Monthly Archives: December 2015

Pour the lady a whisky

As someone whose name is routinely spelled with an extra “e”, I’m conscious of correct spelling of names. Animate and inanimate.

And so it is with whisky. Is there an “e” in it or not?

The answer is yes.

Back in early 1980s Br909079-sir-joh-bjelke-petersenisbane, family from overseas would come through the arrivals gate at the tin shed that served as Brisbane Airport and present a bottle.

Duty Free Scotch. Usually Glenfiddich. I had no idea what it was, but it wasn’t a time or place likely to be remembered for its sophistication. So any bottle that had to be hand-delivered internationally must have been exotic.cq5dam-web-1280-1280

It was never referred to as “whisky” and it took me some years to work out that Scotch actually is whisky. Even longer to work out that whisky ain’t always Scotch.

And then the two spellings, and this time it isn’t just the Americans playing funny buggers with the language.

So here we go. “Whisky” generally comes from Scotland, Australia, Japan or Canada.

“Whiskey” is generally from Ireland and the USA. I say generally, because Makers Mark and George Dickel, both of which hail from the USA, opt to drop the E.

A helpful way to remember it is that countries that have an E in their names, have an E in their whiskey. Generally. Everything goes to hell with this system now with the Kiwis making whisky from the Scottish-influenced South Island, but generally.

E or no E, like a martini, it seemed to me a drink for grown-ups.540

It also seemed likely to be a critical element in my chosen career. Back then, I was going to be a journalist, and had shaped my career aspirations from two sources; the Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter books, and the countless movies where hard-bitten but scrupulous journos would down a few belts after work and GET THE SCOOP.

Since my uncle didn’t own a newspaper like that prissy Sally Baxter’s did, clearly the booze was going to be of major importance to me.

But the news-hounds portrayed in the movies were mostly men. There are plenty of movies where you see anchorman-scotchmale journos confidently downing whisky but not enough Tess Hardings.

Katharine Hepburn played Tess Harding, Foreign Correspondent in the 1942 film, “Woman of the Year”. She played opposite Spencer Tracy for the first time in this film and kindled their journalistic romance over a couple of scotches in THIS CLIP. Being a young romantic, I thought it a portrayal of a wonderful marriage of hearts and minds and wanted a relationship just like it.

And when you consider that there were 26 states in the whiskey-with-an-e USA where women were legally prevented from being bartenders until well into the 1970s, is pretty amazing (Wall Street Journal covers this here). Possibly too amazing for some.

woman-of-the-year-1942Of course Sam tired of Tess’ brilliance and second-fiddling to her career and the whole marriage was imperilled until she donned an apron. He redeems himself somewhat by not letting her give the whole thing away, but it was definitely happier in the early scotch-drinking days (and given KH was dating Director George Stevens when production started and dating ST when production ended, maybe the apron thing was Stevens’ parting gift to her).

Five decades later the entire plot was lifted and bastardised for Up Close & Personal. If you managed to miss it, it’s a Michelle Pfeiffer offering of similar quality to Tequila Sunrise and also involving kissing in the ocean and THIS song which features orange lipstick and many shots of news-hounds at work and play.

MP plays the absurdly-named Tally Atwater, a television journalist who apparently “eats the camera”, sports a revolving door of hairstyles and endures no end of man problems with another genetically-blessed serious media type, Robert Redford.2f8a7199c499efa61995c303190280f4

I won’t be ruining anything for you by telling you that Robert Redford’s character – Warren JUSTICE – was killed off before he could demand that Tally stop being so damned successful and get back into his shadow.

But Tally Atwater is more Rita Hanson than Tess Harding which is not a good thing. Probably another goddamned vermouth drinker.

But Katharine Hepburn, now there’s a woman.

35And when I finished high school, in one of those things that seem so important at the time but
within about three weeks had faded into complete irrelevance, I was given a Katharine Hepburn book as a prize for Speech and Drama. Kismet. I would follow her into journalism.

Except I didn’t. Didn’t get the marks for bloody journalism, did I?

But I did get the book.

So I know that KH was born in Hartford Connecticut which 80’s girls will remember featured heavily in Sweet Dreams books and which you likely won’t know is considered the world insurance capital. Take that Paris!

But Hartford is a helluva town, especially for lovers of reading and writing.

Amongst notables from Hartford are Mark Twain (author of Huckleberry Finn) and Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of influential abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and reportedly the woman to whom Civil War President Abraham Lincoln said “so you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war”). Two books Tess Harding specifically (and a little pretentiously) mentions to Sam Craig during the scotch-drinking courtship.

I suspect there’s a lot about this movie that was meaningful to Katharine Hepburn. As well as meeting the love of her life (who regrettably may have been a bit of a dinosaury-shit in reality), her character paid tribute to her aunt, Ellen Whitcomb, a real mover and shaker in the feminist movement.

Like Katharine Hepburn’s mother – Katharine Martha Houghton Hepburn. Not only did KMHH host bad-arse women’s suffrage leader Emmaline Pankhurst on her USA visit, she founded the organisation that would become Planned Parenthood. And if ever there’s been an incontrovertibly good idea, it’s that becoming a parent – or not – is better if done as part of a PLAN.

So hats off and thanks to you, Katharine Martha Houghton Hepburn. Especially on behalf of girls who like a drink.

Because according to movies of the recent decades, if you’re of the fairer sex and drink whisky, expect to find yourself in trouble.

Like wild-girl Rizzo, who Drive-In scuttle-butt said had a bun in the oven.rizzo Fortunately it’s a false alarm for Rizzo so no need for any tough decisions before we Chang chang changitty chang shoobop. Phew.

Betty Rizzo was played by the kick-arse Stockard Channing (although soon to be distressingly recreated by High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens).

Channing’s acting credits are long and include journalist Marcia McGrath, a part written by another Hartford local, one John Gregory Dunne.

JGD was, for some 40 years before he dropped dead with a Scotch in his hand, the husband of writer and journalist Joan Didion, who inspired generations of writers – and not only because of how impossibly cool she Joan Didionlooks in this photo, but because of the beauty of her prose.

Like Katharine, Joan has inspired me as a writer and as a woman. Her coolness knows no bounds, and at age 80 was named the face of the Spring 2015 Celine collection. What a kick-arse – if underweight – woman.


And yet, no one is perfect.

See, Didion and Dunne – another marriage of hearts and minds – collaborated to write the screenplay for a movie that would feature a song sung by another Celine. Yep, Up Close & Personal.

I need a scotch.



PS In one of those lovely quirks of fate, when I looked at the
bookplate in my Katharine Hepburn book for the first time in over a decade, I found this. An extra E.Book plate.jpg

Well played Universe.

Beware the perfect martini


After Office Hours w caption.jpgI ordered my first martini when I was 17. It was in a bar in Potts Point, and I had taken the overnight bus from Brisbane to see Cats: The Musical with my friend Steven who had organised a hotel for us in Kings Cross.

I was fully expecting to be murdered in my red organza formal dress at any moment in this huge, scary metropolis but on a post-Jellicle Cats high, followed Steven into the bar and ordered what I thought sophisticated people in big cities order. A martini.

The questions followed. What sort of martini? How did I want it? I had no idea but a martini was produced and what seemed like an enormous sum of money was exchanged.Cats Sydney 1987 w caption
I hated it.

Of course I did.

Island Cooler had been my drink of choice until then.

Close to three decades later and I still think a martini is the height of sophistication. Every time I get one in my hand, there is a little of the excitement of the world of drinking that had beckoned to me from television as a child. The martini is not a drink for girls, it is a drink for women.

aaawatch5Women like Mae West and Rosalind Russell.

Women like Dorothy Parker, who was widely (and I will reluctantly admit, probably wrongly) attributed for saying;

“I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.”

Women like the one I’ve always wanted to be.

Now I know exactly how to order a martini. A gin martini, very dry, wmame11ith an olive (but I’m secretly hoping for two). I would be very happy with a bartender who followed the example of young Patrick Dennis in this great clip from 1958’s Aunty Mame. This scene was set in 1928, when the fashion was for a ratio of two parts gin to one part vermouth, so Patrick was way ahead of his time.

I’ll state for the record that I do not believe there is any place for vodka in a martini. Let’s blame James Bond for starting this ridiculous trend in 1962 with Dr No where he ordered a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred. We’ll examine the shaking/stirring debate here at some stage and will try the Vesper Martini (gin AND vodka – gasp!), but to my mind, a martini has GIN.

And so why not try the martinis on offer at some of Wellington’s best bars?

If you haven’t caught up on recent marketing campaigns, New Zealand’s Wellington is pushed as the “coolest little Capital”. It promises a lot, and delivers. The question as to why Behind Bars is starting with Wellington is three-fold; it’s got a lot of great bars, they’re close together, and most importantly, my mother lives there and can look after the children during important field testing.croppedimage1136665-wellington-city-dawn-homepagelanding-dillon-anderson

So we tried three of Wellington’s many fine cocktail bars, places known for having serious bartenders who can mix a serious cocktail. Matterhorn (my favourite bar in the Southern Hemisphere and worthy of its own post, if only to cover their selection of 19 fine gins from around the world and matched tonic waters, or their Saffron Gin and Rhubarb Negroni or their bar snack felafels), The Library and Hummingbird. By wonderful cosmic coincidence, when we entered Hummingbird near midnight – our last bar for the night – THIS was the song playing. While a strange and perhaps not terribly good choice for a DJ in 2015, it was the last song that was played at my high school formal. Instead of the romantic slow song we were all hoping for to accompany the final pressing of our formal-clad genital regions together, the bright lights came up and John Denver sang of his delight of piggies in his bed and much teenage ardour was doused (albeit temporarily) by some canny educators. But I had worn my red dress, the same one I wore the first time I ordered a martini, so it was with confidence that I climbed onto one of Hummingbird’s high bar-stools and ordered a martini. A good omen, I thought.

And it was. A bearded bartender whose name I didn’t get, but since he was handsome and Canadian, we’ll call Justin, nodded his understanding and set about making the martini. If pressed, I’d have to reluctantly admit that Hummingbird was my least favourite bar of the night (by a whisker – a John Denver-shaped whisker), but bearded Canadian Justin is a master martini maker. Not only because he presented an offering with THREE olives (and explaining that it needs to be an odd number, something I now intend to embrace), but because he adopted the less-is-very-much-more approach to Vermouth. Justin poured a slug of vermouth into the glass, swirled it around and then tipped it onto the bar-room floor, flicking the glass dramatically to ensure only the merest coating remained. Genius.

A word here about Vermouth.french-vermouth

Firstly, it’s a fortified wine and you should keep it in the fridge. It’s an aperitif, which means it is designed to be consumed before meals to stimulate the appetite. You can read everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Vermouth here, but the important thing to know is that it comes from Italy (for brands like Cinzano) or France (for my personal choice, Noilly Prat, which I have no idea how to pronounce).

The other thing about vermouth is that Rita Hanson from Groundhog Day used to drink it. She’d order “sweet vermouth on the rocks, with a twist.” If, like me, you love this 1993 movie but could never understand how Phil Connors could fall for Andie MacDowell’s supercilious sap Rita, this drink order (here) just nails her as an INAPPROPRIATE LIFE PARTNER for Phil.

I hope they broke up immediately after leaving PunRita realisesxsutawney. I don’t like to be judgmental (ok, yes I do), but no one needs to drink vermouth like that.

And no one needs much for martini perfection. Just take a glass full of ice cold gin and follow Churchill’s lead, bowing in the direction of France (or Italy if you prefer).

This is where the pursuit of the perfect martini gets dangerous. See a martini that’s “perfect” actually implies a specific recipe. And when offered a perfect martini at Wellington’s very groovy, lounge-chairs-like-your-Nanna’s-and-wall-to-wall-books bar, The Library, I jumped at it, only to realise that I didn’t know what that means. A “perfect” martini has equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. Rita Hanson wouldn’t drink it, it isn’t that sweet, but I’ll know better than to order a perfect martini again.martini

But that wasn’t The Library’s fault, that was ignorance – hopefully a life mistake you can learn from me rather than needing to make it yourself.

Don’t say I never do anything for you.




PS Two weeks to Christmas and I’ll be trying to find a Christmas-themed cocktail to One-for-the-Road-Test that wouldn’t be sweet enough for Rita Hanson but does fit the festive bill.






Tequila Sunrise: Dawn of a disappointing drink?


So yesterday, Shake, Stir, Muddle launched with the very first One for the Road-Test – an amateur but enthusiastic home bartender’s crack at a classic cocktail. The Tequila Sunrise.

There is a painful extended metaphor here about the sunrise of this blog, the dawn of a new life in bringing together SSM’s great loves – writing, travel and booze – but like many things Tequila Sunrise, this is probably best avoided.

Take for instance The Eagles’ unwelcome ear-worm (you know you want to…) or the execrable 1988 Michelle Pfeiffer/post-mullet Mel Gibson/Kurt Russell offering of the same name which made a very 8d128e993344638414db5e54790c1d7eoriginal story-line link between drug trafficking and Tequila because you know, Hollywood loves a lazy racist cliché (so you don’t have to bother watching the whole movie, look at this photo – once you know Leo is a cop and Mel an ex-drug dealer trying to go straight for the sake of his son, this love triangle pretty much covers it all).

To be fair, it was the 1980s, an era not exactly known for fine movie making (with the notable exception of pretty much everything from John Hughes – all 23 of them ranked from worst to best here for real Gen X controversy).

But is the cocktail a different story?

I don’t love a sweet cocktail and I’m more a scotch fan than tequila, but it was a particularly good travel experience that led me to pondering the history of the Tequila Sunrise. So all in the name of research, this blog is born.

Here’s what we know; the Tequila Sunrise was not invented in Mexico. There are currently two claimants on the dawn of the sunrise – in Arizona (coincidentally the same state in which John Hughes briefly attended University), and in Sausalito, California.

National Geographic blogger Jeff Burkhart did a great job of assessing the two claims in 2012 (here) and seems to come down on the side of California, but the birth of the question for me rose at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

Wander into this Art Deco beauty and you’ll be as keen as I was to believe their claims. Join a Biltmore History Tour and you’ll hear a lot of forgettable stats about square footage of ballroom space, but you’ll also get a few gems to keep. About honeymooning actors who became PresidentsIMG_1486, about bungled Prohibition raids and Marilyn’s preferred swimming pool. You’ll hear about Irving Berlin writing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” by the Catalina Pool, and about a cocktail with a famous name. And you’ll want it all to be true.

And when you’re in a bar, surely wanting something to be true is true enough?

So, yes. The Biltmore. In brief, this is one of my favourite hotels in the world, and I would go back to Phoenix in a heartbeat. Frank Lloyd Wright (who had very little to do with the design of the Biltmore but whIMG_1414ose influence is evident everywhere) established his winter residence, Taliesin West, in Phoenix, inspired by the colours of the desert.

And we think we know heat in Australia but go to Arizona and you’ll learn that a couple of 40 degree plus days a year in summer do not a swallow make. Or something like that.

The Biltmore is the opposite of those hotels that we all stay in sometimes, comforting ourselves that we only go to our cell-size room to sleep anyway. At the Biltmore you want to make time to lounge around. You want to trIMG_1265.JPGy the restaurants (Wright’s – where dinner is followed by a plate of green fairy floss the size of a human head,  and where they have a single bottle of Australian wine – Grange Hermitage – on the wine-list for a pretty good price. Not a good enough price for me to buy it, but remarkable anyway) and Wright’s Bar. I’d suggest you probably don’t need to spring for the extra to stay in the Ocatilla Wing though, although they do kick in a “free” breakfast and a couple of wines before dinner.

But quick, let’s get back to the bar.

The Wright’s Bar menu has both recipes – The Classic and The Biltmore Original – and details their claim that bartender Gene Sulit invented The Biltmore Original version in the late 1930s. It’s here.

Since the One for the Road-Test is about recreating classic cocktails at home with no training, it seemed logical to start with more familiar version, The Classic. It has four ingredients – tequila, ice, orange juice and grenadine.

It’s kind of hard to call ice an ingredient and keep a straight face but given how important it is in some cocktails, I’ll begrudgingly keep it in here. Really open to debate on the validity of that though.

I used Silver Patron tequila – not the best tequila money can buy, but a good quality offering. It’ll cost you about $85 for 750mLs. The Wright’s Bar Menu lists Sauza Blue Agave Tequila as their primary ingredient,Silver Patron tequila.jpg Silver Patron is also made of 100% blue agave so I gave myself some license with that. (The NY Times had quite a good piece on the hierarchy of tequilas if you’re interested – spoiler alert, if it’s called tequila, it has to be 51% blue agave. See it here).

Grenadine and Orange Juice I got from the supermarket. I got the best pulp-free juice I could find there and the only grenadine on offer – Cawsey’s Grenadine Cordial. That was about $14. I got the ice out of my freezer (genius).

You’ll have seen Grenadine, it’s the red cordial used in most bars to make pink lemonade. It’s really red and really sweet. It was originally made from pomegranate and I suspect if you went to the trouble to make your own grenadine (here’s a link to someone who wants to tell you how but I haven’t tried it and can’t vouch for it), this cocktail would benefit, but it was a Sunday afternoon, I was on deadline. Judge me if you will.

The Wright’s Bar Menu doesn’t list quantities so I turned to Google and found this;

1 cup tequila

2 cups orange juice

1.5 tablespoon grenadine

Half a cup of crushed ice

  1. Put ice in glass
  2. Pour in tequila
  3. Pour in orange juice
  4. Lastly, pour grenadine carefully into the centre of the glass so it falls to the bottom and creates the signature sunrise effect
  5. Enjoy responsibly


And here it is (amateur bartending status evident in presence of lemon pips).Tequila Sunrise.jpg

So what did SSM think of the Tequila Sunrise?

Well, it’s pretty, and easy to make. An impressive-looking start for the amateur home bartender.

But it also seems a little like a breakfast cocktail. Or something you’d drink when you were 19. SIMG_1262.JPGo we followed it with a martini and that seemed a whole lot more satisfactory.

I’ll try the other recipe in a few weeks and am a little more optimistic since it has a fair whack of lime in it, but it really doesn’t matter, I’m in love with the myth more than the cocktail.

Next time: we get some Kiwi professionals to strut their martini magic.

Cheers xo

PS Before you go, this from the final, brilliant scene in 1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles should erase The Eagles and leave you with a peaceful, easy feeling (sorry).