I’m sure you understand this: some days, you, or one, just wakes up in the morning thinking, “Today, I wanna make a drink from Jacques Straub’s recipe collection classic called, simply enough, Drinks (oh, you can get a Drinks reprint if you don’t happen to have it or want to pony up for an original)! Then, all the day long you think about it, unless you decide to have a breakfast drink, or a lunch drink. If so, good for you, champ! Still waiting on the invite. But if not, by the time HH (happy hour, natch) comes around, you have that little book (perfectly sized for dress shirt pockets, making it easy for bartenders to carry) out, and are turning until you come to The Hancock Sour, and then boom! Drink-making time.
But what bourbon? For me, this time, it’s Wood Family Spirits Columbia bourbon. Admittedly, a bottle recently came in the mail (don’t hate me! I do feel lucky about it), excitingly enough! If you don’t know, Wood Family Spirits is a distillery based in Hood River, Oregon. The family in the area traces back to pioneers in the middle 1800s, so they have lots of history in the PNW, and a desire to deliver well-made spirits here. In Columbia bourbon, they’re doing just that. Made in Tennessee using 80% corn, 10% barley, and 10% rye, it’s aged in brand new charred oak barrels (aging takes place in OR) and blended to “bottle in bond” strength. Which equals a robust 100 proof, that gives it a reassuring umph. It has a lovely aroma – caramel, spices (cinnamon, clove) – then a rich mouthfeel while you’re savoring the vanilla, caramel, sweetness mingling with the oakiness and highlighted by more of that cinnamon and clove and rye spicy goodness.
Wood Family Spirits Columbia bourbon’s full layered taste means it can be swigged solo happily, but also that it can stand up nicely in a drink like The Hancock Sour, one we’re bringing back from days of yore, and one that packs a decent amount of lime. In typical classic sour fashion, this might have had even more lime in the past (the recipe calls just for the juice of one lime), but 3/4s-of-an-ounce worked best for me. So, lime, sugar, bourbon, sounds like a regular sour, right? But there’s an intriguing twist – a hint of rum! That’s right, two spirits! The recipe doesn’t call out a specific rum, but I found a Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva dark rum was perfect. Its complexity and sweetness added just enough hints to elevate this treat to another realm (if you haven’t had it, this rum delivers caramel, nuts, orange peel, vanilla, nutmeg, and allspice in a lovely combo). The other slightly sideways add to our sour is a splash of soda, which, funnily, helped everything come together without thinning it out. The original recipe said to garnish with “fruits of the season,” so I went strawberry, but I could see orange, cherries, even blackberries being nice and working with the lime.
One final note: I have no idea who Hancock is, or was, or if this drink even refers to a person. And, though in a way I wish I did, it doesn’t change one iota the deliciousness this sour delivers. Try it, and then next time remember to invite me to breakfast drinks!
Here’s a decent little pulp pocketbooker. Not the highest reaching pages in the genre, more along the lines of a poor imbiber’s Raymond Chandler, but a quick page-turner and jolly enough. My only book by Lawrence Lariar, but if I see another (especially one with a cover this fine), well, I might take a chance. This one, and maybe others, stars Detective Steve Gant, who has like 12 overnight hours to solve the murder of high-society singer/tv/model lady-about-town, found dead on a beach outside a beachclub, and with Gant’s comedian pal firmly in the frame. The quote on the back really tells it: “It was a smart money crowd – guys on the take, dolls on the make.” The below quote’s pretty swell, too.
“Wonderful.” She clapped her hands and closed her eyes and laughed a Bourbon laugh. “Chuck thinks you’re the greatest. He talks about you all the time.” She paused reflectively. She shifted her emotional gears, pricked by some disturbing idea that angered her a bit. “Chuck,” She sighed, “does a hell or a lot of talking, doesn’t he? A real talkative type. All talk with the girls.”
You don’t like his talk?”
“Like it? What’s to dislike?” She ambled erratically to the bottle on her desk, fixing a drink for me. She took one for herself, sniffed it and set it down, making a face at it.
Last week, I had a Vanity Row Cocktail Talk (don’t miss that or past W.R. Burnett Cocktail Talks), the book that shares a cover in the swell Stark House two-books-in-one reprint with this week’s highlight, Little Men, Big World. After mentioning the book in said past Cocktail Talk, felt I should give it a moment of its own. So, here we are! Of the two books, I like them . . . both the same amount, which is a lot. This one jumps around more in narrative perspective, though it also circles again within crime and politics (more the former maybe) in a Midwestern city, with a few different characters from various sides of the scene taking the main role depending on the chapter and such. One of which is veteran newspaper man, Ben Reisman, who used to write the crime beat, but who now is a well-known columnist, though one who still desires to dig up a juicy story. And desires whiskey, too.
Sudden success some people said. Sudden success, after twenty-five years? And was this success? How about the plays he’d intended to writer, the novels? Reisman groaned and stared into his glass of Vichy water. The others were drinking whisky. He, too, liked whisky, and some nights he even got drunk. But the doc told him it would kill him and sometimes he was afraid. Why did he have to have ulcers? Young Downy did not have ulcers. Young Downy had pink cheeks and optimism. Not much in the way of brains. But what are brains? A liability.
It wasn’t that long ago (weirdly, it was like five-and-a-half years ago, so maybe long ago in some ways? Your call) that I had a series of Cocktail Talks from the Elliott Chaze book Black Wings Has My Angel (read Part I, Part II, and Part III to learn more, see more, drink more). And today, when I woke with the desire to re-read the book (as one does with good books), and then began reading, I was again mystified that the book isn’t better know. Perhaps it’s better known now than five years ago, as another reprint in English has come out – for a long time, too long, the only recent versions were in French. It’s such a classic literary noir novel, and so well-written, it baffles me. Possibly it’s because he didn’t write a lot of books, period, and definitely that I know of, not another in this vein at this level. I’m still trying to track down other books by him, so might be wrong-footing that. But he wasn’t prolific as, say, Jim Thompson or David Goodis (who he shares some commonalities with, in this book if not others I’ve yet to read) in the novel knocking out department, and wasn’t a pulp mag story filler like Day Keene, having I’m guessing higher aspirations, and also a day job as a newspaper person. Maybe it’s that lighter output, but heck, maybe it’s just fate. Whatever, if you lean noir-y, and haven’t read this, you should. There’s more about the book in those old posts, but short story: criminal, femme fatale (both mains carrying layers), crime (with a murder, cold-blooded), the high-life, the lam-life, and bleak moments, written incredibly well. And booze. Especially I.W. Harper whiskey, which you could sip while reading. Enough of it that when I decided to have one more Cocktail Talk from the book, well, I.W. had to be a highlight.
The bartender wore a phony gay-nineties mustache and a checked vest, and he was drunk enough himself to slosh the stuff around generously. Two I. W. Harpers painted the room prettily. I got a kick out of being in a crowd of people who were out to enjoy themselves. There were pictures over the bar of John K. Sullivan and of Gentleman Jim Corbett both stripped to the waist and wearing the kind of pants you see on tightwire performers and ballet dancers.
I recently had another Graham Greene Cocktail Talk here on the Spiked Punch (that one was a Comedians Cocktail Talk), and when re-reading the book that that there post focused its light upon, I got the urge to re-read some other Greenes. Does that happen to you? You read or re-read a book by an author and then just get the urge to delve more deeply into said author? Well, it does to me! It’s a bit like when you have a delicious, say, whiskey drink, and then you’re like “well, that worked out nicely, how about another!” For another in our Greene reading situation, I grabbed one of the ‘entertainments’ as he called them, as opposed to his serious stuff I suppose, This Gun for Hire. Following along the paths of a not-so-nice hired gun and a nice aspiring actor (who happens to have a fiancé who is a police detective) whose paths cross after a political assassination, well, it moves fast, draws you in, and is, well, entertaining! And has the below fun quote about whiskey, and beer!
“Keep a bottle of whisky here, super?” the Chief Constable asked. “Do’us all good to ‘ave a drink. Had too much beer. It returns. Whisky’s better, but the wife doesn’t like the smell.”
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book by Magdalen Nabb, too long, it seems, as I’d forgotten how enjoyable they are. But, I was recently in Florence, where her (detective and mystery-y books, not the kids books as far as I know) books take place in the main, and felt I should revisit one of them in honor of the Florence revisit. Did that make sense? Blame the jet lag if not! Anyway, I went with Death of the Englishman, the first of her Florentine mysteries, featuring Marshal Guarnaccia (along with other reoccurring characters, some of whom get more time than he in some books. It’s neat, and incredibly well-done, how she balances out the various narratives. Very skilled without being showy). There’s a murder and a mystery and some thieves, too, all goods stuff, but the best stuff is the detailed look at Florence, the streets, the smells, the food, the sights, and especially the people and the routines and experiences they go through. If you love Florence, Italy, or mysteries well-written that transport you, then you should be in on these. Especially if you also like wine, grappa, or vin santo (like me).
“Well, try and get some rest, anyway, and drink plenty of fluids.” Both of them noticed at the same time the almost empty whiskey bottle standing by the parchment lamp. “Not that stuff.”
“I’ve never tasted it.” The Marshal drank half a litre of red every day with his evening meal, never more nor less, and a drop of vin santo on Sundays.
“And no wine, either, while you’re on this.” The professor was reading the Marshal’s mind as he wrote.
I’ve had a fair amount of Charles Williams’ Cocktail Talks on here, which makes some sense as he’s (I think) one of the middle-of-last-century pulpy pocketbook masters (heck, even the NYT said he’s “just about as good as they come”). Confidentially Yours, originally from 1962, originally called The Long Saturday Night, and made into a movie directed by François Truffaut, hits the sweet spots: hero blamed for a crime he didn’t commit, everything seeming to go against him putting him in numerous nutty spots, a wife with a shady past, another potential paramour who might be helpful, might not, small and big town moments, poisoned-pen-style phone calls, multiple murders, ducks, and everything leading to . . . an unexpected conclusion! Fun stuff, including the below quote, with both dogs and whiskey! Somewhat!
“Here,” she said, picking up one of the things lying on the seat. It was a pint bottle of whiskey.
“You’re an angel,” I said.
“No, a St. Bernard, but I get tired of that little cask around my neck. When you’ve had a drink of that, there’s some food.
I took a big drink – straight out of the bottle when she said she didn’t want any – felt it unfold inside me, and opened the cardboard box. It contained a steak sandwich, wrapped in three or four big paper napkins and still warm.
The great Graham Greene hasn’t made an enormous amount of time Cocktail Talking here on the ol’ Spiked Punch (though do the read the past Graham Greene Cocktail Talks), which is a shame because A: I like his works lots, and B: he liked a good drink. Probably because we shade a little lower-brow (though he did write a fair amount of what he called “entertainments” which might lean into pulp pockets perfectly), or just because I forget to mark the pages of potential Cocktail Talks when reading his books. Or re-reading, I should specify, as I believe I’ve read them all at least once, re-reading being the case recently as I was re-reading his book The Comedians, which takes places mostly on Haiti during the tragic reign of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Circling around one main character and a few main satellites characters (who meet on a boat heading towards the country), it’s a sometimes chilling, always moving novel. Definitely one that one should be read, especially if you carry an interest in political history around like a traveling bar.
“What’s your poison?”
“Have you a whiskey?”
“I have next to everything, old man. You wouldn’t fancy a dry Martini?”
I would have preferred a whisky, but he seemed anxious to show off the riches of his store, so, “If it’s very dry,” I said.
“Ten to one, old man.”
He unlocked the cupboard and drew out a leather traveling-case – a half-bottle of gin, a half-bottle of vermouth, four metal beakers, a shaker. It was an elegant expensive set, and he laid it reverently on the tumbled table as though he were an auctioneer showing a prized antique. I couldn’t help commenting on it.
“Asprey’s ?” I asked.
“As good as,” he replied quickly and began to mix the cocktails.
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