Bookish twitter seems to be divided between people who are doing their top ten books of the year lists, and people who are worried they may miss something amazing that they read in the next ten days. I find I have neither the time or concentration to read properly in December, something I'm rather sadly reminded of looking at Elizabeth Knowles 'and I quote... a history of using other people's words' which I had every good intention of reading before now.
I've dipped in and out of it enough to know that it's a treat to look forward to in the new year though. Elizabeth Knowles has edited four editions of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, and was a lexicographer on the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary along with a list of other editorial credits which make her particularly qualified to write this book about how quotations are used and evolve. It's a subject that fascinates me, and I've read enough to know this book is scholarly without being overly dry.
I found the brandy cocktail (that I'm drinking as I write about the book I'd like to drink it with) in Jerry Thomas (How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant's Companion, first published 1862) looking for a pairing to go with something else.
The Brandy Cocktail read like a version of an Old Fashioned, but from a time when it was still just a cocktail rather than an old fashioned cocktail, and a time when cocktails seem to have been defined by the use of bitters.
The way a family of drinks like this evolve and reference each other seems particularly appropriate for a book about quotations, and even more so because I've messed around with this one a bit myself. The recipe in Jerry Thomas calls for a small bar glass (which I take to mean a tumbler, or what we'd now think of as an old fashioned glass). You want 3 or 4 dashes of gomme syrup, two or 3 dashes of bitters, one wineglass of brandy, and one or two dashes of curaçao. Squeeze lemon peel; fill one third full of ice, and stir with a spoon.
To make a Fancy Brandy Cocktail he says "This drink is made the same as the Brandy Cocktail, except that it is strained into a fancy wine glass, and a piece of lemon peel thrown on top, and the edge moistened with lemon." I'm not convinced the Jerry Thomas thought much of Fancy.
I have some Jerry Thomas recipe bitters, but I also have some newly acquired Fee brother Aztec Chocolate bitters, and this seemed like a good time to use them (it was). You want to mix all the other ingredients before adding the ice (I tried them over ice to make sure), I don't think you necessarily need the sugar syrup - the Curaçao adds enough sweetness for me, but you might feel otherwise, and I think I prefer orange peel to lemon, especially with the chocolate bitters, because it builds better on the orange flavours in the Curaçao.
Angostura bitters would be fine too, and be warned, once you start collecting bitters it seems it's hard to stop. They really are a great way to give a bit of variety to old standards, as well as being absolutely integral to the early cocktails and a good few of the classics.
The Aztec chocolate bitters have a spicy cocoa edge (a little like Green and Black's Maya Gold chocolate) that works well with brandy. It gives the drink a pleasantly festive edge without being over the top. I'm going to try it with the cranberry bitters I have in much the same spirit at some point. I'm not sure what size of wine glass Jerry Thomas used - I hope a small one - I found a scant measure quite sufficient for my purposes. Make sure to stir everything well mix the flavours and you've got a thoroughly satisfactory drink.