Thursday, February 11, 2016

An Hour of Glamour - The Summer Before the War

Did you love Major Pettigrew's Last Stand?  You did if you read it - so if you haven't, just go.  Go do that.  When you come back, I'll have a drink waiting for you in celebration of Helen Simonson's followup to that lovely novel.

Hour of Glamour
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz. Madeira
.25 oz Maraschino Liqueur
1 oz tonic
Cherry for garnish

Rinse a chilled rocks glass with the Maraschino Liquer.  Discard any excess.  Add ice.  Stir the gin, Madeira, and tonic with ice until cold.  Strain into the glass.  Garnish with cherry.

Ms. Simonson's next book, due in little more than a month, is another gorgeous tale set in England - this time just before the Great War.  When you're making a cocktail for a book - because you do that, too, right?  I mustn't be the only one?  But when you do, you hope that the author conveniently gives you a name for the drink within the book's pages.  

The Summer Before the War doesn't disappoint on this, or any, score.  In response to one cousin wanting to take another cousin down a peg, their Aunt Agatha is patient, explaining that the inflated sense of self that Daniel has developed since he'd been spending time with a friend from the aristocracy will soon be punctured because that's the way of things.  Why not, she insists, let him have his hour of glamour?  And if that isn't a perfect name for a cocktail, I don't know what is.  

Because Aunt Agatha usually enjoys a glass of Madeira in the evening, I began there.  It would be a compliment to gin, naturally, because there isn't a drink that says England more than gin.  Everything else adds to a cool sipper that's floral, earthy and herbaceous.  Cheers!

The Opposite of Death? This Too Shall Pass

When I picked up Milena Busquets' novel, This Too Shall Pass, I was charmed immediately.  Charmed by our narrator, Blanca.  Blanca who's struggling with an age in her life that she's never been able to imagine.

Thirty she had envisioned.  Sixty, too.  Even eighty.  At eighty she had pictured herself drinking whisky with her friends.  But forty?  Fifty?  Those ages had been shrouded, full of mystery - and suddenly she finds herself there with no sense of how she arrived.

I don't feel that way about fifty.  No, of course not.  Not at all. 

(cue the Talking Heads)

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house

With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself

Well...How did I get here?

So I was immediately smitten by Blanca.  But then?  Then things got a little steamy.  Actually, things got quite a little bit hot.  Blanca has - voracious appetites.  The only thing to do in that situation is to make a drink.

She named this one herself when she mused that the opposite of death is life, is sex.  Great - so I had the name.  Then I just had to wait for the drink - and in Blanca's world, Gin & Tonics soon arrived.

Many of them.

That was too easy, just a G&T, but then I was handed a conversation that Blanca has with one of her ex's (she only has two, it's not like she's Zsa Zsa Gabor).  Blanca and Guillem are talking about apples, and she says that the only kind she likes are the ones Snow White eats - Guillem's organic apples are home to too many worms and there's nothing sexy about a worm in your apple.

So for Blanca, I made a G&T, but I replaced the Gin with Applejack.  I also added some Burlesque Bitters because, well, I thought she'd like them.  She'd laugh at the company's description of their bitters as a spicy little tart who likes to flirt.  If she likes anything, Blanca likes to flirt.

The Opposite of Death

1.5 oz Laird's Applejack
4 oz tonic
1 stopper Bittermens Burlesque Bitters
Apple for garnish

Stir all with ice.  Strain into an ice-filled collins glass.  Garnish with apple slice.

A Fraction of Sherry for Ethan Canin

Ethan Canin.  I can't stress enough how much he shaped the ideas that the young version of me - Nick 1.0 - began to have about writing, about fiction.

About what works and what doesn't.  About what's important, what'll last.

His first collection of stories, Emperor of the Air, was released right after I graduated from high school.  Even if the lights were flashing in my rear view mirror, I wouldn't be able to make out the colors from 1984 - they're too far back, too much traffic is between the now and the then.

But - I easily remember being floored by those stories.  It was one of the most perfect collections I had ever read - and still is one of the best ever written.  

I get to meet him tonight at a cocktail party with a glorious handful of authors.  The best perk about being a bookseller?  It's the occasional but always wonderful parties that are sometimes held to celebrate an author and that author's work.

Because, of course, we should celebrate authors more than we do.

The even better news is that Mr. Canin has a new novel coming out in just a few days - A Doubter's Alamanac.

It's phenomenal.  And - it was easy to make a cocktail for it because there’s plenty of drinking going on.  At the start, sherry and bourbon flow freely, so that provided an easy pairing.

Then there’s the brilliant mathematician, Milo Andret, who looms over the novel’s pages.  Since he was as good at souring relationships as he was at solving theorems, I rounded out the equation with a startlingly tart kumquat.

A Fraction of Sherry

1.5 oz bourbon 
.75 oz dry sherry
.25 oz simple syrup
1 kumquat

Muddle the kumquat with everything.  Shake with ice.  Finely strain into a chilled glass.  Slice a kumquat to garnish.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A High Mountain for Yann Martel

Yann Martel has written an exquisite novel, The High Mountains of Portugal, that called out for an exquisite concoction that would begin and end in Portugal in much the same way that the novel does.  While you can find the book in the finest shops, you can find the book and the drink in the Books Inc. newsletter and online.

Port would have been the easy choice for his drink, but it didn't make the cocktail sing like it should, so I used Madeira instead and the Portuguese fortified wine proved robust enough to play in a glass with the whiskey.  I used rye instead of sweeter bourbon because the Madeira is plenty sweet.

Martel's novel begins with a 1904 Renault that's packed to the gunnels for a trip into the title's High Mountains, so I wanted to pack his drink as full of flavors as the Renault was.  Chocolate and orange bitters mingled easily with the Madeira, and a cinnamon-stick garnish added a wonderful bouquet.

I wrapped the cinnamon stick with an orange twist to echo the orange bitters - and because it looked pretty.  Pretty never hurt a drink.  Cheers!

A High Mountain

2 oz. Rye Whiskey
1 oz. Madeira
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash chocolate bitters
Cinnamon stick and orange twist for garnish

Stir all drink ingredients with ice. Strain into an ice-filled glass. Twist orange peel around cinnamon stick for garnish.