Friday, September 19, 2014

The Evolution of the Martini (Part 2)


The Martinez

Last week we visited the ultimate ancestor of the Martini which, surprisingly enough, was the Manhattan -- or rather the Nineteenth Century version of the Manhattan.  Today, the Drink That Would Be King makes its first major mutation.  Somebody -- and there are many conflicting stories as to who it was -- made a Manhattan with gin instead of whiskey.  Thus changing history forever.

But first it has to be explained that just as "whiskey" a century-and-some years ago actually meant rye, so too "gin" did not mean London Dry Gin, which is the stuff we overwhelmingly drink today.  It meant either Genever Gin (the original, but of no relevance to today's post) or else Old Tom Gin.

Old Tom Gin is, simply enough, sweet gin.  It actually includes simple syrup in its formulation.  There are today, two commonly available Old Tom Gins -- Hayman's Old Tom Gin and Ransom Old Tom Gin -- and a slew of boutique Old Toms from craft distilleries, which will be ignored here simply because they're expensive and hard to find.

Embarrassingly enough, Hayman's and Ransom are very different-tasting gins.  That's because back in the heyday of Old Tom Gins, there was a great variety in the formulations, brand by brand.  No one knows which was used for the cocktail in question; presumably it varied from bartender to bartender.  For this experiment, Marianne and I bought a bottle of Ransom.

The new drink was promptly dubbed the Martinez and it caught on fast and hard.  There are many recipes for the Martinez, and while they are all, essentially, an old-style Manhattan made with Old Tom Gin rather than rye, we chose the following:

One part Old Tom Gin
One part sweet vermouth
two dashes orange bitters
one dash maraschino
shake over ice
strain into a glass
serve with a twist of lemon peel

And the result was . . . drum roll, please . . . a surprisingly good summer drink.  It's still sweet, of course.  But sweet in a pleasant way.  The flavor of the Old Tom gin dominates lightly, and the other flavors harmonize with it.  This is the sort of cocktail I think of as a "lady drink" -- provided one imagines the lady drinking it as being your sophisticated New York City aunt, the one with the expensive enamel cigarette case with matching lighter, which she kept in her Chanel purse, and the scandalous past she never regretted.

Really, quite an excellent tipple.  Lovely color too.  I'd recommend it to anyone.

But no matter how many of them you drink, you'll still never mistake a Martinez for a Martini.  There were still several crucial steps yet to go before that could happen.

The American Martini Laboratory will be recreating those steps and reviewing them for you here in the near future.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Secret Life of Books


Marianne and I drove to the Big Apple yesterday for a launch party hosted by bookman, small press entrepreneur, writer, and poet Henry Wessells.  It was held at James Cummins Bookseller, which is the perfect place to drop by when you happen to be in the mood to pick up the typescript of a book-length poem by W. H. Auden or a watercolor drawing of Madeleine by Ludwig Bemelmans.

The book being launched was a small press (Temporary Culture, Henry's own imprint) limited edition (226 copies) collection of six poems by Henry Wessells "on reading, memory, books, and the second law of thermodynamics," titled The Private Life of Books.  With photographs by Paul Sch├╝tze.

It's really quite a lovely book.

Unexpected traffic caused me to miss most of the party, but it was a glittery event nonetheless, and the milieu could not be improved upon.  Pictured above are Henry himself and Marianne Porter, founder, proprietor, designer, and creator of Dragonstairs Press.

Click here to find ordering information on The Private Life of Books.

Click here to browse Joseph Cummins Bookseller.

And click here to see The Endless Bookshelf, the blog of the only man in the world who enjoys books more than you do.

Above:  The powers behind the literary juggernauts of Temporary Culture and Dragonstairs Press.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tony Auth


Tony Auth died the other day.  He was the Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial cartoonist for decades, and his angriest cartoons could draw blood.  During the Watergate mess, he drew a cartoon of the White House as a brothel with Nixon as the madam, watching sadly as some of her whores are led into a paddy wagon.

But he also had a lovely sense of whimsy.  Nobody did gentle and happy better than him.  Behind the register at Joseph Fox Bookshop (the last of the great old independent bookstores in Philadelphia), you can see the envelopes tacked up of his correspondence with the bookshop, each with a delightful color drawing on it, of anthropomorphic foxes and the like.  You could tell just by looking at his work that he loved to draw.

Auth illustrated a number of children's books, and for a time drew a daily comic strip written by Daniel Pinkwater.  It was a brilliant piece of work, filled with joy and adventure.  Alas, the market for comic pulp adventure is limited in this time and place, and Norb did not last long.  The cartoons were collected in a single large paperback volume, shoddily bound.  I just now took a look on Amazon and see that you can buy a copy for as little as one hundred dollars.

I never met the guy but I do have one of his watercolors, bought cheap at an estate sale.  Still, I'm going to miss his drawings.  What a clean, open, accomplished line he had!  We're all the poorer for his going.


Monday, September 15, 2014

This Glitterati Life: Adam Cusack's Spook Buggy


Saturday, Marianne and I jaunted out to West Philly for a book launch at Locust Moon Books.  The book in question was Spook Buggy,  a graphic novel by artist-writer Adam Cusack about a woman who finds herself suddenly extracted from life without actually being dead.

It is, I have to say, kind of a hoot to be by far the oldest person in a room full of talented, ambitious, energetic young artists of various stripes.  In addition to Cusack's book and samples of his art, there were works by other artists inspired by his book, a three-song CD, and even Spook Buggy earrings  by Rosemari Lane.

In the end, I bought the book, the CD (the songs, sung by Adam Cusack himself, were surprisingly good; I'll fill you in on the composer and instrumentalists as soon as my son Sean returns the CD), and a pair of the earrings. You can see Lane's unrelated jewelry here.)

I don't see a specific site where you can buy Spook Buggy, but you can go to the Locust Moon site and poke around here.

And as always . . .

I'm on the road again.  I apologize for the brevity of this post that fact made necessary.

Above:  That's Adam posing with some of his art.  The man knows what to do when you point a camera at him.


Friday, September 12, 2014

The Evolution of the Martini (Part 1)


Like it or loathe it, the Martini is the most austere and uncompromising of alcoholic concoctions -- indeed, the very king of cocktails.

But how did it come about?

We at the American Martini Laboratory determined to find out, to sample the ancestral drinks, and to pass judgment upon them.  Over the next several weeks, one drink at a time, our researches will be shared here.

The scholarly study of the history of cocktails has been, since the beginning, a difficult one, and there are very few facts that are uncontested, particularly when it comes to the Martini.  However, the majority of scholars agree that the very first almost-Martini was a late nineteenth-century cocktail called the Martinez -- a drink consisting chiefly of equal parts of sweet vermouth and Old Tom gin.  This is the drink the AML will be testing and tasting next week.

But first, let's look at the precursor drink, that from which the Martinez was derived.  Which is, improbably enough, the Manhattan.

To understand this, it helps to know that Nineteenth-Century cocktails were almost invariably sweet and that, as often as not, they included a raw egg.  The original Manhattan did not include an egg, thank God, but it was even sweeter than the amber and autumnal drink we enjoy today.  To appreciate it, let's first look at a contemporary recipe for this drink:

three parts rye
one part sweet vermouth
a dash of angostura bitters
shake well over ice
strain into cocktail glasses
add a maraschino cherry

There are variations, of course.  In my household we use cherries that Marianne has spiced in maraschino and add a few drops of the maraschino.

In the nineteenth century, this drink was much sweeter.  Here's one of several very similar recipes from the time:

one part whiskey (rye)
one part sweet vermouth
two dashes angostura bitters
one dash maraschino
shake well over ice
strain into cocktail glasses

This is the drink the AML recreated the other night and taste-tested.  It should be noted that the original recipe called for whiskey rather than rye.  That was for the simple reason that in the nineteenth century rye was what was meant when people spoke of whiskey.  You'll note also that the maraschino cherry has yet to make an appearance.  Back then, people were as likely as not to drop a slice of orange in their drink, along with possibly a splash of of simple syrup, just to sweeten it up.

And the result of the tasting?

The Nineteenth-Century Manhattan was, it goes without saying, a sweet drink.  It had not reached the golden beauty of the contemporary cocktail.  But it was on its way.  It was recognizably the same drink -- though probably not in the proportions that you and I would mix them today.

And it was in no way like the modern Martini.

Next Friday (if all goes as planned) I will post the second drink in this series -- the Martinez.  Which, while recognizably ancestral to the Martini, is still not a drink that could be mistaken for one.

Above:  The makings of the (Nineteenth Century) Manhattan.  The Art Deco glasses with naked female dancers are courtesy of the estate of William C. Porter, my late father-in-law.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Owls for Literature!


I've got a link for you which I haven't seen yet.  Chris Urie of Geekadelphia gave it to me, noting that it goes live at 10:30 a.m.  Which is inconvenient since, as always, I'm on the road again.

But thanks to the miracle of Blogspot, I'm posting this the night before and scheduling it for midmorning.

Here's the deal:  on September 25 at 7:30 p.m., Chris will be hosting an author event at the Free Library of Philadelphia with Jeff VanderMeer.  Since VanderMeer's latest novel features an owl, a rep from the Academy of Natural Sciences will be present with a live barn owl.

If you don't think this is cool, I have no hope for you whatsoever.  None.

Here's the link.  I look forward to seeing it.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Graham Joyce: "Walk It Off, Lad!"


I only met Graham Joyce the once and that was in a busload of writers, so I'm not sure if he ever caught my name.  You couldn't say we were close.  Nor have I read much of his work.  I'm not big on horror fiction.  But there was that bus trip...

This was in San Francisco.  There was a World Fantasy Con going on, and somebody organized a signing at a bookstore with twenty or thirty writers.  A bus was rented to drive us from the convention to the signing and back again.  Flocks of people showed up to snag autographs they normally couldn't get.  It was a great deal for collectors with enough money to drop on a pile of new hardcovers and a terrific scam for the bookseller.  I have no idea who put that one together.

On the bus on the way back, there was a certain amount of jockeying for who would get to talk and who would have to listen.  Somehow Joyce found an opening and mentioned that he'd just won an award for best non-fiction book about sports.  He'd gotten a call asking if he'd be willing to be the goalie for England's national soccer (or football) team -- him forty-something years old, with a bad back, shot knees, eyesight going, you must be mad.  Ah, but it was the national writers' team and they had to take who they could get.  Plus there was a free trip to Italy in it.  So...

And on he went, mesmerizingly.  At one point, he said, "So I combined this with my experiences with soccer as I was growing up."  And we all leaned forward anxiously

"You made it self-deprecating, I hope?" somebody said.

"Oh, yes, very self-deprecating."

And we all leaned back in relief.  An audience of writers is not quite the same thing as an audience of readers.

It was a lovely story and Joyce told it so well that even today I could tell you most of it from memory.  When I got home, I bought a copy of Simple Goalkeeping Made Spectacular.  Soccer means nothing to me, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.  I'm guessing that people who have actually played the sport, or watched it for pleasure, would love it to pieces.

Yesterday afternoon, Graham Joyce died.  The world has been diminished by one storyteller.  This is, as John Clute observed, deeply sad.

Based entirely on the one book and single bus ride, though, I'm guessing that he wouldn't want us to get all mawkish about it.  In my mind's ear, I hear his voice in that working-class accent of his saying the same thing his coaches would tell him if he twisted an ankle:  "Walk it off, lad!"

Well, it won't be easy.  But we'll do our best.

And on a much lighter note . . .

The august two-person ruling board of the American Martini Laboratory has decided to re-create the evolution of the Martini, drink by drink, starting deep in the 19th Century with the rather surprising ancestor from which this most austere of all cocktails ultimately arose.

The first installment (with recipe) will be posted on Friday.  Barring exceptionally bad or particularly good news, of course.