The Not-So-Loudspeaker

In which I blunder through the side door of a bastard classic

For the inaugural meeting of the Meaured Spirit Book Club(c), I turn to Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book [1930 version, via cheapo 2015 reprint].

It’s an exhaustive alphabetical compendium of that period’s drinks, including those that have stood the test of time and others that have disappeared into the icebin of history.

I once came across a blog by a guy who undertook the task of making every Savoy drink, from the Abbey to the Zombie. It took years. I assume he is now in custodial care. I hope his family visits him regularly.

Random acts of drink selection

For this meeting of the book club, I grabbed my Savoy and did the pick-a-random-page-and-point-with-your-eyes-closed thing. I failed 3 times to find a drink I could make, the inventory of the Measured Spirit Lounge having thinned during These Trying Times.

I finally scored with the Loudspeaker Cocktail. Happily, it includes one of Craddock’s drink notes, dripping with his characteristic British drollery and convoluted syntax:

“This it is that gives to Radio Announcers their peculiar enunciation. Three of them will produce oscillation, and after about five it is possible to reach the osculation stage.”

“Osculation” means “the act of kissing.”

Harry, you dog!

Dry and hard to drink

Anyhow, the Loudspeaker calls for 3 parts brandy, 3 parts gin, and one part each Cointreau and lemon juice.

It’s really dry and hard to drink. Mixing two base spirits is always challenging, and the proportions here didn’t help. It’s like the gin and brandy were having a loud argument, and the Cointreau and lemon were hiding under the covers waiting for the yelling to stop. [Maybe that’s why it was called the “loud speaker.” Har!]

I don’t know if that was a style of the day or just another drink that disappeared because it wasn’t very good.

From classic sour to equal parts

Today’s palate, by which I mean mine, is accustomed to what’s now called a “classic sour”: 1.5 oz base spirit to .75 each of a juice and sweetener. It’s more or less the formula for a daiquiri, a margarita, a whiskey sour, etc. You can use just about any base, sweetener, and juice and you’ll usually wind up with something drinkable.

So to update the Loudspeaker, I split the 1.5 base between the gin and brandy, then did .75 each of Cointreau and lemon juice. A basic sour.

But having split the base between gin and brandy, it had become an equal-parts cocktail.

It resembled a Corpse Reviver Number 2 — equal parts gin, lemon juice, Cointreau and Kina Lillet. Here brandy, a distilled wine, stands in for the Kina, an aperitif wine. Huh.

Without knowing it, I’d wandered through the side door of the home of a bastard classic.

I don’t know if it was the lower expectations from the first cocktail, or the fact that the drink was in my tank. But it’s really pretty good, well-balanced and bright. The gin and brandy are now sitting on the couch, exchanging mutually respectful thoughts.

Will I make it again? Not with so many pages of the Savoy yet to explore!

Don’t worry, I’m only drinking through the letter A.

The Not-so-Loudspeaker

.75 gin

.75 brandy [I used VS cognac. Like I said, I’m running out of stuff]

.75 Cointreau

.75 lemon juice

Shake, strain, no garnish. Because Harry Craddock said so.

The Stinger, mellowed with age

Hate Stingers? Me too. But if you’re in D.C., try the barrel-aged version at McClellan’s before you swear off the drink for life

I’ve always loathed the Stinger. Maybe it’s because the drink’s upper-crust associations never resonated with me — a low-born, Cleveland-bred scion of public assistance. [As it happens, I have similar contempt for martinis. Huh.]

But it may also be because the three [3] Stingers I’d had until Friday night were made by, um, me, using the kind of white creme de menthe that sits in a plastic bottle on the bottom shelf of the county liquor store — gummy-sweet as mint candy, sure to tip your blood glucose levels into the trouble zone.

Which is why, when I saw a Stinger on the menu at McClellan’s Retreat, a handsomely dark and woody saloon near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., I told the cheerful barkeep by name of Brian that, well, I hated Stingers.

“So let’s get you something else,” said he, sagely.

“But you guys have some serious drinks on the menu. And it says it’s barrel aged. Maybe this is the one I should try to rule them out for the rest of my life.”

He approved.

“If you hate this one, you hate hate Stingers. If you hate it, it’s on me.”

20161001_143406.jpg
A 45-day barrel-aged Stinger served at McClellan’s Retreat in Washington, D.C. Cool bottle!

Just like a Stinger, but smooth

Brian produced a handsome little bottle that recalls both a 19th century apothecary vessel and a pocket flask, and poured the contents over rocks in a Double Old Fashioned glass, garnishing with a generous tuft of mint.

The McClellan’s barreled Stinger was a revelation, far smoother and richer than anything I expected. Refreshing, but without that childlike high-menthol screech. Surprisingly…elegant.

The brandy was a Sacred Bond bottled-in-bond number, weighing in at 100 proof. The creme de menthe was Giffard’s Menthe Pastille, a French brand dating to 1885 and, it is said, comprising both a mellow and a wild mint.

The ingredients are barreled in oak at McClellan’s for a month and a half, lathing away the high-proof ethyl edges and sort of quieting the whole thing down.

No sting.

Truth told, I plucked out the mint not long into the engagement. The garnish overstated the mint, unbalancing the proportions of the beverage itself.

I nursed the Stinger — not just to prevent the potent brandy from unbalancing me from my bar stool, but to savor it.

Yes, to savor a drink I thought I’d hated.

So: Do I like Stingers? I have no idea. I love the Stinger at McClellan’s.

 

The Tom Waits cocktail: “27 Stitches”

Tom Waits no longer drinks. This didn’t stop me from creating a beverage inspired by his characters and stories. Warning: Things get a little weird

If you’re acquainted with Tom Waits — the most important and breathtakingly talented songwriter and performer of his generation I-don’t-care-what-you-say-because-if-you-disagree-you’re-wrong — you’d think it would be easy to come up with a Tom Waits drink.

Many of Waits’ early songs are exquisite, heartbreaking, often hilarious soundscapes where the main characters have been, to put it generously, over-served. Just a few titles illustrate: “The Piano has Been Drinking.” “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart.” “Gin-Soaked Boy.”

Waits with bottles
Tom Waits in his reckless youth: “Half drunk most of the time / all drunk the rest”

Until he met his wife Kathleen Brennan in 1987 and together they embarked on a remarkable journey of musical exploration that too few people know about, Waits says he lived a lot like the Bowery-bum scoundrels and layabouts that populate his songs.

Life moves along. He reports that he had his last drink in 1992. He credits Brennan with saving his life. Continue reading “The Tom Waits cocktail: “27 Stitches””