Monday, August 21, 2017

Death of Anton with a 'Quelle Vie'

My criteria for choosing Cocktails for this series was to find things which I could make with what I already had in my kitchen, are simple to throw together, don't need to be set on fire, and don't require any special equipment (my cocktail shaker is at work, so I've been using a large jam jar, I've also been using a tablespoon for measuring because it's as good a way as any to control alcoholic intake, and a tea strainer - it's not the last word in sophistication but it all works). I've bought ice, quite a lot of lemons, a small bottle of grenadine (all of which left me with change from a fiver) and one other thing. They also have to suggest a book to me.

Ever since I got into the wine trade back in 1999 I've been intrigued by Kümmel (especially it's role in a Silver Bullet, more about which later) but I never got round to trying it. Now seemed like a good time, so I set about finding a bottle (1 likely shop had closed, 2nd likely shop didn't know what I was talking about, 3rd likely shop and upmarket bar told me nobody called Kümmel worked there - though they did later concede it sounded good)eventually I ordered it from Amazon, only to realise that I would have to be at home to take delivery - 10 days later I got my bottle.

Kümmel - if like half of Leicester you don't know, is a colourless, sweet, caraway and aniseed flavoured liqueur. The Whisky Exchange recommend drinking it chilled to within an inch of its life - which isn't generally a good sign. If you quite like Caraway you're on safe ground though. These days it's natural habitat, in the U.K. at least, is golf clubs (allegedly, I've never been in one so am taking that on trust) and amongst the shooting fraternity (I know that's true, because men with red faces sporting a nice line in tweed, keep asking for it for pre shoot drinks - I hope they found it easier to source than I did in the end). All of which gives it very specific connotations in my mind with old fashioned and rural pursuits.

I found the 'Quelle Vie' (what a life?) in Ambrose Heath's 'Good Drinks', it felt right for a Monday night. It's a simple mix of 2/3rds brandy and 1/3 kümmel which I shook well with ice and strained into a glass (Heath seems to assume you'll know what to do with it). The Kümmel is more than sweet enough to disguise how strong this is, the caraway flavour blends surprisingly harmoniously with the brandy, just overlaying it in a way I'm finding very convincing. It has the general air of something to be taken as a restorative...

I was thinking of it as a country house sort of a drink, but then the name suggested Alan Melville's  Death of Anton. What a life indeed where an off duty policeman finds himself investigating the death of a tiger tamer, apparently mauled by his own tigers until it turns out he was shot. There's a tension about this book entirely missing from 'Quick Curtain', even if it shares the same showbizzy sort of background. The faintly exotic note of the Kümmel seems right for a circus too!


  1. I first came across kümmel in the Betjeman poem "Song of a Nightclub Proprietress", but I have not tried it yet! This is the first verse:
    "I walked into the nightclub in the morning,
    there was Kummel on the handle of the door,
    the ashtrays were unemptied,
    The cleaning unattempted,
    And a squashed tomato sandwich on the floor."

  2. I love that! Kümmel is very sticky, and the smell is distinctive too, so even just that line is painting a vivid image. I can almost feel that doorhandle.