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.
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.
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.
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.