April 23, 2024

Cocktail Talk: Pork City, Part III

Pork City by Howard Browne

For our last stop (so far – they do a lot of drinking in this book, so there may be more in the future, which is funny in a way to say as the book takes place in the past) in the Chicago of Howard Browne’s well-worth-reading Pork City (a book based on a real event from the rollicking prohibition era), we step away from the bootleggers to get a view into the health care profession of the time – at least one tell-it-like-it-is doctor! Be sure to catch the Pork City Part I and Pork City Part II Cocktail Talks, too, or Alphonse Capone might have to have a word with you!

Dr. Gilchrist, not noted for his bedside manner, had made it clear six weeks earlier that he had no patience with idiots. “Any sonvabitch,” he roared at Jake, “who smokes fifteen cigars a day, swills bathtub gin, sleeps six hours a night, and spends the other eighteen stewing over the goddamn stock market is gonna end up with an ulcer. Duodenal. You hear what I’m sayin’, asshole?”

–Howard Browne, Pork City

April 5, 2024

What I’m Drinking: How Does Your Garden Grow

I believe there are people, industrious, good people, who garden well all year round, and have yards and gardens in much better shape than mine. For me, the gardening starts soon, usually late April/early May. And even then, to be honest (as we are here), I’m not a stupendous gardener, and find myself putting it off more than putting on the gloves to get everything in order. However! I have found that one of these here drinks helps make the gardening more palatable. Pull a weed, take a sip! You should try it. One warning: this here cocktail, when you look at it, sounds an odd pairing, like putting nightshade next to your pea patch. But the three ingredients actually go swell together! There’s gin, to start, and I’m using Copperworks stellar gin here. And then Sidetrack Distillery’s one-of-a-kind Shiso liqueur, made from the Asian herb it’s named after, and delivering an herby, botanical beauty one must taste to believe. Then, and this is the odd side, as you might thing the Shiso and this would go well, the third ingredient is the orange-y and teensy bitter-y aperitif, Aperol. It’s a magical match, honestly, and perfect planting of three different tasty items (planted into a shaker and then your mouth, that is), and makes even the most boring yard work a more palatable affair (no mechanized yard tools when drinking, please).  

How Does Your Garden Grow, a cocktail with gin, Shiso liqueur, and Aperol

How Does Your Garden Grow

Cracked ice

2 ounces Copperworks gin

1 ounce Sidetrack Distillery Shiso liqueur

1 ounce Aperol

Orange twist, for garnish

1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything but the twist. Stir well.

2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the orange twist.

April 2, 2024

Cocktail Talk: Pork City, Part I

Pork City by Howard Browne

Pork City, how did I miss out on you for so long? I blame society (as a punk once said), or just myself for not knowing more about author Howard Browne. Not the English bishop (who I also know little about), but the editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures who also wrote mysteries and then for TV – including the ever-loving Rockford Files! One of his mysteries was the book Pork City, though calling it a mystery only alludes to where it’d be filed in a bookstore or library, as there’s no mystery to the murder that happens in it. But let me back up. Taking place in prohibition-era Chicago, Pork City is based on a true story, the murder of a Trib reporter, and has a host of real-life folks in it (including Alphonse Capone himself as a mainish character), and centers around real Chicago spots of the times. All of which makes it sound a little like a historical retelling, which it is, in a way, but with more pizzazz, more thrills, more snappy dialogue, and more booze, as well as real insight into the workings of police and the mobs of the time. It’s a hoot and a humdinger, and for one like myself whose interests intersect in booze and the bang from a gun, well, an ideal read. So ideal we’re gonna have a couple of Pork City Cocktail Talks, starting with the gin-y below number.

She angrily brushed away a tear, went to the bar, and refilled her glass with Gordon’s gin (or so the label claimed). After adding a minuscule amount of vermouth, she dropped in two ice cubes from the silver-trimmed bucket and crossed to one of the living room’s wide windows. The newly installed Lindbergh beacon, revolving from high atop the Palmolive building a few blocks to the south, put a slashing path of light against the night’s cloudless sky. Loop-bound traffic drifted soundlessly along Lake Shore Drive, past the Potter Palmer castle and the long stretch of beach at Oak Street and on into Michigan Avenue.

–Howard Browne, Pork City

March 15, 2024

What I’m Drinking: The Leaping Drive

Well, I apologize – I really should have had this cocktail up on February 29, as that was leap day and this is a leap year and this drive, or drink, is leaping (with flavor! And in the name). It’s not the Leap Year, which is another drink, but somewhat related, and, well, just would have been good to have on or nearer to the actual leap day, though I suppose I’m still having this drink within a month of it, and darn it, the drink’s still good (and related in little ways to other drinks like the Sidecar and various other gin and Cointreau and vermouth and lemon drinks, so if you like that or those drinks, then you will be fond of this I’ll bet, maybe even leaping over things to have it), and sometimes that can weigh even more than an appropriate story, though as I’ve told you time and time again, good stories make good drinks even better. So, maybe pretend it’s still leap day? Having a couple of these tangy, botanical, citrusical, drinks might help with the leaping, or lead to both leaping and jumping. Maybe skipping too! Which would be fun.

The Leaping Drive cocktail

The Leaping Drive

Ice cubes

2 ounces gin (I used Washington-made Kur gin, and it served me well)

3/4 ounces Blanc vermouth (I used Dolin, and it was a reliable delight)

1/2 ounce Cointreau

1/4 ounce freshly-squeezed lemon juice

Lemon twist, for garnish

1. Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add everything but the twist. Shake well.

2. Strain through a fine strainer into a cocktail glass (or comparable). Garnish with the twist.

February 20, 2024

Cocktail Talk: Charles Dickens: A Life

Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

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.

–Claire Tomalin, Charles Dickens: A Life

January 19, 2024

What I’m Drinking: The Martini with Burning Berries Gin

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!

The Martini with Burning Berries gin

The Martini

Cracked ice

2-1/2 ounces Burning Berries gin

1/2 ounce Dolin dry vermouth

Lemon twist, for garnish

1. Fill a mixing glass or cocktail shaker halfway full with cracked ice. Add the two long-time liquid pals. Stir well.

2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon (or orange!) twist. Give a toast in the general direction of Australia.

January 5, 2024

What I’m Drinking: The Four Winds

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.

Four Winds Cocktail

Four Winds

Cracked ice

1-1/2 ounces Boodles gin

1 ounce Pierre Ferrand Orange curaçao

1/2 ounce Breckenridge Bitters

1 dash Angostura bitters

Orange twist, for garnish

1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add the gin, curaçao, Breckenridge bitters, and Angostura bitters. Stir well.

2. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the orange twist.  Drink four times, once looking each direction.

January 2, 2024

Cocktail Talk: The Big Money

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.

Hal Masur, The Big Money

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