I’m turning you down, Tom Collins

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that Jane Austen would have been a cool chick to have a cocktail with.

But were she to show up at my door at 5pm on Friday evening, expecting a cocktail and some stimulating conversation, what would I serve?

Last night I went to the Sydney Opera House to listen to some very clever Science-types talk about Life on Mars. Seems NASA has plans to have people in orbit around the red planet in the 2030s and living on the surface a decade later.

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This seems awfully soon – and terribly exciting – and logic tells me then that other smart Science-types may be closer to nailing the whole time travel thing than I thought. If so, the prospect of Jane Austen showing up at my door, demanding a decent cocktail, may indeed be closer than I thought.

So on this day, which is exactly 100 years and one month after she died, it’s high time we considered what to serve Ms Austen. It needs to be a drink that demonstrates an appreciation of her fine body of work, allows for witty quips to fly like tits (stop being so juvenile, it’s a bird) and above all, needs to be a damned fine cocktail.

You’re never going to get two chances to whip up a cocktail for Jane Austen.

Logic says we start with an IBA Unforgettable Cocktail, the Tom Collins.

Now the Tom Collins is a gin cocktail and that’s always a good place to start.

And it comes with a great story.

Back in 1874 (and remembering that this is some six decades after Jane’s death, have a few bits of 1874 trivia to hand, tell her it was the year Winston Churchill was born, then tell her who Winston Churchill was and that he got the Nobel Prize for Literature, tell her that 15 out of the 113 Nobel Laureates for Literature have been women, show her your jeans and tell her Levi Strauss got a patent for these in 1874, tell her the ladies wear them all the time now and that should make up for the lack of Nobel prizes), the Tom Collins cocktail was at the heart of an hilarious hoax.

At this point you could offer her a Piecost or a Henway.

It’s always a good day when you can land one of those, but your triumph should be tempered by knowing that Jane’s wit (we’re on first name basis now) may have been dulled by a century of being, you know, dead.

Anyway, back in New York in 1874, funsters would tell a friend (read: sucker) that a fellow named Tom Collins had been talking trash about them down at the tavern. When said friend would go down to the tavern and demand that Tom Collins be brought forth to account for himself, the cocktail would be placed on the bar and we’d all fall apart laughing.

This was before shows like Charles in Charge showed us what real humour was in the 1980s so don’t judge them too harshly.

So that’s the Tom Collins, but how does it link to Jane’s work?

Your segue here is to talk about one of Jane’s greatest creations, Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice.

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Mr Collins (William, not Tom but it’s a cocktail party so just relax a bit, would you?) was the pompous and ludicrous heir to the Bennet estate who proposed to that sassy Eliza Bennet and thought she was being coy when she told him she would die alone and penniless than marry him.

If you haven’t read it, you must. Or watch the 1995 six-part BBC series with Jennifer Ehle and and Colin Firth (it is much better than the Keira Knightley movie, even in spite of the glorious Dame Judi Dench appearing in the latter) and David Bamber as Mr Collins.

Anyway, in brief, Eliza knocks him back and ends up marrying broody Mr Darcy and Eliza’s best friend Charlotte, surprises us all by marrying Mr Collins, thinking it better to have a shit husband than none at all.

And sadly, while the Tom Collins offers much in the way of relevance as a cocktail to serve Jane, it is the cocktail equivalent of Charlotte Lucas’ life – a compromise, not entirely unpleasant but somewhat tedious and not something you are asking for more of

You really wanted something else. Something heaps better.

I ordered a Tom Collins at Bennelong in the Opera House last night. I knew what was in it, and I believe it to have been made exactly as the recipe directs.

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But even sitting in my favourite place on earth, this cocktail was a Mr Collins to my palate.

It’s gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and soda water.

I just don’t know why you would bother.

A gin and tonic – while not a cocktail – is a much tastier way to drink gin. The Tom Collins feels like an expensive can of Solo.

Don’t be sad though, I just ordered another drink – a Red Rye Hand in homage to Nick Cave whose magnificent Ship Song has been used in a video about the Opera House that makes me weep with joy every time I see it.

 

So what then to serve Jane?

Don’t panic friends, the answer is clear.

Given that 1813, the year Pride and Prejudice was released was the same year that Vickers Gin and Noilly Prat vermouth were created, were Jane Austen to show up in my house tonight, I’d offer her a gin martini. Same as I’d offer anyone.

Because you’re dead a long time and life’s way too short to drink a Mr Collins.

Cheers!

Ground up what? I’ll pass. Thanks

I feel I need to start with an apology this week as I know our cocktail under the spotlight will cause some of you to cross your legs in discomfort.

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It’s a delicious and beautiful offering that almost glows. Orange juice (fresh please), gin, absinthe and grenadine. Easy to make, pleasing to the eye.

And sure, maybe calling your son Sue is an effective substitute for hands-on parenting in some quarters, but sometimes a name can break bad.

And I think that’s what’s going on with the Monkey Gland.

This unfortunate handle is inspired by the work of a fascinating Russian-born Frenchman by the name of Serge Voronoff operating in the early decades of the 1900s.

Dr Serge’s hypothesis was that hormones, such as the testosterone produced in the testes, would reverse ageing with a process he called “rejuvenation”.

I can see the Eastern half of Sydney sitting up and taking notice here but I must warn you that this is a little more extreme than injecting a bit of life-threatening Botulism into your face.

First, Serge tested upon himself, injecting ground up dog and guinea pig testicles under his own skin.

Yes, you read that correctly.

He was disappointed that there were no discernible results (other than to induce vomiting I suspect).

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A political cartoon of Voronoff performing an appendectomy in Egypt. (Image: Wellcome Images/Wikipedia)

Instead of accepting that you can’t be good at everything and moving onto to a sensible career like accounting or writing horror stories, Serge pressed on, determined to prove that living grafts of organ tissue, rather than the injections, were the answer.

Quite the early adopter of recycling, our man Serge harvested nuts from executed criminals and stitched slices of them into the ball-bags of rich white men.

I think it says more about the perennial desire of wealthy people to use their money to overcome their mortality than it does about the early 20th century justice system that Voronoff ran out of dead men’s nuts to slice before he ran out of willing recipients of such.

The forces of Supply and Demand forced Voronoff to look elsewhere and he started monkey farming for his supplies.

Serge conducted more than five hundred of these procedures and the scientific world was curious and watchful. Supportive. He even branched out into planting a monkey ovary into a woman (and I’m sure Mrs Trump loved her baby very much – boom boom).

But the sceptics finally caught up to Serge and his work was discredited and he died in obscurity in the 1950s.

Sad thing is, by the 1990s, his work was being looked at by the scientific community with a more sympathetic eye and is being credited with shaping some of the thinking that forms the basis of more credible, modern medical practices.

So let’s pause a moment a show some respect to the countless medical researchers who spend their entire careers testing hypotheses just so they can say “Nope, the answer’s not here” in the hope the next white coat can build on that to find the cure. You guys are awesome.

Serge’s story (and fortunately not the practices) inspired Harry MacElhone to name a cocktail after old Voronoff’s life work.

To allow you to unclench your nether regions, we’ll stop focusing on Serge’s work and focus instead on Harry’s extensive body of work.

Scotsman Harry took over the New York Bar in Paris in 1923 and called it Harry’s New York Bar.

Harry claims to have invented the Bloody Mary, the French 75, Boulevardier, Side Car, White Lady and the Blue Lagoon. And he’s got a pretty credible claim on most of them (although, I did give the Bloody Mary to another bartender in THIS POST, I did also say it was based on what he was serving to guests in the Paris at Harry’s Bar).

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But his Blue Lagoon is the one MacElhone creation that likely will never get its own review on these pages.

Because it’s blue.

And blue drinks don’t work.

 

 

No they don’t.

 

I like blue, and I liked the most of the delightful offerings of the same hue in Hawaii.

Which 3 things

 

But that, bottom right, is a Blue Hawaii cocktail photographed at point-blank range. Appetising, right?

No. Blue cocktails – the Blue Hawaii or the Blue Lagoon – seem mired in the 1980s.

And not in the good way. More in the Daryl Somers way.

Where it might work nicely is with an in-home screening of the totally excellent 1980 movie of the same name. The movie for which the beautiful Brooke Shields quite deservedly won a Razzie for Worst Actress.

 

Back in the days of VCR, I once spent a solid hour with my friend trying to get the picture to pause at just the moment when you can see Christopher Atkins’ simeon-free wang as he slid down the waterslide.

That’s University for you. As well as being a place of learning, it is also a place of far too many free hours in the hands of people just learning how to come to grips with being allowed to drink legally. It is also the time when you think blue drinks are a great idea and often have a blue tongue to show for your night out.

Treat the Blue Lagoon cocktail and movie with the same respect, a potentially enjoyable diversion, but both pretty much a waste of time.

By contrast, the the Monkey Gland deserves so much better.

As a cocktail, it is a superior offering but by virtue of a crappy name, it doesn’t get the love or attention it deserves.

So perhaps we should call it a Voronoff (he’s certainly more deserving of a cocktail named after him than that dullard Gibson)

Whatever you call it, this is a tasty cocktail, worthy of your attention. So uncross your legs, get out your orange juicer and get shaking.

50mL of gin (I used Archie Rose)
30mL of orange juice
2 drops of absinthe
2 drops of grenadine
Shake well over ice cubes in a shaker, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Cheers!
PS If you’re in Australia, you can tune in to Hard Quiz on ABC television at 8pm on Wednesday September 20th to see exactly how much I know about monkeys

Martinez: Team Cocktails’ Defensive End?

The Quarterback
Possibly the best-known cocktail ever to have been shaken or stirred, the Martini is kind of the Quarterback of the Cocktail List.

It’s so glamorous that you want to hate it a bit, but it’s just so good that you reluctantly acknowledge that it is the most important cocktail on your list.

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And after a couple of these cold, clear, razor-sharp beauties, you start to think how much you’d like to shake the hand of the genius who invented it.

Well, bad luck. While there are many who would like to claim the title, we really don’t know who invented it, not do we know where.

What does seem highly likely though, is that the Martini evolved, at least in part, from the Martinez.

The Martinez deserves a place on the IBA’s list of The Unforgettables, alongside the Martini, the Negroni, the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan.

But the Martinez is neglected, treated like the soap opera roles stars of screen and sound had to take before their proper careers took off.

It happened, but we don’t talk about it. Do we, Melissa George?

So unfair.

Here’s the story.

The Martinez first appeared in print in O.H. Byron’s Modern Bartender’s Guide back in 1884 and calls for Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur and Angostura bitters. It’s sort of like a sweet Martini or a gin Manhattan.

Old Tom Gin is a recipe that was popular in England in the 18th Century. It is less botanical than many modern gins and is sweeter than London Dry and drier than Dutch Jenever (Genever if you prefer). It works with the sweet vermouth and other ingredients to make this a very different cocktail to a Dry Martini.

Jerry Thomas is credited by some as having created the cocktail when he was tending bar at San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel (built in 1861, closed in 1906 after the San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires), but the City of Martinez, California really, really, really wants us to give it to them.

The story goes that a prospector who’d just struck it rich, bellied on up to the bar in 1874 with a fistful of gold nuggets and asked bartender Julio Richelieu for a bottle of his finest champagne.

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Upon being advised that to no such bottle was available, Yosemite Sam challenged Richelieu to serve up “something special” (hopefully he said “tarnation” in there somewhere too) and Richelieu concocted the “Martinez Special” out of gin, vermouth and orange bitters.

The Martinez town claim is that this then spread, with bartenders in San Francisco being asked to replicate something that was loosely described as having gin and vermouth in it, and after a few of those, it’s just easier to drop the “Z” and say Martini.

They’ve invested in this folklore and got themselves a plaque in Martinez, declaring itself the birthplace of the Martinez cocktail, and sure, I’m happy enough to support their claim.

Martinez station

 

But when the whistle blew at doubtlessly historic Martinez on my recent research trip, somehow I opted to stay on my Amtrak train and push on to San Francisco to see how the finer bars there were interpreting the cocktail and it’s descendants.

 

Stookey’s Club Moderne offered shelter from the rain, a sophisticated but relaxed vibe and a welcome respect for this piece of cocktail history.

I tried two to be sure it wasn’t a fluke (it wasn’t, put this bar on your list) and as the outside temperature dropped and my inner glow grew, it occurred to me that we’re all guilty of denying the Martinez its place in history.

Martinez Club Moderne

Sure, it’s not the Quarterback married to a Super-model, so we wouldn’t be nearly as interested in it and you certainly wouldn’t expect to see it reflected in movies, or television or music quite as much.

But not once?

Not a single reference could I find (please, please tell me in the comments if you know of one) in popular culture or classic movies.

In fact to find an appropriate reference to uphold this blog’s promise of dodgy cultural references for each cocktail, I had to go to Santa Barbara.

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Not the city, but the soap opera, where in the 1980s and 1990s, one A Martinez played Cruz Castillo against his soap super-couple counterpart, Marcy Walker’s Eden Capwell (you know the story – rich white shoulder-padded girl and poor muscly Latino guy in tight t-shirts and jeans initially dislike one another before falling in love and battling the odds to make their love accepted – the usual 1980s soap story-line).

 

Because it was on when I was knee-deep in University studies, I watched Santa Barbara a lot.

I liked it less than Days of Our Lives or The Bold and the Beautiful but more than the Young and the Restless, and it regularly passed an hour that might otherwise have been squandered at the library.

Reviewed as the worst television show ever made when it debuted (possibly not undeservedly), there’s not a lot that you can say was culturally important about it.

Except it launched the career of the spectacular Robin Wright.

Yes, she of Buttercup in the greatest movie ever made (yes it is, no correspondence will be entered into on this), The Princess Bride, she of Jenny Curran from Greenbow, Alabama in Forrest Gump.

And now of course, she of the highest, sharpest heels and steeliest-eyed determination in House of Cards, the clear, cold, razor-sharp Claire Underwood.

Let us not deny our pasts, for we are the sum total of all our experiences and shitty soap opera appearances.

So this weekend, do your bit to honour your elders and order up a Martinez. Or a Martini.

As you wish.

Cheers!

 

 

Gibson and the bat-shit crazy Bohos

Dear Muddlers

Today seems a perfect day to celebrate people being over-compensated for their achievements. And I’ve found the perfect cocktail for it.

The Gibson.

Now the Gibson is a perfectly tasty cocktail. It’s essentially a Martini and we all know how I love a Martini.

But the thing that transforms the Martini into a Gibson is replacing the olives with cocktail onions.

Shazam! A new cocktail.

It’s undeniably delicious, and given the onion is a vegetable and the olive a fruit, it may make more sense in a serious cocktail, but really?

Determined to do things properly, I looked hard (ok, two grocery stores) for pickling onions small enough to be appropriate for a cocktail glass, but they were all golf-ball size.

So I abandoned my Martha Stewart pretensions and sourced all the different types of ready-made cocktail onions I could find (three brands) and the type of onion does indeed make a difference in flavour, but it was still essentially three Martinis.

Gibson

Yes, a great day at the home office.

But it left me no closer to understanding why replacing the olives with a lemon twist doesn’t transform the cocktail, but apparently an onion does.

In the most credible theory of its creation, in the late 1800s, a San Francisco businessman named Walter D.K. Gibson wanted his Martini a little special.

Being a fan of what he considered the common cold-preventing qualities of onions (but being a bit smarter than this oni1439370916609on-eating imbecile) Walt asked the bartender at the Bohemian Club to switch it up.

And 140 odd years later, we’re still calling the cocktail after old Gibbo?

Taj Gibson, is no doubt an excellent basketball player, but I don’t think he’s curing cancer. Yet, in another Gibson-themed example of achievements being over-rewarded, he’s just signed a two-year deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves that won’t be commemorated a century from now by cocktail drinkers, but will get him $28 million.

Isn’t that nice?

The Bohemian Club in San Francisco where the Gibson cocktail was “invented” is full of people getting overpaid for their work. Not so much the staff, class actions a few years back indicate that staff remuneration may be little more than a jar of pickled onions a week, but the members.

It doesn’t seem so different from any gentlemen’s club around the world. Wealthy men, mostly white, sipping port and smoking cigars away from the prying eyes of women or anyone not as wealthy as them.

Seems a shame that Bette Davis’s Gibson-swilling dame Margo Channing from All About Eve wouldn’t be allowed to attend.  Every party ever hosted would benefit from the presence of a woman who downs a Gibson and instructs her guests to “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Fasten your seatbelts

All About Eve is the story of a beautiful young woman who uses charm and flattery to hoodwink the Broadway power-players and build her stardom at the expense of others who have been kind to her along the way.

It is exactly the sort of reason that men like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and a bunch of Bushes and Clint Eastwood and Charlton Heston and Mark Twain and Jack London and a host of other mostly white, mostly Christian, always wealthy, blokes need to go to be able to let their comb-overs down without the spectre of being hoodwinked by someone like that conniving Eve.

I would object to the principal of not being allowed to join except I can’t think of a reason I would want to join.

Hang on, that’s not quite true.

Every July, members of the Bohemian Club go to summer camp in northern California. It’s called Bohemian Grove and is held on a beautiful private property full of magnificent old growth Redwoods that the club is cutting down to supplement its income.

The Club’s motto is “Weaving Spiders come not Here” which is from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and effectively means that members and their guests are not allowed to be networking and doing business while they’re there.

No. They’re not.

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This motto obviously means that the rumours that the Manhattan Project was devised there, couldn’t possibly be true.

Just as well, because imagine a world where if Hillary Clinton had been President, she wouldn’t have been allowed to go to a place where swinging dicks make important decisions about nuclear weapons.

Or where, if Australia had a female Prime Minister, she wouldn’t be allowed to go, but her Foreign Minister Bob Carr – let’s be clear, JUNIOR to her in every way, would be allowed to accept an invitation from Henry Kissinger AND use tax-payer money for the privilege in 2012.

Lucky nothing important is discussed there, right?

Just a bunch of knockabout guys letting it all hang out (interestingly, being able to piss on the Redwoods at will is one of the reasons the Club cited in applying to exclude women from working there).*

Anyway, they start the two week-long event with the Cremation of Care, a ceremony where the effigy of a child named “Dull Care” is mock sacrificed by men in red robes with pointed hoods and then put out in a burning boat on the lake.

Now when I finished senior Maths in high school, I did participate in a secret burning of class notes and text books with some equally numerically-challenged classmates, so I’m not entirely averse to the secret ceremony, but the robes do make it sound a little like a cheerier and wealthier Klan meeting.

Anyway, those Bohemians are a notoriously loyal bunch and I imagine that they happily turn a blind eye to the mediocrity of Walter D.K. Gibson’s stunning cocktail “achievement”, but I’m calling bullshit on the Gibson.

It may have cocktail onions, but it’s definitely a Martini.

And a weaving spider can’t change its spots.

Cheers!

 

 

*Huge and obvious downside of the ban on women ever working at camp is that the hardened hearts and arteries of the members couldn’t be softened by the melodic stylings of another Gibson – Debbie – and her Electric Youth promise of the 1980s. Certainly that’s what I recommend listening to as you sip your cold-prevention fluids.

 

 

Hanky Panky and Ridiculous Feuds

I have recently engaged in that most frustrating and futile of pastimes, arguing with someone on the internet.

And it all started with a cocktail.

Last week I had 24 hours to myself in London and was drawn, as though in a tractor beam, to The American Bar at The Savoy Hotel for a bit of Hanky Panky.

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, hey?

Not quite. The Hanky Panky was invented by one Ada Coleman.

Hanky Panky Savoy

Ada, or “Coley” as she was known (some nicknames startle with their originality and wit, some, not so much), was head bartender at The American Bar from 1903 to 1926.

Seems her Dad had been a steward at a golf course that Rupert D’Oyly Carte frequented and when he died, D’Oyly got her the job his fancy pants Savoy Hotel.

D’Oyly’s family produced Gilbert and Sullivan operas so there were lots of actors and acting types hanging about, the early-20th century equivalent of partying with Super-Models I guess.

A word here about The American Bar.

The Savoy’s isn’t the only American Bar in the world, possibly not even the only one in London. It used to be a term used widely to describe a bar that sold cocktails made in the American way, as opposed to a pub, which you would never want in anything other than an English way.

But The Savoy’s American Bar, really is The American Bar and in 2016 was named Europe’s Best Bar. Good job team.

American Bar Savoy 1

Anyway, Coley tended bar until 1926 when she was moved to the hotel’s flower shop. Not because she was off her game, but because Americans – who had given us all so much in their contribution to cocktails – fleeing their own oppressive alcohol-free regime in search of a decent cocktail, found themselves a little upset by the presence of a lady behind the bar.

Another crappy side-effect of Prohibition. Up until that point, roughly half of the bartending jobs in London were performed by women. Coley wasn’t even The Savoy’s only female bartender at the time

In our second ridiculous feud of this Hanky Panky post, Coley allegedly didn’t speak to her only female bartending colleague – Ruth Burgess – for twenty odd years and refused to share her cocktail recipes with her. Way to go on the supporting each other for success ladies.

Poor Ruth didn’t even get dispatched to the flower shop when ladies were moved out from behind the bar. She was just sacked. I guess her Dad didn’t know old Oily Cart and she’d just got there on her merits.

Sigh.

Anyway, Ruth and Ada were replaced by Harry Craddock who was the guy who really put the place on the map, writing The Savoy Cocktail Book which has influenced bartenders for generations.

Back to Coley. Setting the Ruth thing aside, by all reports she was a cracking bartender and The American Bar attracted a clientele that included Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Hawtrey, the stage actor and producer who mentored Noel Coward, and for whom the Hanky Panky was created.

And so to the Hanky-Panky. This, dear Readers, is not an IBA Official Cocktail so kind of doesn’t qualify for a Shake, Stir, Muddle One-for-the-Road-Test, but it is a damned fine cocktail and now sits in my personal Top 5.

I know. This is a BIG CALL.

But you should definitely try one.

It is Martini-ish, but Manhattan-esque. Negroni-like and The Last Word-y. As all really good cocktails though, it is like itself only and you could work your way through a dozen or more at The American Bar in search of its closest cousin and still declare that it doesn’t need to be like anything else, it is the distinctive Hanky Panky.

Please don’t order a dozen cocktails at The American Bar. Not only will you be unable to sashay down the stairs in the graceful manner of the stars who adorn the walls, but you will be out of pocket an eye-watering amount.

Bar plus stairs n stars

This is a cocktail experience to savour. It is good value, but not cheap.

And this is from whence my feud sprang.

I made a comment on a Facebook post regarding exactly how quiet good manners requires one to be in expressing one’s opinions about what the poor people should do to help themselves when one is approximately 22 years old and able to while away an afternoon sipping £20 cocktails at The Savoy, surrounded by one’s luxury-branded shopping bags.

My opinion is that one should be VERY quiet in said circumstances. That perhaps the staff at the bar – working, probably for somewhat less than your parents earn to support you in these leisurely afternoon endeavours – could be spared your views while they pleasantly and efficiently do their jobs.

Someone took exception to this (frankly, am still mystified by this) and I find myself engaged in that most 21st century of occupations, arguing on the Internet.

How does this happen? Was it the cocktail?

Fernet Branca definitely divides. It’s a bitter herbal Italian liqueur, 200px-fernetbrancathe recipe dating back to the mid-1800s.

It’s a very strong taste, not to everyone’s palate (I don’t love it straight but can see how one might grow to appreciate it more with practice).

It is also the cause of another excellent Ridiculous Feud.

Back in 1960, German-born actress Betsy Von Furstenburg (being her stage name – her real name was the absolutely marvellous Elizabeth Caroline Maria Agatha Felicitas Therese, Freiin von Fürstenberg-Herdringen) spiked co-star Tony Randall’s on-stage drink with Fernet Branca.

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Randall, clearly a bit of a Felix Unger in real life as well, assumed he was being poisoned with iodine and Betsy was apparently suspended from Actors Equity for time.

I have no idea why Randall would assume someone was trying to poison him when his drink tasted strange.

That aside, it wasn’t the Hanky-Panky’s fault, that was just Fernet Branca.

So we can’t blame the cocktail. For that, for my feud or Coley and Ruth’s.

Maybe the hotel?

You’d know The Savoy. It’s featured in many movies, including The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Entrapment and Notting Hill.

Interesting, in my cumulative 48 hours in London, I inadvertently went to three different places that people pointed out to me were used as locations for scenes from Notting Hill. I’m not sure doing a pilgrimage to the locations of a fun-but-hardly-brilliant 1999 Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant vehicle reflects well on me so let’s be clear that it was an accident, ok?*

(Although there is this clip which may PROVE MY POINT about keeping your obnoxious opinions quiet in public. Hmmm?)

Much cooler (cough) is to watch this 2011 Duran Duran clip for Girl Panic!

You’ve likely never heard Girl Panic! before but it sounds very much like they just remixed a bunch of bits of other Duran Duran songs from the 1980s so it feels comfortable and familiar (even for a rebellious soul like me who showed my non-conformity in the 1980s by wearing – wait for it – a badge that said “I Hate Duran Duran”. I was so counter-culture in my awkward mid-teens**).

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Apart from seeing the fancy rooms that we couldn’t afford at The Savoy, Girl Panic! has 1980s super-models playing the guys in the band (except Andy Taylor of course, because he left after a Ridiculous Feud), getting wasted and hanging out with super models, while the guys themselves play Savoy staff.

 

It’s so post-modern.

So, I didn’t know Andy Taylor had left the band, I had to Google who Yasmin Le Bon was playing and that’s how I found out that not only had A-Tay left, but that Roger Taylor, John Taylor and Andy Taylor weren’t brothers. They’re not even related.

Who knew?

INXS - March 1, 1988

Back before the internet, you had to buy expensive magazines to learn things like this, and growing up in Australia where we had INXS which not only featured a guy named Gary Garry Beers, but three Farris brothers, why would you question three guys in a hair band with the same surname being related?

You wouldn’t. You just wouldn’t.

spandau balletDuran Duran did have a ridiculous feud with a rival hair band from the 1980s, Spandau Ballet (featuring two guys named Kemp who were brothers).

This feud was apparently patched up the night before they recorded Do they know it’s Christmas? (watch it to see George smiling and Paul Weller looking super-bored) when the guys partied together.

And you know what they were drinking?

If you said Ada Coleman’s Hanky-Panky cocktails, you may well be right.

Probably not, I have no idea, but wouldn’t it be nice?

Cheers!

*Here. You can find them all here.

**I never hated Duran Duran. Adolescence is hard. May the ’80s Music Gods forgive me.

Sidecars and Salsa side-stepping

Cointreau advertising has led me astray before.

In the late 1980s when I donned my tight red pencil skirt and red jacket, and picked up a large phallic flashlight (which being Australian, I called a “torch”, but “phallic flashlight” has a much more pleasing alliteration) and kept the mean streets of Hoyts Regent safe during countless sessions of cinematic masterpieces such as Dirty Dancing, Licence to Drive and Kickboxer, Cointreau advertising was King.

Benson and Hedges advertising was joint King, so these were simpler, happier times, but Cointreau advertising promised me a life of elegant lounging in floor length gowns, sipping a certain brand of Triple Sec on the rocks with handsome men (one at a time) while Roxy Music’s Avalon played.

It all seemed very grown up, in a way that some 30 years later, I still don’t think I have attained.

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(Here is Hoyts Regent, now demolished. Because obviously, you’d hate to keep something like this when you could have a soulless multiplex and a brand new office building. Jerks).

I’m in London, writing this with a head cold, surrounded by a mountain of tissues and wanting my mother in the way the Cointreau advertising never alluded to.

So perhaps I should be suspicious of Cointreau advertising as the one source of truth (and potentially explore its possibilities as the one source of cold relief).

But thanks to Cointreau, never have I had an easier time in researching the history of a cocktail as the Sidecar.

In truth, it could have been invented in London or Paris and while we have agreement on the standard ingredients – Cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice – the proportions are contested.

But Dita Von Teese via Cointreau advertising tells me that the Sidecar was invented in Paris just post WW1 where a dashing lieutenant would arrive at a bar every night in a sidecar and order a tipple to ward off the cold. Cognac not quite strong enough yada yada yada, the rest is history.

That’ll do me.

It’s an easy one to make, but I’m learning that it isn’t an easy cocktail to make well. Firstly, you need to get your proportions sorted, something that calls for experimentation.

The English version calls for proportions of 2:1:1, the French versions variously 1:1:1, 3:2:2 or 8:2:1.

Around 1934, we start seeing mentions of the cocktail requiring a sugared rim, something I don’t love.

If it’s done with granulated sugar, that’s a very sweet advance party for any cocktail. If it’s done with a sugar syrup, it has the unfortunate visual effect of toothpaste.

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I’ve ordered Sidecars at four different bars in four countries (that’s dedication folks), and tried to make it at home and here’s what I’ve learned.

  1. Most bartenders will need to Google it first (that’s ok, this entire blog is powered by Google research)
  2. The better the raw ingredients, the better the Sidecar (Robert Simonson says that the Sidecar is “a drink that knows a diamond from a rhinestone” – I have found this to be true, you want good Cognac, Cointreau or another premium brand of Triple Sec and fresh, well-strained lemon juice)
  3. My favourite Sidecar is not a Sidecar at all, rather a variation on it from London’s The Blind Pig where handsome and clever bartender Gio (who did not need to Google anything in the hour I sat at the bar and watched him work) served up a variation of the Sidecar – the Lime Leaf Side Car made from Martell VS cognac, kaffir lime leaf, lime, honey and egg white. Delicious, and you can see its Sidecar roots, but it ain’t really a Sidecar.

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And 4? Anything called a Gin Sidecar – gin, triple sec and lemon juice – is an entirely different cocktail – it’s on the IBA Official List as White Lady, a cousin of the Sidecar, but not a Sidecar. So please, let’s stop that practice immediately.

The Sidecar’s pedigree makes it easy to find in movies.

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In the wonderful Mame, the morning after a big party, Aunty Mame, tells Patrick to “run along to Ito and tell him to bring me a light breakfast, black coffee and a Sidecar”.

Not only does she have a butler named Ito, Mame has no qualms about co-opting a child into fetching her drinks. These are the sorts of behaviours that will find you frowned upon by parenting websites, but we’ve all been there and who are we to judge another’s parenting styles?

You’ll also find Sidecars featured in The Bonfire of the Vanities, where Arthur Ruskin declares that he loves a Sidecar and then drops dead after consuming several. Caveat Bibitor “Let the Drinker Beware” (and big thanks to Google for my Latin studies).

But these are both movies we have covered in Shake, Stir, Muddle already – Mame for her stellar coaching of young Patrick in the delicate art of martini making, and Bonfire for the reference to The Bronx which used to be a scary place for wealthy white people but is now a happy hunting ground for affordable real estate as well as being the name of a fine, Vitamin C-bearing cocktail.

16148So if you’re looking for a cocktail partner for the Sidecar, I’d go with 1982’s Evil Under the Sun, based on the Agatha Christie novel, where Maggie Smith, playing the fabulous Daphne Castle, offers Peter Ustinov’s Hercule Poirot his choice of a White Lady, a Sidecar, a Mainbrace (a White Lady with grapefruit juice instead of lemon juice) or a Between the Sheets (which is a Sidecar with added white rum).

Poirot rejects them all and asks for a Crème de Cassis or a sirop de banana and I have zero words for this man and his appalling taste.

Zero.

Speaking of taste, if you are ever given a chance to visit the site of my first White Lady, you MUST.

The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo may call a White Lady a Gin Sidecar (and truth be told, may be a little light-handed on the gin), but it is truly a place that dreams are made of.

Declaring that any idiot can design a single hotel room and roll out the same décor across a hotel, some 60 years ago the visionary Alex Madonna and his wife Phyllis started a hotel in southern California that has 110 rooms and suites, each one of them different.

And each an extraordinary visual assault.

We checked into the Austrian Suite – some 76 feet from one wall to the other – and immediately felt the urge to swan about my overnight Archduchy yodelling and eating strudel. I imagine if fate had put us in the Caveman room, I’d have been Yabba Dabba Doo-ing, and the Western Room would likely have seen me endlessly quoting lines from the movies of the man who used to be a beef partner with Alex Madonna, one John Wayne.

The dining room – and the neighbouring café which ran a fine line in strudel – is what my four year old daughter would like our house to look like. The ceiling is festooned with pink flowers – not painted ones, giant cascading 3D objects like decorations for the world’s most privileged high school’s Spring Dance – and cherubs on swings. No can of gold paint between Los Angeles and San Francisco could consider itself safe.

Madonna montage

I pulled on the fanciest gear my road-trip wardrobe could support and did sip a Cointreau cocktail under this inverted wedding cake with a handsome man in a grown up fashion. It wasn’t Roxy Music, but Salsa, because Tuesdays are Salsa Night and the Madonna Inn throws its doors open to the local Salsa Club. They fill the floor with jeans and sneakers (a la Jerry Seinfeld, not Victoria Beckham) and enviable hip-swinging side-stepping moves that show that sexy exists outside Cointreau advertising after all.

Just as well.

Cheers.

 

 

A little ditty about Sazeracs and Diane

In 1987, at the beginning of the waitressing career that is possibly my true calling, I started working at New Orleans.

Not Louisiana.

New Orleans, Brisbane.

Tucked away in the back of a shopping centre on Queen Street Mall, New Orleans was essentially a fancy food court with a liquor licence. But in Brisbane, in those heady days when KFC was Kentucky Fried Chicken, and a hairdresser was Brisbane’s biggest celebrity, New Orleans was revolutionary.

I had an apron and a boater and some of those arm garter things. I looked a little like a 200px-homers_barbershop_quartetyoung and sassy tray-totin’ barber shop quartet mascot.

Beyond being called New Orleans and occasionally piping jazz through the PA, there was nothing particularly Big Easy-ish about this place. Demand was higher for Sweet and Sour Pork and local beer than for Gumbo and Sazeracs, the cocktail created in the real New Orleans, Louisiana (aka NOLA) around 1850.

Not once did I take an order for this fine old cocktail.

The Sazerac cocktail took its name from a brand of cognac that was popular in the USA until the Great French Wine Blight of the mid-1800s made it harder to come by.

Nowadays you will find it more frequently made with the rye whiskey that they swapped to when the cognac ran dry, but if you want the original, clearly you go for cognac. But either works well.

There’s a bit of simple but impressive-looking bartendery stuff in making it, so it’s a fantastic one for whipping up at home and having your guests ooh and aah at your skills and sophistication.

Wash the inside of an Old Fashioned glass with a small amount of Absinthe, fill it with ice and let the two sit in one another’s company for a while. Then up-end the glass with a flourish (or not), leaving just a coating of Absinthe. Place a sugar cube in the bottom of the glass and add a few drops of Peychaud’s Bitters.

Peychaud’s is one of the few aromatic bitters brands that existed before Prohibition. It’s an acquired taste, spicier and more peppery in flavour than Angostura. That it still exists is thanks solely to private social clubs which held fast to traditional NOLA cocktails requiring Peychaud’s.

(One of the theories behind the nickname The Big Easy is that it was easy to get hold of outlawed booze during Prohibition there, because virtually no effort was made to enforce the Federal ban. Which I like).

Over the top of your Peychaud’s you add your cognac or rye whiskey. Some recipes say rocks, some say straight up. Your choice.

Then drink it Freddy.Sazeracs and fixings

You won’t find an enormous number of references to the Sazerac in popular culture, although it did appear in Roger Moore’s first outing as James Bond in 1973’s Live and Let Die.

Moore was the fourth actor to play Bond (after Lazenby, Niven and Connery*) and did so over 12 ridiculous years and 7 ridiculous films. It is high camp James Bond era and I loved it, especially that apex of absurdity, Moonraker.

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Moore holds the record for being the oldest actor to play Bond for the first time – a ripe old 45 when he made Live and Let Die.

Of course his love interests in the movie were aged 22 and 24 years old. Because Hollywood.

The other movie where you’ll find a bunch of Sazeracs is State of the Union, a Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy vehicle that involved a man’s run for the Republican Presidential nomination and the ultimate realisation that his values and the respect of a smart woman were more important to him than power.

Hepburn downs many Sazeracs and we all fall a little more in love with her and watch and hope for old Spence to grab her by the pussy in the fine tradition of Presidential candidates.

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Classic offerings both, but a fraction of the number of a cinematic features of the Sazerac’s IBA The Unforgettables stablemates like the Martini, Manhattan, Old Fashioned or Daiquiri. The reason for this, I suspect, is the great Absinthe ban that occurred in the USA from 1912 to 2007.

Absinthe was invented in Switzerland in 1792 by a man who, based on his mild-mannered alias, I suspect to have been an early Marvel superhero . Step forward Dr Pierre Ordinaire!

Our man Pete Ordinary, came up with an all-purpose remedy that was given to French troops as an anti-malarial in the 1840s. Everybody loved it and 5pm became known as The Green Hour (l’heure verte).

absinthefairyandglassBut then, because some people never know when enough is enough, the party was cancelled for everyone.

Absinthe is a heavy-duty spirit, no doubt about it. It has a very high alcohol content – 55 – 75%, compared with whisky’s 40% – which makes it 110 to 150 proof.

So yes, it is serious and should be diluted kids.

There is a technical term for what happens to the body when one has too much Absinthe.

It is known as getting “shit-faced”.

This condition does indeed impair one’s judgement.  But can occur with any alcoholic substance taken in excess.

Back in less-enlightened times though the green fairy was considered to be the root cause of both homosexuality and multiple-homicides and Absinthe was banned in the USA, Switzerland and a bunch of other places.

It’s back though and yea verily we no longer need to have our Sazeracs made with tumblr_n1av8ytqvq1sbdlmjo1_1280Herbsaint. We can have the damned Absinthe. And we can choose the damned rye whiskey or the damned cognac in our damned Sazeracs.

New Orleans Brisbane has long gone (a passing few would mourn I suspect) so we can’t test whether the cocktail is on higher rotation there (although Brisbane does now have its own Sazerac Bar with a proper – albeit rye – Sazerac recipe on the menu – so things have definitely changed in 30 years).

You could go to NOLA – where The Sazerac Bar at The Roosevelt Hotel serves up tens of thousands of Sazeracs each year, making it, I suspect, about an intimate a cocktail experience as a Singapore Sling at Raffles or a Daiquiri at La Floridita.

Or you can make this fine old cocktail a welcome addition to your domestic cocktail hour. Whip one up at home for a friend and enjoy your own l’heure verte.

Cheers!

 

cilentofamilysmall*You may be wondering about the Diane referred to in the title? James Bond #1 Sean Connery was married to one Diane Cilento who was born and died in Queensland and who, in all likelihood, never once visited the New Orleans restaurant in Brisbane.

A Salute to our cocktailing Forebears

Noosa cocktails

Dear Muddlers

This month marks the 100th anniversary of something very close to our collective warm hearts.

Head on over to Vocal.Media HERE where you’ll find a brief piece I wrote on the very first cocktail party and how we should be gearing up to mark that auspicious occasion (Hint: it may involve some of us having a cocktail. Or two).

I’ll be back here next week with another cocktail review, the field research for which may once have landed me in jail.

Cheers!

 

 

French 75: brave choices

Given this week has seen the first round of voting in the French Presidential election, some may accuse me of having jumped gun two weeks ago when I ran with the only cocktail that combines France and politicians.

Fear not, dear Reader, this week we are back to France for another IBA Contemporary Classic, the French 75.

Like most cocktails, its history is disputed.

My favourite theory involves a World War I flying ace named Gervais Raoul Lufbery.

Snoopy flying ace

Now, if you thought that “Flying Ace” was a term used only by Snoopy, you are wrong (although in good company…), but it refers to a military aviator credited with shooting down several enemy aircraft in combat – usually 5 is the qualifying number to become an ace.

 

So Lufbery. He was French, then American, and flew for both countries.

He also had two pet lions – Whiskey and Soda. Soda would try to maul anyone other than Lufbery who came near her.

 

I  like to think of him as a French accented Lord Flashheart, played by the late, great Rik Mayall in Blackadder.

 

Twenty minutes or not, there was a fairly high mortality rate amongst WWI combat pilots so I have no doubt Lufbery would have had a sense of urgency about all he drank.

So it seems entirely plausible that a high-flyin, lion-ownin’ ace might come in from a mission needing a stiff drink and demand that he be given something a little stronger than champagne.

Chuck in some cognac, lemon juice, sugar syrup and shake it up and top up with champagne.

Hey presto, French 75 – named after the 75mm Howitzer field gun used by the French and Americans in WWI.

Lufbery died at age 33 in May 1918 – details are conflicting but it seems he may have unbuckled his seat belt to allow him to fix something on his plane mid-air and then fell out. He may have survived but for the fact he was impaled on a metal fence. Gruesome.

So I’m giving the cocktail to Lufbery.

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The original recipe anyway. The IBA recipe calls for gin instead of cognac.

A gin variation may indeed pre-date Lufbery’s efforts, with Charles Dickens being known to serve guests gin and a Champagne Cup back as far back as 1867. The Champagne Cup was made up of sugar, citrus and champagne.

But it wasn’t called the French 75, so again we can reward our flying ace.

French 75 CognacFrench 75 Gin

Our panel One-for-the-Road-tested both and I can report that each has its merits.

Sacrilegious though it may seem, you could substitute a decent sparkling wine for the champagne with any significant diminution of the end product too.

While it deserves greater fame, the French 75 doesn’t show up much in popular culture.

However, it is one of only two cocktails mentioned by name in 1942 film Casablanca (and if you want to read the article that argues, successfully in my view, that this is the greatest movie about a cocktail bar ever made – read THIS FABULOUS PIECE from Josh Stein at eater.com. He does give the cocktail to bartender Harry McElhone but I don’t think Harry had any lions so clearly Lufbery is a better tale).

So, Casablanca.

Yvonne, after being rejected and then cut-off (booze-wise) by former lover and bar owner Rick, shows up with her new Nazi boyfriend and they order French 75s.

And then there’s a fight.

That Rick himself refers to his bar as a “gin joint” may lead us to assume that it was the gin version that gets served up, but it isn’t actually specified (and much cognac is drunk so it could quite easily have been the Lufbery Variation).

Yvonne’s role is small but important.

After seeking warmth in the arms of a Nazi, when she hears La Marseillaise, she jumps to her feet, singing and crying, calling out Viva La France! in the final bars. It is a brilliantly complex scene that captures so much of the moral difficulties that faced people in WWII.

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Remember that Casablanca when written, produced and released by 1942, so they didn’t yet have the benefit of history to tell them how this whole shebang was going to play out.

Actress Madeleine Lebeau who played Yvonne died last year May 1, aged 92. She was the last surviving cast member.

Lebeau was born in France and escaped to USA with her Jewish husband when they saw things going rapidly south. Upon arrival, she found she had been sold a dodgy visa and had to go to Canada on a bridging visa before making her way to Hollywood.

She was a refugee, as were many of the actors in the bar scenes in Ccasablanca-marketasablanca.

If you haven’t seen it, I’m not going to spoil it by telling you that it’s about trying to get out of warzones and people in very stylish clothes facing moral dilemmas about jeopardising their own interests and safety to protect others.

This film, made so many years ago, has echoes of a great new film by Director and Writer David Roach, The Surgeon and the Soldier, about Dr Munjed Al Muderis. (You can watch it for free HERE).

Al Muderis fled Iraq after being directed – at gunpoint – to mutilate people or face his own death.

He paid an Indonesian people smuggler to get him across the seas in a small boat and was put in a modern Government-run concentration camp (officially named “Immigration Reception and Processing Centres”) and referred to as “982” for 10 months before being allowed to live in Australia.

4-01-2016_2-39-27_pmOnce he got released into the general community, 982 set about subversive activities such as paying income tax and pioneering osseointegration surgery which is allowing amputees – particularly returned British service personnel – to walk again.

This made Prince Harry visit Australia, so we’ll chalk Dr Munjed Al Muderis up as a “good Aussie” then hey?

I’m a cocktail writer, I don’t claim to have the answers to complex policy issues and am somewhat persuaded by moves that will dissuade desperate people from attempting dangerous journeys where so many have died, but for fuck’s sake, can we not call people by their NAMES when they are in our protection? Can we not assume that they are good, desperate people who need safe haven, rather than assuming they are a lower form of life?

Due process with humanity anyone?

But Yvonne.

I don’t who I would have been in WWII.

I would love to think I would be the brave and clear-eyed Victor Laszlo, or even the casa_stairscynical Rick Blaine, but I suspect most of us would have been Yvonne.

Yvonne who was scared and likely under-estimating the situation the world was in, but when the moment presented, we’d probably rise to our feet in solidarity and sing passionately and mean it with every part of our beings, but we’d need a Victor or a Munjed to show us the way.

 

And bloody hell, wouldn’t we need a strong drink after that?

Well with a big merci beaucoup to Major Lufbery, we have exactly the right cocktail.

Viva la Soixante Quinze!

 

 

 

Kir – Royale and otherwise

I’m in the USA at the moment. California to be precise.

This means that there are two things constantly on my mind – Donald Trump and coffee.

I am pleased to be able to report that arriving at Tom Bradley International Terminal of LAX did not see me having to look at a picture of a grinning Trump after 14 hours of flying, seems they are in no rush replace the picture of Barack that replaced the picture of W that replaced the picture of Bill.

I wonder why.

The airport is named after Tom Bradley who was Mayor of LA for 20 years.

Bradley was the grandson of a slave, joined Council aged 45 in 1963, being the “first negro elected to Council”. He became Mayor on his second attempt in 1973, the city’s first and to date, only African-American Mayor.

In 1979, Bradley signed the city’s first homosexual rights bill and in 1985 the AIDS anti-discrimination bill which was possibly the first of its kind. So quite the legacy then.

Hence he gets an airport named after him. Fair enough.

It may surprise you to learn that the coffee you can find on the ground at Tom Bradley International is not spectacular. As an Australian, I am required by law to walk around loudly finding fault with the coffee in every other part of the world, especially the USA.

That the influx of Australian baristas to the USA is making it more and more easy to find coffee exactly like you have it every day at work (and isn’t that just the point of international travel?), threatens this national pastime and point of moral superiority so enjoy it while you can.

Melbournians particularly will find this challenging. They take coffee very seriously, and suffered some sort of moderate city-wide seizure when Lord Mayor Robert Doyle outed himself as a tea drinker a few years back.

(Just so you know, you only find Lord Mayors in Australia, Canada, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and surprisingly, the Republic of Ireland and Uganda).

So what will they name after Doyle? It’s going to be tricky.

Perhaps he could hope for a cocktail.

There is an IBA cocktail named after a Mayor – Felix Kir of Dijon, France.

Kir Royale calls for champagne and crème de cassis – a blackcurrant liqueur favoured by Hercule Poirot.  The Kir for white wine and crème de cassis.

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Pour one part crème de cassis into the bottom of a champagne flute and then add nine parts champagne. Facile.

I’m in two minds about the wine-based cocktail. Seems too close to a wine-cooler to actually qualify as a cocktail, and absolutely ripe for an unscrupulous bartender to rip you off by substituting sparkling wine for champagne (which is called a Kir Pétillant and should be priced accordingly). But that’s why we need to cover it.

Cocktailing is not without risks.

Fortunately the tending of bar is a generally honourable profession, you’ll rarely find them on a list of least-trusted jobs. Politicians though, they don’t fare so well in the public trust stakes.

Tonight I lay my head to rest in a hotel that served as inspiration for The Overlook in The Shining. It used to be called The Ahwahnee – had been called that since it opened in 1927, but now has to be called The Majestic Yosemite Hotel.

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That’s because of a massive tantrum being played out in the Courts by the former operator of the hotel.

When they didn’t get their contract renewed, said company apparently mounted a legal argument that they own a whole lot of names in the park, including Ahwahnee – which, by the way is a Native American Indian word meaning (as near as I can make it) “large mouth” which referred to the valley floor.

 

For clarity, this name was around long before said company took over the operations in 1993.

To be fair, it appears they were legally correct so they get to keep the name. Good on you guys, always go for being legally correct over being morally correct, because that’s the way to win hearts and minds. Dickheads.

And in this era of peaceful resistance, I want them to know that I have called this hotel nothing but Ahwahnee (ok, there may have been an occasional Wa Wa Nee thrown in) since we arrived.

That’s called stickin’ it to the man!

But in this most magnificent of buildings in this most magnificent of National Parks, I ordered a Kir Royale.

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It is pink and pretty and far too sweet for my taste. I’ll take a champagne over a Kir Royale.

But I sit and sip and consider that actually, a politician created the drink in my hand and the National Park in which I am sitting.

Felix was Mayor for a long time, and was famous for serving up the cocktail at civic events. The reason for this – the official reason anyway – was that the crème de cassis was locally produced and Felix took the opportunity to showcase it whenever possible.

Felix was once a priest and a resistance fighter and also used his position to champion the Sister-City movement. Sister-cities have been around for centuries, but Felix saw it as an important initiative for rebuilding links damaged or destroyed by WWII.

Often you’ll find Sister City pairings where there is a reasonably obvious link – like Orange NSW and Orange County, California.

Or, my favourite, Dull, Scotland and its Sister City, Boring, in Oregon.

But Dijon – where someone thought of mixing mustard with verjuice instead of vinegar (great work guys, I’m a big fan) – has 14 sister cities, none of which make a whole lot of sense to me on superficial glance.

But a good politician – the ones we like to call “leaders” – will do useful things, even when it isn’t immediately apparent to a cocktail writer on the other side of the world.

Like Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, the Presidents we can thank for National Parks and the the National Parks Service of the USA which continues to make these extraordinary places accessible to the people. That’s a great legacy.

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We can’t all create the National Parks Service, but sometimes great leadership is just about making sure the work that someone else has done doesn’t get fucked up on your watch.

And we raise our glasses in hope and trepidation and watch the clock count down the days…

Cheers!