August 31, 2021
This may be one of the weirdest Cocktail Talks ever! Boom! If you’ve read past Erle Stanley Gardner Cocktail Talks, and you should, you’ll already know that I lean towards liking his books written under the pseudonym A.A. Fair (the Donald Lam-Bertha Cool mysteries) better than his more famous Perry Mason books (though as I age, I’ve found more of those I like a little more than expected, too), so that’s not weird. The book has a fair number of twists and turns and unexpectedness happening for PI Lam and jolly moments from PI Cool, with more of the former, but that’s all expected in these yarns, so not weird at all. Though ending in LA, much of the book (which was pubbed in 1942) takes place in lovely New Orleans, and that’s where the weirdness happens. See, I’d expect as a famous writer, and as one fairly meticulous usually, Mr. Gardner would have actually visited that fair city, and spent time on the streets and in the bars and restaurants before writing this book – and had some of the city’s legendary cocktails and highballs and such. And there are many classic libations that trace their histories back to New Orleans! However, when a scene takes place in a bar and PI Lam is ordering drinks, his list of “New Orleans drinks” is bafflingly, oh, boring? Un-New-Orleans-y? Weird? To me, weird. Maybe there was a time in the 40s that people thought of the below as New Orleans drinks? I’m glad it’s not now! But the below Cocktail Talk is still worthy – weird can be fun, too.
We had no more than seated her when the waiter came up for an order.
“Plain whiskey and water,” she said.
“Gin and Coke,” I ordered.
Hale pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Well, let me see. Do you have any really good Cognac?”
I answered for the waiter. “No,” I said. “Since you’re here in New Orleans, why not drink a New Orleans drink? Gin and Seven-Up; Gin and Coke; rum and Coke; or bourbon and Seven-Up?”
–Erle Stanley Gardner (writing as A.A. Fair), Owls Don’t Blink
August 20, 2021
Let’s just be open about it: today is Friday the 13th. For some (how many I wonder, actually listen deep in their brain to the old luck lore?), today is a potentially very unlucky day, one in which all are prone to accidents, downer deeds, bad juju, and the potential for potentially poor potentiality. I certainly don’t want to argue with other’s deep held beliefs on this blog, so if you’ve a worry about Friday the 13th, well, do what you do. I will say that I believe you can balance out a bit of potential bad luck by drinking something tall and refreshing and named to be lucky. It’s all about the balance! Here, the balance begins with a WA-state treat: 3 Howls single malt whiskey. Made out this-a-way with Northwest brewing specialty grains and traditional Scottish peat smoked barley (a lucky combination if ever), it’s a lush number, vanilla-y and caramel-y and smoky in a friendly way. Good solo for sure, but also good here, mixed with, first, legendary Italian, Sicilian specifically, amaro Averna, whose sweet-bitter herbal and other tastes (citrus, juniper, rosemary, sage, and more) goes in a lovely manner with our single malt. And also with apple cider, the non-booze kind. Apples and our above two players are quite a lucky thing. I’m going with nice and straightforward Tree Top 3 Blend cider, but you can experiment a bit. A sprig of mint in the manner of an extra stitch of summer funtime luck, some ice, and we’ve moved from potential into perfection, balancing out the day’s bad luck lore with some darn good sipping.
The Lucky Apple
1-1/2 ounces 3 Howls single malt whiskey
3/4 ounce Averna
4 ounces Tree Top 3 Blend apple cider
Mint sprig, for garnish
1. Fill a highball or comparable glass three-quarters up with ice cubes. Add the whiskey and Averna. Stir a bit.
2. Top the glass off with the apple cider. Stir a bit more. Garnish with the mint. Feel lucky.
July 20, 2021
Our third Orley Farm Cocktail Talk revisits a character introduced in Part II (for more on the overall book, see Part I, and for more Trollopean fun, see all past Anthony Trollope Cocktail Talks), traveling salesman for Hubbles and Grease, Mr. Moulder. In this quote, we find our rotund commercial traveler at home for Christmas celebrations, where he and his missus are hosting a few others for a big feast, and where Mr. Moulder is talking of the liquid possibilities for the day, specifically brandy and a special whiskey,
And then, as for drink, —”tipple,” as Mr. Moulder sportively was accustomed to name it among his friends, he opined that he was not altogether behind the mark in that respect. “He had got some brandy—he didn’t care what anybody might say about Cognac and eau de vie; but the brandy which he had got from Betts’ private establishment seventeen years ago, for richness of flavour and fullness of strength, would beat any French article that anybody in the city could show. That at least was his idea. If anybody didn’t like it, they needn’t take it. There was whisky that would make your hair stand on end.” So said Mr. Moulder, and I can believe him; for it has made my hair stand on end merely to see other people drinking it.
— Anthony Trollope, Orley Farm
June 29, 2021
Ah, Poirot. Hercule Poirot, that is (are there other Poirots? If so, I feel for them). I know that with many books, shows, films, poems, and sculptures, some may feel a Poirot overload at times – and this isn’t even to mention the many, many, Poirot imitations and bowdlerizations. But I still love the egg-shaped Belgian, in book and movie and TV show form. Thank you Mrs. Christie! Somedays, dipping back into a Poirot yarn is just the relief a long day needs. Especially when Poirot starts hitting the sweet liqueurs (you could probably guess this), which I’ll admit also loving, probably a rarity among English speakers in his day (well, the day his adventures were set within, that is), though hopefully something not as rare today, with our lucky-for-us wider palate of bar bottle resources and consumption. Hopefully! Anyway, this is all to say, I was re-reading the classic Poirot book Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, which has it all – a murder, a perhaps wronged potential murderer, small town England townies, historical murders, more murders, and very tight patent-leather shoes. Plus: well-groomed mustaches of course! And, a wonderful listing of Poirot’s fav sweet tipples, and beer.
Poirot pressed his guest with refreshments. A grenadine? Crème de Menthe? Benedictine? Crème de Cacao…
At this moment George entered with a tray on which was a whisky bottle and a siphon. “Or beer if you prefer it, sir?” he murmured to the visitor.
Superintendent Spence’s large red face lightened.
“Beer for me,” he said.
Poirot was left to wonder once more at the accomplishments of George. He himself had had no idea that there was beer in the flat and it seemed incomprehensible to him that it could be preferred to a sweet liqueur.
When Spence had his foaming tankard, Poirot poured himself out a tiny glass of gleaming green crème de menthe.
–Agatha Christie, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
May 18, 2021
A rarity amongst the Cocktail Talk posts here on the old Spiked Punch, the below quote is from a non-fiction book, The Big Con. But what a book! The tome about the, well, the big cons that took place mostly in the early-ish part of last century (and on deeper into the last century, before being replaced by, oh internet scams), cons immortalized in movies and song and show. Written by a professor who earned the trust of tons of con men and underworld folk, David Maurer, the book breaks down the three types of big cons, how cons operated, where they did, the lives of con men, all that, utilizing lots of stories and the argot or lingo con artists used amongst themselves to throw the marks and squares off (don’t worry, there’s a handy mini-dictionary at the back). So, a scholarly work, but filled with stories and fun (as long as you weren’t getting taken). The below is taken from one story, which describes how one of the cons, The Pay-Off, might go off.
“Here, gentlemen, is a very good thing,” says Mr. Lamster. “You must excuse yourself for half an hour. Here are drinks and cigars. Help yourselves. Just make yourselves comfortable and I’ll be right back.”
“Put something on it for us,” call Ryan, half in jest.
Mr. Ryan and Mr. Fink sample the liquor and cigars. There is Seltzer water and ice. They sit back and speculate upon this peculiar person they have just met. “He may be just a nut,” observes Mr. Fink,” but at least it isn’t costing us anything. And this is good whiskey.”
— David Maurer, The Big Con
May 4, 2021
For our last (for now . . .) Cocktail Talk from the sixth collection of stories written by Day Keene and published way back when, published in the detective pulp magazines which once ruled newsstands, said collection called Homicide House, we’re dropping in on a case with one of the standby Keene characters, private detective Tom Doyle (who also appeared in one novel, as well as other stories). In typical Keene/Doyle fashion, this story has plot aplenty, moves quick like a stolen car, gives some time to Doyle wife and kids (at least off-stage), and puts him in quite a pickle: shot at, knocked out, blamed for murder, all of it. And slugging back a fair bit of booze, too! Be sure to catch all the Day Keene Cocktail Talks by the way, or I might stick detective Doyle on you!
His examination concluded, he grinned, “Too bad. But outside of that mark on your temple and banging your puss on the walk, you seem to be okay. Durable Doyle, eh, Tom?”
“I’m wearing thin, Mike,” I admitted.
I picked my gun off the walk and was dropping it into my pocket when Max pushed through the crowd making like a St. Bernard with a quart of rye.” You took your sweet time,” I reproved him. “Also, a drink.”
— Day Keene, “Three Queens of the Mayhem”
April 23, 2021
Not too long ago in the scheme of things (depending on your scheme!), I was lucky enough to receive a bottle of Bib & Tucker bourbon (along with some swell glasses and such – it was a very lucky day!). Coming in one of the more memorable bottles I’ve seen in some time – lovely glass shape and glass lettering and overall aesthetic set up – Bib & Tucker isn’t just a pretty package. Made in Tennessee in a hearkening to the 1880s as they say, the time of “boldness and refinement,” it’s a bourbon aged 6 years in low char white oak barrels (there are some older siblings, too, on the years-aged front) and has won a fair amount of awards. Deservedly so, me thinks, as it’s very smooth, very drinkable. Starting with a nose of vanilla, caramel, and spices of the pastry variety, it flows into a vanilla, cinnamon, spice flavor, with a hint of nuttiness, pecan style, and then finishes with a little oaky caramel spice-ness. Made from 70% corn, 26% rye, and 4% malted barley, it’s a swell number to sip solo, with or without a cube of ice.
However (as you might have guessed!), it’s also a really fine base for cocktails in my humble opinion, as the people say. If going the mixing route, I’d suggest a recipe that lets the bourbon shine, with only one or two other liquid pals along for the ride. Which is what we’re doing here, in the way of the classic Kentucky Colonel cocktail, which I was reminded of when browsing the old The Art of Mixing Drinks, 1961 edition (not to be confused with the also venerable and perhaps more well-known The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. The lack of “Fine” volume I have comes in a little box, with plastic cover and ring binding, and is fun if you can find it). We’re altering the title a bit here, cause our Bib & Tucker is from TN not KY, but keeping the basic combo of bourbon and monastic herbal liqueur Bénédictine. You see this cocktail with various ratios of our two players, and with the addition of bitters (a good plan, though not used here as this book’s recipe didn’t have it and I wanted to pay homage properly), served up instead of with a big cube (but the big cube felt ideal) and with different twists – I’ll admit, at first the lemon felt off, but its bright citrus notes worked a treat above the bourbon and liqueur intertwining flavors. Delicious.
The Tennessee Colonel
2-1/2 ounces Bib & Tucker 6-year old bourbon
1 ounce Bénédictine
Lemon twist, for garnish
1. Fill a mixing glass or cocktail shaker halfway full with cracked ice. Add our two darkly-spirited pals. Stir well.
2. Add a large ice cube or a few smaller ones to an Old Fashioned or comparable glass. Strain the mix in. Garnish with the lemon twist.
April 20, 2021
Another (don’t miss the “My Little Gypsy Cheat-heart” Cocktail Talk) from the sixth Day Keene in the Detective Pulps collection called, strikingly enough, Homicide House, this story, much like the earlier-mentioned yarn, I believe was eventually the basis, or partially at least, for a Day Keene novel, this time Home is the Sailor (which you can see more on if you check out all the Day Keene Cocktail Talks). This story has all the Day Keene traits: the action jumps right in, the narrator’s in a mess of trouble, there’s a murder or more, double-dealing, and boozing and carousing. And the below quote, which uses “boiled” in a way we should bring back.
“I don’t think I did kill her,” Stanton told him wearily. “No matter how drunk a man was he’d remember a thing like that.”
Waddy was dubious. “I don’t know about that. You were plenty boiled when she walked you out of here.”
“Had he been drinking all evening?” Marks asked.
“No,” the barman admitted. “As far as I know, he only had two old fashioneds. But he must have been drinking before, because the second one hit him hard. Corliss had one hell of a time getting him into the car.”
— Day Keene, “If a Body Meet a Body”