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.


  1. This is a wonderful book, but I cannot imagine what the cocktail tastes like! Possibly, I should drink more cocktails...

    1. You should (in moderation of course!) Exactly how it tastes will change depending on the specific Brandy and vermouth, but I'd say this has something of a Christmas spice mix about it but without the sweetness that implies. In this case the orange of the Curaçao and the cherry do add more sweetness though and it's all quite rich. The Brandy Vermouth Cocktail is probably the best place to start.