A Drink, a Book, and a Song IV
Toasting Queen Elizabeth II with her favorite cocktail. Flying high with the Aviation. Recalling the magic of Ray Bradbury. And grooving to Sammy Hagar and The Circle.
Welcome back. Every Friday (more or less), I highlight a tasty drink, an interesting book, and a sharable song with the hope of imparting some useful knowledge or maybe higher-order trivia for the weekend.
I. A Drink (Two of Them) and An Update
California this week is experiencing one of the worst heat waves in decades. We’re running out of water, apparently, and the power grid is groaning but hasn’t broken just yet. And, as usual this time of year, much of the western United States is on fire. Oh, and we’re supposed to be walloped by a tropical storm.
In short, it’s perfect gin weather.
But nobody expected Queen Elizabeth II to die on Thursday.
I have no affection for monarchy (even the constitutional variety). The widespread obsession with the British royal family among Americans has always puzzled me. We fought a couple of wars and spilled a lot of blood to get out from under the yoke of a king. Personally, I prefer to live as a citizen, not a subject.
Yet my mother, an amateur genealogist, discovered a few years back that the late queen is a distant cousin. So I mustn’t be too harsh. Mom, who will be 86 next week, had hoped to meet Queen Elizabeth someday. Perhaps in another life.
Happily, Elizabeth loved her gin. And she loved Dubonnet, a fortified wine-based French aperitif you can find just about anywhere for around $14 a bottle.
Making a gin Dubonnet cocktail is about as easy as it gets:
1 oz. gin (I’m told Her Majesty preferred Gordon’s. De gustibus non est disputandum.)
2 oz. Dubonnet Rouge
1 lemon slice
Combine all three ingredients in a shaker, shake and strain into a small wine glass, and enjoy.
And then, if you are so inclined, raise a toast to the memory of the last of great Britons.
“Oh, here's to other meetings,
And merry greetings then;
And here's to those we've drunk with.
But never can again.”
“Grief is the price we pay for love.” —Queen Elizabeth.
My original plan was to write about the Aviation this week, and I’m sticking to it.
I first encountered the Aviation in Paul Harrington and Laura Moorhead’s classic manual, Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century. Published in 1998, at the very beginning of the American cocktail renaissance, Harrington and Moorhead had to make do in a landscape not yet teeming with craft bitters, exotic liqueurs, and artisanal gins. Here is how they describe the drink:
The Aviation is the prince of classic cocktails. Still served at the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center (where the staff will lend you a clownish jacket if you fail to dress up), the Aviation has no modern equivalent and can only be obtained at establishments where the vanishing art of mixology is still pursued with zeal, if not fanaticism.
The Aviation has no known creator, though most drink historians agree that it was first concocted during the later days of the Old School of American Bartending, when civilized imbibers began to insist on more complex drinks . . .
As we’ll see, much has changed since 1998. In fact, the landscape changed rapidly soon after Cocktail was published. But, given the limitations of the time, Harrington and Moorhead offered the following recipe, which they adopted from Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book:
1.5 oz. gin
0.5 maraschino liqueur
0.75 oz. lemon juice
Shake with cracked ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry or a lemon.
Here’s the trouble. At the time, a key ingredient was not available. Not maraschino liqueur—which was, in fact, difficult but not impossible to source during the Dark Age of Cocktail Culture until the early 2000s—but rather crème de violette, a liqueur made from wildflowers harvested from the Swiss Alps.
Crème de violette is what makes an Aviation an Aviation. Its color gives the drink a subtle floral flavor and—this is the important part—a bluish-violette hue, evocative of the sky.
Thus, by 2002, “King Cocktail” Dale DeGroff could write in The Craft of the Cocktail: “The Internet cocktail crowd has breathed new life into this chestnut.” His recipe included the vital addition of a half ounce of Giffard crème de violette poured “through the drink.” Unfortunately, crème de violette was almost impossible to come by until 2007 or so, when Washington-based Rothman and Winter came on the market. Now you can find it at most any decent liquor store.
The late, great Gary Regan got the real story of the Aviation, so I take my recipe from his indispensable manual, The Joy of Mixology. He writes:
The first printed mention of this drink appeared in Recipes for Mixed Drinks by Hugo Ensslin, in 1916, during the First World War, when aviators began being lauded for their heroic deeds. When this drink first captured the attention of twenty-first-century cocktailians, it was impossible to recreate it, but now that the once unavailable crème de violette is back on the scene in the United States, we can again taste the drink as it was once enjoyed.
Here’s the recipe:
2 ounces gin [I use Boodles, but Aviation gin is an excellent choice]
1/2 ounce Rothman and Winter crème de violette
1/4 ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur [I like to go a little heavier]
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Regan also offers a variation that he calls the “Aviation: World Class Style,” which he discovered at a bartending competition in 2010. Regan called it “the very best Aviation cocktail I’ve ever encountered.” Concocted by Takumi Watanabe, the “world-class” version substitutes Marie Brizard’s Parfait Amour for the crème de violette, which was unavailable to Watanabe at the time. Parfait Amour is similar in color, “but boasts orange and vanilla notes rather than floral ones.” Here are the ingredients and the method, which is a bit different:
1 1/2 ounces Tanqueray No. Ten gin
1/2 ounce Giffard Marasquin maraschino liqueur
1/8 ounce Marie Brizard Parfait Amour liqueur
1/3 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 lemon twist, for garnish
Pour the gin into a shaker without ice and stir it to release the aromas. Add ice and the remaining ingredients. Shake and finely strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.
Finally, I just received my copy of Nicole Aloni’s The Backyard Bartender, which includes the authentic recipe for the Ten Thyme Smash I lauded last time. Aloni solves the mystery (well, she fills in my lapsed memory) of the drink’s originator and how it probably should be made (though I still like my version). She writes:
Ryan Magarian is a friend and one of the country’s most renowned mixologists. He takes cocktails to another level, introducing a chef’s palate and sensibilities to his cocktail recipes. This lovely drink is typical of Ryan’s preference for elegantly blended flavors.
2 thin slices of cucumber
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 ounces Aviation or Ten gin
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce white cranberry juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1. In a pint shaker glass, muddle the cucumber and the 2 sprigs of fresh thyme.
2. Add the gin, lime juice, cranberry juice, and simple syrup with lots of ice and shake.
3. Strain the drink into the [chilled martini] glass. Garnish.
If all of that isn’t enough to get you through the weekend, I don’t know what to tell you!
II. A Book
I’d wager almost everyone has read at least one of Ray Bradbury’s books or stories. Most likely Fahrenheit 451, which remains practically required reading in every high school in America and usually makes the American Library Association’s top 100 list of “banned/challenged” books most every year. As prolific as he was—more than 30 books including almost a dozen novels, at least 50 collections of hundreds of short stories, plus plays, film and television work, and poems—“I could retire on the royalties from Fahrenheit 451 alone,” Bradbury said.
I never met Bradbury, who died in 2012. But I sat within spitting distance of the great man at a lecture he gave at UC San Diego in 1990, when I was a freshman. I cannot recall the substance of his talk, delivered not in one of the university’s many large lecture halls but rather from a riser in the Revelle College cafeteria, but one remark during the Q&A has stuck with all these years.
“Never, ever watch television news,” he said. “Especially local news. You’ll think the world is coming to an end.”
Bradbury repeated the line or variations on it often in interviews and articles. “The problem is not with our national full-coverage news, which can be mildly depressing,” Bradbury wrote in a 1998 essay. “It is with the assault of your local TV paparazzi who machine-gun you with forty decapitations, sexual harassments, gangster executions, in fifteen-second explosions for the full half-hour.”
I disagree that national news isn’t a problem. It’s all infotainment and almost all garbage. Broadly speaking, the Bradbury rule is a good one: Turn off the idiot box and read something.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a Facebook post quoting Bradbury on the origin of Mr. Electrico, a character from Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s pure magic:
[H]e was a real man. That was his real name. Circuses and carnivals were always passing through Illinois during my childhood and I was in love with their mystery. One autumn weekend in 1932, when I was twelve years old, the Dill Brothers Combined Shows came to town. One of the performers was Mr. Electrico. He sat in an electric chair. A stagehand pulled a switch and he was charged with fifty thousand volts of pure electricity. Lightning flashed in his eyes and his hair stood on end.
The next day, I had to go the funeral of one of my favorite uncles. Driving back from the graveyard with my family, I looked down the hill toward the shoreline of Lake Michigan and I saw the tents and the flags of the carnival and I said to my father, Stop the car. He said, What do you mean? And I said, I have to get out. My father was furious with me. He expected me to stay with the family to mourn, but I got out of the car anyway and I ran down the hill toward the carnival.
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I was running away from death, wasn’t I? I was running toward life. And there was Mr. Electrico sitting on the platform out in front of the carnival and I didn’t know what to say. I was scared of making a fool of myself.
I had a magic trick in my pocket, one of those little ball-and-vase tricks—a little container that had a ball in it that you make disappear and reappear—and I got that out and asked, Can you show me how to do this? It was the right thing to do. It made a contact. He knew he was talking to a young magician. He took it, showed me how to do it, gave it back to me, then he looked at my face and said, Would you like to meet those people in that tent over there? Those strange people? And I said, Yes sir, I would. So he led me over there and he hit the tent with his cane and said, Clean up your language! Clean up your language! He took me in, and the first person I met was the illustrated man. Isn’t that wonderful? The Illustrated Man! He called himself the tattooed man, but I changed his name later for my book. I also met the strong man, the fat lady, the trapeze people, the dwarf, and the skeleton. They all became characters.
Mr. Electrico was a beautiful man, see, because he knew that he had a little weird kid there who was twelve years old and wanted lots of things. We walked along the shore of Lake Michigan and he treated me like a grown-up. I talked my big philosophies and he talked his little ones.
Then we went out and sat on the dunes near the lake and all of a sudden he leaned over and said, I’m glad you’re back in my life. I said, What do you mean? I don’t know you. He said, You were my best friend outside of Paris in 1918. You were wounded in the Ardennes and you died in my arms there. I’m glad you’re back in the world. You have a different face, a different name, but the soul shining out of your face is the same as my friend. Welcome back.
Now why did he say that? Explain that to me, why? Maybe he had a dead son, maybe he had no sons, maybe he was lonely, maybe he was an ironical jokester. Who knows? It could be that he saw the intensity with which I live. Every once in a while at a book signing I see young boys and girls who are so full of fire that it shines out of their face and you pay more attention to that. Maybe that’s what attracted him.
When I left the carnival that day I stood by the carousel and I watched the horses running around and around to the music of “Beautiful Ohio,” and I cried. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I knew something important had happened to me that day because of Mr. Electrico. I felt changed. He gave me importance, immortality, a mystical gift. My life was turned around completely. It makes me cold all over to think about it, but I went home and within days I started to write. I’ve never stopped.
Seventy-seven years ago, and I’ve remembered it perfectly. I went back and saw him that night. He sat in the chair with his sword, they pulled the switch, and his hair stood up. He reached out with his sword and touched everyone in the front row, boys and girls, men and women, with the electricity that sizzled from the sword. When he came to me, he touched me on the brow, and on the nose, and on the chin, and he said to me, in a whisper, “Live forever.” And I decided to.
Though the post cites a Paris Review article, that’s actually an excerpt from a book of interviews by Bradbury biographer Sam Weller called Listen to the Echoes. First published in 2010 and rereleased in a more elegant edition in 2017, the book is a delight through and through. Bradbury talked about everything. Sex. Love. Politics. Writing, of course. The man defied easy categorization. “I don’t like labels,” he tells Weller again and again.
OK, well, how about “American original”? That seems fitting enough.
To get a flavor of what he was like, watch this often hilarious, nearly hour-long keynote address at Point Loma Nazarene University from 2001. Bear in mind, Bradbury had suffered a stroke just two years earlier. The man simply radiated joy until the very end.
Here’s a shorter, somewhat more serious interview with public broadcaster James Ray in 1974.
III. A Song
Sammy Hagar and the Circle are playing with George Thorogood and the Destroyers at the FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine, California on Saturday night. Hagar will be 75 next month. Thorogood turned 72 in February. And they’re still killing it.
Am I going? You better believe it, brothers and sisters. Come rain or come shine.
IV. A Final Word
Thanks for making it this far. I know this was a long one. If you enjoyed it, please share. If you have requests for a drink, a book, or a song, please leave a comment. Until next time . . . Cheers!
"Never, ever watch television news."
I haven't watched British or American TV news in six months. The world is a better place.
Thank you for this lovely post. When I reached the phrase “As we’ll see, much has changed since 1998” I laughed so much that clean-up was required… . . and it’s not even 6 AM yet. A good wake-up call indeed. Best to you, sir.