September 6, 2022
As a good reporter and editor (much like Rock Rockwell, the intrepid editor of The Record, and hero in this here mystery book from 1950), I’m going to start this Cocktail Talk by referring you to the reference point of the What Rhymes with Murder? Cocktail Talk Part I, where I dig into the idea of reporters/mystery heroes, and a little more about the book as a whole. Here, I wanna just dive into the Cocktail Talking, so the only background on the book I’m putting in this paragraph is the tagline from the back cover, cause it’s one the finest taglines ever: “When a lusty lothario sings his serenade, romance rhymes with death!” Oh, and in the below they talk about overly-bittered Old Fashioneds. Also, memorable. Read it!
A voice at my elbow said, “Cocktail, sir? Old-Fashioneds and dry Martinis.”
“Old-Fashioned,” I said, hardly noticing the neat figure in black and white who spoke.
“Okay, but there’s more bitters in them than whiskey.”
I started and looked around. From under a frilly cap, the face of Amy Race was peering at me impishly. “I’m sticking to straight whisky myself,” she said. “That’s the trend below stairs.”
In spite of myself, I burst out laughing.
–Jack Iams, What Rhymes with Murder?
March 8, 2022
I recently picked up (hahaha) a type of book I dig, and one you don’t see as much anymore (though maybe they’re making a small comeback? Here’s hoping): the double book book. The two-complete-novels-under-one-spine book, the a-cover-on-each-side book, the take-the-awesome-and-twice-it (in the best circumstances) book! I love the idea of having two books at once, so was stoked to get the Armchair Fiction (a publisher it seems I need to look out for) double book book that combines a pulsating pulp twosome: The Deadly Pick-up, by Milton K. Ozaki, and Killer Take All, by James O. Causey. Were these two noir-sters put together cause they both utilize that middle initial so well? Maybe? But I think it’s mainly cause both of these books hit that pulpy, noiry, sweet spot of fast pace, seemingly inescapable problems for our narrators, some swell and shady characters (and often trouble deciding which is which), some trouble, some dark nights, and some booze-y boozing. Today’s Cocktail Talk is from The Deadly Pick-up, which is about as straightforward a title as you could imagine: recent Chicago transplant Gordon Banner offers a ride to a blond beauty, who then is murdered in her apartment while salesman Mr. Banner is waiting in his car downstairs, leading to him being the prime suspect, gangsters, other ladies and gentlemen who help, hinder, and harass him, and stops at many bars, including the one below.
It was 8:30 when I entered the Flask Club and wormed my way past a long crowded bar where four white jacketed bartenders were performing feats of alcoholic interest. At the rear was a huge room littered with closely spaced tables and chairs. The walls looked as though a whirlwind had flung huge gusts of newspapers against it and plastered them there, permanently imbedding their headlines in the calcimine. A dark-haired red-mouthed girl in black slacks and tight white blouse swung toward me and lead the way to a tiny table against a wall. She leaned against my shoulder, giving me a whiff of her body odor and glimpse of the dep V between her breasts while she lit a stub of candle, which projected from a wax-dappled Ehrlenmeyer flask set between the salt and pepper shakers. That rite duly performed to her satisfaction, she straightened and asked, “What’ll ya have?”
“Something to eat,” I told her.
“Okay. I’ll get a menu. Drink?”
“You might bring me an Old Fashioned.”
— Milton K. Ozaki, The Deadly Pick-up
August 7, 2020
Sometimes you just have to say, damn the torpedoes, I’m doing this (“this” can mean a number of things, but I usually take it to mean I’m doing something that may be worthy, but also perhaps a bit foolish, or something most might not do, lacking the courage and/or foolishness, depending on your perspective). Often, for me, it’s something with, admittedly, very little real world consequences, revolving around using a snazzy base spirit that should probably be just sipped solo in a cocktail, or having what many consider a more serious spirit-forward drink in the heat of summer. Well, “I yam what I yam” as a famous philosopher once said. Today, said happening revolves around the scrumptious (people should say scrumptious about whiskey more) Four Roses Small Batch Select bourbon, a sample of which arrived in the mail recently (I know, I’m lucky).
Crafted by a mixing of six of the Four Roses bourbon recipes – said six all aged six years by the way, and lucky there’s not one more six in there or I’d be worried – and hitting a hardy 104 proof, this bourbon is a shining example of scrumptious. Hah! I am going to force the usage of scrumptious in! Scrumptious from the very first small, with oak, baking berries, and spices (including, I felt, a nice nutmeg, which is one of my favorites, and a soupçon of cloves and cinnamon). When it hits your mouth, there’s more fruit – summertime fruitiness, really – oak, a little pepper, a little vanilla, all of which trails off with a lingering sweeter vanilla, spice, and toasty oak. A lovely, dare I say again, scrumptious, sip, and then more sips.
However! As alluded to above, I couldn’t leave it at that, or even with just a cube of ice (nice!) or drops of water (also, nice!), I had to do a little mixing. Or, in this case, I had to have my whiskey-loving pal Jeremy do some mixing, as he was sampling too – from a safe distance and with proper safety stuff of course. With a bourbon this good, though, you don’t want to go too far afield; you want to let it shine and all. So, kept it to the classic, legendary, Old Fashioned. Now, I have to say, cause of distancing and sipping, I didn’t actually see Jeremy make said Old Fashioneds, so I’m not 100% sure if his recipe is the same as the below, which is mine – but it tasted darn close, and tasted, well, scrumptious! The little bit of extra sweet mingled in a most mighty manner with the bourbon’s sweetness, and the herbal from the bitters paired with the bourbon’s spice oh-so-pleasantly. Or, if you’d like, scrumptious-ly. I’d try it if I were you. You deserve it.
1 sugar cube (or 1 teaspoon sugar)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Orange slice (see Note on garnishes)
2-1/2 ounces Four Roses Small Batch Select Bourbon
1. Put the sugar in an old-fashioned glass, of course. Add the bitters and the orange slice, if you wish.
2. Using a muddler or very solid wooden spoon, muddle up the sugar and bitters, along with the orange slice.
3, Place a couple of ice cubes in the glass. Add the bourbon, slowly and with reverence.
4. Stir briefly. Think about scrumptiousness.
A Note: The hoohaw about the garnish on an Old Fashioned can go on forever. Today, orange slice. Tomorrow, cherry. The next, day, who knows. My take is always no fruit salad (meaning, don’t go overboard). But I’ll admit to switching my fruit alliance on occasion, and you can swear at me if you want, just don’t take my drink.
October 8, 2019
The Old Fashioned – so tasty. But, sometimes a wee bit overlooked today. Not by your normal drinker, but by (a bit, I think) those who maybe talk a lot or write a lot about drinks, as focus sits more maybe on drinks with lots of ingredients and such. Not all the time! A little, though. Anyway, all of this is to say, I was super happy to be able to write about some awesome Old Fashioneds recently, made in the awesome city of Seattle (best bartenders in the world!), for the also awesome Seattle magazine. If you missed it, check out my Seattle Old Fashioneds article, and then go have one. Or have one while you read! What a great idea.
July 28, 2015
I have to admit; sometime I pick up pulps and pocket books for the covers – or the titles. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes not so good. But I just can’t resist! Such is the case with this little upstate New York thriller/mystery. I mean, it’s called The Groom Lay Dead! It all revolves around the killing of a rich jerk, which I’m sorta good with, too, and there’s a fair amount of imbibing – and the first murder (there is never just one) takes place in a winery! Sometimes you can tell a book by its cover.
It was dark when we came out of the tavern and I drove along until, somewhere beyond the two lakes we’d passed, I noticed a place on the side of the road that had a neon sign. When I saw it said: Wines and Liquors, I turned in.
Linda didn’t offer a thing. She got out of the car and we went into this place. There was a small bar and booths along one wall and at the end, a tiny dance floor and a big juke box. There were three men at the bar and about a third of the booths were occupied. I ordered two Old Fashioneds at the bar and carried them over to the table Linda had picked.
— George Harmon Coxe, The Groom Lay Dead
April 7, 2015
A lost novel by James M. Cain (James M. Cain!) came out a couple years ago, and I didn’t even realize it. Cause I am an idiot! But, that didn’t make me any less happy when I did find out, and when I found a copy I was ridiculously happy. Mr. Cain is of course one of the honest-and-true pulp and hardboiled masters, and so discovering The Cocktail Waitress, a lost novel of his, well, that’s treasure to a guy like me. And the book is fantastic, with many of the Cain hallmarks (sex, greed, stark, and characters that breathe), and with a fair amount of action in a bar called The Garden of Roses. In it, our main character learns a bit about what she’ll need to do besides delivering drinks.
“First set-up is for the old-fashioned. You know what an old- fashioned is?”
“You mean the orange slices and cherries?”
“…Yeah, them.” He gave me a long look, then went on: “And for Martinis?”
“I turn the olives out in a bowl and stick toothpicks in them.”
“Onions, no toothpicks.”
“O.K. Now, on Manhattans—”
“No toothpicks if they have stems on them. But sometimes the wrong kind is delivered, and them without stems take picks. On Margaritas—”
“Salt? In a dish? And a lemon, gashed on one end, to spin the glasses in?”
“Speaking of lemon—”
“Twists? How many?”
“Many as three lemons make. Cut them thick, put them in a bowl, and on top put plenty ice cubes, so they don’t go soft on me. I hate soft twists.” He looked at me like I was a dancing horse or some other marvel. “You sure you never…?”
I explained: “My mother used to give parties, and my father fixed the drinks. I was Papa’s little helper.”
— James M. Cain, The Cocktail Waitress
November 27, 2012
I have to imagine there are people who miss the cold war. Old spies, counterfeit passport makers, marketers of microfiche. But most of us are probably pretty good with the cold war being far enough in the past that people under 20 probably don’t really know what the phrase means. However, you can still (if you are a you that looks for things like this) uncover books that fall into the cold-war literary genre. Not a big genre, but the one that Who Is Elissa Sheldon? by David Montross fits into. It’s a book where everyone is a double agent, many characters have multiple names, and “the Reds” is a phrase that doesn’t refer to a baseball team in Cincinnati. Not the best read, but fun in its double-dealing way. And, one of things that defined the cold war was fairly straight-ahead drinking, usually an Old Fashioned like in the below quote:
‘No, I waited for you.’ She didn’t look well, her eyes were heavy and her mouth dropped. ‘I’ll have an Old Fashioned if they can make it. That’s what she used to drink.’ Adam ordered for the girl and refused anything for himself. Then he sat back and studied her. The blue suit was wrinkled, and her blouse was wilted and greyish. There was a certain pathos in her, but his involuntary concern hardened because there was no remorse in her. The worse she looked, the better he liked it.
— Who Is Elissa Sheldon?, David Montross