Thursday, September 10, 2015

The 9-Up, or Beam me Up, Scotty!

The history of American soft drinks is not nearly as predictable as you might think. Before the advent of soft drinks, potions and nostrums were limited to substances which would self-preserve, without the contents being under pressure, or saved from spoilage by refrigeration. Alcohol will "keep," but most other organic ingredients quickly "turn" and go sour or rotten unless something is done to lower their temperature or keep the air and impurities out. 

The Wikipedia entry for the commercial soft-drink 7 Up provides a nice summary of how the innocent sweet drink we all know today evolved over the 20th Century. (As a child, I consumed unconscionable amounts of this stuff, along with Byerly's Orange, Nehi and Squirt.) 7 Up's origination appeared two weeks before the Stock Market Crash in 1929, as Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda. It contained lithium citrate, a mood-stabilizing drug. Lots of such "patent medicine" products were once marketed as being healthy or promoting a sense of well-being. The company changed hands several times after the war, and is presently controlled by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. 7 Up has been reformulated several times over the years. The lithium citrate was removed in 1950.  There are various theories about what the name "7 Up" actually means, including theories about the ph measure of the drink, and the atomic mass of the lithium content. It probably doesn't matter, since the name has entered the language, in the same way that Coca-Cola has. Current day 7 Up doesn't contain any fruit juice at all. Some of the previous ad jingles I can distinctly recall include: "You like it, it likes you," "Fresh up with 7 Up," "Nothing does it like 7 Up," "Never had it, never will [caffeine]."  

The lithium got me thinking about something else. The late poet James Schuyler's break-out book of poems was titled The Crystal Lithium [New York: Random House, 1972], which incidentally was also the title poem of the collection, which had appeared originally in The Paris Review. The poem as set out in long, talky lines, and was a kind of revelation of a certain kind of American Modernist style and image-making. Schuyler was a great friend of the painter Fairfield Porter, and often visited and stayed at his place in Southampton; Porter often made oil portraits of the poet. 

Schuyler by Porter in 1955 

I'm not sure who first told me what the lithium crystal actually meant--perhaps Barry Watten--but the connection is Schuyler's use of it as a drug for his bizarre mental instability which plagued him throughout his life, and which he wrote about frankly in his work. In his manic phase, his erupting imagination wasn't under sufficient control to allow him to think clearly, but the Lithium, which he took on prescription, allowed him to write effectively, and was the enabling key to his highly admired work in the 1970's and 1980's. The book's title is thus an acknowledgment of the importance of psychoactive chemical influence in the life of a talented creative artist. Schuyler's Freely Espousing [Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1969], The Crystal Lithium, Hymn to Life [New York: Random House, 1974]. and The Home Book: Prose and Poems, 1951-1970 [Calais, Vermont: Z Press, 1977], were all important to me in my own work as a writer. Schuyler's perceptual keenness of observation, his frankness and wit, were revelations to me at the time. 

    Schuyler late in life

This little animadversion is just the sort of distracting detour that I often engage in these days. The internet allows you to wander off into a wood or meadow, off the road of life, and discover or reconfirm something you either hadn't thought about for a while, or hadn't even known existed before. 

7 Up, a commercially marketed soft drink, contained an ingredient that would one day be used by psychiatrists to treat patients. And an American poet who was struggling with his personal demons, could be freed of those demons, enabling him to fulfill his ambitions as a writer. 

All of which, as has been said, "brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to" cocktail mixes and the flavors that can be made from various familiar ingredients. I previously happened upon a taste combination that was suspiciously reminiscent of Coca-Cola. And the one here is suspiciously similar to my memory of 7 Up, which by the way I haven't tasted in many years. In homage to 7 Up and the non-existent lithium citrate, I've christened it the 9 Up. I can't explain why 9, you'll just have to take it on faith. But it's definitely served Up. 

I can recommend this one whole-heartedly. The coconut seems counter-intuitive--not sure quite why I decided to add it, but it fits in perfectly. The combination of lime and sweet lime is also perfect. One of my best inventions! Enjoy!

3 Parts Boodles Gin
1 Part fresh lime juice
1/3 part fresh sweet lime juice
1 tablespoon coconut syrup
1 tablespoon hazelnut liqueur

Shaken and served up with a translucent slice of fresh lime dropped in.

The Augmented Sazerac

Traditionally, the Sazerac is considered to be the official drink of New Orleans, whose history can be traced way back to the beginning of the 19th Century. Because of the French influence, the drink's basis has been considered cognac (or brandy), though variations of it can be made with rye or bourbon with no proprietary fuss. The primary spin of the Sazerac, however, is the absinthe, which, despite the very small amount used, is still the signature flavoring agent.

In the traditional Sazerac, you merely swirl the inside of an old-fashioned glass (a squat tumbler with a wider-than-normal diameter), dispose of the excess, and build the drink inside this coated container. For those who don't like the basic licorice flavor, this may be as much as they stand. For those who enjoy it,  that little a portion may seem stingy. Back before the recent absinthe revolution, people used Pernod or Herbsaint liqueurs instead of true absinthe, which was banned in the U.S. for many years due to the presence of wormwood, which is the "active" ingredient that produced the symptoms which originally got it into trouble here. In Europe, people still like some Pernod cut with tap-water, producing a milky pale yellow drink that's just about pure licorice-tasting. When I was a kid, we used to chew twisted black and red rubbery ropes of commercially marketed licorice candy--I could stand the red, but the black was so sour and "burnt" tasting, I couldn't eat the stuff. Licorice is used in a number of various common proprietary liqueur mixes (Galliano, for instance).

In any event, what I've done here is substitute a good blended (and aged) scotch for the goods, and treated the result as a variation on a classic recipe. The classic Sazerac recipe is for some simple syrup, dashes of Peychaud bitters, and a lemon peel, with the absinthe swirl preceding. My recipe substitutes blended scotch for the rye or brandy, Grenadine for the Peychaud's, and adds Drambuie and some fresh lemon juice. Perhaps it doesn't deserve to be compared to the classic New Orleans mixture, but it's close enough in my mind to bear a taste similarity.    

4 Parts Chivas Regal 12 yr aged blended scotch
1 Part Dambuie
1 Part Fresh Lemon Juice
1/3 part St. George Absinthe Verte
1 Teaspoon Rose Grenadine
 (makes two servings)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Giants 2015 A Year in Transition

It's been a long season again this year, a year marked by injuries and disappointments, and a few bright spots too.

Following last year's triumphant, and improbable, championship run, it might have been expected that some of the propulsion from last year would carry over into this year's campaign. Great dynasty teams--such as the New York Yankees (1947-1964, ten championships, with 15 World Series appearances), or the Cincinnati Reds ("the Big Red Machine," 1970-76 with two championships), or the Yankees earlier (The Babe Ruth Era 1921-1932, 7 Series appearances, 4 championships), or, perhaps most impressive of all, the modern Yankee teams of 1995-2012 (with 17 post-season appearances, and 5 championships)--tend to repeat, but given free agency, it's unusual for all but the richest franchises to keep good teams together for more than a couple of years. Consistently good teams (i.e., the Cardinals, or the Braves, both of whom have had impressive multi-year runs in the last 30 years) are usually the result of superb management and shrewd player manipulation (trades and contracts and farm systems).

It's been shown that teams that play the star free agent market usually fail to deliver, while teams that nurture talent through their farm systems usually fair better. Trades can still be crucial to a team's success, but trading "up" can be very risky, depriving a team of significant money it might have used on lesser, but better suited, talent.

In the case of the Giants, their core key players over the current run were Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson, Brandon Crawford, Angel Pagan, Sergio Romo, Joe Panik, Hunter Pence, and Javier Lopez. Of these, all but Pagan, Hunter and Lopez were products of the Giants' Farm System, a fact which speaks to the importance of home-grown talent versus free agent blockbusters.

There are two reasons the 2015 Giants couldn't overcome the Dodgers for the NL West title--which presently is in its final stages, with the Giants 8 1/2 games back with three weeks to play.

First, the starting pitching. Four years ago, I predicted that Bumgarner would eventually surpass Tim Lincecum as the team's starting ace, and that has definitely come to pass. Lincecum's metoric rise from 2007 to 2010 was not a fluke, but it was evident that, given his slight body,and his tortuous wind-up, he wasn't a pitcher who would have a long career. The two Cy Youngs, and the blazing fast-ball that could strike batters out, were not destined to last. As his velocity declined, he began to press, and lost some of his control. By the middle of 2012, his ERA had doubled, and his strike-out ratio steadily declined. Meanwhile, Madison Bumgarner's star was rising. By the end of last year--and in the play-iffs--it had become apparent that MadBum was a superstar, the kind of player who can carry a team, who performs best under pressure. Big, lanky and focused, Bumgarner resembles Randy Johnson, with an easy, slinging motion, a durable body, and a determined bearing (which can't be taught or learned, but seems an aspect of inherited character). Bumgarner has become THE franchise player that every team needs to succeed. If and when he tests the free agency market, the Giants might find it difficult to match a rich team's high offer. But Bum is signed through 2019, so that isn't an immediate issue.

After Bumgarner, the picture quickly becomes bleak. The rotation at the beginning of the year was to have been Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Hudson, Lincecum and Peavy. But Peavy quickly went on the disabled list. After a handful of good starts, Lincecum deteriorated, and went on the disabled list. Hudson was intermittently effective, but eventually he too went on disabled. Only Chris Heston, an "old" rookie starter, was consistent. Vogelsong, who was never really a front-line starter, played down to his capacity, as he had in the previous two seasons. When Peavey and Hudson came back from the disabled list, they were ineffective. Lincecum was discovered to have degenerative hip disease. Cain, who had had elbow surgery and had been on the disabled list all year, returned with high hopes but was bombed several starts in a row, and went back on the DA again. As the year progressed, Heston began to falter, so that by mid-season or so, the starting pitching was Madison Bumgarner, and pray for rain. Anyone else on the mound, and the team could expect to begin the third inning of any game down by 3 or 4 runs. Again, for a team not noted either for its speed or its power, expecting a comeback, that's a tall order. Finally, when things seemed to be at their worst, the Giants got Mike Leake, a solid stylish 2nd line starter; however, since coming here, he's gone 0-3 with a 4.71 ERA--not exactly stats which are likely to turn the staff around. All of which accounts for the team's performance in the last several weeks. 

Second, injuries. Added to the pitching staff's woes, Jeremy Affeldt went on the disabled list, and Romo had intermittent problems too. Romo, who had been last year's closer, couldn't hack it this year, and gave way to Casilla. Casilla was lights out at first, but then he began to get hit hard in the second half. Among the relievers, Lopez and Kontos have been very good, Strickland has been impressive at times (which bodes well for the future--he's only 26). During the year, Aoki, Panik, Pagan, Pence, Blanco, Crawford and Susac have all had significant injuries. None of this of course could have been predicted at the beginning of the year. Being healthy is luck as much as anything. A smart GM should have understood that Lincecum, Vogelsong, Hudson, Cain, Affeldt and Peavy would all be question-marks. None of these pitchers lived up to expectations this year. In another year, I'd expect all these players either to be gone, or retired or doing mop-up relief by next year.      

On the positive side of the ledger, Matt Duffy was installed at 3rd Base when Casey McGehee tanked, and he's been a revelation at the plate, as well as in the field. Having two miraculous rookies (Panik and Duffy) two years in a row from your farm system is pure gold. We don't even miss Pablo anymore! And now Kelby Tomlinson is showing the same surprising success. In the outfield, Blanco seems to be having his "career year" at the plate, hitting above or just near .300. Aoki was all-star material until he broke his ankle. Meanwhile, Pence (broken arm in spring training and muscle strain in mid-year) has been missing in action. Posey and Crawford are having great years, but neither is a genuine power threat. Pagan, despite missing few games, hasn't been his usual self, nursing old injuries.     

A good deal has been discussed over the media about the Giants front office decisions and choices. Brian Sabean succeeded with uncanny selections, sticking with tried journeymen, while coaxing along younger players. Not everyone has been happy with Sabean's decisions, but it's hard to argue with success. Three championships in five years suggests "dynasty"--no matter how it's accomplished. 

Teams which succeed are usually built around a concept. There's the idea that since pitching is "4/5ths of the game" a good squad of hurlers is the foundation of a successful team. Then there's the notion that if you score enough runs often enough, you need only have mediocre arms, as long as your team ERA doesn't get above, say, 4.50. Then there's the theory of the park you play in.

Since half your games are played at home, building your team around the potentials of a specific park makes some kind of sense. China Basin, where the Giants have played since opening there in April 2000, is an eccentric park, along the lines of Boston's Fenway (with its weird high left field fence). The outfield alignment creates an unusually deep right and right-center field, which makes hitting home runs to the right side difficult. Dozens of fly balls "die" each year at China Basin, which would in other parks be decent home run shots. When the Giants moved to the park, they had perhaps the greatest modern-day long ball hitter in the game, Barry Bonds. With his power, hitting from the left side, the dimensions mattered less. 

The left field fence at China Basin is typical, and not at all that deep. Despite this obvious difference, the team has never sought to get right-handed power hitters. Over the last eleven years, no one (even Bonds) has hit more than 28 home runs, and in every case more home runs were hit in visiting parks than at home. Throughout this period, the Giants neglected to avail themselves of any power-hitting right handed batters, with the occasional exception--Moises Alou, Bengie Molina, Juan Uribe, Pat Burrell, Mike Morse. It's true that Posey and Pence are technically power hitters, but as pure power sluggers they have never been considered as such. 

How much stronger a team would the Giants have been if they'd had, instead of Pagan, or Blanco, a true slugger who could knock in 100 runs with 35 home runs in a year? Typically, the team has tended to structure its outfield for fielding prowess, and that's paid off. But a team which depends on singles and scratching out runs, without some power, especially when it has poor speed, will find it hard to compete without "lights out"pitching staffs.  

It's fun (or sad, depending on how you look at it), to wonder what might have happened if the Giants had had the courage to go out and hire a 2nd top flight starter (to back up Bumgarner), and if Panik, Crawford, Aoki, Pagan and Pence hadn't all gone down. My guess is that they'd be in first place, but then there's the nagging question of reliable starters. Hudson, Peavy, Vogelsong, Lincecum--these guys weren't up to the task this year, and there wasn't a hell of a lot management could do about it, once they'd made their bets. 

So it's wait until next year. 

I wouldn't mind if the Giants trade one of those hot new infielders (perhaps Tomlinson) to someone else for a slugging outfielder with legitimate home run numbers), and they bit the bullet and acquired an ace like Greinke or Sunny Grey. Not signing Sandoval should have given them the money to have done this at the beginning of the year, but then all those injuries weren't anticipated either. 

But next year will be a different story, with the Lincecum era officially over and the journeymen leaving. We've not heard anything about any good new starters in the farm system, so I would expect the team to shop in the off-season. It will depend on who's available (Greinke will be a free agent), and how astute the traders are. If we want to get back to glory in 2016, there'll need to be some turnover, and a few new faces. Change is in the wind. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


What's cooler on a hot day than a nice cooler?

Coolers aren't cocktails per se, but they are often included in cocktail compendiums, because they involve mixtures which include alcoholic ingredients.

Coolers may or may not have strictly defined "goods"--goods being hard liquor in any of its usual incarnations. Alcoholic content occurs in wines and beers and liqueurs and so forth, but aperitifs and cordials have not traditionally been considered cocktails, though they may constitute significant parts of cocktail recipes. 

One way of suppressing the hard alcoholic content of drinks is avoiding the use of "goods" altogether, thus reducing the percentage of alcohol present in the drink. Alcohol does have a very weak flavor by itself, but it's how it interacts with other taste elements that makes cocktails intriguing. No matter how little alcohol you imbibe, there is some effect on the brain and nervous system (as well as your digestive tract). But as I've pointed out more than once here, getting drunk or "tipsy" isn't the point of enjoying cocktails, and if it is, you've missed it entirely. 

The other consideration with coolers is sweetness. Soft drinks were invented to bring interest to water, which is a vital necessity to the body. If you're really thirsty, there's nothing like water, just as, when you're out of breath, there's nothing like fresh air. Soft drinks are flavored water. Flavored water has been popular for thousands of years, but popularly marketed flavored water drinks are a very recent development in history--one of the hallmarks of the modern world. 

Cocktails are like soft drinks for grown-ups. Lots of drinkers avoid sweeter cocktails, seeing them as nothing more than soft-drinks in fancy dress. I tend to agree, especially when faced with the "equatorial" "cool-aid" versions you often see offered at popular restaurants or taverns. Most of these don't even qualify as cocktails at all. You can spot these fakes by checking the order of ingredients. Inevitably, they involve the addition of fruit juices, at the expense of reducing the actual alcoholic content to less than 15%. In the restaurant and bar trade(s), this is usually a way of reducing costs, by cutting back on the actual amount of goods used to make them. These "weak" drinks don't deserve the name of cocktails, and should be avoided. 

Chacun a son gout. A large percentage of cocktail drinkers like martinis. The majority of traditional martinis are nearly pure goods, without any adulterating content (such as vermouth). Vodka martinis can be very good with certain foods, such as raw oysters, where the subtle saltiness of the shell-fish works in tandem with the dry clarity of the liquor. But if you enjoy variety, insisting on unadulterated goods as a steady diet is boring. 

But enough of this spin. The subject was coolers, and here are two nice recipes I've developed, used in conjunction with a "soda" that is presently new on the market. 

During the English occupation of India, so-called quinine water became a common way of ingesting the chemical (quinine--a prophylactic against malaria), and quinine water, mixed with gin (or vodka) has been a traditional combination for over a century. 

Tonic water (or Indian Tonic Water) is a carbonated soft drink. The commercial brand Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water contains less sugar than is commonly used in most marketed tonic sodas, and it's what I've used here. You need less sugar, since the liqueurs or aperitifs I've used are sweet by themselves. Using a common tonic water with them would result in just the sort of "cool-aid" aspect I'm averse to. 

The method with these mixes is to combine the alcoholic ingredients in a stainless steel mixer, just as you would with any cocktail, but in amounts that will, when combined with the tonic water, result in a relatively smaller percentage of the finished drink. The amount of tonic water added to the mix is up to the mixer, but I've decided that the "mixed" alcoholic portion should constitute no more than about 30% of the whole when served. 

Mix these ingredients together with ice, then pour into "bubble"-wine glasses, add a couple of smaller pieces of ice (not the cube variety) and then pour the carbonated tonic water over this, stirring lightly. The drink should have a very pale color from the diluted drink ingredients, depending on what the recipe includes.   

1 1/2 part midori
1/12 part limoncello
1/5 part cinnamon liqueur
1 part fresh lime

add 3-4 small pieces of ice

Tonic soda water to top up


1 1/2 part genepi des alpes
1 1/2 part st germaine liqueur
1 part fresh lime 

add 3-4 small pieces of ice

Tonic soda water to top up

If these drinks seem too sweet, you can always use unsweetened carbonated water, or even boutique bottled drinking water. Tap water, I think, is just too pedestrian to use. A little carbonation stirs up the mix, and keeps it lively. And the quinine gives it character, which was always what made the English Gin and Tonic combination so seductive. 

There'll always be a British! 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Death of the Milkman

Hint: This is not a mystery novel.

I'm old enough now to remember when dairy products were delivered directly to your door at home.

If you live long enough, nearly everything that once seemed typical and universal, eventually seems old-fashioned. Change is the common thread that runs through life, though the pace of that change has itself changed over time. 

For someone living in Europe during the Middle Ages, I suppose it must have been possible to see the world as pretty permanent and static. When you were born, people rode horses, and went to church, and worked the soil, and made things mostly by hand. At the end of your life, these things were still true; little had changed in your world.

Today, the pace of change is so rapid, that in a hundred years, much of the environment, and what goes on in it, may seem so unfamiliar and outdated that it's astounding. People in 1900 could hardly have imagined what was coming, and if you'd told them about it, they probably wouldn't have believed you. Or they would have thought you crazy. 

When I was growing up in the 1950's, milk and cream and cheeses were delivered right to our door, once a week, by "The Milkman." The milkman--like the postman, or the Fuller Brush man, or the Bible salesman, or the census taker, or the paperboy--seems another aspect, another vestige, of our irretrievable and inalterable past. 

Why did milk men go away? Because the whole commercial marketing model of food and household goods distribution changed. 

Once upon a time--say, as long ago as when my parents were growing up during the first half of the 20th Century--people got their supplies and groceries from small tradespeople and shops. Dairy goods were sold by dairies, meat by butchers, baked flour goods by bakers, and so on. There were specialty shops for pickled goods, sweets, fruit and vegetables, liquor, and so on. 

What happened to all these separate, specialized venues?

The first great wave of change gathered momentum right after World War II. Safeway and other chains had begun before the War, but didn't develop quickly until the 1940's. By the 1950's, grocery stores (especially chains) were shunting specialty shops aside. Grocery stores rapidly consolidated the different kinds of goods people once had acquired from multiple sources. By 1955, it was possible to buy everything a housemaker might need to eat and drink, from a single big super-market.  

By the time I was in junior high school, milkmen were becoming an endangered species. With the rise of the automobile, in suburbia, it made more sense to do your one-stop shopping at the grocery market, without having to pay a premium for door-to-door delivery. 

The second wave of consolidation was of course the shopping "center"--or "mall"--a big complex of different kinds of retail, which might include, aside from grocery stores, all kinds of different product sellers. 

In a larger sense, the gradual disappearance of the small "tradesman" in our economy, is a trend that follows the increasing technological sophistication of distribution, communication, and marketing tools. These developments seem to possess an inertia that is overwhelming. 

Today, we're seeing some reaction against the consolidation represented by malls and shopping districts. There are contrary trends happening. People are reexamining the "convenience" and seeming attraction of these places. Over the last decade, construction of malls and centres has ground to a halt, and as much as a third of all the existing sites in the U.S. have gone "grey"--abandoned, or slated for demolition. 

Today, increasingly, people are shopping "online" (on the internet). Many of the things we once bought elsewhere, are being delivered to us, with just a few keystrokes on the computer. Mail order has reemerged as the frontier of marketing, after having been largely ignored for half a century. 

As a used (rare) book dealer, I've had to adjust to this new model, which hit the retail scene just at the point that I was entering the trade in the mid 1990's. When I contemplated becoming a self-employed used book dealer in 1994, most specialty dealers nursed a small local contingent of customers, which they supplemented by sending out catalogues to select customers further away. Provincial exclusivity outweighed most other considerations. Running an open shop with regular business hours made sense, since most of your sales were "through the door" rather than through the mail. 

So-called "big box" bookstores, like Walden Books, Crown, Barnes & Noble, and Borders had followed the shopping mall model, and were very successful for a couple of decades, discounting and pressuring the smaller independents. Half Price Books was created using this model, and it wasn't long before used books were being sold online, supplanting the "catalogue" model of the antiquarian book trade. Today, online is king, dominated by Amazon (and its subsidiary Advanced Book Exchange), along with a handful of much smaller sites. And books themselves, as physical text repositories of the written word, are also coming under pressure. 

Each wave of change seems to kill off the previous iteration. Used bookstores as we know them seem an endangered species. The very act of shopping, or browsing, is being seen as an inconvenience, instead of the adventure it once was figured to be. 

I miss the milk man. Would I willingly "go back" and choose to have my milk and cream and cottage cheese delivered by a cheerful man driving a big white truck through my neighborhood at 5 AM in the morning? I just might. On the other hand, would I care to order my groceries from an online delivery site, and paying with a credit card to a nameless, faceless corporate marketer? Would I let someone else choose my apples, or my breakfast cereal, or my cheese wedge? 

There are some tasks in life that are better performed first-hand, hands-on. Convenience is not always to be preferred over direct interaction. Sometimes, even paying a small premium for the charm and immediacy of "real" experience, is better than allowing oneself to be swept up into the automated wave of someone else's dream. 


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Further Diversions from the Stainless Steel Counter

One obvious limitation to the variety and diversity of mixing is the number of traditional kinds of spirits there are. There's gin and rum and bourbon and scotch and brandy and vodka and tequila, any one of which provides a firm platform for the exploration of tastes and combinations. Still, one often senses the monotony of this limited panoply of historical precedents. One may expand this range a bit by using aperitifs or fruit drinks as bases, but then we're straying into punches and coolers and toddies--not cocktails. Cocktails as such deserve to have their own categorical purity, which we should respect. 

So, in the round-robbin of shifting alternatives, here are five more, some so new they don't even have names.
This one is a delicately spiced number. You don't see apple liqueur used much in popular recipe books, and I can't think why. Apple flavor, especially the crisp "green" side, makes perfect sense in a drink. Maybe the association with apple juice is somehow wrong. Gin is a flavored spirit, and here the delicate herbs in the gin mate with the apple and Genepi aperitif to make a very sophisticated flavor, "dried out" by the lime.   

3 part Boodles gin
1 part apple liqueur
1 part Genepi des Alpes
1 part fresh lime juice

Shakes and served up in very cold cocktail glasses.


Exotic ingredients are making a comeback in the liquor business. Today, you can find "bitters" in dozens of flavors, and other kinds of special ingredients are appearing too. Here, I use black burnt sugar syrup (which is a little like clarified molasses) to lend a bit of down-south sweetness to a classic dark rum arrangement. No one would be surprised or embarrassed to be served this in New Orleans or Key West on a hot afternoon in late summer.    

2 parts dark rum
1 part puerto rican rum
1/3 part black burnt sugar syrup
1/3 part blood orange liqueur
1/3 part cinnamon liqueur
1 part fresh lemon juice

Swirled and served on the rocks, or up, with or without an orange or lemon peel floating on top. 


This one is very seductive, but the optional addition of vanilla-almond syrup is hard to settle. I first made it with, and it seemed a trifle too sweet, but when I made it without, it seemed comparatively dry. I think maybe just reducing the amount to half a teaspoon of syrup might be the trick. The ginger with the parfait d'amour (a proprietary flavor that's in the orange family, but is more complex than that) is really a revelation. 

3 parts golden rum
1 part parfait d'amour
2/3 part ginger liqueur
1 teaspoon vanilla almond syrup (optional)
1 part fresh lemon juice

Shaken and served up.


Here again, the use of the burnt sugar syrup, alters in a good way the effect of the traditional Peychaux bitters. Galliano goes well with lots of other flavors, and here it deepens the quality without diverting it. This one, like the dark rum recipe above, is inspired by Southern hospitality and charm, which you can experience second-hand just by drinking this drink!

4 parts Jack Daniels sour mash whisky
1 part Galliano
1.5 parts fresh lemon juice
1/3 part burnt sugar syrup
four dashes Peychaux Bitters
orange peel + 1/2 teaspoon orange juice

Swirled and served up. 


This last perhaps doesn't fully qualify as a cocktail, since it's based on an aperitif--dry vermouth--instead of a straight spirit. Still, especially for the ladies, it's the perfect Summer cooler, which can be served up or on the rocks, and of course it's a weaker drink, so less dangerous or inebriating. Not that I worry too much about that, since I rarely have more than one drink at any given time. I've nick-named it the "punch drunk" since it's really sort of a punch, but will not make you "drunk." 

"Punch Drunk"

2 parts dry vermouth
1 part compari
1 part triple sec
1 part lime
1 1/2 part soda

On the rocks, or up if you prefer.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Certain Rare Cancers Have Been Reported

When I grew up in the 1950's and 1960's, you routinely saw and heard advertisements for non-prescription medicines. In those remote times, cigarettes and beer ads were also routinely permitted--so the question of the public's health was decidedly an ambiguous matter from a regulatory standpoint. 

Over the last two decades, spending by pharmaceutical companies on lobbying, and advertising to the general public on television, have mushroomed. Drug companies are making very big money on a host of new products, designed to appeal to people who have common chronic afflictions, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, indigestion and irregularity, depression, diabetes, obesity, sleep disorders, joint and muscle disease, chronic pain, skin hair and nail problems, and so forth. None of these conditions is new, and the treatments are generally familiar and routine. 

Non-prescription medicine is available to the general public, because it's considered safe enough that ordinary people can be trusted to use it in a safe way. Prescription medicine is considered to be safe only when prescribed by, and taken under the supervision of, a trained physician. Marketing prescription medication over public media to the general public is a relatively new phenomena--the campaign to convince people that taking riskier artificial or synthetic substances is going to make a significant difference in their lives. 

Many of the new drugs aren't even "primary" treatment products. They're just designed to "help" when used in conjunction with a primary treatment regimen. 

It used to be that drug companies targeted their campaigns to pharmacists and doctors. When I was growing up, the father of one of my friends was a pharmacist. He'd received hundreds of "gifts" and come-ons every year, to influence him to promote the use of one or another commercially marketed pills or applications, in the hope that he would recommend them to his customers. Toys, paperweights, pens, calendars, it was a relentless flow. 

Today, drug companies have gotten permission to promote prescription medications directly to the general public. 

We've all seen the new ads. They have fancy names, scientific sounding--like Verdaxa, or Duvadin, or Clinolix--and we know the FDA has passed them, but FDA approval apparently doesn't guarantee safety, at least not any more.

On each ad, there is a cheerful vignette of someone performing daily routines, or on vacation. They're all smiles, liberated from the distractions of their medical issues, getting on with life, celebrating just being alive. 

But while all this visual drama is taking place, a comforting voice is narrating the serious side effects which may accompany the desired "cures" the drug was designed to effect. The possible "side-effects" of a pill for depression may include heart attack, stomach ulcers, swollen feet, and even "certain rare cancers." 

You would think that any advertisement which was required to inform you about all the bad things which could happen to you if you used a product, would probably not work. 

But we all know that big corporations aren't stupid, and they wouldn't be using these ads if they weren't working. 

Americans have always loved taking medicine, and it's becoming more true every year. Is it because we have an inordinate credulity for panaceas? Do we think we can medicate ourselves into health? 

Most people know that eating a good diet, and exercising regularly, are the best behaviors for good health. Smoking, drinking immoderately, living a sedentary life, being socially isolated, or taking unnecessary risks such as driving too fast, or crossing streets while texting--these are all behaviors designed to shorten your life, or to lead to poor health.

But people are not rational. They will do things they know are bad for them, out of sheer laziness, or simple mischief. 

People can be convinced of almost anything--right up to, and including, committing suicide.

The pharmaceutical companies know this, and they rely on it. 

Would you take a drug which "might" help with a chronic condition, but which carried the risk of certain much more serious side effects? 

"Certain rare cancers have been reported."