A Drink, a Book, and a Song III
It’s gin thyme, again. Reading and thinking about libraries and their survival. And why you need “Electrophonic Tonic.”
Welcome back. Every Friday (more or less), I feature a tasty drink, an interesting book, and a sharable song with the hope of imparting some useful knowledge or maybe some higher-order trivia for the weekend. If you find any of this the least bit interesting, please spread the word.
I. A Drink
Whoever said the Internet is forever was full of malarkey. Vast chunks of our data have disappeared for good. Services end. Publications go out of business. Links die in droves daily.
Years ago, I wrote for a group blog called Infinite Monkeys. Don’t bother looking for it—it’s long gone. Pieces of it exist in various Internet archives, but it’s a bit depressing to go hunting for a vaguely remembered old post and realize how little even the Wayback Machine has preserved.
I mention Infinite Monkeys because we used to write about booze. A lot. In 2008, we embarked upon something we called “the Summer of Gin.” The aspiration was to drink gin and post our thoughts and discoveries as frequently as possible. In practice, we mostly just drank gin and forgot to write. (A second attempt in 2010 was equally successful.) The series ended up as roughly a dozen posts among four or five guys on the virtues of gin and certain gin-based cocktails.
One of them, which I wrote, highlighted a drink called the Ten Thyme Smash.
I wrote for Infinite Monkeys for 10 years and saved practically nothing. But I just happened to save a late draft of that particular post. Hallelujah! A bit of cocktail culture trivia preserved!
The post was inspired by a Minnesota blogger named “Chad the Elder” of another great, now-defunct group blog called Fraters Libertas. (Don’t bother looking for that one, either . . . alas.) Chad, a prodigious Gentleman of the Swig, had written about experiencing the Ten Thyme Smash firsthand at a local eatery, lauding it as “what may very well be the best new cocktail that I’ve had in years” and pronouncing it “absolutely sublime and completely delicious.”
The problem, I noted at the time, was that even though the drink appeared on the menus of several top-flight drinking establishments around the country, the recipe itself was nowhere to be found. At least not easily, and certainly not online.
What was true in 2008 is even truer today. The Bank in Minneapolis, where the Elder had his cocktail epiphany, is still open. But the Ten Thyme Smash is no longer on the menu. Same story at the famous Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Ditto, the Marriott in Boca Raton, Florida. A recipe does appear in Nicole Aloni’s 2007 book, The Backyard Bartender: 55 Cool Summer Cocktails, which is out of print but seems to be readily available used. (I ordered a copy the day before yesterday, as a matter of fact.)
With the help of my co-bloggers David Burkhart and Jim Lakely on one blistering Inland Southern California Saturday afternoon 14 years ago, I reverse engineered what I imagined the drink might be based in part on the description from the Bank’s semiliterate cocktail menu: “refreshing and sophisticated—fresh thyme, cucumber and lime shaked (sic) with ultra premium tanqueray (sic) ten gin and white cranberry—the perfect apertif (sic).”
As it turned out, Chad was right. It’s a very nice drink. Perfect for the Summer of Gin, or any other summer, really.
Here’s my primitive recipe:
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 cucumber slices
1 oz. fresh lime juice
2 oz. Tanqueray Ten (or any decent gin)
3 oz. white cranberry juice
Strip the leaves from the thyme sprigs and place them in a shaker along with two thickish slices of cucumber. Add the lime juice and muddle. Fill the shaker with ice and add the gin and the white cranberry juice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass or an ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with a cucumber slice. (Maybe not so thick.)
A couple of notes: First, I didn’t peel the cucumber. The peel added a certain bitterness to the drink that I liked, though it received mixed reviews from my female tasters. De gustibus non est disputandum, as the sages say.
Second, I know most hardcore cocktailians prefer freshly squeezed juices. But in all my days, I’ve never heard of people pressing their own white cranberry juice. That seems silly. Just go out and buy a bottle of Ocean Spray, already. Besides, the white cranberry flavor is milder than red cranberry juice and largely subsumed by the thyme, lime, cucumber, and gin.
An impromptu variation: On a whim, I substituted three torn basil leaves for the thyme, reduced the lime juice by a quarter of an ounce, and added a capful of orange curaçao along with an extra splash or two of gin and white cranberry. I threw that version together as I was writing the original post, and I thought it worked pretty well at the time. Though maybe not all that well, as I haven’t done it again since.
Thyme is a versatile herb for cocktails, not to be feared. Another popular cocktail, one that also appeared in the Summer of Gin series, is the raspberry-thyme smash. Here the Internet is much more helpful. Bon Appétit published a recipe in its July 2008 issue, which I’m sure is the version I used back then. I found several others, all more or less the same.
Tieghan Gerard of Half-Baked Harvest produced a blueberry lemon thyme smash recipe that substitutes bourbon or tequila for gin (but gin works just fine, I can assure you), adds elderflower liqueur, and incorporates blueberries, thyme, and lemon juice topped with sparkling water (elderflower tonic is also a tasty option).
Several months after my Ten Thyme Smash post appeared, the drink’s inventor, a former restaurant consultant if memory serves, showed up in the comments. He generally praised my effort and shared his recipe, which was somewhat different (and probably better) than mine. Do I remember the man’s name? No. Do I recall his recipe’s measurements and proportions? Of course not. Did I bother to write any of it down? Heavens, no! Why on earth would I do that?
The Internet is supposed to be forever, after all.
II. A Book
Speaking of the limits of “forever,” I just started reading The Library: A Fragile History, by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen. (Once again, I want to acknowledge Joel J. Miller’s excellent newsletter, Miller’s Book Review. He can sleep well tonight knowing his passing mention of the book the other day led me to his longer review from February, whereupon I immediately bought the book.)
I’m currently working on a fairly involved story about a small but highly regarded public library in a Pacific Northwest state. At first, it looked like yet another book banning story, which is becoming tediously commonplace these days. But it’s so much more than that, involving allegations of corruption, self-dealing, discrimination, child-stalking, terrorist threats, and, evidently, after-hours strip shows complete with a stripper pole.
I’m excited to share it—soon, I hope.
As a general rule, I oppose book bans and favor the wide dissemination of information. But I disagree with the American Library Association’s view that a “challenge” is tantamount to a “ban.” Many challenges are silly, but all of them deserve an argument. Some challenges might occasionally have merit. Often the remedy in such cases is to place a controversial book behind the counter, where it’s out of reach of innocent eyes but more mature patrons may freely request it. That isn’t censorship, exactly. It’s more akin to prudence.
Public libraries, as we know them in the United States, are a relatively recent innovation dating from the mid-19th century. They are reflections of their communities, which is where things get sticky. At this fractious moment in our national life, several communities—or factions within communities—appear to be at odds with their libraries and the librarians who curate them. These controversies are not new, but they’re more intense at the moment.
Where will it all lead?
“If there is one lesson from the centuries-long story of the library,” Pettegree and Weduwen write in the book’s prologue, “it is that libraries only last as long as people find them useful.”
“In other words, libraries need to adapt to survive.”
I intend to stick with this subject in the coming weeks. I hope you’ll stick with me.
III. A Song
Sometimes, the algorithm surprises.
I did not think I had ever heard of Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, an Ann Arbor-based post-MC5, Stooges-adjacent outfit, until earlier this year. Turns out, I was mistaken. Led by the late Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC-5 and backed by Scott Asheton of the Stooges on drums, the band scored a minor hit with a song called “City Slang”—the only single the group ever released when they were together—but somehow I didn’t make the connection.
“Electrophonic Tonic” popped up in Spotify’s personalized “Discovery Weekly” list for me in April. I learned it was supposed to be the B-side of “City Slang” and wasn’t discovered until the late 1990s—a miraculous archival find!—after Smith died entirely too young of heart failure. Is it a great song? I don’t know about that. But you need a way to tap your energy and the song is super-high energy rock and roll. I often play it on a loop when I’m driving, and it makes me want to play drums again.
Play it loud, by all means. And let it flow.
IV. A Final Word
Many thanks to the great Ben Stein and my friend Judah Friedman for helping me spread the word about this newsletter, rather in spite of myself. I’m still figuring out what I want to do here and I haven’t been promoting it aggressively just yet. But I’ve been honored to be a regular guest since 2020 on “The World According to Ben Stein,” which is tremendous fun. I confess that I am something of a Ben Stein fanboy—and have been for probably 35 years. If you’ve watched or listened to the show, you might think we’re making it up as we go. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong. I compare it to free jazz. We often just riff. It’s kind of crazy. Sometimes things go off the rails. Ben says what he wants to say, and you never really know what it will be. He has very funny stories. My role often is to relate news of the day that Ben finds unbelievable. It’s weird and wonderful and very entertaining.
Finally, I didn’t want to do it, but I’m back on Twitter as @NiceThingsBen because all of the good handles were taken. I say I didn’t want to do it, but I did it anyway. Follow if you want, but I won’t blame you if you don’t. (Please follow . . . I desperately need the validation and the dopamine surge that only social media can provide.) (Really?) (No. Not really. But please follow anyway.)
My sage plant is gangbusters this year. So since you’re talking herbs and gin I can recommend: in a shaker pour 2 ounces Hendricks, 1 ounce St. Germain elderflower, 1 ounce grapefruit juice, three fresh sage leaves. Shake with ice. Strain and top with a little mineral water or Trader Joe’s elderflower lemon soda.
The 10 thyme smash: I had to substitute Trader Joe’s cranberry juice, which is red and unsweetened. So I added some simple syrup. The result is good, not as subtle but tasty and pretty.