It has long been an established troupe, that artist – particularly writers – nurture a charismatic obsession with spirits; we are not referring to poltergeist or the likes, but those effervescent concoctions easily available at your corner market.
The vision of the struggling, perhaps even Byronesque, tortured virtuoso, fighting with his demons and wallowing in the sweet forgetfulness of the bottle; sacrificing his liver, in order to pacify the maladies that assail his introspective mind. That picture has constantly defined a whole profession. From Wilde to Van Gogh, passing down the line to gonzo reporter Thompson, this has been the stable. Stephen King with his drug habits; Fitzgerald’s with his swinging decadence. As authors, it’s almost part of the mystique, a requirement, to cradle some hidden habit.
On more than one occasion, I’ve been caught drowning my sorrows and strongly contemplating the banality of the Ewoks in Return – why didn’t the just use Wookies? – only to turn back at the bar, and discover that my mask was being probed.
“Is that apple juice? Are you drinking apple juice in a tumbler glass?”
“White man’s fire water,” my defense less than stellar.
“Smells like apple juice.”
“Naw, you’re just having a massive stroke. Now shut up… Give me peace, fore’ the nightmares begin again. Woe is me,” hand to forehead, run for the door.
Well, this stereotype has existed since the dawn of time; no doubt Plato could have taught us a thing or two about fermentation.
In 1935, a unique book was published. A recipe manuscript of literary importance: So Red the Nose, or Breath in the Afternoon. A cocktail book with contributions from the greats. Detailed instructions penned, approved and no doubt heavily tested by the lit’ legends of those days.
Maybe, I’ll explore – if my editor doesn’t finally realize I’m bat-guano insane and decides to can me – some of the myriad of cocktail lore stored in this gem, but for now I’ll simply focus on the man, the saga, the hero… The Papa.
Hemingway, Ernest to his friends, “please stop hitting me,” to his enemies, was not only a fellow who enjoyed his cups but quite possibly the benchmark for those cocaine-fueled yuppies of the 80’s. Each afternoon, after harassing his fogged mind to spit out 500 words of brilliance, forethought and deep azure wisdom, he’d strolled down to his favorite watering hole in Key West and order up a smorgasbord of paper umbrella liquid lunches. “this is my reward,” he’d constantly told the swim-suit clad wenches. Sloopy Joe’s restaurant happily accepting the Old Man and The Sea scholar’s dough till’ The Bell Tolls and it was time to head back down Across the River and into the Tress, to his bed at his own Garden of Eden. An inebriated mind no doubt racking itself: “What’s with all the weird cats?”
But, for this swordfish napping hombre, sugary – high on island rum – drinks were sort of missing the mark. Losing their edge. Hence, the birth of Death In the Afternoon. A blend, that’s the equivalent of an atom bomb to the sense. The best way to explain it is by quoting the big guy himself:
“Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness.
Drink three to five of these slowly.”
A milking (on account of the spontaneous emulsification of the absinthe – or substitute) and bubbly brew that has it’s share of critics and lovers. The trick, old Papa would say, was to always go for wormwood high absinthe, but the emerald-fairy of Moulin Rouge’s fabled past, can easily be replaced with Absente or a strong Pastis, such as Pernod. Dashes of bitter and a sugar cube or two, are highly recommended.
So there you have it, a classic mix of decadence and strength, with and interesting backstory; the tell-tale marks of a smashing piece of dinner conversation.