“I hardly recognized you without your beard,” Scott Deitche, author of Cigar City Mafia and The Silent Don said as he shook my hand outside of a café not far from the beaches of Saint Petersburg, FL. Though we hadn’t yet met in person, we had been linked by social media and our similar literary circle that dips into the crime genre, and more specifically, into the dark world of gangsters and mobsters. Scott wrote the definitive work about the gangsters and mafia elements that dwell in the Ybor and Tampa shadows, Cigar City Mafia, an excellent read about an under-the-radar history of organized crime in the area. But we met to have brunch and talk about crime and cocktails and how they all mix in his new book, Cocktail Noir which hits shelves today, November 3rd.
Scott released Cigar City Mafia in 2004 and hasn’t stopped since. With more than a half-dozen mafia works under his belt, as well as a dozen other publications that chronicle everything from the CIA to Al Capone, it was a reoccurring column, and some guidance from his agent, that led to the genesis of Cocktail Noir.
“It was really my agent, Gina Panettieri, that initially suggested it. The idea actually started out as one about drinks that writers enjoyed called Literary Libations. That didn’t really generate the same type of traction as this though. Once I incorporated the drinks of mobsters as well as the crime writers, it was a healthy mix that took off.”
The ideas of drinks and noir are not foreign concepts, but it took a certain type of vision to realize how naturally the two pair together for a book of this nature. Scott saw the potential and struck at the right time.
“I thought Noir was a great concept because a lot of these crime stories and films have bars and drinks that are either important information gathering points and help the story move forward, or they really set the mood of the character and help define them. A great example is Kiss Me Deadly. Mike Hammer goes into the bar and says, ‘Give me a bourbon and leave the bottle.’ Something about a scene like that says all you really need to know about the type of day he had.”
At The Guy Society, we understand what it is like to need a good whiskey, so we can certainly appreciate the Mike Hammers of the world. Even more so, we can appreciate good whiskey. We mentioned that it seems, at times, that the cocktail culture has strayed too far into the world of Redbull and Vodka.
“In the 30’s there were no Appletinis or Mudslides, it was whiskey in a whiskey in a whiskey,” Scott says. But not one to be daunted, Scott give us this tidbit of hope as we look longingly into the past for drinks that are considered the golden age of manly imbibing.
“One of the great things is, I got to talk to top names in contemporary mixology and it gave context to the burgeoning craft cocktail scene. There is a move towards a local and more authentic experience. Post-prohibition, a lot of European companies stopped exporting to the U.S. and now drinks like absinthe are coming back and allowing us to make more creative and different cocktails.”
Our palates are changing as well, Scott notes.
“A lot of craft cocktails are more bitter in flavor nowadays than twenty years ago. A large part of that is the popularity of coffee from places like Starbucks where the bitter taste is part of their overall menu. It’s changing the American palates as well, to where Americans are more accepting of the bitter tastes.”
When asked about which authors were involved in his research, Scott drops a Hall of Fame list of writers including: T.J. English, Raymond Chandler, Dennis Lehane, and Christian Cippolini.
He also lets us in on a few of the mobsters whose drink choices he mentions such as Meyer Lanskey, Charles Carneglia, and Al Capone.
“When I was doing my research, I talked to ex-wiseguys, guys in witness protection, or guys that have been out of the scene for a while. The information is limited because these are secret societies and sometimes they don’t want to talk about even stories that occurred even fifty years ago, but then I supplemented my research with FBI files. I cross-referenced words like ‘whiskey’ in the PDF files to see what drinks were discussed.”
With a rigorous tour schedule that includes stops in D.C., NYC, Jersey, New Orleans, the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, Chicago, and Tampa -we were curious how Scott Deitche balances family life, being a manager of an engineering company, as well as being a high-octane author.
“I’m lucky that my day job and career is what I love to do. It is a balancing act sometimes, but the priority is my family, career, and then writing. I have developed a pretty good system. It is important to give myself long enough of a deadline (when working on projects) to realistically keep that balance.”
The importance of his family keeps him grounded.
“I make sure that it doesn’t infringe on my family life. When Cigar City came out I had a rigorous publicity schedule and my wife said I needed to be careful so I didn’t get burned out. So now I do chunks of book tours at a time where everything is scheduled in chunks versus a long drawn out schedule, and that really helps.”
When that fails and life gets out of hand? Scott has that covered too. He invented his own cocktail that is Vegas-bartender approved.
“In developing this signature cocktail for the book, there were two things I kept in mind. One is that I am not a professional bartender or mixologist. So I built on simple blocks, nothing too fancy, though two of the ingredients are a little less common. The other is I wanted a drink that would convey the feel of the book. So I chose a rye base, because whiskey is the drink of Prohibition, of hard boiled PIs, of hard boiled writers, of gangsters, and of shady and mysterious characters and bars. The particular brand of rye I chose was Templeton Rye, which was the favorite of Al Capone. I chose Benedictine because it brings a robust unique flavor and a classic pedigree. I add a little Maraschino liqueur for flavor, and I added bitters. But not just any bitters, I used blood orange bitters. Because, well, blood.”
Cocktail Noir Cocktail
2 oz Templeton Rye
½ oz Benedictine
¼ oz Maraschino liqueur
3-4 dashes blood orange bitters
Add ingredients to mixing glass with ice. Stir vigorously for 30 seconds. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel.
Look for Cocktail Noir to hit shelves today, November 3rd 2015 courtesy of Reservoir Square Books.
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