I’m not the hero of an epic poem.
I know this because, in epic stories, the hero goes off into the wilderness and after spending some time in isolation, confronting his personal demons, and looking deeply inside himself, he comes back with a deep insight about himself. Or amazing martial arts skills. Or able to play the guitar like Robert Johnson.
I, like the rest of you, have been locked away from the rest of the world for nine months now, and my biggest self-realization is that I’m extremely susceptible to targeted marketing.
So, not a hero. Probably not even a protagonist.
But here’s the thing about targeted marketing – it’s like a disease in that, even if you don’t succumb to the first round, it can set up a secondary infection that might bring you down later. I have found myself online, very late at night, thinking, “You know? I could use a device to straighten my posture…”, but shrugging it off, only to make a different weird impulse purchase five minutes later.
Which is how I ended up with The Esquire Drink Book.
I was looking at a series of cocktail images online, when I saw a photograph of a tired old book with a tattered dust cover looking like…
You know? Here. See for yourself:
How could I not own this book? It spoke to me. I suddenly needed it. So, I tracked down a used copy online, bought it, then promptly forgot about it. This is representative of a bit of a pattern for me.
A week later, I got a package from a used book store in Washington State, wrinkled my forehead quizzically, then tore it open to find a very tired, very old book about drinking that was everything I had hoped for. It was old. It had that old book smell. The pages were yellowing and brittle. There were not photographs, only stylized, hand-drawn pen-and-ink illustrations.
And it is pure Esquire. It is written with a smooth self-confidence that would probably come off as a bit douchey today, but was totally of its time. I don’t know if Darren Stevens would have owned this, but Larry Tate totally would have.
(Yes, I just made a Bewitched reference. This book is not the only old thing on this couch right now.)
Among its many Madison Avenue, Three Martini Lunch, swinging cocktail party references, it also has a chapter devoted to describing – but not giving recipes for – classic cocktails, most of which I had never heard of.
For example – the Bee-Bee.
Even by the standards of the time, the description of the Bee-Bee is a little tone-deaf, sexism and other isms-wise. Whoever wrote the entry for it says that he learned about it from “a dark Irish girl”, who used a coffee percolator to make it. She replaced the coffee with fruit rind and honey, and the water with bourbon.
“This will bring on leprechauns and williwaws after the third cup,” he says.
Given that three cups of bourbon is twenty-four ounces of 100 proof alcohol, I suspect that it would be more likely to bring on paramedics and divorce attorneys, and yet…
Zest of one lime – one of the really dark, leathery looking ones
Zest of one orange – just a regular, undemanding orange
1 Tbsp honey
1 cup bourbon – given how much you are going to adulterate it, probably not your best stuff.
Bring all ingredients to a boil in small saucepan, over a medium heat. (The lower temperature will give the alcohol time to strip some of the flavorful oils from the citrus rinds.)
Rest for three minutes. This will give the bourbon a little more time to wash the citrus zest. Yes, it will cool somewhat, but you do the exact same thing when you make a good cup of tea. Think of this as extremely dodgy tea.
Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into an Irish coffee glass.
Shockingly, this is very good. Dangerously good. The bourbon is mellowed out by the honey and citrus. It tastes comforting. It has subtle butterscotch notes that suggest that maybe things aren’t that bad. That maybe you’ll get through all this. That maybe you should make another cup…
So, I guess the question is this: is there a way of lightening the Bee-Bee up, so you don’t end up making a pass at a hat rack, and yet doesn’t strip it completely of its dangerously seductive nature?
Zest of 1 lime – dark and leathery
Zest of 1 orange – calm and demure
½ cup (4 oz) ginger brandy – I like Jacquin’s
1 Tbsp hot honey
½ cup boiling water
Boil all the ingredients, except the water in a small saucepan, over medium heat, allowing the alcohol to strip away as much of the citrus oil as possible.
Again, rest for three minutes.
Strain into an Irish coffee glass, stir in the hot water.
This version of the Bee-Bee doesn’t taste the same as the original, but it has the same, “Hey Buddy, I don’t know if anyone has told you lately, but you are very attractive and have a really great sense of style” quality of debauched, contented comfort to it. (Keep in mind that while only half as dangerous as its big brother, this drink still has four ounces of alcohol in it.) The ginger plays well with the spice of the hot honey. The alcohol is still there and lets you know that it is still there, but it plays so well with the citrus that you hardly notice the number of ill-advised ideas you come up with over the next half hour.
So, this got me thinking…
And then I fell down a rabbit-hole thinking about armadillos. Did you know that they are excellent swimmers and can hold their breath for a wicked long time, walking across the bottoms of rivers?
And then I shook my head – hard – to clear it, and thought some more, this time about hot drinks in general.
I’ve been playing around with chocolate vodka lately. I learned how to make it myself and I’ve gone a bit beyond the edge of reason with it:
750 ml bottom-shelf vodka – any subtle flavor notes will be completely obliterated by the chocolate, so save your good stuff for something else.
½ cup (2 oz/60 gr) cocoa nibs
Combine vodka and cocoa nibs in a wide-mouthed jar and store somewhere dark for four days, shaking twice per day.
Filter, bottle, and label.
This is chocolatey without being sweet. It is mellow and delicious. And again, a bit dangerous, because it starts whispering suggestions to you. “You know what goes really well with chocolate?” And before long, you find yourself elbow deep in notes for experimental drinks.
Like this one:
The Cuckoo Clock
1½ oz chocolate vodka
½ oz crème de cacoa
1½ oz cherry syrup (see below)
6 oz hot water
Combine in a very large mug.
Drink, while listening to an Oktoberfest playlist on Spotify or Pandora.
Chocolate and cherry is a classic combination – think Black Forest Cake. The bright flavor of cherries is the most pushy and diva-ish element of this drink, but the earthiness of the chocolate grounds it and encourages you to put a Yule Log video on and start a puzzle.
1 part (by weight) frozen cherries (The ice crystals in the cherries will break up the cell walls and give you more juice.)
1 part (by weight) sugar
(A pound of frozen cherries and ¾ cup sugar will give you ∼1 ½ cups of syrup.)
Put the cherries and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. As the cherries start to thaw, they will start giving off juice. Stir to combine.
When the cherries are thoroughly warmed up, mash them with a potato masher. It won’t matter if they have pits in them. The masher is a democratic tool and will mash any fruit regardless of its pit status.
Bring to a simmer and cook until the sugar is completely dissolved – three to four minutes.
Strain into a jar, label and store in your refrigerator.
This got me thinking some more. If you are looking for a holiday-ish hot drink, you probably want to think about hot chocolate. And if you happen to have a bottle of chocolate vodka sitting on your kitchen counter, whispering to you, you might be tempted to double down on the chocolate – hot cocoa with the vodka, a sort of Death-By-Chocolate situation. But what if you reversed the whole hot chocolate with a slug of schnapps dynamic – a hot drink where the chocolate (by way of the vodka) was the background flavor?
“You know,” the chocolate vodka whispered to me, “what goes really well with chocolate?”
The Swiss Mandrill
150 gr. very ripe bananas
3 oz chocolate vodka
1 oz crème de cacoa
2 cups low-fat milk
1 cup half & half (Yeah, I know. Just humor me.)
¼ cup malted milk powder
Blend bananas, vodka, and crème de cacao thoroughly. (This is a good job for the Magic Bullet™ you don’t admit you own.) Set aside.
Over medium heat, bring the malted milk powder, milk, and cream almost to a boil (95° C / 200° F), stirring to combine.
Whisk in the banana mixture.
Serve to several guests, because somehow, this recipe got away from me.
The vodka was right. Banana and chocolate are a classic combination. I’m not going to say that this drink tastes like Bananas Foster, because it doesn’t, but it has the same strange, comforting, boozy, hot banana quality, but without prompting you to ask yourself if you really deserve something so decadent. This is simply comforting and delightful and perfect for watching old movies.
I suggest 1938’s You Can’t Take It With You.