July 10, 2020
I hear you, don’t worry – it’s July, it’s summer, it’s hot, the sweat is pouring off your hard-working brow, the yard has yet to be mowed (again), the sun is so high and hot in the sky, a winter-ific, fall-tastic, chill-in-the-air idealistic, hearty, flavorful, Scotch whisky is perhaps the last slow sipper that comes to mind. But darn it, conventions are made to be chucked, and sometimes the last idea is the most needed, the best. Just like some days you realize that only a good whisky will balance out the hours. Lucky for me, I recently received not one, but two good ones in the mail (lovely mail!), and so quenched my summer Scotch thirst with Ardbeg Wee Beastie and Ardbeg Blaaack. And what lovely tipples they are!
Let’s start with Ardbeg Wee Beastie, a youthful number at just five years of age (“mellowed” as they say in ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks), but packing a walloping taste none-the-less, like a powerful toddler you won’t want to ignore. Especially if you like some smoke in your sip – that smokiness is a fine match for summer, too, if you think about all the flame-y cooking happening. But even though it’s young and bold, it’s smooth, too, starting with a peat-y, pepper-y, fire-y nose that ends sweet with a hint of citrus. That folds into a taste that’s smoky as well, especially at the tail, but with loads of spice, a little vanilla, and herbs intertwined. A few drops of water are a neat addition, bringing the smoke, vanilla, and citrus notes more into play.
Right along the heels (it’s a two-Scotch day after all!) is Ardbeg Blaaack, the limited-edition whisky released to celebrate and commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Ardbeg Committee. What is the Ardbeg Committee? It’s a sweet fan club, really, one that spreads the good Ardbeg word as well as getting some neat stuff, too. But back to the Blaaack! New Zealand Pinot Noir casks (first time Ardbeg’s used these for those counting) held the lush liquid. New Zealand and Scotland’s shared sheep-ness add the extra “baaa” to the name! But what about the taste? Glad you asked! The aroma has a distinctive berry-ness (summery!), light smoke, and hints of flowers and oak, flowing into a flavor that’s more berries, baked fruit, cherries, a bit of oak and nuttiness, followed by a little spice and more fruit. Yummy. Add a little water here, and the cherry notes are unleashed even more, with an echo of citrus along for the ride.
And now you have two great reasons for believing me that whisky can be just the ticket, even in the height of summer.
February 18, 2020
We’ve had a small handful of delectable Dashiell Hammett Cocktail Talks here on the Spiked Punch, but probably not near as many as he deserves, being one of the undeniable pulp greats and all that. Perhaps he’s so in the firmament that it’s almost like all the Cocktail Talks of his are already known? Or perhaps I’m just behind on my Hammett-ing? Could be! But I recently read (behind on this, too), the Giant Collection of the Continental Op, which is downright demanded for any pulp-er. Most of the stories were originally printed in the legendary Black Mask magazine, and really show Mr. Hammett figuring out his style, the character, and things like pace and place – just things that would help define the genre, no biggie. The stories take the un-named protagonist hither and yonder, too, including for a spell at least down Tijuana way in the story called “The Golden Horseshoe,” where the Op tracks an English fella, and when he finds him, gets down to some serious drinking and Cocktail Talking:
He brought in a bottle of Black and White, a siphon and some glasses, and we settled down to drinking. When that bottle was empty there was another to take its place. We drank and talked, drank and talked, and each of us pretended to be drunker than he really was – though before long we were both as full as a pair of goats.
It was a drinking contest, pure and simple. He was trying to drink me into a pulp – a pulp that would easily give up all of its secrets – and I was trying the same game on him.
–Dashiell Hammett, The Golden Horseshoe
January 7, 2020
I’ve been re-reading the Day Keene duo book (duo, as it contains two full novels – quite a Day deal, really) put out by Stark House, the one which contains both My Flesh is Sweet (which has its own My Flesh is Sweet Cocktail Talk in the Spiked Punch, and for that matter, check out all the Day Keene Cocktail Talk posts) and Framed in Guilt. And in said re-reading, a couple sweet quotes I should have highlighted the first time popped out to me. So, consider this Part I. Framed in Guilt (which may well be the mighty pulp master Keene’s first!) is a fast-paced, well-plotted, yarn in the Keene style, in which Hollywood scripter Robert Stanton barrels around CA, with his past catching up to him (maybe?) and a murder or two hung on him, as well as nearly getting burned himself. It moves in the Keene manner! Which is a high compliment indeed. And they drink some Scotch, as well as other things. But below, Scotch.
The man at the wheel seemed to shrink. His coat was suddenly too large for his shoulders. It seemed difficult for him to breathe. “I didn’t know there was a child. Believe me.” He took a bottle from the glove compartment. “After that, I need a drink.”
“You might ask if I cared for one,” Grace said.
He handed her the bottle. It was dimpled bottle Scotch, and tasted as good as it smelled. Grace drank sparingly, then corked and returned the bottle to the glove compartment.
–Day Keene, Framed in Guilt
December 17, 2019
This is a weird day. I’m realizing that somehow (unless I’m just missing posts on my own blog, which is very very very possible) I’ve never had a Cocktail Talk featuring Dr. Siri Paiboun. Weird, right? I mean, you think so, too, I’m sure. If you don’t, it must mean you don’t know Dr. Siri, which would also be weird. But just in case, he’s the main character (and what a character!) in a series of books by a dandy writer named Colin Cotterill. Dr. Siri – at the beginning of the series – is the national coroner of Laos in the 70s, post communist revolution, and he solves a whole variety pack of mysteries in both traditional and non-traditional ways. The books are bubbling over with history, jolliness, a huge cast of memorable characters, spirits (Dr. Siri is the host of a thousand-year old shaman!), drinks and liquid spirits, insights into Laos at the time, fun, and at least two memorable dogs. The books are at the level of awesome where I sometimes forget that I don’t actually know Dr. Siri – which is high praise, I hope. You should read them all if you haven’t. I Shot the Buddha is especially full of magic and mystery (multiple mysteries, really), as Dr. Siri and his wife Madame Daeng (who also makes the best noodles) end up at a Thai village of spiritualists and mystics of various kinds – and it’s a spot where three murders have happened! Mr. Cotterill, in a kind gesture, says at the book’s beginning, “…this edition is headily spiced with supernatural elements. For those of you who prefer your mysteries dull and earthy, this is not the tome for you.” Let’s hope you like creative, individual, mysteries books as much as me, and as a much as Dr. Siri likes Scotch (and other tipples, between us).
As always, Siri’s travel baggage amounted to a small cloth shoulder bag with wool bobbles dangling from it. But everything he needed on a journey could fit comfortable into that bag. This evening it was oddly bulky. He reached into it and produced a bottle of whiskey, and not just any whiskey: Glenfiddich. Daeng welcomed it into her arms like a mother being handed her newborn for the first time.
–Colin Cotterill, I Shot the Buddha
June 14, 2019
I know you know about Ardbeg Uigeadail (because you are smart and know things). I mean, it was named World Whiskey of the Year by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, due to its “complexity” and “silky brilliance,” is crafted with care by the now-legendary Islay distillery, has a name that’s also unforgettable (and pronounced “Oog-a-dal” which is just plain fun) and coming from a loch near the distillery, is aged in ex bourbon barrels and sherry butts, boasts a lovely golden hue, and is freakishly reasonable. Especially when you consider the rich aroma of peat, walnuts, a little sea and forest, and spice, the taste of honey, malt, more spice, then a big, muscular-but-smooth smoke, and a raisin, caramel, smoke finish. I mean, with all of that, I know you know about it – of you should.
As you’d expect, it’s a swell sipping Scotch, solo, over an ice piece or two, or with a little splash of spring water. Yummy, indeed. However, when I was lucky enough (don’t be mad at me, please) to get a bottle in the mail the other day, I of course had some solo, but then had to also try it in a cocktail. With a sipper this swell, you don’t need to or want to bring too many dancing partners into the set. Keeping it simple is key, letting this malt shine, while accenting a little in the corners with appropriate additions. Here, I went with orange stalwart and cocktail classic Cointreau. To bring a few more herbal/spice notes under our big two, I brought in two bitters, just a dash of each: Regan’s orange bitters and old pal Peychuad’s. Altogether, the orange and bitter-ing players add to the Uigdeadail, while letting it take the lead. Smoke in the Grove’s flavor-filled, hearty, but maintaining that silky brilliance. Yummy, again.
Smoke in the Grove
2-1/2 ounces Ardbeg Uigeadail
3/4 ounces Cointreau
Dash Regan’s orange bitters
Dash Peychaud’s bitters
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything. Stir well.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass. I know you know how you good it is, but hey, drink it anyway.
March 26, 2019
Way, way, back in the balmy days of 2009, I had a Cocktail Talk post from A.A. Fair, and went through how he was actually a nom de plume
(as they say) of Erle Stanley Gardner, at one time the biggest selling writer around thanks to his books about a certain lawyer named Perry Mason! You can see how I feel about all of that by reading past Erle Stanley Gardner Cocktail Talks
(short version: oddly enough, I tend to like the show better than the books, though they aren’t bad, and tend to have great covers, and I like the A.A. Fair books better for some reason). Here, though, is the neat thing about The Knife Slipped
. It was a lost manuscript, rejected at one time by Gardner’s publisher, and only recently re-found and published by the happening folks at Hard Case Crime. It’s a good read, too, staring Cool and Lam (Donald Cool and Bertha Lam), a detective team, and the book stands out as an early mystery for this detecting duo, giving more history around them, and just being a swell read on every side. Well worth picking up, whether you sit with me on the Gardner questions or not. And, there are slugs of Scotch.
“Dance,” I said.
Her voice was wistful. “Uh-huh. The floor is build out over the side hill, on an enclosed porch. You dance out from the tables onto this porch and look down over the city lights. They keep it almost dark out there, just a starlight effect.”
“It won’t be starlight tonight,” I said, “but a good shot of Scotch might help. How about it? Do you feel the same way about a slug of Scotch I do?
She hesitated a minute, and said, “I don’t know.”
–A.A. Fair/Erle Stanley Gardner, The Knife Slipped
February 1, 2019
Sometimes, people are sort of pooh-pooh-y about Scotch cocktails (though of course there are numerous classics, and noble new ones, too, so maybe attitudes are changing even as I type and I’m just not caught up with the word on the street), thinking that Scotch is only to be sipped solo. But I can’t resist trying it in cocktails. You don’t have to drink them if you’re feeling pooh-pooh-ingly, but that’d be your loss. People also sometimes feel the same way about sweet drinks, usually as they’re eating a doughnut or a pie (not a savory pie, but you guessed that). If it’s not bitter or high proof, they get all angry. Well, that’s silly as (much as mentioned above), there are many classics that utilize sweeter ingredients without getting all sickly about it.
But for folks that fall into those camps (those very very sad camps), well, you’ll want to ignore this drink. Not only is the base Scotch, but it uses two fairly sweet ingredients with it. HAH! IN YOUR FACE! I recently received (lucky me) a bottle of one of my favorite blended Scotches, the Famous Grouse. Not only carrying an amazing name, it’s been made since the late 1800s, is the most popular Scotch in Scotland, and it delivers a taste containing caramel notes, some nice spice, and breezy hints of smoke and citrus. Neat! Meaning, it’s good neat, but also lovely in cocktails.
Our sweeter partners here are nutty: Kahana Royale Hawaii Macadamia Nut liqueur (which is sweet, sure, but not so much that it overwhelms the nuttiness), and Praline Pecan liqueur, which as the bottle says is made in the New Orleans style. It’s a sweetie like the candy that carries its name, but also has a nutty nature. They go nicely with the Grouse and all together unveil a somewhat-buy-not-annoying dessert-y style drink that doesn’t go too far, with that solid background and Scotch-i-ness coming first when sipping, followed by a candy and nutty sweetness. The key, though, beyond those ingredients, is a wide orange twist, one that’s somewhat wild. The citrus oils balance the sweetness and the wildness makes everyone play nice. Nice, I tell you, and also make this a wonderful post-dinner treat.
2-1/2 ounces Famous Grouse blended Scotch
1/2 ounce Kahana Royale Hawaii Macadamia Nut liqueur
1/4 ounce Praline Pecan liqueur
Wide orange twist, for garnish
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add everything but the twist. Stir really well.
2. Strain the mix into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the twist. Enjoy!
July 24, 2018
Don’t go thinking I decided to have a second Cocktail Talk from George Harmon Coxe’s The Crimson Clue
because of the rhyme between “clue” and “two,” though admittedly that’s a bonus. But this 50s Kent Murdock (news photographer by day, murder solver by night)-starring read had too many Cocktail Talk moments to not highlight another one. Oh, if you missed The Crimson Clue, Part I
, where I talk a bit more about the book, and have another nice quote, then I suggest trotting back in time to catch up. Caught up? Nice. That means you probably need a drink, and if you’re tired of bubbly like our man Kent, then the below will fit you like good shoes.
Elliott tapped the empty glass. “How many of those have you had?”
“You don’t particularly like that stuff, do you?”
“Then how about a real drink? A Scotch?”
“Fine,” Murdock said.
Elliott called to a passing waiter, asking him to bring two Scotch and sodas to the library.” Mostly Scotch,” he added.
–George Harmon Coxe, The Crimson Clue