Friday, December 21, 2018

Rasputin and Other Ironies with Kümmel

Looking back at 2018 from the perspective of the solstice (why isn't the year arranged so that this is New Year's Eve?) it's been a mixed bag. One of the better things about it has been finally reading Teffi and the glorious feeling of anticipation that comes of knowing you have plenty more books to go.

This collection of short stories and essays feel like memoir, though I think they're more fictional than accurately biographical - not that it much matters, some characters are to big to be confined by fact, and Teffi certainly seems like such a one. There's a particularly good story in here about a young woman struggling with some of the frustrations of motherhood all centred around a Christmas tree decoration, and another about a young girl at her first Christmas ball that give the book a vaguely seasonal edge if you're looking for it, but as it also covers experiences from a long, varied, and eventful life, there's something for every season.

At some point I suppose I'll have to get to grips with vodka, but it's not a spirit I have much of an opinion about. If you taste them side by side (taste not drink) you can tell the difference between those made from potato, rye, wheat, apple, grape or whatever else someone has decided will make a particularly arresting unique selling point. Once you add a mixer most of that subtlety has gone. I really like Krupnik (honey and spice flavoured vodka) and żubrówka (bison grass) but they're Polish rather than Russian. I also think that vodka is best drunk very cold, neat, in shots, and in good company - which doesn't make it a drink to read with.

Professionally speaking I'm never going to try and stop anyone spending £40 on a premium brand, but I think it's unnecessary, especially if you're mixing it. I prefer the mid price brands - nothing below 40% abv, good enough quality to drink neat, not lost in a cocktail.

Kümmel on the other hand also has a proud Russian history - it's more or less a sweetened flavoured vodka, with caraway as the main flavouring. It certainly was popular in Russia (Difford's guide has a legend about Peter the Great discovering it whilst undercover in a Dutch shipyard, I have no idea if that's a true story or not), and I imagine it probably still is. I'm not much of a fan of anything aniseed flavoured - this is as close as I'm happy with, but I do like Kümmel - the rest of my family do not, so it's clearly not for everybody.

You can drink it on its own - it's still quite popular with shooting parties, and apparently in golf clubs,  it also goes into some classic cocktails, the Quelle Vie (2/3rds Brandy, 1/3rd Kümmel) stirred over ice and strained, or a Silver Bullet (1/2 gin, 1/4 lemon juice, 1/4 Kümmel) or a Silver Streak (equal parts Kümmel and gin) are good places to start. The Quelle Vie is surprisingly good and seems a neat phrase to sum up Teffi's life with.


  1. I am VERY keen to get to know Teffi, perhaps 2019 will be my year for that.

    Merry Christmas! I hope you're not too frazzled, and have a lovely one.

    1. I hope it is, so far I've only read this book and an excellent piece she wrote about Baba Yaga and am very excited at the prospect of reading more.

      It's become traditional to feel a bit to frazzled by work at Christmas, my own fault for not finding a job that has a better rhythm to it - although is there such a thing these days? At least I'm only organising myself, and will be off to mums tomorrow evening where I can play with the dog and be really lazy.

      I hope your travels went smoothly and you have a great Christmas, and time for a thoroughly self indulgent book shop whilst you're back.