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.
It’s nice to start the year (or to have near the start of the year) with a Martini. Classic, delicious, somehow it seems to portend good things. Fingers crossed. This year, I was lucky enough to have my January Martini with a gin I’d never even heard of until recently – and one that sadly isn’t available in the US yet (sorry US readers), Burning Berries gin. Made in Sydney Australia, and only available I believe in that country currently, Burning Berries is perhaps worth taking a trip for. I was lucky enough (lucky twice!) to have a bottle given to me by my sister, hopefully not breaking any international laws. It’s a very intriguing gin, one that shades contemporary in style as opposed to say classic London dry. The flavor profile leans delightfully into citrus from the get-go, orange and lime notes predominately, before easing into juniper, not too heavily, and then some pepper and spice on the back end. It makes a very intriguing Martini (I used Dolin dry with it)! Something quite new, in a way, sipping-wise, in this much revered drink, which is fun. In hindsight, I might have even gone with an orange twist instead of a lemon (I’m not an olive-er, but imagine it wouldn’t go well here), which might make it another drink entirely – for sure it would if this was 1901 or something. It’d be fun to try Burning Berries in another classic, The Bronx, now that I think about it, as the orange notes would be a treat with that drink’s orange juice nature. Now, I’ll just have to make it to Australia to get more of the gin!
As another year rolls us round the sun, here’s a liquid wish of sorts that the four winds all blow pleasantly for you this year (whatever that means – it certainly sounds nice, I feel, which is a positive), without any one direction overwhelming. If you’re of a traveling bent, you can also take it as a wish that said winds blow you to whatever corner of the world you’re traveling to, and safely. The drink itself is blowing us to England, first, via solid, reliable, junipery Boodles gin, secondly to France, via the delectable Pierre Ferrand Orange curaçao, thirdly to Colorado thanks to the echoing-the-alpine-peaks Breckenridge Bitters, and then finally to the island of Trinidad through a dash of Angostura bitters. Plus, a stop-by at Florida or California or wherever your oranges come from (as there is an orange twist). Have one of these now, and then may fair four winds blow fairly on us all this year.
We have had a fair amount of Hal Masur Cocktail Talks (or Harold Masur, or Harold Q. Masur, or Harry M) here on the Spiked Punch, mostly – maybe all? – featuring either his main character, lawyer Scott Jordan, or at least from a book where Mr. Jordan is the main character, getting into scraps, solving crimes, lawyering, chatting up the ladies, knocking out (though he’s not much of a punch thrower, more using his wits, but, you know, needs must) the cads, and tippling the occasional, or more than, drink. The Big Money is no different, and well worth picking up – I did, not too long back, as I work to round out my Masuring. Scott is up to his ears in a murder revolving around some, financiers, shall we say, or high finance at least, and a fat lot of bills missing or thought missing, and then another murder, and, well, a dame and danger and drinks! You get the picture. The below is a good way to start the new year, too, by the way (happy 2024!), which may lead us to lots of drinking. Here’s to your year having not too much fat around the edge, and not being force fed, and full of enough vermouth, gin, and lemons.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“No grain. All the fat is around the edge. Which means the poor beast was force fed. That sirloin over there, Mr. Hutch. Trim it, please.”
“Let’s get some vegetables,” I said. “Broccoli, Asparagus, and baked Idahos. I’m a growing boy.”
For the first time, it seemed, the spectre of tragedy dissolved from her memory and in repose her face had an eager gamin quality. I was under a full cargo of provisions when she opened the door to her apartment and led the way to a kitchen where I unloaded. She shooed me into the living room, telling me to find a drink.
The furnishing had been selected with taste and designed for comfort. There was a bar of knotty pine, with a white micarta top, stocked with an assortment of beverages. I found vermouth and a bottle of gin and prepared the mixture, floating a couple of lemon peels on top. I took my drink to the sofa and relaxed.
It’s Gizmo time again friends and neighbors and all who have perhaps had a wee bit too much Thanksgiving munching this week, or those who have some leftovers to deal with in the nicest way, or those who just are looking for a drink and like cranberry sauce and gin! All are welcome at the annual Gizmo party, which takes places the day after Thanksgiving here in the US at those spots that are in the know (which hopefully covers many many spots), and which has taken place ever since genius Jeremy Holt came up with this beloved drink, bless his boozy soul.
2-1/2 ounces gin
1 ounce homemade cranberry sauce
1/2 ounce simple syrup (optional)
1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the gin and cranberry sauce, and syrup if using. Shake exceptionally well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Drink up, Thanksgiving-style.
My re-read of a couple David Goodis charmers (“charmer” in the sense of reads that pull you in, sure, but also in the sense of some con artist types, which would fit into the Goodis globe), as detailed recently in the Nightfall Part II Cocktail Talk, continues as I just re-read Night Squad. He likes the night, our David! It’s another classic of the noir-y genre, with a shady-ish character who has, as they say, gone through some stuff. And is vaguely on the side of light, while walking in the darkness. Woo, that’s heavy. The books isn’t as melodramatic, but does have some serious and seriously eff’d up moments and tales. And the weirdest drink ever, which I detailed in an earlier Cocktail Talk (don’t miss the Night Squad Cocktail Talk Part I and the Night Squad Cocktail Talk Part II – the weird drink in the latter). This moonlit gem centers around an ex-cop (kicked off for being on the take), who drinks a lot, has a lot of regrets, and gets involved working both for the head hood in the rotten part of the town and the most mental cop troop all at once. Brother, he gets into it! Luckily, as the quote shows, he knows how to think properly.
The gin came; he put it away in one fast gulp and ordered another. There were times when he drank slowly and chased the gin with water. But this ain’t one of them times, he told himself, downing the second gin and ordering a third. This is a time for heavy thinking, which means, of course, heavy drinking. And I got the notion it’s gonna take a lotta gin to set your mind straight
You may not be aware (knowing you, you probably are), but this is the last Friday of Spring, 2023 – the first day of Summer being next Wednesday, the 21st. So, Spring (initial-capping here to give it some personalizing, dontcha know) today is at the end of its tether, so to speak, which means it’s the ideal day for this drink. Which was originally named after a book by Margery Allingham, but which I believe shouldn’t be relegated to only being sipped when writing posts around books. Not that books aren’t dreamy dreams (my favorite things are books, after a few other more favorite things), but this dandy combination of gin, amari, and grenadine is such a sprightly, amiable combination, that it should be had more often – unless you’re reading books all the time, which I, now that I think about it, am, then you’d be having it more. But I digress. You should go with a nice, London-style gin – I’m with reliable and reliably yummy Boodles here – and the amari should be if you can get it, Amaro di Toscana (which has a wild boar on the bottle), which is a well-balanced member of the family, meaning between bitter and sweet, rich in herbally flavor though lighter in syrup-i-ness than some on the tongue, and made from 27 herbs and spices growing in Tuscany. The final ingredient, the grenadine, you should make yourself, because it’s better than storebought and I expect better from you. A homemade grenadine recipe to assist you can be found at the end of the As Luck Would Have It recipe. The one funny thing about the name? It’s sounds like having one would be the last drink. The end of the tether and all. But my guess is you’ll want at least two of these. So, you know, don’t be completely literal.
Way, way, way, way back when (as people old-like-me say), when I first started getting into the cocktailing and the old-cocktail-booking, and cocktail-recipe-experimenting, lots and lots of bottled beauties weren’t easily available, including many now available at the click from phone, computer, TV, glasses (I suppose), all that. Partially, because I am old. But not that old, children. Also, then, because our modern booze availability explosion is just that – modern. New! But oh, so welcome!
Take, for example, Swedish Punsch. Made with a base of sugar-cane and fermented-red-rice based spirit Batavia Arrack (a rum of sorts, and itself not readily available here in the US in most spots until fairly recently), other rums, spices, and more treats (it’s rum based spice liqueur, really), it’s the national drink of Sweden, and a key component of many tiki hits and cocktails. But went through a period where in many spots, spots I inhabited, it wasn’t available. Now, easy to get in most US places. And delicious! Take Kronan Swedish Punsch, which I’m having today in The Astor cocktail. It has a spice (think allspice, clove, dried orange), toffee, molasses, and leather (in the best way!) taste with a hint of smokiness. Delicious, as mentioned! Great on its own, but also, an important component of many cocktails, like this one. It’s so so swell that it’s now available in our modern world, and that so many more once rare cocktail components are, too. Which means, even though there are many days where it doesn’t seem the happiest world, some things are worth smiling about.
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