Monday, October 14, 2019

Powder and Patch - Georgette Heyer for the 1930 Book Club

'Powder and Patch' is a bit of a cheat - it was first published as 'The Transformation of Philip Jettan' in 1923 and then reissued as 'Powder in Patch' in 1930 with the new title and minus the last chapter. However I see Simon and Kaggsy's book clubs as the perfect opportunity to re read a Georgette Heyer so I'll take what I can get. The proper books from 1930 are the contemporary novels that she later suppressed.

'Powder and Patch' is short enough to read in a few hours, and amusing enough to make me want to do that. It's early Heyer and far from her best work, but it has all the elements that make her so good when she's at her best. It also has the bits that make her difficult for the modern reader.

Our hero, Philip Jettan, is a handsome young man of sober disposition. He likes to stay at home and run the family estate - much to the despair of his altogether more fashion conscious father and the local beauty who he is in love with. Cleone Charteris is 18, inclined to return Philips feelings, but disinclined to settle down before she's had some fun.

When the extremely fashionable Henry Bancroft turns up in the village and starts flirting with Cleone, Philip proposes to her and gets sent packing. He loses a duel with Henry, and gets a telling off from his father so heads off to London, and then Paris, to learn to be a fashionable gentleman. Six months later he reappears an apparently changed man - but what will happen next?

What I really like about this book, and about Heyer generally, is that she has Cleone say no because she's not prepared to marry someone who would expect to always 'bend before his will', and she wants to have some fun before she settles down. There's no suggestion that this is anything but a sensible decision from a very young woman. Philip in turn is a bit of a prig - both need to see more of the world to grow up, and that's just what Heyer has them do.

Philip finds that he enjoys society, Cleone gets to meet enough men to be sure that she's making the right choice. For a fluffy bit of romance that's not a bad message to take away.

The setting is sometime around 1740 so Heyer gets to have a lot of fun describing the most outrageously elaborate men's costume, but otherwise this reads like a 1920's drawing room comedy rather than the serious attempts to recreate an era that she became known for later. It's none the worse for that, and maybe even more fun for it.

What lets the book down is the description of various servants, particularly distasteful in relation to a black page, not much better when it comes to a French valet. At best it's snobby, at worst racist. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I adore Heyer, and wish that she'd had more progressive ideas about class and race. On the other hand the book is almost a hundred years old in its original form and I'm prepared to judge her more by the standards of her day than ours.

It turns out the original last chapter was fairly awful (you can find a transcript of it Here, so perhaps the most interesting thing about 'Powder and Patch' now is in being able to see how Heyer was evolving and improving as a writer.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The House on Vesper Sands - Paraic O'Donnell

It has been a busy week, after Ireland there was a work day in London (a last wine tasting and a lot of goodbyes) then a work day at work (much less fun) and today I've made quince jelly and had my first MRI scan. The scan is to see what's going on with the tendons in my right foot (they hurt, a lot) it took 45 minutes in the machine I have never felt so itchy or fidgety. Making quince jelly is a similar sort of experience in that I spend the best part of an hour tied to the stove top whilst it refused to reach setting point but looked like it would boil over at any moment.

Hopefully both procedures will prove worth the time and effort.

Meanwhile it's been a while since I read 'the House on Vesper Sands' (July, I think) so it's past time I wrote what I can remember about it. I tried to read 'The Maker of Swans' a couple of years back, but didn't get very far with it (I can't remember why not, and don't think I kept it) but O'Donnell is a writer I want to like so I had another go with this one.

I'm glad I did, because I loved this. It's a good slice of gothic thriller which probably does deserve the comparison with Wilkie Collins in terms of mood (though O'Donnell doesn't do anything quite as eccentric as Collins would) and definitely deserves the comparisons with Conan Doyle that grace the front cover. Allusions to Dickens and 'The Crimson Petal and the White' seems way off the mark to me.

The setting for 'the House on Vesper Sands' might be late Victorian, but whilst the geography of London comes alive I don't think the era does - but then I'm not convinced it's meant to either so that isn't a criticism. What I did get was lots of atmosphere of the dark corners, sense of menace, smell of damp kind which makes the perfect background for a tale of murder and the uncanny.

I'm probably going to have to buy 'The Maker of Swans' again.


Thursday, October 10, 2019

A Quick Catch Up

I've been in Ireland for the last few days visiting family with my father. It's something that I've meant to do for an age, but never got round to. Now I'm back I'm wondering why I left it so long.

We were in Killarney and Wicklow, both are beautiful. Spent a bit of time taking trains - Irish trains are brilliant after traveling on British trains. Everything links up, if a train is late for its connection the next train waits (I still can't quite believe that), the prices are really reasonable, the carriages are clean and modern, and apparently it's free for pensioners. It is, in short, the best advert for a national rail service you could imagine.

I meant to do lots of reading, but I fell asleep on the plane over, gossiped with my father all the time on the train, and got really absorbed in the Shetland Wool Week annual he bought down for me when I was on my own, so there's a backlog of books I need to read now, but never mind.

Meanwhile it was really good to spend the time with dad, and with wider family. Dad is a twin, and it's been a very long time since I've really seen him with his brother for any length of time - I had been more aware of the differences between them before this trip, but hanging out with them for a couple of days made me realise how similar they are too, and there's something very satisfying about that.

I also got to see a few more of my great grandfathers (Francis Swithin Anderton) paintings, all quite different to the things my father and I have, so I'm now better able to assess his range and how good he was. I'm quite excited about this (almost as excited as I am about how good Irish trains are) and even more after a previously unknown to me cousin in Canada got in touch. She had also been researching our great grandfather and emailed me the day I went to Ireland. The pictures her family have are particularly good.

Altogether it's been a good few days away with the chance to forget about the work situation for a while and concentrate on other things. Now to get back to the books.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Fair Isle Designs From Shetland Knitters Volume 2

The downside of having spent September writing about vermouth is that there have been a lot of exciting new books (cookbooks, ghost stories, tales of the weird, nature writing, and knitting based things have been piling up) and now I'm a bit overwhelmed and not sure where to start. Or how to fit everything in. It's a feeling exacerbated by what's happening at work - the shop closes on the 3rd of November which is beginning to feel very close.

Actually I do know where to start - it's Shetland wool week (maybe next year I'll actually make a plan to be there rather than just following it via Instagram) and volume 2 of 'Fair Isle Designs From Shetland Knitters' was released a couple of weeks ago. This is the 4th book published by the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers and is definitely something to celebrate.

It contains a dozen patterns with something for every knitting level from more or less beginner through to fairly expert. My favourite is a spectacular all over jumper, followed by a really pretty child's jumper, and then a pair of Scandinavian inspired mittens but there's much more to this book than just patterns.

This volume has a history of the Guild which I've found really interesting. This is an important part of Shetlands knitting history so it's good to get it down whilst it's fresh. It's also really worth while to celebrate the work they're doing to keep the islands knitting heritage alive, thriving, and evolving. There's also the now traditional question and answer sections with the designers, and a wealth of technical information, and a glossary of Shetland words associated with knitting.

This word hoard is a particular gift to the reader. It's very much in line with keeping this heritage alive; both language and skills need to be passed on. Not so much to preserve them, though this approach obviously does that, but to maintain a link between generations of Shetland knitters (also spinners, weavers and dyers - maybe future books will be dedicated to some of these other skills too).

Rachel Hunters Lucky Clover tunic is a lovely example of this link between old and new. It's a modern looking shape that still harks back to the longline jumpers of the 1920's, uses traditional techniques but looks utterly contemporary.

Having words that belong with this knitting is it's own sort of inspiration as well as an echo of older voices. It's experts code words, and workers slang. I hope there are many more of these books to come.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Vermouth a Bibliography

I started planning these posts about vermouth back in June, thinking I'd write them in August. By the end of July I realised I hadn't, and wasn't going to be able to try nearly as many vermouth's as I'd like to give a proper overview. I still haven't. I've not said anything about rosé styles, still not tried an amber vermouth, know hardly anything about the sweeter bianco vermouths, and so on (and on, and on...)

Despite all those gaps and deficiencies I have managed to learn quite a bit, and certainly have a much deeper appreciation for the category. I had always thought of vermouth as being a support act to the main spirit in a cocktail - now I'm behind for to think of the spirit as the straight man to the star act of the vermouth. I've also rediscovered the pleasure of drinking Vermouth on its own or mixed with soda/tonic/ginger.

It's a drink worth getting enthusiastic about, a civilised, modestly alcoholic, sophisticated thing that is endlessly versatile. There is undoubtedly a style for everybody who would care to raise a glass. With all of that in mind the best way to wind up this series for now seems to be a short bibliography of good books to have to hand if you want to explore further.

Jack Adair Bevan's 'A Spirited Guide to Vermouth' (published by Headline, rrp £16.99 in hardback) was my starting point. It still vaguely frustrates me that this book doesn't have an index but in every other respect it's excellent. There's a lot of information about history, culture, ingredients, styles, how to make it, how to drink it, cocktail recipes, food recipes, a much longer bibliography for the interested, and more. It's also an enjoyable book to read

Kate Hawkings 'Aperitif' is on my wish list. I keep going to look at it in bookshops with a wistful expression and the knowledge that impending redundancy means I need to be sensible about what I buy. It has pictures, which Bevan's book doesn't, some brilliant looking cocktail recipes, and also looks interesting to read.

Kay Plunkett-Hogge's 'Aperitivo' touches on Vermouth in passing, her concern here is more La Dolce Vita, but it's a brilliant book full of things you might want to nibble. Perfect for planning elegant cocktail parties, and best of all full of Kay's writing which is not to be missed.

The Savoy Cocktail Book is a classic, and I'm very attached to my copy. I refer to it a lot - it's not that it's drinks are always the best or most reliable - there are some deservedly forgotten things in there, but you will always find something excellent. There's also no better place to learn about the importance of proportions or find inspiration.

'Sip' from Sipsmith is one for gin fans, 100 gin cocktails with only 3 ingredients, it keeps things relatively simple. My conviction is that the drinks you make at home should be both high quality and simple so this is exactly my kind of thing. Its good on both the classics, and more obscure cocktails, all calibrated for the contemporary palate (which the Savoy book is not).

Ambrose Heath's 'Good Drinks' from 1939 reprinted by Faber & Faber, is split between hard drinks and soft drinks, which is why it's useful to have as well as the Savoy book - also because Ambrose Heath is a delight to read. I bought it more to read than use because of how much I've enjoyed some of his food titles (Persephone have published a couple, as well as Faber & Faber) but unlike the cook books I've found I use it a lot.

Friday, September 27, 2019

A Lab of One's Own with a Brandy Vermouth Cocktail

Patricia Fara's 'A Lab of One's Own - Science and Suffrage in the First World War' came out in paperback last month and I have a review copy waiting to be read. It's part of a small pile of books I'm really excited about, but am also sort of saving for when redundancy and Brexit hit (that's going to be quite a week).

I'm particularly interested in 'A Lab of One's Own' because it's rescuing women's history which is all to often forgotten. It's a curious thing the way this happens, an odd conspiracy of silence that makes it seem as if each generation of women is starting from scratch rather than being part of a rich tradition of significant work in field after field of study and talent.

I'm not going to make any great claims for cocktail mixing in this context - though I do believe that's it's more science than art. I can say that this Brandy Vermouth mix fits the bill as a very old cocktail, so was probably well known in the era. Brandy has a more scholarly, or perhaps old school tie, feel to it than gin does as well. In the early 1900's Brandy was a gentlemans drink, whisky rather less so, and gin might have been popular, but perhaps not entirely respectable.

After yesterday's Brandy and Vermouth mix I was looking for something with less frills about it. This fits the bill, and for me is the better drink, it feels more serious too (that's down to the absence of the cherry on top). It's 3 parts Brandy, 1 part Italian Vermouth, and a dash of Angostura bitters stirred over ice and stained into a glass.

The result is a mellow, amber coloured, delight. The dry nutmegy kind of spice of the Brandy sets the tone of the drink with the vermouth (I'm still using the Dopo Teatro) adding a richer spice range (something more like cloves) along with a touch of sweetness - but only enough to smooth out the edges. its to Kate in a Friday night for me to properly work out what the bitters are doing, but I'd miss them if they weren't there.

This is another excellent autumn/winter drink - there's something of a Christmas spice mix about it - clove, nutmeg, allspice, perhaps a hint of cinnamon. The impression is of warmth even though it's icy cold and the very small (I used a dessert spoon for a measure) one I made tonight was suitably comforting.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

A Fugue in Time with the Queen Elizabeth cocktail

Rumer Godden has a way of writing about houses and their accumulated history that I find irresistible. The narrative of ‘A Fugue in Time’ skips across almost a century of memories held together by one London townhouse and the people who have lived, and will live, in it.

Family relationships are complicated, people love, are disappointed in each other, and make mistakes. Maybe non more so than Selina who's competence and intelligence is wasted by the constraints placed on her by class, society, and herself. It’s the details Godden uses that fix this book in my mind, and one them is a passage about a cocktail set that an ageing Selina buys to keep up with fashion.

Every time you see something that looks a little like Godden’s description of Selina’s shaker and glasses set I'm reminded of the book, and wonder what she would have drunk from it. My instinct is generally to go for gin based cocktails because I like gin and always have some open. I like whisky too, but it tends to be single malt, which isn’t always what I want yo mix with other things. Brandy is not spirit of choice so I tend to forget about it unless I'm making an effort.

Today I have made that effort because it's slightly masculine and aristocratic overtones (it smells like a good cologne to me) seem right for Selina, and because the mellow spiciness of a red vermouth seem just right for Brandy.

The cocktail I found was one of a couple called The Queen Elizabeth (I assume as an homage to the late Queen Mother). She is most associated with gin and Dubonnet (technically not a vermouth, but definitely a close cousin). Dubonnet sales really went up after she died, and it's steadily regained popularity in these parts ever since (odd, but there you go).

This Queen Elizabeth is from the Savoy Cocktail Book (one of two very different drinks that go by the same name) and is equal parts Brandy and Italian Vermouth, and a dash of Curaçao stirred over ice, strained into a glass and topped with a cherry.

The Vermouth and Brandy do work well together, so much so that when it's not a school night I'll try this again without the other bits in it. As it stands both Curaçao and cherry add a sweetness that masks the kick from the spirits - which also seems appropriate for both the late QM, and the character of Selina. It's also very good autumn/winter cocktail, a time when brown drinks come into their own.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Diary of a Provincial Lady with an Orange Martini

This Orange Martini comes from the Sipsmith 'Sip' book, and is a slightly simplified version of the Savoy Cocktail guide drink from the 1930's. 'Sip' scales it down to an individual serving (handy) and does away with the rinse of orange bitters in the glass to keep the ingredients down to 3 (which is arguably cheating because the orange peel garnish is key here, but it's delicious so I don't mind).

Maybe because the taste of vermouth is how I imagine the taste of the interwar years I keep finding myself drawn to my Virago collection for inspiration and I could well imagine the a Provincial Lady drinking something like this at a party - either one of her own, or at something she's found herself at.

It is definitely a party kind of drink because it involves a little bit of preparation - which is why the Savoy recipe is for 6, and Sip suggests making it by the batch. It would keep in the fridge for up to a month*, or is a good one to make ahead if you have people coming round.

It's not the strongest Martini either, which also makes it a good option for a boozy kick off to a weekend lunch, or a late afternoon drink. The basic recipe is 25ml of London dry gin, 25ml of dry vermouth, 10ml's of sweet vermouth, and the pared peel of quarter of an orange per serving. Combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass and let them steep for a couple of hours. Add ice, stir, and strain into a coupe glass.

This one is another object lesson in the power of a few small tweaks to comprehensively change the character of a drink. The dry vermouth in this one is the backbone of the thing, the gin gives it a bit more kick, the sweet vermouth rounds out the edges, and the orange provides its USP. It's not the driest Martini, but it's definitely a drier style of cocktail.

Another variation on it if you're short of time is to use an orange gin like the Tanqueray Seville and just add a twist of orange peel as a garnish at the end.


*don't leave the orange peel in it if you're keeping a batch in the fridge, the flavour will be over extracted.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

One Exciting Night with I Capture The Castle

The drinks I remember from Dodie Smith's "I Capture the Castle' are sticky liqueurs illicitly consumed in the village pub, but when I came across the One Exciting Night cocktail in the Savoy book it felt just about right - the sort of drink that Simon might order for Rose knowing that she isn't quite as sophisticated as she'd like to think.

It's basically a Perfect Cocktail (equal parts gin, Italian, and French Vermouth) but with a dash of orange juice added, the edge of the glass frosted in sugar, and a squeeze of lemon peel on top. The Savoy version also specifies Plymouth gin which has an earthier character than London dry.

If there's one thing guaranteed to set up the back of your wine merchant it's an airy declaration along the lines of 'I don't like French wine' (even worse when you spend a good quarter of an hour suggesting options for the French wine hater - who has almost certainly dismissed a couple of Chardonnays out of hand at this point - they say they want a Chablis. At the risk of revealing how pedantic I can be I'm entirely happy with people saying they haven't found a French wine they like...

The difference is an open mind. The Savoy Cocktail Book has taught me a few things, but perhaps the most important is the difference a few small tweaks can make. Strong, dry, drinks are an acquired taste - I didn't much like the first, very dry, Martini I drank, and I still prefer them with a higher ratio of vermouth than is perhaps fashionable. I love a Gin & It for the mellowing effect of spicy sweet red Vermouth on the gin.

One Exciting Night takes that sweetness a step further by sugaring the rim of the glass - which also looks pretty. I'm thinking of it as a beginners Martini, and there's nothing derogatory about that. It's a reminder that drinks should be fun, not an endurance test.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Fair isle designs from Shetland Knitters with Vermouth and Lemonade

As a child of the 70s I have vivid, if slightly confused, memories of the Martini adverts. I also have vivid memories of being given Martini Bianco and lemonade to drink as a teenager in the late 80s. It was sweet, not very appealing even then, and deemed suitable for a woman to drink.

I'm thinking about it now because when I got home my copy of Fair Isle Designs from Shetland Knitters had arrived, and a happy hour reading about the history of the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers, and Dyers bought back a lot of memories of some of those women. The last time I drank Martini and lemonade was in the house of a guild member in 1993, the drinking part of the occasion was out of politeness.

Sweet Martini with Schweppes lemonade is not a drink I can embrace with enthusiasm, or one that I'd particularly recommend (which is no judgement on anybody who does enjoy it, we all have different tastes). Part of my issue with it is also that idea of gendered drinks. Something that used to annoy me a lot in my early days in the wine trade were (male) customers coming in for corporate gifts at Christmas. They'd choose malt whisky for the men and then ask me what I though 'ladies might like'. Speaking confidently for all women I'd say champagne (same price, always useful). They would invariably pull a face and buy something sweet, sticky, and half the price. It was the price thing that bugged me most.

Fortunately that sort of thing happens less and less now, and 'A Spirited Guide to Vermouth' has something called The Vermouth Hour (La Hora Del Vermut) that is an homage both to the Spanish tradition of a pre lunch sip of vermouth and that 70s combination of vermouth and lemonade.

The recipe uses 25ml of London dry gin, 50ml of a sweet Spanish red vermut, and 50ml of Fentimans Victorian Lemonade. Put everything in a large glass and stir over ice cubes. There is some fancy bar work that follows that involves burning the oils in an orange skin above the glass, and then using more orange and an olive to garnish.

This is a great sounding drink which I will try when it's not a wet Monday night and I don't have a cold, but I'm also inclined to ditch the garnishes and try different vermouth's in it. The Fentimans lemonade with its proper lemon sourness, and gin to give the drink a bit of backbone are both excellent ideas, but I'd like to see how this works with a dry white Vermouth, or possibly even a slightly sweeter one.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

No Mother to Guide Her with Parisian Nights

'Sip' continues to prove itself a sound investment; the beauty of only having 3 ingredients per cocktail, one of which is guaranteed to be gin is that if you, like me, keep bitters, Vermouth, and a couple of liqueurs around the house you're soon in business. This is perfect for half past seven on a Sunday night when a modest drink seems like a very good idea.

The drink in question is 'Parisian Nights'. "Created in 1920's Paris for stage and silent screen star Yvonne Arnaud", it seems to be more frequently known as the Arnaud (including in Sipsmith's own website). The recipe itself is equal parts gin, dry vermouth, and crème de cassis - I won't give specific quantities because I generally prefer my drinks smaller than modern recipes suggest they be. Badically make as much, or little, as it takes to strike a balance between sensible and frivolous.

Pour everything into a mixing glass, stir well with ice, strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist - or a blackberry if in season and to hand. If you have Crème de mure that would work beautifully too.

The Cassis makes this a fruity crowd pleaser with a definite sweetness to it (you could easily dial back the cassis if you want something drier) but a solid alcoholic punch as well. All of this puts me in mind of Anita Loos and her most famous creation, Lorelei Lee from 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'. But Anita Loos was responsible for far more than Lorelei (her career is really interesting, she's well worth looking up).

'No Mother to Guide Her' is another comic masterpiece, this one centred around Hollywood and an actress called Viola Lake. Something like a Parisian Night seems exactly the sort of thing Viola (or Lorelei) would drink. It looks like 'No Mother to Guide Her' is currently out of print, but the Prion humour classics edition is available cheaply online and is absolutely worth reading. 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Squire's Daughter with a 'Sloe Gin'

I must have read F. M. Mayor's 'The Squire's Daughter' and 'The Rector's Daughter' before I started blogging, which is frustrating because whilst I remember how much 'The Squire's Daughter' moved me I don't remember as much as I'd like about the plot. It's also the hardest of the 3 titles that Virago re-printed to get hold of - but I do occasionally see it in charity shops, which is where mine came from. Do not leave it on the shelf if you spot it!

Mayor is a brilliant writer, she got a bit of a boost about a decade ago when (I think) Susan Hill recommended 'The Rector's Daughter' which probably is Mayor's best book. Radio 4 also did it as a book at bedtime, but I think it's sunk back into relative obscurity which is a shame.

I found the recipe for the 'Sloe Gin' in Ambrose Heath's 'Giod Drinks' (another underrated classic). It's 2 parts Sloe gin, 1 part French Vermouth, 1part Italian, mixed well over ice. I've made something like this at work just mixing sloe gin and Italian Vermouth (it also worked well as a long drink with tonic or ginger ale) which went down really well.

Using Sloe gin gives a distinctly country edge to this cousin of the Martini, the vermouth fixes the cough medicine notes that I associate with Sloe gin - it's a drink that's much more than the sum of its parts. It's another one that makes for perfect autumn/winter drinking and would be an interesting party option (I'm willing to bet nobody will have tried it before).

I also think it's the perfect companion for 'The Squire's Daughter', it's the mix of town and country, of Sloe gin getting a Martini makeover, the mix of sweetness, spice, and a hint of something bitter. A drink almost as complex and layered as Mayor's writing.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Mae West with a Fancy Vermouth Cocktail

Amongst my most treasured Virago Modern Classics are the 3 Mae West books (2 novels and her autobiography), I've also got a box set of her films somewhere, but I hadn't thought about her for a while until Damon Runyon made me remember yesterday.

It's years since I read her books, it's probably time to read them again, and wonder again at just how amazing she was both as a trailblazing woman intent on living on her own terms, and a reminder that out great grandmothers might not have been precisely the way we imagine them. Her wisecracks and one liners are every bit as brilliant as you would expect as well.

To match Mae I wanted a really old fashioned drink; something that would have been familiar in her Bowery hay day. Jerry Thomas was another New York icon, though he predates West by a good few decades his Bartenders Guide (first published in 1862) seemed like the best place to look (I have a Hesperus edition that my sister gave me a few years ago, it's worth getting a copy).

I came up with two options; the Martinez which is a sort of precursor to a Martini, and has enjoyed a bit of a comeback in recent years (its gin, Vermouth, bitters and marischino in Jerry Thomas'version, he uses Old Tom gin which is relatively sweet, and suggests adding extra sugar in the form of gum syrup if it's wanted. By the time you get to the Savoy Cocktail Book the gin is probably dry, and the vermouth is definitely dry). I like a Martinez but thought something without gin would make a change.

The Fancy Vermouth Cocktail sounded perfect. It doesn't give any clues about the vermouth, so I've used the Belsazar summer edition that I have which is definitely at the sweeter end. You take a small wineglass of this (a bar measure, unless you have some proper little Victorian wine glasses - an egg cup would also be about right) and add 2 dashes of bitters and two dashes of marischino. Shake over ice, strain into a coupe glass, garnish with quarter of a lemon.

I was quite tired when I made this, and the lighting in my kitchen is poor. For no good reason I thought the marischino bottle had the same sort of dropper thing in it that the bitters bottle does. Reader, I added a lot more that 2 dashes. Regardless the resulting drink was okay, and I'm looking forward to trying this with different vermouth's (and mess marischino) to find just the right set of balances between sweet and dry.

As it goes I think the drink I ended up with is probably right for the early Mae West mood, when sweeter drinks were more fashionable. Not using gin also means this is a much lower alcohol cocktail    which is no bad thing either.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

On Broadway with a Bronx cocktail

Looking for John Cheever short stories yesterday, followed by finding John O'Hara in all sorts of places reminded me of how much I enjoyed Damon Runyon's 'On Broadway' (it's up there with Anita Loos' Gentleman Prefer Blondes' and the works of Gypsy Rose Lee and Mae West - all of which want seeking out and reading).

'On Broadway' is a collection of loosely connected short stories full of dudes and dolls, bootleggers and speakeasies. It's funny, surprising, and even after 500+ pages I wanted more. It's definitely a book that makes you want to drink a cocktail, and probably something really authentically prohibition era - a Bees Knees, or a Mary Pickford maybe, definitely something that involves rum would be good...

The Bronx is actually a pre prohibition cocktail, but the orange juice gives it the fruity edge I'm looking for. For a prohibition era feel I'd make it with a sweeter Vermouth (to disguise the roughness of bootleg gin). The basic recipe is equal quantities of fresh orange juice, gin, and vermouth. For a dry Bronx use dry vermouth, or for a 'perfect' Bronx mix a dry and sweet vermouth together. Combine everything in a shaker with lots of ice, shake well, strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist if you like.

This is a great drink to play around with vermouth's in - how dry, or sweet, you prefer it might come as a surprise. My instinct after 20 years in the wine trade is to always go dry (there's undoubtedly a bit of snobbery about this, as well as a learnt but genuine appreciation of drier drinks), but I've found with Martini style drinks that I prefer all sorts of things I'd never have expected - like Gin & It's and red Vermouth generally.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A Mulled Manhattan with some Vintage John O'Hara

A good few years back I really fell in love with the writing of both John O'Hara and John Cheever. Drinking too much is a theme in both (though it's arguably a more sinister element in Cheever's writing, and possibly his life, than in O'Hara's). I've been hunting for my copy of Cheever's short stories for a couple of days without much success - to the point that I'm no longer sure I ever even owned it (did it stay on a wish list? I don't think so, but who knows).

What is clear is that my books need thoroughly sorting out again, odd things are popping up all over the place, order is needed. Also more bookshelves and a bigger flat so this project might not get very far. What I did find is a collection of John O'Hara stories, and a reminder that I never bought his collected New York Stories when Vintage published them last year. There are always more books to buy.

There's something about the lengthening nights that suits O'Hara's slightly seedy world; maybe it's the imminent return of the students to the city centre and the impending nuisance that is freshers Week for those of us who live near them. Combine that with the now cool night time temperatures and the idea of a Mulled Manhattan is very attractive.

This is a drink that should see you all through winter, the recipe in 'A Spirited Guide to Vermouth' specifies Punt e Mes which is at the more bitter edge of the (rosso) Vermouth spectrum, but I see no reason to stick to that. The basic recipe is 50ml of vermouth, 25ml of bourbon, 10ml water, and a dash of Angostura bitters per person. Put everything into a pan with a strip of orange peel and heat to just below a simmer. Serve immediately with another twist of orange (in a mug or something with a handle).

As an alternative to Mulled wine this is giving you a whole lot more spice, and much less sweetness, both of which are welcome if, like me, you find Mulled wine can be far to sugary. It's very easy to scale up, and depending on what bitters you have available there's some room for playing around with this too.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Paris À Table 1846 with a Pompier

My copy of 'Paris À Table' has lead a somewhat shameful existence. It follows me around my flat, always the next book but one that I intend to read. Occasionally I open it at a random page, get sucked in for a bit, wonder why I haven't got further with it and then reluctantly remember a more pressing commitment. It's a shitty way to treat a vivid and delightful view of the gastronomy of 19th century Paris.

Worse, it was a review copy from Oxford University Press, so there's that nagging feeling of not having written a thank you letter after Christmas. It really has to be the next book but one that I read.

The recipe for a Pompier (named for a French fireman) that I found in 'A Spirited Guide to Vermouth' feels like an excellent choice to go with it. If I was living my best life my early evenings would definitely have a book with a drink hour. What my early evening actually had today was a fight to format a stock manifest sheet onto one page so that I could transfer some whisky without vital paperwork getting lost. And so it goes.

The Pompier is 45ml dry vermouth with 30 ml crème de cassis stirred well over ice, strained into a highball glass, given more ice, and topped up with soda water. It's a cheerful ruby red colour with the cassis giving the dry vermouth a real black current boost, and the vermouth taking the sweeter edge off the cassis.

As cassis is another liqueur that wants to be used up quite quickly once it's open this is a really sensible drink to have in your repertoire. And in your daydreams whilst you deal with stock manifests.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Wintering with Vermouth and Ginger

My week off is over, I didn't get all the things I meant to do done, and today it rained, it's cold, it's dark and since getting home I've spent 2 hours struggling over trying not to sound like a prat in a C.V.    It's also very clear that people are starting to wind down at work and no longer care very much. Sickness had gone through the roof - or at least that's apparently why there was nobody to look after my wines, and why they were in such a bloody mess this morning.

I probably shouldn't let it bother me as much as it does, but with this job coming to an end I'm aware of how much I love the product, and how much I dislike it not being treated with respect (I may feel that by extension that's a lack of respect for me too). Despite the Monday blues there are things to be positive about, and one of them is Stephen Rutt's 2nd Book of the year.

'The Seafarers' is easily one of my favourite books of the year so I'm really looking forward to 'Wintering', which looks specifically at geese. There's an extra bonus in that for me, because I do actually get to see geese on a daily basis on the river outside my flat, they're also one of the few birds I hear fly overhead (city centre flat living means I get geese, peregrine falcons, crows, a really loud blackbird, and the occasional amorous pigeon - nothing else). The book is out on the 26th, but I'm lucky and have a review copy so am already reading it.

One of the most fun things about my job has always been customer tastings, especially the sort where you have a more or less free hand to play around with products - especially mixers. It's not really cost effective to buy half a dozen or more mixers to take home to mess about with, but it makes perfect sense at work. The surprise hit is almost always ginger ale, and so it was when we tried the Cinzano rosso 1757 with ginger.

It's the perfect autumn/winter long drink. The warmth of the ginger balances the relative sweetness of the combination, and works well with the richness of the vermouth. It's a comforting drink that's also comfortably low in alcohol. I like that it's colour is something like an autumn leaf too.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Gin & It and early Molly Keane

I've been making Damson jelly today, which got slightly fraught. It boiled over once, and then despite repeated wrinkle tests didn't seem to be reaching a setting point, which was around the time that I started mixing Gin & Its (because multitasking). Eventually I potted the jelly anyway, judging by the way it's sticking to everything it touched it did reach setting point, even if it didn't want to wrinkle on the cold saucer provided for it.

I was grateful for the cocktail by then. The Gin and It is one of the great neglected classic cocktails, the It being short for Italian Vermouth. It's half and half gin and vermouth, an orange garnish or a drop of bitters being optional, stirred over ice and strained into a glass. Simple and delicious.

If you want a stronger, dryer, version use less vermouth (the Savoy Cocktail Book has a recipe for an Artillery cocktail which is 1/3rd vermouth 2/3rds gin which is great, I also like it about a 1/4 vermouth 3/4's gin - which probably also has its own name, I think of them all as Gin & It).

Today because I was using the slightly more bitter Dopo Teatro Vermouth I used the slightly sweeter than I'd normally go for Tanqueray Sevilla gin. This was last summers big success which I bought, quite liked, and then couldn't really work out what to do with, which is my perennial problem with flavoured gin.

For a gin and tonic I prefer a gin that's really heavy on the juniper, and dry. The slightly sweeter flavoured styles aren't sweet enough to treat like liqueurs and so tend to sit neglected at the back of the shelf but this is a combination that really worked. The orange character worked nicely with the vermouth, and overall the sweetness was just right. Orange flavoured gins go back a long way so it doesn't feel like I'm taking a liberty with the Gin & It either.

I can't remember where I first saw a Gin and It mentioned, it might have been in an Angela Thirkell book, but it could also have been in a Molly Keane. Her impoverished Anglo Irish aristocracy might have had definite views about flavoured gins, but this mix also has something of the stirrup cup about it so it feels like a good match for her earlier books where hunting is more likely to be discussed and there are pre war standards to be maintained.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Age of Scandal with Cocchi Dopo Teatro

Today has been one of those perfect September days caught somewhere between summer and autumn where the light has a particularly clear quality, the sky is especially blue, and the sun shines benignly. It persuaded us to go to Stowe landscape gardens where we saw a lot of eighteenth century follies.


We've been meaning to look at Stowe for a while now, and as it's only about an hour away I'm not sure why it took so long - it's well worth going to see, and perfect if you have a dog judging by the number we met. It was also once the home of T. H. White, who was a master there (Mistress Masham's Repose' uses Stowe and its gardens as a background, it's the only one of his books I've actually finished). Surprisingly the gift shop didn't sell any of his books.

The trip reminded me that I've got a battered copy of T. H. White's 'The Age of Scandal'. Written in 1950 it's a set of essays about Georgian scandals, which has never made it to the top of the book pile, but which I always think will be fun to read, albeit as a curiosity. It also looks like just the book to match with Cocchi's Dopo Teatro, a Vermouth I bought days before the redundancy news came, and which I've been a bit unwilling to open ever since (I'm fighting a tendency to hoard at the moment, I do not need to save Vermouth for a rainy day. If things get bad I'll be much better off with a cup of tea),

Anyway, I have opened the Dopo Teatro, named after the tradition in Turin to drink it chilled and garnished with lemon zest after a visit to the theatre - or so it says on the back of the bottle. It sounds like a delightful practice, it is an excellent vermouth. Velvety spice with an extra edge of bitterness from a double rose of quinine, but still with enough sweetness to balance it. The recipe is apparently a 19th century one.

Because bitter isn't entirely my thing I garnished my glass with a wheel of blood orange - it is my new favourite drink. There's enough bitterness in it to be the perfect companion to White's slightly waspish look at the eighteenth century, the sweet orange feels like a nod that way too. I always think of vermouth as having a distinctly antique flavour (in a very good way), and this one is no exception, the extra bitterness also recalls a negroni (if you like them this would be an amazing vermouth to use)  but again, one that's palatable to those like me who find Campari to bitter to really enjoy.

It's also the perfect compliment to the season, cold enough to enjoy on a warm September afternoon, but all that velvety spice feels just right for the changing season, and to take me through the winter. This is probably the one vermouth I'd encourage anybody to track down and try. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Surfacing with The Adonis

It's the weekend, it's been a beautiful evening, and the sky is clear to enjoy the full moon. I've been dipping in and out of Kathleen Jamie's new collection 'Surfacing', and for the last little while have been amusing myself trying to find the perfect cocktail to go with it.

For me I think the perfect drink for this book might be a dry as a bone Manzanilla Sherry with its slight suggestion of salinity, or a peaty single malt with all the memories of time and place that they evoke in me. But I have vermouth to drink, and I don't have to get up early, so I've been looking at Sherry and vermouth cocktails.

The Adonis is a classic from the Savoy Cocktail Book which mixes 2 parts dry Sherry (Fino or Manzanilla) with red Vermouth, a dash of Angostura bitters and a strip of lemon peel stirred over ice and then strained into a coupe glass to drink.

It's a cocktail that mixes things that I like a lot on their own, but for some reason very dry Sherry doesn't work for me mixed with other things. I don't much care for The Adonis (I've tried making summer cups with Fino too, with equally little success) at the moment, though possibly with practice I could come to like it better.

Fortunately there's another option in the form of The Other Adonis (thanks to Jack Adair Bevan's A Spirited Guide to Vermouth again for this one) which uses Amontillado (still a dry Sherry, but nuttier and richer) and Lustau Blanco Spanish Vermouth, and orange bitters instead of Angostura.

I don't have any Lustau Blanco, so I've been improvising, but somewhere between these two recipes is a drink I do like. Amontillado or Oloroso, at least in my opinion, mix much better with other things (they both make an excellent base for a summer cup too). All versions are relatively low in alcohol (this is comparative, but at least I'm not concerned tomorrow will be a write off) and a reminder of the versatility of Sherry as well as vermouth.


Thursday, September 12, 2019

P. G. Wodehouse and the Perfect cocktail

There is a tow of P. G. Wodehouse books on a shelf that's eye level with my bed - they have little Martini glasses on the spines, a constant reminder that cocktails are something of a theme for Wodehouse (as are hangover cures). There is probably no writer better suited to being enjoyed with a cocktail and some form of Martini is as good a choice as any.

There are a lot of versions of the Martini, it's a drink that seems particularly susceptible to fashion. When the Savoy Cocktail Book was written - which is about the right time for vintage Wodehouse vermouth proportions were much higher.

The Perfect cocktail is a sort of Martini, and is worth making for a couple of reasons. It calls for equal parts of gin, French vermouth, and Italian (rosso) stirred well over ice and then strained into a glass.

The first good reason to make this is that there's a pernicious idea about how dry a Martini should be. I have no problem with people enjoying a good gin, or vodka, neat, but I don't consider that to be a Martini. Starting with a lot of vermouth is a good opportunity to dial back the machismo and find what the right ratio for you might actually be.

The second reason for making the 'Perfect' is that it's good practice for mixing more than one type of vermouth, which doesn't necessarily feel like an intuitive thing to do. Having taken care to buy good Vermouth the natural thing for me to do is to want it to speak for itself in a drink. Mixing two together feels like a lot of personality in one glass to me - I have to persuade myself to do it.

Having started with the Perfect, I know now that I like a Martini to have a good bit of vermouth in it - something between 1/3rd to a 1/4 of the drink. I also know that I'm still more comfortable using only one vermouth at a time but that I also appreciate the balance of flavours that using two gives. I'm also sure that both Bertie Wooster and Psmith would approve of the quest to get it right.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Madensky Square with Vermouth and Soda

I suppose if I was being strictly accurate the match here is blogging with a vermouth and mineral water - I'm drinking Belsazar's summer edition reisling based vermouth (quite sweet, tastes unexpectedly of pineapples, and was worth the trouble of tracking down online) with lots of San Pellegrino in it, and a sprig of Rosemary.

I have this week off and one of the jobs I'd set myself was to try and bring some sort of order to The Books. Something which is both a chore and a delight. A chore because there really isn't space for all The Books so it's mostly a case of shuffling things around from one heap to another, a delight because I always find loads of things I'd forgotten I had.

Today that was a couple of Eva Ibbotson books I bought a couple of summers ago because they seemed just the thing for lazy, hot day, reading. Despite plenty of hot days I never got round to them, but 'Madensky Square' is now much nearer the top of the pile. 

Using soda or mineral water as a mixer in alcoholic drinks is something I came to relatively late - but it's a very good idea. Gin Ricky's were the gateway, followed by a revisitation of whisky and soda, and now with vermouth. 

The drink I currently have in hand has got just enough vermouth in it to add flavour and a little bit of body - it alcohol content can only be a few percent. That flavour is complex enough to be thoroughly grown up, but it's also distinctly summery and frivolous. It's certainly not boozy enough to distract from reading or to make you think dinner can't come soon enough to soak up the alcohol. 

Tonic water is a great way to go too, but it has a lot of sugar in it, I like the lighter feel of soda water, and the way that it lets the flavour of the Belsazar come through. If I was using tonic in the same ratio it would swamp the vermouth. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Gin and Murder, A Rob Roy, and thoughts in cocktail parties

There are a couple of reasons why I'm pairing a whisky based cocktail with 'Gin and Murder', the first being that gin feels in bad taste being the drink of choice of a central character who is an alcoholic. The second is that I consider the Rob Roy and its cousin (the Manhatten) a brilliant cocktail party option, and this book more or less opens with a cocktail party.

Originally published in 1959, 'Gin and Murder' is well worth seeking out. Josephine Puillein Thompson is better known for children's books, but this one is very definitely for adults. It gives a brilliant description of the 1950's county/horsey set, as well as the damage that alcoholism does in a portrayal that's both brutal and sympathetic. It's more usual to see excessive drinking glamourised, so this portrayal is important in a bit of lightish crime fiction. It's also an intriguing mystery - so wins on all counts.

The Rob Roy is half and half scotch whisky, Italian (red) Vermouth, and a dash of Angostura bitters shaken over ice and strained into a cocktail glass. Get a good vermouth (cocchi or cinzano 1757 rosso are my current favourites) and a decent blended whisky. I like Grouse for this, but keep meaning to try it with something a bit smokier like Johnnie Walker Black Label. Whatever you choose, with so few ingredients they need to be good.

Which brings me, possibly not for the first time, to some observations about hosting a cocktail party. I have known houses with purpose built bars in them (my grandfather had one complete with a sink and fridge - it really was a bar. We thought it was tacky, and it was, but I kind of see the point of it now that both he and it are long gone) but it's not common. You could make what you liked, as you wanted it, and had somewhere to clean equipment as you went along whilst still being part of the party.

Without that luxury one option is to make batches of cocktails beforehand and keep them in the freezer - perfectly sensible and a lot of the classics (like a Rob Roy, or any sort of Martini for example) are perfect for this. There's some specific suggestions in 'A Spirited History of Vermouth' along with some bar tenders tips as well.

Whenever you make the drinks though, the key is to limit the choice - otherwise all your measures, shakers, stirrers etc need washing between each drink which is a massive nuisance. Another advantage of limiting the options is that you're less likely to end up with a lot of sticky, bottles half filled with things likely to deteriorate horribly before you get round to using them again, and it's easier to control the costs.

I've seen a lot of people blow hundreds of pounds chucking a whole bars worth of spirits in a shopping trolley over the years, and whilst I'm not complaining about the spend I really do think less is more. Pick something to build your drinks around - in this case a good Rosso Vermouth, choose no more than a couple of options, make them well, and minimise the work you create for yourself.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Casino Royale with a Vesper

When it comes to Bond I prefer the films to the books. I'm not sure if the films are still the events they used to be, but I have early memories of being taken to the cinema to see Roger Moore era Bond (he's still my favourite) and how much we loved the special effects.

The only one of the books I managed to get all the way through was Casino Royale, but I do find Fleming's descriptions of food and drinks interesting, and the Vesper (which fortunately for me is in Casino Royale) still gets people to buy Lillet Blanc. Unfortunately it's Kinna Lillet that Bond specifies, which is no longer made, Lillet Blanc isn't as bitter so isn't the ideal substitute.

Hands up, I did not know this before I read 'A Spirited Guide to Vermouth', but at least I do now know that Cocchi Americano (the white one that I need to order online, not the pink one that I can buy in Waitrose*) is considered a reasonably accurate substitute.

There are a few other things that have changed since Fleming wrote Casino Royale - he specifies Gordon's Gin which has dropped its abv. Because the Vesper is shaken, not stirred, you get more dilution, so the change in abv matters a bit. If you can get Gordon's export strength great, if you can't a lot of people recommend Tanqueray, or you could look for a stronger vodka. Bond tells the barman that a grain vodka is better than the potato vodka he's used, so Smirnoff Blue Label would be perfect.

Vodka is another tricky beast, roughly speaking grain vodka will be crisper, potato based vodkas are creamier in the mouth. Fruit based vodkas (Chase do one made from apples, Ciroc is made with grapes as examples) retain a subtle but distinctive hint of their origins. The differences are more noticibly when you taste the products side by side. Personally as long as the abv is at least 40% I'm more or less happy with any mid range brand for cocktail making.

So - a Vesper is a mix of gin, vodka, and Cocchi Americano shaken over ice, and garnished with a strip of lemon. Bond specified 3 parts gin, 1 part vodka, 1/2 a part Kinna Lillet. The Wikipedia entry on the Vesper is worth a read.


*The recipes I've looked up, including Bevan's version in A Spirited Guide assume you know that Cocchi do more than one Americano, and that you will need the one that doesn't have nationwide distribution. I'm not convinced that this is obvious, but I'm pleased to know there is a good substitute for Kinna Lillet out there when I want it.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

High Spirits with Corrected Coffee

It's 8.30pm, pitch black outside, cold enough that I've got an extra blanket on my bed, it's meant to rain tomorrow, and the met office app has updated its cover picture to an autumnal scene. It's time to put the kettle on and pull some ghost stories off the shelf.

I found Robertson Davies 'High Spirits' in a charity shop a year or two ago, came home all excited because I love Davies, and never got round to reading it. I could go as far as to say I'd forgotten all about it (otherwise I would have joined in with the recent Robertson Davies reading week) but it fell on my foot when I pulled out some of the British Library tales of the weird collections earlier looking for just the right book for a Corrected Coffee.

'High Spirits' which promises to mix parody with true scariness and features one story with a haunted bust of Charles Dickens sounds perfect to me, and I'll also put in a word for the Gothic Tales of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, or any of Edith Wharton's ghost stories, or E. F. Benson's (because I'm now remembering just how very good he is too).

A corrected coffee (caffè corretto in Italy, carajillo in Spain) would not traditionally be made with vermouth. Grappa, sambucca, brandy, whisky, or anisette would all be more usual but coffee gets on well with all sorts of alcohol. Jack Bevan's suggestion of using a full bodied, sweet, vermouth (he suggests something like Cocchi Vermouth de Torino - which is my current favourite - or Sacred English Spiced Vermouth, which I really want to try) is a winner.

The recipe is simple - a double espresso topped up with vermouth, but there's a lot of fun to be had matching the characteristics of your preferred, or current, beans with your vermouth if you want to take it seriously. You could also pour this over ice cream to make an affogato.

I love a slightly boozy coffee, with the emphasis on slightly, the point of it is to feel self indulgent rather than tipsy. It's a signal that you're settled for the evening as well as being a thoroughly grown up pleasure. This is aromatic, rich, and about as dark as the night outside, so it really is my perfect gothic ghost story companion.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Rebellious Spirits with Ersatz Vermouth

Ruth Ball's 'Rebellious Spirits: The Illicit History of Booze in Britain' (looking at a major online retailer it seems that the subtitle of the paperback is slightly different) is what set me off on thinking about ways to match booze with books. What Ruth does in it is explore the less legitimate history of drinking in Britain along with recipes for drinks which recreate something of the flavour and atmosphere of whatever bit of history she's discussing.

I had almost forgotten how good it was when I picked it up to read about early winemaking. I knew there were recipes for the sort of sweetened, spiced, wines that the Romans drank, and wanted to compare them to vermouth as we know it.

The link is not as strong as I would like, the Roman version being altogether sweeter, and not much more than a way to make rough, acidic, wine palatable. Those might be the roots of vermouth (in that it's spiced), but they're deep roots. Vermouth as we know it derives its name from wormwood which until really very recently had to be an ingredient - bitterness has always been an element in its make up.

The chapter that deals with the Second World War gave me something else to think about though. It's easy enough to find recipes to make your own vermouth. There are plenty online, and I've come across a couple in my own Cookbook/drinks book collection. Jack Adair Bevan gives thorough instructions along with a lengthy recipe in 'A Spirited Guide to Vermouth'.

Making your own might make sense if you're planning a largish event (or if it's something you want to do) but it's quite an investment in time, effort, and ingredients. I have a lengthy wish list of vermouth's made by professionals to try before I get to wanting to make my own.

On the other hand in a worst case Brexit scenario, Ruth Ball's recipe for a wartime substitute for dry vermouth (essential for a Martini) might be useful. The original came from the memoirs of Dr John Lewis who had been a doctor on occupied Jersey. He had access to tincture of quinine and tincture of gentian. Neither are easy to find now, so Ruth's version uses 1 tbsp of tonic syrup*, 1/2 tsp Angostura bitters (which contains a reasonable amount of gentian) 1/4 of a bay leaf, and 500ml of dry cider. Mix everything together in a bottle (a screw cap wine bottle would do, probably sterilise it first) leave it for 3 days, strain well before returning to the bottle, and hope for the best.

Even if the cider concoction doesn't sound tempting, 'Rebellious Spirits' is a brilliant book - funny and informative - it's definitely worth reading.

*Tonic syrup is reasonably easy to find and is worth a try. It is incredibly bitter despite a hefty amount of sugar in it. The one time I used it to make a hot version of a gin and tonic I had to add even more sugar to the mix before I could get customers to embrace it. It was fun to play with, but it's made me think twice about tonic water as my mixer of choice.

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Futurist Cookbook with an Americano Shandy

I first heard about Filipino Tommaso Marinetti's 'The Futurist Cookbook' as a History of Art undergraduate when the idea of an Italian artist dissing pasta seemed every bit as anarchic and amusing as Marinetti could have hoped for. At the time I might have been known to drink to much extra dry Martini (at room temperature as well, god help me, until one night I drank far to much of it and didn't touch Vermouth again until I'd become a proper grown up) which was probably also in the right general spirit.

Despite some intention at the time I never did read 'The Futurist Cookbook' (and had to remind myself what Italian futurism looked like) so when I found a smart Penguin modern classics copy of the cookbook in a second hand shop recently I was very pleased. It's a curious book, first published in 1932 when Marinetti's nationalism would maybe have seemed less troubling it sets out to be deliberately provocative.

I've found it's best dipped in and out of, a little Marinetti goes a long way, but in small doses it's startling, poetic, whimsical, and very much in love with the promise of modernity and the idea of velocity. It also mentions vermouth (along with a whole host of other Italian wines and liqueurs) quite a bit and is definitely a book best enjoyed with a drink of some sort in hand.

I wanted a drink that sounded suitably iconoclastic to suggest to go with it and the Americano Shandy* fits the bill. Roughly speaking an Americano is produced in the same way as vermouth, but has more bitter components. It's name derives from the French, amer (bitter). This drink is also a sort of cousin to the Negroni.

It's probably time to confess again that I still don't like Campari, or the Americano family and I'm not sure I ever will, so I haven't tried this. If you do like a negroni though, or Campari generally, it's got to be worth a try. These quantities serve 2.

Take 25ml of Campari and 25ml of red vermouth, split between 2 glasses, add ice, and top up with 330ml of lager. Stir carefully to mix (there's advice on this in the Sipsmith book - they suggest using a bar spoon and lifting it up and down a couple of times to preserve the fizz) and there you have it.

*I found the recipe in 'A Spirited Guide to Vermouth', it's by Kate Hawkings, author of 'Aperitif: A Spirited Guide to the Drinks, History and Culture of the Aperitif

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Vermouth and Sip (possibly more of a gin post)

I'm not generally a fan of brand tie in cocktail books (Fever Tree and Seedlip have both produced them reasonably recently, neither particularly tempted me, the Fever Tree book is currently going cheap in The Works bookshops for any interested U.K. based readers) but 'Sip' from Sipsmith Gin is an exception to prove the rule.

Sipsmith make a habit of being exceptional*, they more or less made the current Gin renaissance possible. When they finally started production in 2009 they were such a small operation that it had taken 2 years and a change in the law for them to be able to do what they did (before 2009 if your still capacity was under 1800 litres it was more or less impossible to get a licence thanks to nineteenth century laws designed to improve the quality of Gin then flooding the cities).

It's easy to overlook Sipsmith on a supermarket shelf now, but it's a really good quality Gin, one that won't let you down, and is great for mixing with (other gins I'd put in this class are Martin Millers and 6 O'clock gin). Coming in under £30 it's at the premium end of the market, but you can spend a lot more without getting anything noticibly better for your money. You also get a gin that you can genuinely enjoy neat which is more than I might say for a lot of the cheaper ones.

'Sip' which is only just out is subtitled 100 Gin Cocktails with only 3 ingredients, it could be viewed as a cleaned up and streamlined take on 'The Savoy Cocktail Book', it has a lot to recommend it (at least I think so, but then it conforms to all my preferences). It also gives a brief history of gin, and a genuinely useful guide to bar equipment and glassware.

Because a lot of the cocktails are classics, or riffs on classics, Vermouth features frequently with proportions better calibrated to modern tastes than the early cocktail and bartenders guides give. Using just 3 ingredients for each drink also means that each element gets to shine (hence the importance of using a good quality gin, and a good fresh vermouth as well). Everything in here is easy to make, and make well, at home.

*This is all my genuine opinion, nobody is giving me free Sipsmith gin (though I'd welcome it if they did) and I bought the book. I'm also going to recommend the Sipsmith website for its cocktail section which I've used a good bit for work in the past when I've wanted inspiration for customer tastings.

I've also had to give myself a mental shake reading through this book because there's so much in it that would have been perfect to try out on customers and I'm just not going to get the opportunity now. At least not with my current customers, and I'm a little bit sad about that. These drinks based posts have always been a lot about work, the research for them feeding directly back into my day job.  Writing this series is really bringing home to me that I really don't know what I'm going to do next.





Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Vermouth and The Savoy Cocktail Book

Regular readers will possibly have picked up on my affection for 'The Savoy Cocktail Book', it took me a while to commit to buying it (and when I finally decided it wasn't a gimmicky sort of thing but a book I needed it was between printings, which was annoying) but it's turned out to be really useful.

I have a few (reprints of) classic cocktail books which I use quite a lot. They're really good at taking you back to basics and providing an excellent set of tools for understanding how cocktails work. The Savoy book is the most comprehensive of the ones I've found, and has thoroughly earned it's classic status.

There's definitely some rubbish in there, and it can be light on detail - possibly because there's an assumption that readers will know certain things which are no longer common knowledge. Crucially though it underscores the difference proportions make - a little more, or less, of something and it has a different name - sometimes this feels like a bit of a swindle, but when it comes to mixing vermouth into something it makes a real difference (initially it surprised me how much). The other surprise was that I would like two drinks equally as much, but for entirely different reasons based on the proportion of vermouth in them.

The second thing that The Savoy book does is encourage you to mix different types of vermouth together. I wouldn't think of mixing anything else in quite this way (I wouldn't mix a peated and unpeated whisky, or a gin with a flavoured gin, or a red wine with a white etc, so it does feel a bit odd). You live and learn.

Without this book I probably wouldn't have bothered with 'Italian' (as far as I can work out this meant red/Rosso in the 1930s) Vermouth, which turns out to be the style I'm most excited by. That's partly because of a total lack of enthusiasm for Campari and by extension, Negroni's which currently has to be the most popular cocktail on the block. I really do like Manhattans though. And I'm becoming fairly committed to iterations of Gin and 'It'.

This is also a great book to take on a family holiday where drinking is likely (I took it up to my father's this summer which was definitely fun). A home, or holiday, bar that has Gin, a blended whisky, a couple of vermouth's, a bottle of bitters, and maybe a triple sec or similar along with a whole lot of citrus fruit will give you plenty of options. A pre dinner cocktail is an excellent holiday tradition.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

What is Vermouth?

This should perhaps have been the first post in this series, but it was only when I was talking to someone this morning that I was reminded what exactly vermouth is, isn't exactly common knowledge.

The short answer is that it's a fortified wine flavoured with various botanicals, herbs, and spices. The long answer is a bit more complicated. It takes in a whole host of styles, as well as closely associated drinks - Americanos, Chinatos, Barolo Chinato, and Amaro's. Americano, like Amaro are bitter drinks (think Campari or Aperol). Chinato is more like vermouth, and maybe easiest to think of as having a more medicinal history, they have chinchona (quinine) as a major flavouring, so again more bitter than vermouth tends to be.

It's easy to get confused amongst all this, even more so because only a very few of the very many styles are likely to be easily available to us on the high street. My local M&S sells one Vermouth, Tesco has an own label range that I don't find inspiring, Waitrose has a better selection, which if limited if you want to seriously explore, does at least have a lot of things I like, my local wine shop is equally limited, though again with a couple of good things in it.

Serious exploration calls for a more expert guide (I'm recommending 'A Spirited Guide to Vermouth' again, which lists a whole range of products) a good book on the subject is definitely helpful. It will definitely help with drawing up a wish list of styles or specific products, which will then call for a whole lot of research regarding where they can be bought (and possibly if they're worth investing in).

The origins of vermouth as we know it now are mid 18th century, but the history of fortifying and flavouring wine goes back a great deal further. Coming at it from a British perspective, and as a woman of a certain age though Vermouth has a specific set of associations. I'm old enough to remember the Martini adds of the late 1970's/early 1980's which gave it a sort of continental glamour, but with a distinctly tacky edge. Competing with that is an altogether more sophisticated image of pre war glamour fuelled in equal parts by P G Wodehouse and the Savoy Cocktail Book.

I'm interested in the current renaissance in Vermouth making (I'd particularly like to try some of the things Sacred are doing) but they are comparatively expensive, and they don't have quite the same romantic appeal to me that some of the old brands have.

It doesn't take long with something like The Savoy Cocktail Book to realise what a big deal Vermouth was in the 1920's/30's cocktail world, and only one Martini where the proportions are 1 part dry French Vermouth to 2 parts gin to give that flavour a particular association. I like the older brands of vermouth for the same sort of reasons I like classic scents from old perfume houses.

Chanel N°5 might have been through various updates and reformulations but at its heart there's still all those decades of glamour, it and its sisters of a similar vintage have a complexity that's very distinctive. Vermouth does the same for me in terms of flavour.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Vermouth in the Kitchen

For years the main reason I had a bottle of vermouth to hand was principally for cooking with, generally Noilly Prat or Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry. Both are dry vermouth's, and I'd happily substitute either into a recipe that called for dry sherry, Marsala, or even dry white wine. They're not interchangeable, but they have enough in common not to be totally incongruous when they're swapped around. I'm certainly not going to open a bottle of dry sherry if I've got Vermouth on the go and vice versa.

Partly because I saw it primarily as a useful ingredient, but also because of an occasional prejudice against sweeter drinks, I sort of assumed I would only like dry white vermouth which meant years of missing out on the Rosso's which it turns out I love - but have a different role in the kitchen.

It's a dry French vermouth that would go into a classic sort of Martini, it also works really well with tonic water and a wedge of lemon for a lighter alternative to gin and tonic. It's worth trying with soda water if you want to reduce the sugar content as well as the alcohol. It's pretty good neat too - Jack Bevan recommends Nocellara olives and a slice of lemon on the side with Noilly Prat.

Again, before reading 'A Spirited Guide to Vermouth' I hadn't considered drinking it with tonic or soda as a long drink, but it was a happy discovery. The perfect spritzy drink for the cook who forgets vital ingredients half way down a G&T, and can't be trusted with a sharp knife by the 3/4 mark (which would be me).

I'm currently playing around with a bottle of Belsazer's summer edition reisling based vermouth (it has a pineapple flavour which makes it unlike anything I've ever encountered before. It's a sweeter Vermouth than I'd normally buy (this is down to 'A Spirited Guide...' as well, it sounded so intriguing it was the one bottle I had to try). I think it would be excellent instead of Sherry in a trifle - its flavour profile would add something really interesting, so that might be a plan for the end of the bottle.

Diana Henry talks a bit about how chicken loves alcohol in 'A Bird in the Hand' and how we haven't really been in the habit of considering alcohol as a store cupboard staple for cooking with. We probably should though. It's an easy and quick way of making a simple, in this book chicken, dish into something luxurious (she gives an excellent set of guidelines for this). A good dry vermouth is just as handy when it comes to fish, and has its place with pork too. If a bottle wants finishing (but before it's gone to far over it's best - if you wouldn't drink it with pleasure don't cook with it) There are worse places for it to end up in than a gravy.



Sunday, September 1, 2019

Vermouth

Something that I had planned for this summer was to really explore vermouth. I've had at the back of my mind to do so for a while, trying the Regal Rogue range at a trade show last autumn pushed it up my agenda, and Jack Adair Bevan's book, 'A Spirited Guide to Vermouth' which came out late spring made it feel like a matter of urgency.

Unfortunately circumstances interfered; impending redundancy has put a check on extravagant vermouth buying, and made getting the product knowledge less of a motivating factor. On the other hand I still think this is one of the most exciting drink categories around, it has something of the rediscovered/forgotten/rescued classic vibe about it which is still such a trend in publishing, and I've still got a lot to add to the bits I've already written about it.

Vermouth is undoubtedly becoming more fashionable, but that fashion hasn't really reached Leicester yet. The rise and rise of the negroni is helping to rehabilitate Rosso styles (sales of Campari have increased dramatically in the last few years, gin has been massive for a while now, I sell a good bit of Campari's pre mixed negroni, but nothing like the same amount of vermouth, which makes me worry about what people are using when they mix these things at home) but there's still a reluctance to spend more than a minimum, and no sense that people are really embracing vermouth on its own terms.

This is really worth doing, there's a lot to discover and a lot to be enthusiastic about. There are also a couple of basic things to keep in mind. The first is that Vermouth doesn't keep indefinitely once it's open. A bottle is going to be best drunk within about a month, there's no need to overdo it, but it wants commiting to. The second thing is that it's worth spending a bit of money on a good brand.

That doesn't mean that every bottle has to be a £30+ obscure artisanal masterpiece, or anything like it,   just that it's not worth cutting corners. Vermouth will have a considerable impact on whatever drink it's in, so don't compromise on quality. The major brands are a reasonable place to start, they've not survived for such a long time by being terrible.

I'm also going to recommend 'A Spirited Guide to Vermouth' again - it's a fascinating book written by someone who is obviously an enthusiast as well as an expert, and it's a really good guide if you want to be quite adventurous in your vermouth exploration.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Redundancy update

It's about 6 weeks since the news that our shop was being closed with jobs going in November, and it seems like time to write about it again. I've been in two minds about posting about this because there's quite a lot of emotion wrapped up in it, but it's also hard to really think about much else at the moment so it's the honest thing to do.

The problem with a relatively long notice period is that after the initial shock has worn off there's quite a long period where it's more or less business as usual. It feels like a particularly unpleasant limbo; however daunting the future looks I want to be getting in with it now. I'm tied into quite a long notice period, there are financial upsides to this, but it also means I'm committed to this job until it's gone.

We have those finish dates, have gone through the group consultation, and are now in individual consultation meetings. We have an estimate of what our redundancy payouts will be, and for those who want to try and stay in the company there are daily updates on available jobs.

At the moment I'm not seeing any opportunities for redeployment for my quite specific role and anything less specialised would mean a pay freeze. There are also less jobs than people. We also know more branches are slated for closure next year, and probably the year after (we had people come to us from branches that closed in June who found out weeks later they were in the same position again). Non of that is making the prospect of trying to stay on very appealing.

The hardest thing to deal with though is the range of emotion from our customers. There was an excellent article in last weeks Sunday Times about the importance of weak social links and how casual acquaintances are important for our health and happiness which has helped make sense of the reactions we've been getting. It doesn't make them any less exhausting to deal with.

It's an excellent illustration of the emotional labour people who work in retail are expected to do (not in the least reflected by wages). There are customers who I've known through 4 jobs and 20 years of selling wine, people I like, and who's conversation I enjoy. There are customers who are not so delightful. We see literally thousands of people come through the doors each week and individually only build links with a fraction of them.

When it comes down to it we don't really care where the majority of people are going to shop when we've gone, not when we don't know how we're going to pay our bills or how long we might be unemployed for. we really don't care what this might do to local property values, so the man who was angry the community hadn't been consulted - frankly it was. But every time you chose to shop somewhere else you made us less viable - which is fine, it's you're choice, but you can't have it both ways.

The sight we're on has been sold to Lidl, and judging by the number of people who are convinced this is some sort of German revenge for World War Two, or will never shop in a German supermarket because 'they tried to bomb our house' how Brexit is happening is starting to make a lot more sense. I wish I were joking about this, but people around here can clearly hold a grudge for generations because non of them have been over 70. It's irritating.

Worse is the open racism - we're closing because there are to many of Those sort of people who have moved into Our community. This is nonsense on every level. Workmates have been asked where they were born, with customers demanding to speak to someone born in Britain. It is hateful behaviour (the management position on this is one of zero tolerance, they will call the police if they're made aware of it at the time, the police do take it seriously).

As for the rest of it, there are customers, especially elderly ones that we are worried for, we're part of their support network even if only in a small way. There are people who've been really kind, some have made enquiries about jobs on our behalf, sent cards, bought biscuits, and otherwise made us feel genuinely appreciated. Which makes being constantly asked if we have another job to go to easier to cope with when none of us currently do.

So there you go, there's all this and more to deal with in temperatures hot enough to make wine expand out of the bottle (if you shop with me avoid the Gigondas, it's been comprehensively cooked) and I feel somewhat better for having written it down.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Sanditon - Jane Austen

I'm not sure if I'll watch ‘Sanditon’ yet or not, but either way I'm pleased to have read it, even if doing so is a slightly bitter sweet exercise. There are 12 short chapters here which do little more than introduce us to a cast of characters - maybe not even all the characters that Austen intended - but it's enough to feel the loss of what we don't get.

I've always been an Austen fan, happy to explore the limited social worlds that she describes, because when it comes down to it that's more or less how we live. I'm always a little bit surprised that she's associated more with romance than satire and social commentary (which is one reason I love the Thomas Rowlandson image on the government of this Oxford World’s Classics edition).  More than anything though, I think it's ridiculous that we don't view her as part of a rich and varied female cannon of writers - because that's exactly what she is.

Some popular tv adaptations of Maria Edgeworth for example might go a long way to shaking up how we think of Austen. Fanny Burney gets a mention in Sanditon (as do Burns, Scott, and Richardson, people ought to read a bit more Scott too) and now I want to re read her books again (I remember enjoying them in my late teens but not much more).

 But back to Sanditon. We meet the Parker family - Mr Parker (and his meek wife), he’s determined to make Sanditon a fashionable resort and is risking his fortune to do it. There are also 2 extraordinarily active hypochondriac sisters, a brother who shares the hypochondria but not the activity, and another brother who we don't learn so very much about but was surely meant to be a significant character.

Mr Parker’s partner in the speculation of Sanditon is Lady Denham, a woman of means who married more money the first time, and a title the second time. She has 3 sets of possible heirs headed by Clara (beautiful but poor) from her own family, the Hollis family that we don't meet (but I would guess we're to be introduced) that belong to her first husband, and the Denham’s.

They are a brother and sister with more pride than means, and look set to be a bad lot. There's also mention of a mixed race Miss Lambe. She’s a considerable heiress in delicate health, in the company of the far less well off and much more forward Miss Beaufort’s. They're all being observed by Charlotte Heywood.

The problem with watching an adaptation of this is that I want to know what Austen intended for her characters, not what Andrew Davies thinks they might do. What was she going to make of Miss Lambe, would Mr Parker’s speculations work out, and what kind of personality was Lady Denham going to prove to be? Part of this is because based on the existing 12 chapters both Mr Parker and Lady Denham seem more nuanced characters than Sir Walter Elliot or Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Mr Parker might go off unchecked on his enthusiasms, but he has an obvious care and affection for his family, and the wider community he's part of. Lady Denham loses Charlottes sympathy when she declares she doesn't want more visitors in her home because it would make to much work for her servants, and if they had a harder place they'd want higher wages. Charlotte considers this a mean attitude, but it's not clear to me where Austen stands on it.

It's impossible not to anticipate the book this could have grown into, the suggestion is that it would have been something new for both Austen and the English novel. This fragment is enticing, but it's also deeply frustrating we don't get the rest of it.