarded (like me) a last sip from a limited-release bottling. If you weren’t so lucky (or forward-thinking), then sub in another reputable brandy, please. It shouldn’t make the drink too less noble. It is a swell sipper, for February – or any ol’ month in the year.
Those who have visited Spiked Punch before (and really, who hasn’t?) know that I have a love of Anthony Trollope books, as there are a number of Trollope Cocktail Talks underlining that love. Please, go read them all! But I haven’t yet had one I don’t believe from Castle Richmond, one of five of his novels set in Ireland, a place where he lived for a good chunk of time, working for the post and kicking off his writing career. It’s perhaps my favorite of the five? Perhaps. Taking place at the beginning of the Irish famine, it has some harrowing moments and insights into that tragedy, though the core story itself is of a more personal family tragedy, or mystery, or both. Tragestery? There are the normal Trollopean well-developed characters a’plenty, mostly of the upperish class or want to be kind, but with enough others sprinkled in to keep it interesting. As well as the main did-she-or-they-or-didn’t-they kind of plot in a way, with enough side plots and history sprinkled in to keep it fresh. And of course, or we wouldn’t be here, a nice Cocktail Talky quote or two. At least two. Maybe three? Come back and see! Our first starts at a bar-rooming-house spot, where two of the more disreputable, shall we say, characters are living at for a chunk of the book. Living and drinking at, that is.
“You are cold I suppose, governor, and had better get a bit of something to eat, and a little tea.”
“And put my feet in hot water, and tallow my nose, and go to bed, hadn’t I? Miss O’Dwyer, I’ll trouble you to mix me a glass of brandy-punch. Of all the roads I ever travelled, that’s the longest and hardest to get over. Dashed, if I didn’t begin to think I’d never be here.” And so saying he flung himself into a chair, and put up his feet on the two hobs.
There was a kettle on one of them, which the young lady pushed a little nearer to the hot coals, in order to show that the water should be boiling; and as she did so Aby gave her a wink over his father’s shoulder, by way of conveying to her an intimation that “the governor was a little cut,” or in other language tipsy, and that the brandy-punch should be brewed with a discreet view to past events of the same description. All which Miss O’Dwyer perfectly understood.
It’s nearly Halloween, the hauntingest holiday of the year, so gather round my ghoulish tell-tale heart tipplers, and let ol’ uncle Spiked Punch spin you spooktacular story about brandy, Strega, limoncello, orange juice, and Peychaud’s bitters, a soulclencher (in the most delightfully demonic way) of a witch’s brew we call the Warlock. See below video for details, but one warning: watching may make you thrill-seekers thirsty as a vampire at midsummer. Second warning: consuming Warlock cocktails can turn you into a zombie magician. Now you know!
For our second Cocktail Talk from Dickens’ novel of family, riots, and ravens (among other things), we head to a gathering of prentices, as they say. Focusing mostly on one specific apprentice, the Captain of the group, a man of slight size but outsized self-importance, perhaps, and of finely-tuned calves, the swell named Mr. Tappertit. Not the villain of the book (I’d say there isn’t solely one), but not the nobelest of characters, no matter the below quote. Oh, be sure you read the Barnaby Rudge Cocktail Talk Part 1 to learn more about the book (and don’t miss the many other Dickens Cocktail Talks, either).
‘Sound, captain, sound!’ cried the blind man; ‘what does my noble captain drink–is it brandy, rum, usquebaugh? Is it soaked gunpowder, or blazing oil? Give it a name, heart of oak, and we’d get it for you, if it was wine from a bishop’s cellar, or melted gold from King George’s mint.’
‘See,’ said Mr. Tappertit haughtily, ‘that it’s something strong, and comes quick; and so long as you take care of that, you may bring it from the devil’s cellar, if you like.’
‘Boldly said, noble captain!’ rejoined the blind man. ‘Spoken like the ‘Prentices’ Glory. Ha, ha! From the devil’s cellar! A brave joke! The captain joketh. Ha, ha, ha!’
The “and Tonic” family of drinks is a wide one, and getting wide as people happily realize the breadth of tasty choices. Though still utilized mainly in summer and the sunnier months (especially the grandmother and matriarch G and T), don’t get stuck into thinking that a tonic number isn’t going to treat you rightly during other times of year, too (though cold winter nights can be a tougher sell, you can go for a vocational vibe in those situations). In the current fall time, which bridges summer months and fall months, I find an Apricot Eau De Vie (or fruit brandy) and Tonic especially nice. If you have the right Apricot brandy naturally! I’m using Oomrang’s version, which is a delight thanks to being based on apricots handpicked at the peak of ripeness, with the absolute perfect ones de-pitted, for a robust flavor of apricots tree-ripened in the summer sun. One note: this delicious apricot fruit brandy is not to be confused with some “Apricot brandies” out there, which are actually liqueurs, and tend to be treacly ones. I used Q tonic for that side of the “and,” but others could work, and tonic syrup would be a treat. I was just out!
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