a cocktail napkin epitaph

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This week we’re briefly pivoting away from food and instead neck deep into alcohol with two cocktail recipes. I would like to caveat you, first by warning you that I’m going to use the word “caveat” as a verb, and secondly by letting you know that I’m going through a rather beastly phase of insomnia at the moment, but also that I’ve finally got a doctor prescription for sleeping pills to counteract it, and half of this was written before and half of this was written after so if there’s any Wiley Wiggins in Waking Life buzz going as you read, that’s why. What will next week’s excuse be, you ask? If it’s still insomnia I’m gonna be so mad but I reckon I’ll try to distract you with whatever the opposite of sublimation is by being all “look at this brilliant writing demonstrably lacking in flaws!”

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A few separate things had to happen for this week’s recipes to come together. First of all, I was like man, I haven’t come up with a new cocktail in ages. I used to do it all the time, because my job required it, and though I’m still bartending I just don’t have as much call for it anymore. I really enjoy it, almost as much as inventing a food recipe – it’s all about balance and texture and getting your restrictions to push you into more creative choices. Secondly, with this thought in mind I was like “huh, wow,” now that it’s 2019 it means it’s a whole year since Motel, the bar I used to run, closed. Thirdly, I came to realise that I had a bottle of prebatched alcohol base from a cocktail I invented for Motel’s closing night (December 31, 2017) under my bed (in January, 2019.)

And then I was like, well maybe this is a sign that I shouldn’t be allowed to invent things.

But invent things I did! And having re-discovered myself to be in possession of good fortune, I might as well see if it was, in truth, worth universally acknowledging. Or at least…potable. Somewhat unsurprisingly, given the grunty ABV (that’s alcohol by volume) of its contents, it had serenely preserved itself for the entire year under my bed and remained more or less completely unchanged. So I used it to make the cocktail that I served on Motel’s last night and – it was still delicious! So I decided to share it with you today.

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The cocktail is inspired by two things: an existing cocktail – The Rosebud – from Motel’s history, and myself. The Rosebud is pretty well-known in Wellington – it was, in fact, the first one I ever had when I moved to the city in 2006 – and is a smashingly drinkable combination of vanilla vodka, lemon, passionfruit, cranberry and pineapple. Sounds like someone’s just pointing at bottles of juice and saying them out loud, I grant you, but it really is a beautiful drink. I wanted to pay tribute to that drink, but also quite justifiably not-humbly to myself, by using my three favourite ingredients:

  • Fernet Branca, which I would describe as having a bouquet of minty dirt and yet! I just wouldn’t be without it
  • Smith and Cross Navy Strength Jamaican Rum, my very favourite rum, a lush and broad-shouldered overproof
  • Angostura Bitters – that familiar paper-wrapped bottle with the yellow lid filled with strangely aromatic red liquid, normally administered drop by careful drop into, for example, glasses of lemonade to make Lemon Lime and Bitters, very popular in New Zealand – I decided to use an entire half shot of the stuff.

These were the three ingredients in the bottle under my bed, equal parts in a menacing dried-blood red. As I said above, this is a moderately outrageous quantity of bitters to be putting in a drink – normally it’s used a few drops at a time – but as this was a cocktail for the final night of Motel and because I feel most comfortable in excess, I decided to be excessive. However! The drink also had to be balanced, and even more so, it had to taste good.

Balance is a word I bang on about a lot when I start getting riled up about cocktails, but it really is important. Consider the Old Fashioned – one of the most famous classic cocktails, it’s essentially just an ass-ton of bourbon, with a little sugar and bitters, diluted a bit. Like, that’s all it is. So why don’t we choke on them? Balance, people. The sugar makes it richer in body and softer, stirring the drink over ice bevels off the rough edges, the bitters…well, they taste good. Look at the Long Island Iced Tea – it’s got five different types of liquor in it and yet because there’s enough citrus and sugar to take the edge off you can down them like they’re water. I’m honestly pretty sure that with enough sugar and lime juice that even plane engine fuel would be, well, no worse than a Long Island Iced Tea at least.

So with this cocktail, what’s happening? You’ve got that mouth-open-in-a-storm-drain taste of the Fernet Branca, bracing and earthy, you’ve got the rich ripe-to-bursting fruit funk and sweetness of the rum, and you’ve got the clove and cinnamon woody spice of the angostura bitters. All of this, plus that rip-tide of high alcohol volume, is lifted and brightened by the zingy, sour-sweet passionfruit syrup – and you really do need to use syrup here, the kind they sell in the same aisle as packaged desserts in the supermarket – and mellowed by the sugar content. The pineapple juice softens it but also has overlap in the tropical flavours of the rum and the more floral notes of the bitters and the Fernet. Pineapple juice has this enzyme which, when you shake it up, it goes all fluffy and aerated. So the juice is also bringing body and texture to the cocktail (much as it does to the original Rosebud itself.)

I called it The Final Scene because of this reference to the name Rosebud in the final scene of the film Citizen Kane, and also more obviously because it was Motel’s final scene. And then just over a year later – the present day, I mean – I took the bottle of pre-batch to Laundry, the bar where I now work, and photographed the drink there. (In case you’re all “what is that adorable mise-en-scène going on there,” yeah, it’s not my house.)

And then I was like…Laura. Though being inspired by yourself is a reasonable, even obvious use of your time, this is nevertheless a seriously inaccessible cocktail recipe to be putting on your blog. Like, if I hadn’t found that bottle of prebatch under my bed there’s no way I’d be able to afford these ingredients. You would probably be laughed at if you asked someone to make this in an actual cocktail bar (although the Trinidad Sour cocktail has an entire shot of bitters in it, so my reasoning had its reasons.)

So! I have another recipe to offer you, something incredibly simple that I don’t have a photo of but you could make it yourself in the time it takes to read the instructions. By which I mean: it’s just Lindauer with some peach schnapps in it. It’s also very, very good. I called it the Queen’s Speech because (a) the queen makes a speech on Christmas Day and it was on that day I drank a lot of this, (b) I like how the linguistic structure of the title means it could also be called Queen’s Peach, (c) I got my family to watch a LOT of The Crown on Netflix while I was there at Christmas and (d) I enjoy the juxtaposition of the name’s regnal qualities with its ingredients. Like, I literally went into the alcohol shop and said “what’s your most off-brand peach schnapps” and they were all “sure here’s a 700ml bottle for $14”. And it really is so good! Soft and peachy (obviously, but I’m losing steam in the drinks description faculties of my brain by this point), celebratory in a non-threatening way, a little sweet but not head-achingly so, somehow Christmassy and yet somehow appropriate to any time, be it cosy dinner party or your parent-teacher interviews; and above all no effort at all to make.

The Final Scene

a recipe by myself

  • 15ml Angostura Bitters
  • 15ml Smith and Cross Navy Strength Jamaican Rum
  • 15ml Fernet Branca
  • 30ml passionfruit syrup
  • 45ml pineapple juice

Place everything in a shaker with ice and shake throughly. Double strain – using a cocktail strainer and a sieve – into a chilled coupe glass or similar. Serve.

Queen’s Speech

a recipe by myself

  • Lindauer or similarly inexpensive sparkling white wine
  • Peach schnapps

If you require measurements, it’s roughly 100ml of the bubbles and 15ml of the schnapps but it’s easier to just do it as follows: fill a champagne flute to about an inch from the top with the sparkling wine and then top with a good hefty splash of schnapps.

Measurement notes: the following are all equal, so apply which one makes the most sense to you.

15ml
1/2 oz
1 tablespoon (eg that you’d use for baking)
half a standard shot

The following are also all equal:

30ml
1 oz
2 tablespoons
1 standard shot

Speaking of making this accessible, I know the ingredients to the first cocktail are a bit stupid but nevertheless I made some notes in the recipe about the measurements so you could work out what you’re most comfortable with – for example if you’re in America you might be used to ounces whereas if you’ve not bartended ever you may feel more at ease with measuring spoons. It all gets the job done! As for making the thing, if you’ve got actual cocktail shaker tins at home then good for you, otherwise just use a clean jam jar with the lid on to shake it up then tip it through a small sieve. During the earthquake of October 2016, where I was on a “relaxing getaway” (yeah we screwed that up timing-wise) with my best friends Kim and Kate at a bach up a the coast, I managed to make us very serviceable tequila sours using lots of tequila, some very old sugar from the jar on the tea tray, and some bottled lemon juice we found in the fridge. I shook it up in a novelty Christmas biscuit tin with the three cubes of ice that were left in the freezer and then tipped it into glasses through an enormous sieve. And I would definitely describe the result as potable.

If you’re on a cocktail-making buzz you may also wish to read other blog posts of mine on this subject, such as the Aperol Spritz, vegan Gin Sours, or a cocktail I invented called Millennial Pink. And if you wish to explore further the prospect of fresh minty dirt flavours, consider my recipe for Fernet Branca ice cream.

title from: Beginner’s Mind, by Bright Eyes, a really nice song, just a classic example of him bright-eyes-ing around.

music lately:

Sharon Van Etten, Seventeen. I’ve been listening to her new album a lot, partly to distract myself from Mitski at Laneway, and well, it’s very good! And this song in particular is spectacular! At first I was like, hmm, it’s a bit Fleetwood Mac, isn’t it…but the rumbling urgency and building piano and melancholy-but-happy mood absolutely decked me. (No, I don’t enjoy Fleetwood Mac, yes, it’s my cross to bear.)

Waiting Room, by Fugazi, grumpy yet melodic.

Berlin, So So Modern. This magical song is the soundtrack to a million years ago, and yet something in its patient relentlessness also feels like I’m hearing it for the first time, every time.

Meadowlark, Liz Callaway. This song is from the fairly unsuccessful Broadway musical The Baker’s Wife but has since itself become something of a standard. I feel Callaway’s is the definitive version – her voice has this intense kindness and sense of hope to it and she does this thing I adore where she heavily emphasises the “r” in each word (so a line like “the one I’m burning for returns” is immensely satisfying to the ears) and honestly, don’t even get me started on the enormous ending of this song, honestly. (Also, did you know? That’s Callaway’s voice you hear in the theme song to the TV show The Nanny, which she sang with her sister Ann Hampton Callaway, who – there’s more! – also wrote the song.)

Next time: the summer heat is currently DEBILITATING and as such I am going to make ice cream.

PS: if you like what you see and you want me to be able to do more of it, then consider becoming a Patreon patron to support my writing. I’m going to be dicking around with it in the next week or so and adding tiers and generally making it clearer for one and all but nevertheless there’s no time like the present! 

i can see us many miles away, inactive, sipping cocktails

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So this weekend a group of us (eight to eleven people altogether I think, there’s no real way of knowing) stayed in a fancy house in Waikenae to celebrate the dear Kate’s birthday. Kate is one of my very best friends, from here on she’ll be referred to as just “Kate” for simplicity but know that I’m hyperventilating every time I mention her name.

Not only was the weekend itself really rewarding in terms of friendship and relaxation and real joyfulness, I also got such Instagram material out of the whole gambit. The entire place was just so aesthetic: pink magnolia leaves floating like bodies in a bright blue swimming pool at dusk; a blonde wood dining table laden with fairy lights; multitudes of tui birds, glossy thick boys calling flirtatiously from the tree branches; a cool clear river striding purposefully over flat, smooth rocks; no less than sixteen doors to the outside world; hand towels that we all initially thought were actually elegant scarves because they were so lovely looking. Like even just the bathrooms themselves were gorgeous, with this particular golden-hour warm lighting that made you look perpetually well-rested and cleverly made-up. I didn’t even care that the toilet was in the background of my mirror selfies, if anything it was an honour to include such an exemplary example of that facility in a photo of myself.

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I did barely anything useful the entire time I was there which was unquantifiably wonderful coming out of a nine-day week of shifts at work. I read a girthy novel (House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski); I prowled judgementally through the lush cookbook collection of the owners (I find myself fairly judgemental of cookbooks, in case you’re wondering why I used that adverb); I took selfies; I snuggled with Charlotte, a dear friend who we all hadn’t seen in two years who was back from London (for good, not just for the weekend as I initially and stupidly assumed) and that was about it; but the one thing I can say confidently that I contributed was that I made Aperol Spritzes for whoever wanted them. Actually, to be fair, lots of people ended up making them over the course of the weekend. But I definitely stumped up for the creation of at least one round. And then took one that I made for myself all around the house photographing it in various pleasing tableaux.

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pleasing!

If you haven’t had Aperol before, you might at least recognise its distinct orange colour and sassy logo design. It’s an Italian aperitif that has been kicking around since roughly 1919, and while the parent company is super cagey about what’s in it, there’s definitely some gently bitter herbs and sweet orange. It’s not unlike its altogether stronger and more bitter cousin Campari, which is even more tight-lipped about its ingredients – somewhat hilariously, the official website will reluctantly concede that there’s water and alcohol involved, but like, that’s all they’re gonna tell you. The Aperol Spritz is a fantastically sophisticated yet casual drink, combining Aperol, Prosecco and soda water – gorgeously orange like distilled sunset, mellowly herbal and sweet yet convivially refreshing, and low-alcohol enough that you can drink a case of it and still be on your feet. It was Kate’s idea to make them and it was honestly perfect and easy and delicious and I thoroughly recommend it if you’ve got a crowd to ease into gentle afternoon post-30s tipsiness.

Aperol Spritz

30ml Aperol (or: 1 shot, 1 oz, 2 tablespoons)
90ml Prosecco
30ml sparkling water
Orange wedge, for garnish

Fill a wine glass or fancy tumbler with ice. Measure all the ingredients straight into the glass, give a stir with a teaspoon or chopstick or breadknife or your finger, whatever is within reach and more or less non-porous, really. Throw in the orange wedge – honestly pretty optional if you’re having a bunch and not selling them to anyone – and you’re ready to drink.

Or consider the 3-2-1 proportions: 75ml Prosecco, 50ml Aperol, 25ml sparkling water. This recipe I hasten to add is also based on the concept of A Shot being 25ml instead of 30ml as it is here in New Zealand, which I simply cannot even start getting into because it’s so confusing (“it’s tearing us apart!” is my usual response every time international Standard Drinks Measurements come up.) (Don’t even get me started on how you shouldn’t get me started on what constitutes “a double”.)

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Now! The recipe I give is roughly what I was making or advising people to make – because the more you consume and the more you make the more you just become one with the drink and pour until it feels right to stop (I say this as someone actually quite genuinely confident with free-pouring accurately.) It’s also a little lower in Aperol than the generally accepted recipe, this was mostly to make the expensive title ingredient stretch further, but also the fact that I feel like it benefits from being less sweet and more fizzy. The Wikipedia page for Aperol Spritz notes in an archly withering way that “perhaps not surprisingly” the official Aperol website calls for a lot more of their own product in the drink. You: well, you suit yourself.

It was a magical time that was so good for the soul, especially getting to spend so much concentrated time with my bests, Kim and Kate, and I feel really lucky that I got to partake in it considering how relatively un-conducive to having any personal time my work schedule is. I cannot actually fathom what it would be like to live in a house like that permanently, I mean like, getting to the point where your hand towels honestly resemble a chic neck accessory, with central heating vents in the floors and slab-sized books about interior design curated by Kinfolk magazine and spoons made from unwieldy rustic wood and ceramic that you can’t actually comprehend for what their use could possibly be, including ruling out decoration alone because they were in the spoon section of the cutlery draw implying some kind of practical application; but it seems like it’d be nice. I’ll tell you something though, it felt good to use the phrase “it’s a little lavish, but I call it home” in such a rightful setting. (That’s a quote from a 1940s noir film called Laura, it’s a really good film, because it’s called Laura, but I believe it’s actually widely-regarded as good based on other merits as well.)

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title from: A New Argentina, from the musical Evita. I cannot believe I’ve never actually listened to the original concept album that preceded the stage show; it has chewy-voiced Colm Wilkinson (who played Jean Valjean in both the UK original and Broadway transfer casts of Les Miserables) as Che, singing like his mouth is full of chestnuts and stretching his words like spandex attempting to encase a sturdy thigh when he’s all “let them have their freedermmm” (this is…praise.) I also love how Julie Covington as Eva has this slight crack and whisper in her otherwise plummy voice, it’s ever so appealing. I also recommend my broadway idol Julia Murney’s take on the title role: don’t let the sight of her stiff wig, somehow giving an air of reluctance at having to do its job despite being entirely insentient, put you off, because her voice and acting is splendid (did you know her vocal cords vibrate at two different speeds, actually – I’ll shut up now.)

music lately:

Ariana Grande, No Tears Left To Cry. This is such a good song! She sounds so in charge and confidently relaxed and I love how the cadence and chord progressions have this really early 90s Janet Jackson sound. I’m also a huge fan of tempo changes in a song. Which No Tears Left To Cry has, I wasn’t just stating that about myself for no reason.

Gary Numan, Trois Gymnopedies. Dreamy.

Idina Menzel, Not A Day Goes By. My other Broadway idol, absolutely trampling all over Sondheim’s intensely delicate and sorrowful song during a live show in 2002, by all accounts (that is, the youtube comments) her pop arrangement is an insult to the song, but! While, I grant you, her take on it is melodramatic, I adore it. The metallic rasp of her voice, the way she BELTS lines that are supposed to be almost whispered, the utter lack of subtlety is its own kind of vulnerability. She even says at the start (in another bootlegged version I have, not the one I link to) “I’ll probably get thrown into prison for this.” THAT SAID, you literally cannot go past Bernadette Peter’s definitive porcelain-about-to-shatter interpretation. Every decision – the pause before “and dying”, the way she folds her arms in “day after day after day” – is quietly devastating and not to be mistaken for weakness – “the full length velvet glove hides the fist”, as another Broadway song cautions us.

Blood Orange, You’re Not Good Enough. This 2013 song keeps sounding like it was released like, last week.

Next time: I took some photos of recipes from the fancy cookbooks at the fancy house and am hoping to try at least one out this week. 

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