Our last post of the year features a festive bent – not sure if you have noticed, but it is Christmas THIS WEEKEND.
Christmas Day presents a cocktail challenge in the sheer length of the event. It really is the one day of the year where it is acceptable to drink from the pre-breakfast gift frenzy until you fall into your bed soon after the sun has sunk below the horizon.
The challenge then is what to drink. While heretical, I generally don’t opt for cocktails on Christmas Day, but know I have a moral obligation to examine all matters cocktail for you, dear Reader.
There are 76 IBA Official Cocktails and one that seems to offer the perfect solution for festive tippling.
After all, what could sound more cheerful than white peach puree and Prosecco?
Technically, by having only two ingredients, the Bellini doesn’t pass the Shake, Stir, Muddle cocktail test – it’s a mixed drink and I’ll be filing an injunction with the Supreme Court of Cocktails next year to get it removed from the IBA Official Cocktail list.
Setting that aside though, the Bellini sounds like an idyllic holiday on the Amalfi Coast.
Indeed, the Bellini has a rich Italian heritage, having been invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice and named after Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini.
Those Bellini boys were a bit like the Sheens of the Venetian art scene.
Father Jacopo was the Martin Sheen Bellini,a well-respected founder of Renaissance style painting.
Then came son Gentile, a talented artist who had an early career surge (think Emilio Estevez in Breakfast Club and St Elmo’s Fire, anything that came before Mighty Ducks- which secretly, I love, and would even if it didn’t feature the bonus of starring Pacey Witter from Dawson’s Creek), before being surpassed by younger brother Giovanni for the rest of their careers.
(Key differences are that Giovanni might not have been an anti-vax nutter with a massive substance abuse problem. Not sure.)
Since life in the 15th century was so bloody serious, all the Sheen-ellini boys focused on painting religious works.
Disappointingly, I misread Emilio’s job as the official portrait artist for the Dogs of Venice.
Turns out the Doges of Venice was the Chief Magistrate of the leader of the Most Serene Republic of Venice for 1,100 years. That’s cool too I suppose.
Anyway, a couple of centuries after Venice stopped being so serene in 1797, Harry’s Bar opened.
We’ve looked at Harry’s Bar back on World Cocktail Day – May 13 (put it in your diary) – since the bar that was a regular haunt of Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles was founded on May 13 1931, but its real claim to fame is the Bellini.
Setting aside what a miserable and unserene establishment Harry’s Bar must have been with blowhards Orson and Ernie in attendance, it is said that the gentle pink blush of the Bellini reminded Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar and inventor of the Bellini cocktail, of one of Giovanni (Charlie) Bellini’s paintings. Beautiful.
Problem is, the reality never matches the hype.
The reality of the Bellini is that when the glass gets presented, it generally looks like something you might need a course of anti-biotics for, rather than fun in a glass.
Look at this photo of the miserable Bellini next to the magnificent negroni my husband refused to swap with me when I was conducting field research.
(Pssst, that pink blush Cipriani loved so much? It actually comes from a little shot of raspberry or cherry juice – neither of which are in the IBA recipe. Stupid things is, not only would it make the Bellini look better, it would make the recipe an actual cocktail).
The second problem I have with the Bellini is a philosophical one.
Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine. It costs about one-third of the price of champagne.
So why then do most bars continue to charge the same price for a Bellini as they do for a proper cocktail?
Even if they get the rosy glow situation sorted out, the Bellini should be much cheaper than a proper cocktail.
But it isn’t.
Perhaps it is these factors that have led to it not featuring strongly in popular culture.
There is some talk that Mae West’s Peaches O’Day had a Bellini in 1937’s Every Day’s a Holiday (which the magnificent West directed), but the cocktail wasn’t invented until 1942 at the earliest, so clearly that’s just wishful thinking.
I’m sure someone had one once in Sex and the City, but it doesn’t appear to feature in a single George Michael film-clip.
But Christmas is a marathon, not a sprint, so I’ll be taking the Bellini spirit and pouring it into my drink selection.
I’m just planning for it to be a damn sight more pleasing to the eye.
Unless you want to unleash the truth monster early in the day, I suggest parting with IBA lists and recipes but sticking with cocktails made with a fruit base for December 25.
I’ll be making cocktails – and I’m going to break with SSM tradition and use vodka for the first time – with a handmade cordial that I’ll mix with a generous slug of vodka whenever the mood takes me.
We live in a fortunate age where such nectars are quite widely available, but I’m opting for the Lime from Katie Swift Cordials that makes me feel like I have a perfect magazine-Christmas family and house.
They are not only delicious and pretty (even prettier when you lift one of Luisa Brimble’s shots from the website), but have the added benefit of looking like you are sipping on something that you MIGHT have made with that pointless and expensive nutribullet someone gave you instead of the pointless and expensive gift you really wanted.
If you’re going to adopt this covert strategy though, keep an eye on your drink – kids think everything they can lay their hands on is theirs on Christmas Day.
Merry Christmas Muddlers – whether or not the day has any religious significance for you, I hope the year ahead brings you plenty of pretty drinks and I look forward to sharing some more with you.