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Friday Five: 5 Cocktails - Geek Culture in a Glass

This week's Friday Five is brought to you by Glen Mehn (@gmehn), lord of the 100 word review. Warning: this will make you thirsty.

Sazerac-001-de1"...a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else."

So concludes one of the earliest references to cocktails in written history. Around the same time, cocktail is described as a drink “excellent for the head”. Nevertheless, cocktails have earned a strong position among alcoholic beverages in modern society. There is a strong culture of myth and story-telling around cocktails, in particular concerning the people involved and the circumstances under which particular cocktails were invented. 

Humans across cultures and continents love imbibing mind-altering substances, typically in heavily ritualised settings. While these settings and rituals have changed over the years, there are strict socially constructed norms around types of cocktails, who consumes them, at what time, who pays for them, and how they are prepared.

This holds true even when we delve into alternate histories, presents, or the future. Romulan Ale. Pan-galactic Gargle Blasters. Finagle's Folly. Flaming rum monkeys. 

What do you reckon? Tradition? Special tools? Arguable histories? Fetishisation? 

It is, indeed, geek culture in a glass.

Firstly, the Sazerac. The original, and probably best drink there.

The Sazerac is one of nature's finest inventions. Good for the heart, good for the head. Very similar to the original cock-tail, described in 1798 in the London Morning Post and Gazetteer: a combination of spirits, bitters, and sugar.

The Sazerac comes from New Orleans, and is originally made with cognac, though in the 1870s phylloxera epidemic that destroyed Europe's grape vines made that hard to find, so rye whiskey was substituted.

It's made like this:

Chill a highball glass and rinse it with a generous slug of absinthe. Don't use Pernod or Herbsaint. Get some absinthe. It's available everywhere. Pour the excess away.

Put a sugar cube into the bottom of a mixing glass and put 4-5 dashes of Peychaud's bitters (see below) on it, and crush it with your muddling stick.

Add 70ml of  cognac (or rye whiskey, or, hell, experiment. Try something new). Stir just until it's dissolved. Twist an orange (or lemon) peel over the mixing glass, rub the absinthe-rinsed glass with the peel, drop it in, and pour the mixed cocktail into the glass.

Now smell it. Divinity.



An Old Fashioned is a similar, excellent, but inferior cocktail.

Geek chic: a proper Sazerac should be made with Peychaud's bitters, which in turn are made from Gentian florals, which are named for a king of Illyria, which is one of those names that sounds so damned fae that it gets used all over the speculative universes, from Shakespeare to Whedon.

Secondly, the Irish coffee, the speedball of drinks

It's caffeine plus alcohol. It goes well with black eyeliner. Keeps you warm on a cold winter's night. There are arguments to be had over its origins. What's not to like?

Strong black coffee

Add 1 flat tsp of sugar along with 50ml of whiskey, Irish preferred.

Float double cream on top. Don't stir it in.

Geek chic: it is suspected that Larry Niven had a thing for Irish Coffee, evidenced by the fact that Irish Coffee appears in his short stories more often than women.* 

Thirdly, the Gin and Tonic (the Universal cocktail)

Oh, gin.

Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two. Scourge of the working classes. A vehicle to keep the troops of Empire in vitamin C and to swallow their daily dose of antimalarial quinine.

One either loves gin or hates it, but a gin and tonic (ideally with lime, never lemon, though you may disagree, but Bond in Dr. No agrees with me) is the universal cocktail.

50ml of gin

Juice of half a lime or so (possibly more, ask Bond)

Indian Tonic Water

Combine, over ice. Drink. Repeat.

Yes, I can hear you fuming out there, you claiming that it's not a proper cocktail, just a drink. This is the point where we're reminded that geekdom is fundamentally inclusive – or it should be. Not only that, but the geek chic section on the G&T reminds you to go back and note that Douglas Adams noted that over 85% of known worlds have something that sounds like Gin & Tonic (jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N'N-T'N-ix, or jinond-o-nicks, et bloody cetera).

Fourthly, the Negroni, the strange friend who says inappropriate things but you'll grow to love – and grow old with.

Campari, gin, and rosso vermouth. Three odd flavours which combine into something else.

Campari is blood red and peppery, spicy, with a flavour that defies description. Red Vermouth is that thing in the back of your cupboard you bought that one time for a recipe and it would have gone mouldy by now but it's fortified so it doesn't go bad. You hope. Gin is what you either love or most likely nicked from your parents the first time you got drunk and ended up hungover on and can't ever drink again. Dead drunk for two.

(But you can. You know that, right? Try it out. Try a Negroni)

35ml each gin, vermouth, and campari. Shake. Serve in a highball glass with ice. Drink in Italy in summertime, as an apertif, after dinner. Late at night. Morning refreshment.

Geek chic: I don't really have one for his. Vampire killer wrangler and longwinded creepy writer Will Hill drinks these. With me. I couldn't find a reference, but they're just so odd they have to fit in with the geekitude. Sue me. Write your own list.

Finally the Sloe gin (or the sloe gin fizz, if you require), the artisanal craft drink

A good geek should really love nothing that doesn't require work, time, blood, and patience. Sloes are tiny plums, so bitter as to be all but inedible, unless you soak them in high-proof alcohol with sugar to draw out the flavour for months on end.

Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn bush. They are raditionally harvested after the first frost (or mid-October in southern England under global climate change). You'll tear up your arms, at least a little bit. You'll need a wine bottle, about 150g of sugar, about 300g of sloes, gin, and time. Six months at least, eighteen months at the outside.

You have to prick every one of the little buggers. Every single one. Purists will say use a silver fork, though we suspect that has to do more with some Empire-era nonsense than any real sense.

Not cocktaily enough for you? Make it a fizz, but make it a good one.

Put an egg white, 1/2-1 tsp of fresh lemon juice, and a tsp of sugar in a glass and shake 'til the egg white is fluffy. Add 50ml of sloe gin (you can use regular, and it's nice, but this is far nicer) and shake a bit more, then shake with ice and pour into a tall glass over fresh ice. Top with soda water.

If it survives 'til winter, put some sloe gin into a glass, light a fire, and pick up an old book about new things. Put your feet up, and sip sip sip.

Guaranteed good.

Geek chic: the egg white is emulsified and chemically cooked by shaking it with the sugar before putting it together with the ice, which will keep it gloppy. Don't keep it gloppy. This is a health tip, too.

Special literary mention: Death in the afternoon

Absinthe plus champagne.

I know.

Hemingway drank it. Lots of it. It's kind of brilliant and kind of awful. Just save it for a special day. Then sit at a typewriter and try to type.

You'll type. In short sentences.

Dream of running with the bulls.

Then go wrestle a fish.

That represents.

The pointlessness of human existence.

*this may be complete and utter hyperbole, but there's a lot of Irish Coffee.