Worlds Collide: Too much restraint for a true thriller hero

Excerpted from "Drinking for Thrills," a piece by Gavin Lyall, found in The Compleat Imbiber, No. 7 (1964).  Lyall had just received a letter from his American publisher telling him that the hero in his manuscript had "an awesome whisky capacity." His response:

"As the average reader can easily imagine I leapt to the defense of my hero's thirst, pointing out that a careful count showed that he had drunk no more than 17 Scotches (two of them loaded with knock-out drops), 6 schnappses, 6 glasses of liqueur, a bottle of hock and a beer.  And no more than nine of those Scotches had been taken on the day when he was about to pilot his own aeroplane off on a Dangerous Mission.  Why, (I wrote) if anything, I feared that he had shown too much restraint for a true thriller hero." 

Stolen from Gary Regan's Ardent Spirits.

Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Little Pink Book of Cocktails” by Madeline Teachett

A somewhat curious book to review today: The Little Pink Book of Cocktails, an oh-so-pretty-in-pink cocktail recipe book masquerading as a planner. I realize I'm not the intended audience for this book — presumably the publisher is going after a slightly more feminine demographic. However, I do like my share of "girlie" drinks, and the book is definitely cute, colorful and nicely designed.

But how are the recipes?

On that score, The Little Pink Book of Cocktails comes up short. Sorry to say, but this seems like a cocktail book put together by someone who doesn't know a whole lot about cocktails.

It's not that the recipes are bad. Well, some of them are bad. The Tom Collins recipe is to mix gin with Tom Collins mix. (Bleh.) The recipe for the Piña Colada calls for blending together rum and, you guessed it, Piña Colada mix. (Double bleh.)

Most of the recipes are okay, but there's an odd selection of them, with too many simple highballs thrown together with too many complex cocktails calling for unusual ingredients.

So we have pages devoted to the Screwdriver (vodka & OJ), Cape Cod (vodka & cranberry), Greyhound (vodka & grapefruit), Godmother (vodka & Amaretto), Vodka Gimlet (vodka & lime juice, which is not how you make a Gimlet), etc. And there aren't that many recipes in the book, so these simple variations take up a lot of the content.

Contrasting that are some very interesting recipes from noted bars like PDT, Death and Company and The Bourgeois Pig. I experimented with some of these and there are a couple of great recipes. They're almost enough to make the book worth recommending. (I especially like The Ramble, an elegant mixture of Plymouth Gin, lemon juice, and raspberry simple syrup.)

The problem is that most of the proprietary recipes call for ingredients (Sloe Gin, St. Germain Liqueur, Lillet Blanc, Chartreuse, Pear Eau-de-Vie) that most people don't have on hand. Even worse, some of them call for the home bartender to make her own infusions and spiced rum.

I could forgive all of those things. I could forgive calling Cachaça a rum. I could forgive instructing people to make a Martini with "2 drops" of vermouth. I could forgive the useless recipe for a Mai Tai that calls for using a type of rum that costs $50,000. I could even forgive the fact that her recipe for the Cosmopolitan stinks. (You'd think a book like this would at least get that one right.)

I could forgive everything, if only it weren't for the inclusion of recipes for drinks called "Blue Veiny Monster," "Panty Dropper," "Buttery Nipple #1," "Red-Headed Slut," and "Pink Vagina." For that, there is simply no forgiveness.

Amaro Drink Recipes

Recipe: The Caprican Cooler

When I mentioned to a friend recently that I had made a batch of Picon Punches, he joked that he preferred the Caprican Cooler. I didn't know what he was talking about, but apparently fans of Battlestar Galactica will recognize that both Picon and Caprica are colonies (planets?) in the show. The discussion ended with me pledging to create a drink to fit the name.

I wanted to make something that was akin to a Picon Punch, and also wanted it to have a vibrant color. (I imagined that Caprica was one of those brightly-colored planets like Mars.) So this is what I came up with:


The Caprican Cooler

 Build in a highball glass over ice:

2 oz Campari
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz lemon juice
2 oz club soda

Give it a quick stir.

Float 1 oz of aged rum. (I used Flor de Caña Grand Reserve 7 years.)

Garnish with a lemon twist.



It came out pretty tasty. I tried to take the edge off the Campari, but still keep the bitter flavors that dominate the Picon Punch. Like that drink, this one packs quite a punch.

(Thanks to Dan Chadwick of Kindred Cocktails for his feedback on the early recipe.)

Rum Rum Reviews Spirits Reviews

Rum Review: Appleton Estate V/X Rum

AppletonAppleton Estate V/X
Jamaican Rum
Final Grade: B+
Price: $18 (750ml)

For my first spirits review I've chosen one of my old stand-by rums. The entry-level product from Appleton Estate, the V/X bottling is a full-bodied Jamaican rum, golden both in color and in taste. I've singled it out because it's one of the best mixing rums I've found, and also one of the most affordable.

Jamaican rums are distilled from molasses and are known for their dark, rich taste, with elements of caramel and spice. Two of the best known brands of Jamaican rum are Myer's and Coruba, but I prefer the various Appleton Estate bottlings.

Appleton Estate V/X is a blend of 15 different rums that have been aged in oak barrels (reportedly ones that were previously used to hold Jack Daniels whiskey). In this sense, it is similar to a blended Scotch, like Johnnie Walker.

The rum has a mild, sweet aroma with whiffs of brown sugar and vanilla. The brown sugar comes through in the flavor as well, along with a fairly strong alcohol bite. There's maybe a hint of orange in there, too.*

This isn't a rum you're probably going to want to sip. The alcohol is a little too hot for that. For drinking neat, you'd be better off with one of the more expensive Appleton rums, like the Extra (12 Year Old). It does, however, mix beautifully.

The V/X works very well in a Mai Tai, along with other classic cocktails such as a Rum and Coke (Cuba Libre) or Pina Colada. You probably don't want to use this in a Daiquiri because of the amber color. You might mix it in an El President, though.

Considering how reasonably priced Appleton Estate V/X is, this makes a solid choice as a go-to rum for most occasions. My liquor cabinet is never without it.

Report Card

Quality Grade: B
Value Grade: A
Final Grade: B+

*I'll let you know upfront that I don't have a very sophisticated palate when it comes to picking out individual flavors from the complicated taste of spirits. My goal with these reviews is to give more of an overall sense of the spirit, not to deconstruct it as some critics are able to do. I admire their ability — I just don't have it.

Book Reviews Drink Recipes Mixology

Book Review: “Cocktails, Cocktails & More Cocktails” by Kester Thompson

I love reading books filled with cocktail recipes. Some of them are fun because they're so bad — every other drink calls for sweet and sour or pina colada mix or some other vile bottled substance. But the good ones are good because they contain real recipes for delicious drinks that a person with a little knowledge and enthusiasm can make at home.

Cocktails, Cocktails & More Cocktails, I'm happy to say, falls into the latter category. Kester Thompson is a brand ambassador for an Israeli winery and a consultant to bars and restaurants. It's clear from the recipes and commentary in this book that he's a man who knows his stuff.

As the title would suggest, Cocktails, Cocktails & More Cocktails is composed mostly of recipes. There's a little bit about bar tools and technique, but not much. The book also isn't heavy on photographs, so if you want to see pictures of all the drinks, this isn't the book for you. (Note: the book does have some photos. But not of each drink.)

There are recipes for a hundred or so cocktails, including all the classics (Martini, Manhattan, Daiquiri), along with some nice Tiki drinks (Zombie, Planter's Punch), and even a handful of drinks using cachaça, which was nice to see. (I still haven't mixed up any cachaça drinks, but I'll get around to it one of these days.) He also has a solid recipe for the Mai Tai, a drink that most people butcher.

I didn't find anything that was new or exciting in this. But to be fair, I've read a lot of cocktail books. For those with less experience, there are plenty of good recipes contained in Cocktails, Cocktails & More Cocktails that you will enjoy making.

Here's one I whipped up last night:


Shake with ice:

2 oz Dark or Navy Rum
2 oz Pineapple Juice
1 oz Orange Juice
1 oz Coconut Cream

Strain into a collins glass filled with crushed ice. Sprinkle grated nutmeg on top. 

A solid recipe for a delicious drink. I did change it a little, upping the rum a touch and using two different types of rum in order to get a more complex flavor. I also added a little cinnamon on top along with the nutmeg. But as written, this is an excellent cocktail.

The main drawback to this book is its size and format. This isn't a book that you want sitting on your counter so you can flip through it and mix up a cocktail. It's too big and too nice for that. This is a book that sits on your shelf. So if you want to make one of the recipes, you're probably going to have to copy it down first.

Other than that, this is a useful, well made volume that deserves a place in your collection.

History Whiskey

The Whiskey Rebellion

Today's Trivia Question:

Who was the only sitting U.S. president to personally lead an army into battle?

If you answered "George Washington," then you earned yourself a shot! I'll wait while you go drink it. In fact, even if you guessed "Benjamin Franklin" (who was never president and never lead an army into anything except a tavern), you can still have a shot. What the heck, it's not like I'm buying.

You back now? Good. (And you thought learning about history was going to be boring.)

The Whiskey Rebellion was one of the more interesting episodes in U.S. history because it occurred at the intersection of two great American pastimes: making liquor and bitching about taxes.

Back in the early days of the Republic there was no income tax. The government didn't spend a lot of money (nobody had thought up Social Security or aircraft carriers yet), so they didn't need a lot of revenue. Most of what they required was gotten through tariffs on imports. Nobody liked paying taxes (remember, that was one of the things the colonists hated about the British), but an import tariff was indirect enough that nobody complained too much.

Well, as is so often the case, the government found themselves a little short when it came time to pay its bills. The Revolutionary War had cost a pretty penny and back then the Treasury couldn't just sell bonds to the Chinese; they actually had to come up with some real money. So in 1791, they slapped a tax on whiskey.

Although this move was no doubt highly offensive to the drunkards of the day, the people it really pissed off were the farmers. The highest cost a farmer on the American frontier (we're talking Western Pennsylvania or Ohio) faced was transportation. They were growing a lot of corn and wheat and other grains, and hauling all that stuff to market was expensive. So someone hit upon the genius idea of turning a lot of that grain into alcohol, thus concentrating its value in a much smaller volume of merchandise.

Since these farmers were essentially in the whiskey business — they even used sometimes booze for currency — the government's new tax hit them particularly hard. And as the colonists' experience with the Brits had so recently shown, when people were pissed off about taxes, a little rebellion could be a very effective tool. Anger and resentment starting brewing, and eventually reached a boil in 1794.

The farmers began to organize, pledging not to pay the tax, and harassing the tax agents when they tried to collect it. (You think it's hard being an IRS agent today? Back then they used to get tarred and feathered — literally!)

Eventually things escalated to the point where 500 armed men marched on the estate of General John Neville, the local tax inspector. Shots were exchanged, the general's house was burned down, and at least two men were killed.

Emboldened by this action, the farmers next gathered a militia of 6000 men who massed in Braddock's Field, a few miles outside of Pittsburgh. They paraded around, flexed their muscles, contemplated sacking Pittsburgh, and even threatened to secede from the Union.

Enough was enough. In the face of such a serious challenge to the authority of the new federal government (keep in mind this was only 7 years after the adoption of the Constitution), President George Washington pledged to take action. He got his old uniform out of mothballs and, with Alexander Hamilton by his side, led an army of 13,000 men towards Western Pennsylvania. This was a larger army than Washington generally led during the Revolutionary War — the man meant business.

By the time Washington and his troops arrived in Pennsylvania, the rebellious farmers had dispersed. They may have been stubborn, but they weren't stupid. A couple of the ringleaders were captured and tried, but were later pardoned. The army went home and Washington went back to Philadelphia (the capital at that time). The anger gradually faded away.

In the end, protesting the tax was as much a pretext for standing up to the government as a legitimate beef. And the farmers had seen what standing up to the Feds can get you. Besides, a tax on whiskey really just meant the consumer paid a little more for his jug — it wasn't worth getting killed over.

As a result of the events of the Whiskey Rebellion, it became abundantly clear that the new federal government was firmly in charge of the United States and its peoples, not just in the settled cities of the East, but in all the states and territories. There was a role for the state and local authorities, but the ultimate power lay in the hands of the Feds — and they were willing to use force to back that up.

We've been paying taxes on our whiskey ever since.

Note: In preparation for writing this essay, I pulled several volumes off the shelf to consult. The primary book I used was The Age of Federalism by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick (Oxford University Press, 1993). It's a well-regarded and learned treatise on early-American history. Just don't drop it on your foot.




Cocktails and Spirits


Magazine and Newspaper Columnists

Spirits Reviews


If you know of any great sites I’m missing, please email me and I’ll check them out.

Drink Recipes Tequila

Recipe: Frozen Watermelon Margarita

My wife brought a giant watermelon home from the store. Naturally, my first thought was, "Make a drink out of it!" The challenge was that, to my mind, the flavor of watermelon doesn't naturally lend itself to a lot of different combinations. So I decided to stick with something simple and make a Margarita out of it. Plus, I was hot and wanted to make something that would help me cool down.




Frozen Watermelon Margarita

Mix in a blender:

1 cup Watermelon, cut in cubes
4 oz Tequila
2 oz Triple Sec
2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1 oz Simple Syrup (optional)
1 cup Ice

Makes 2 drinks.

Ordinarily I don't think you'd need to add the simple syrup. Even with the dilution caused by the ice and the watermelon, the Triple Sec and the melon itself should provide enough sweetness. However, with this being an end-of-season watermelon, it didn't have as much flavor as you'd get from a better piece of produce, so I needed to balance out the sourness of the lime.

Still, a refreshing drink for a hot day. Now bring on some football! (This drink has left me feeling just a bit less than masculine.)

Ingredients Mixology

A brief word about ice

"A man who has drank his drinks cold at the same expense for one week can never be presented with them warm again." -Frederic Tudor, the 19th-century "Ice King"

One of the greatest advances of the past century is something we all take for granted: the availability of ice on demand. Image what life would be like if you couldn't just open the freezer and grab a few cubes whenever you wanted. It would be like living in the Stone Age, for crying out loud! We might as well start cooking our food by rubbing two sticks together to make fire.

Ice makes almost every beverage better. That's why we drink it in water, soda, punch, lemonade, even iced tea and coffee. I've seen a few brave souls pop open a room-temperature can of Diet Coke and guzzle it down — and it makes me shudder. I can't even drink it cold out of the fridge. I need my ice.

Ice is also a crucial ingredient in most cocktails, and it's not one that should be taken too lightly. Ice plays a vital component in two ways: cooling and diluting.

Ice brings down the temperature of the drink significantly, making it taste better and more refreshing, in addition to dulling some of the sharper edges. (Our taste buds can't register the extremes of flavor in colder drinks as they can in warmer ones.)

Ice also serves to dilute the drink, softening the "fire" of the alcohol and helping the various flavors come together, while also increasing the volume of the drink.

So what kind of ice should you use? The colder and fresher, the better. Ice made in your freezer should be avoided if possible — it tends to pick up noxious odors and flavors from the leftovers you stuck in the back and forgot about three years ago. So unless you have a standalone icemaker, you probably need to buy it from the store. Once you do, keep it as cold as possible. Crank up that thermostat on your freezer until Frosty the Snowman could call it home.

Once you've got your cold, fresh ice, don't be afraid to use it. If you're building a highball, fill the glass to the top with ice. If you're mixing a cocktail, load the shaker up with cubes and shake it like you're straddling the San Andreas Fault. If you're stirring it (as with a Martini or Manhattan, which should usually be stirred), stir the drink for a good thirty seconds.

Making a quality cocktail requires using quality ingredients. Don't spoil that expensive liquor you paid so much money for by using crummy ice. Your palate will thank you.


The best cocktailian websites

I'll state up front that this list is not complete. These are not all of the great cocktail and spirits websites that are out there. No doubt there are many fine ones I haven't yet visited, or sites that simply focus on interests that differ from my own. These are the sites, however, that I enjoy the most and visit often. (Listed in alphabetical order.)


General Cocktails and Spirits

Newspaper Columns


Spirits Reviews


Video Sites


If you know of any great sites I'm missing, please email me and I'll check them out.