#FridayFlash: The Thrill Is Gone

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned."

It was as far as he got before his nerve failed him

The priest, who had heard more halting recitations of sin than any of the laity would ever believe or could ever understand, said nothing. He heard the tension in the man's breathing, heard the crack of knuckles and the wringing of hands. This was a good sign. The ones who were completely composed either had very little to confess (and who therefore needed little in the way of help from him) or they were not truly penitant (and were therefore not ready to accept the blessings of contrition and absolution).

The ones who came in with their emotional armor wrapped tightly around them usually ended up lying their way through the confession. It was disappointing, but the priest consoled himself with the thought that merely being in the confessional was a step in the right direction.

He listened to the man's agitation. What he didn't hear was the creaking of the seat or the rattle of the doorknob. There was no indication that the man had changed his mind and was preparing to leave without confessing. So, with the wisdom of age and experience, the priest allowed the moment to stretch for a while before speaking.

After a minute or so, the man said, "It's been... it's been a long time since my last confession."

"Yes, my son? Months? Or years?" The priest spoke gently, but clearly. This was one of his favorite tactics to get the reluctant to open up. Once they've admitting to something as trivial as having neglected the sacrament of confession, the process of admitting to larger sins became easier. He knew that his voice also reminded them that they weren't alone in this shadowy box, and weren't speaking to a disembodied smartphone app. They were unburdening themselves of their sins, something they could not do by their own power.

"Y-years, Father. Many years. A long, long time."

The silence fell again, but the man didn't wait so long this time before speaking again.

"Father... this is going to sound... bad. I mean, it's going to sound crazy." The man paused. Again, the priest could hear him wringing his hands. "The thing is," the man said, "I think... that is, I know that I... that I..."

"Go on, my son. What is it that weighs on you?"

"Father, I killed B.B. King."

Silence fell again in the confessional, now punctuated by the man's heavy breathing. Each breath caught in his throat, sounding close to a sob.

The priest sat for a moment, his years of experience allowing him to keep his disappointment and irritation utterly hidden. He squelched the urge to sigh and roll his eyes. Even through the screen and in the darkness, he knew that such aspects of demeanor were apparent to a person on the other side.

Still, it was disappointing. The man was clearly not a congregant with heavy heart, not a penitant sinner, just a lucid lunatic, giving voice to his madness in the shadows behind a closed door. But no, the priest thought, however absurd the man was, he was clearly in pain and needed some help. Psychiatric help, yes, but spiritual help was a good start, too.

"My son," the priest said, "what makes you say this?"

"Because I know it's true," the man said. "I killed him. I must have. There's no other explanation for it."

"You can rest here, my child. You are safe here in God's presence." The priest knew that telling someone to calm down often had exactly the opposite effect, but that inviting someone to rest usually worked to draw down tensions. "We were all saddened to hear of his death. He was a fine musician, and I understand that he was a good man. It's a great loss, one felt keenly by those who knew him."

"You don't understand, Father. I'm not upset because I heard about him dying. Before yesterday, I only barely knew who he was. I'm upset because I killed him."

"I know how upset you are. I can hear it in your voice. My son, the confessional is a place of truth, a place where we can take off the masks we show the world. We can reveal ourselves to God in this place. Can you tell me why you think you had anything to do with his death?"

"Because I can play guitar. I mean, I can play all his songs, every one of them. 'Sweet Sixteen', 'The Thrill Is Gone', 'Every Day I Have the Blues'... I can play all his hits, note perfect. Not just those, but even the really obscure stuff like 'Sunday Morning' and 'One Shoe Blues'. I can play every riff, every solo, every goofball track he ever laid down."

"I don't understand."

"Father, I couldn't play AT ALL before he died last night! But when I woke up this morning, I had only thought in mind: to get my Gibson back in my hands. MY Gibson? Father, I've never owned a guitar in my life! But I just had to have one. I called in sick to work, Googled the closest music shop and went straight there. As soon as I walked in, I knew something was seriously wrong. There were dozens and dozens of guitars hanging on the wall, the kind of thing that would have been a complete mystery to me. Father, I knew every make and model. It was like I'd spent a lifetime around guitars, like they were my life! I went straight to the Gibsons. They didn't have an ES-355, so I got an ES-339, the model with a fatter body. They only had brown lacquer in stock, not black or red. I bought the ES-339, figuring it would be good enough until I could hunt up an ES-355. And Father... that was when I knew."

"Knew what?"

"That I'd killed B.B. King! I dropped $1800 on a guitar this morning, and I don't even play! Or at least I didn't play. As soon as I had it in my hands, I played exactly like B.B. King for ten minutes straight. The saleguy was amazed, but I was terrified. I bought the guitar, a strap, a pitch-pipe, extra strings, and ten picks. I ordered an amp, cables and pickups, to be delivered later this week. I've spent the entire day playing Lu-... playing this guitar, off-amp. But I don't have the calluses of a guitarist. My fingers are sliced to ribbons - I finally had to stop playing because I was spattering blood on the finish, even though the bandages. Father, all of B.B. King's musical ability and knowledge is inside me! I must have killed him and done some kind of a musical vampire thing, drawing out and consuming his soul. B.B. King is dead in the world, but he lives inside me! Help me, Father - forgive me for taking his life! I didn't mean to, I didn't want to, but I did! I killed him!"

Sobbing, the man collapsed in his seat, the entire confessional shaking with the force of his anguish.

And in the shadows behind the screen, the priest quietly pressed the emergency button, the one that activated the buzzer in the church office. Two shorts and a long... the code for "assistance needed with distraught congregant".

This was more than he could handle alone.

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What I'm Working On

What I'm working on at the moment:





It's just DRIPPING with passion!!!!!

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Z is for Zombie

This is another fruity drink with a silly name. However, unlike the mostly-forgotten  Harvey Wallbanger or the not-yet-passé Sex on the Beach, the Zombie WILL take you out if you're not careful. From the Wikipeadia page:

Commonly used ingredients
Preparation Mix ingredients other than the 151 in a shaker with ice. Pour into glass and top with the high-proof rum.
Notes Because of the high proof rum, this cocktail could be lit if desired.

I remember my nights spent at Ciril's House of Tiki in Chicago, on a gray, cracked section of 53rd Street. Decades later, I can't think of that place without smiling. I usually drank Mai Tais or Singapore Slings, but every now and then would end the night with a Zombie.

Perhaps you're asking, why not start with a Zombie? Why end the night with such a strong drink?

The fact is, once you had a Zombie, your night was over. Oh, there were those in my circle who could claim to be able to drink them all night, and rightly so, since I saw them do it. Not me. Also, they cost $5 each, which was a stiff price for a drink back then, even for a stiff drink.

Any drink you can light on fire is a drink to treat with care. Tasty, but dangerous.

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Y is for Yellow Bird

The letter Y is a tough one to draw a cocktail for. There's Yellow Chartreuse, a milder, honey-flavored version of Chartreuse, an aromatic liqueur. I'm sure there have been novelty cocktails named Yellow Submarine, Yellow Snow, Yellow Fever, etc., but I'd rather go with something less obvious.

Therefore, I present to you the Yellow Bird, which has an official IBA recipe: 2 parts white rum, one part triple sec, one part lime juice, one part Galliano. Shake and strain into a cold cocktail glass.

I think the Galliano is overkill, since it doesn't make it particularly yellow, but whatever.

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X is for X on the Beach

I seem to recall hearing about something called a Xanadu Cocktail, but since 1) I've never had one, and 2) it sounds disgusting, I'll write about Sex on the Beach instead. I realize it's cheating to put this one up for "X", but it's my blog.

Sex on the Beach is a drink much like the Harvey Wallbanger in one way (deliberately goofy, titillating name), but very unlike the Harvey Wallbanger in another: people still drink Sex on the Beaches, long after it was first introduced.

(Sex on the Beaches? Sexes on the Beach? Sexes on the Beaches? Or is the plural an eponymous Sex on the Beach? Must research this.)

Anyway, it's the kind of drink that has so many variations, and is served in so many different overpriced touristy contexts, that it's hard to say with certainty what this drink would taste like. I've had a few, but they were always made with cocoanut rum. They were also overly iced, sickly sweet and far too weak for my taste.

The Wikipedia page gives a few details on official recipes:

General types

There are two general types of the cocktail:
The drink is built over ice in a highball glass and garnished with orange slice.[2] Sometimes they are mixed in smaller amounts and served as a shooter.

Given my experiences with peach schnapps, I don't think I'll be trying the IBA recipe any time soon.

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W is for White Russian

The Dude knows a good drink, I'll give him that. However, I'm not so exclusive about it as he is. For example, if I were someplace that didn't have any cream (or whole milk), I would NOT use powdered dairy coffee creamer to make a White Russian. I'd just make a Black Russian; the Kahlua and vodka mixture tastes pretty good all by itself.



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V is for Vodka Tonic

A story about me and vodka tonics:

My first airplane ride was a flight from St. Louis to JFK, the start of a three week trip to the USSR. I was 14 years old and thrilled to be leaving my family on my first independent adventure. In command of lots of bravado and some pretty sketchy Russian, I was really excited and really nervous.

My parents made sure I ate a good breakfast before going to the airport, since a good breakfast is how you start any long trip. Being excited and nervous, I surely ate more than I should have. (Then as now, I had an unhealthy habit of taking comfort in food.) Fried eggs, bacon, lots of buttered toast... what I now know to be the worst thing to have before a flight.

Our flight had a scheduled stop in Detroit. My nerves, excitement, and an unrecognized propensity for motion sickness conspired together, much to my detriment. During takeoff, I was violently ill, uncontrollably throwing up my substantial breakfast into my air-sickness bag. When mine was full, I used my neighbor's.

There is no humiliation so blazing as that of a 14-year-old boy throwing up in public. Of that, I can assure you.

My situation was made worse by the terrible headache the exertions of my vomiting brought on. By the time we began our approach to Detroit, I was thoroughly shaky. When we began our descent, I began throwing up again, this time into my other seatmate's air-sickness bag. Only when we were taxiing to the terminal did it stop.

By then, it was hard to know where my physical misery ended and my psychological misery began. And if I'd known that worse was to come, I might have gotten off the plane in Detroit and hitchhiker home. 

We sat at the terminal for what felt like a year - a slow, burning, excruciating year. For the most part, the people around me did everything they could to ignore me. Their restraint was forced upon them by circumstances, of course. It was a full flight. It would serve no purpose to complain about the sweaty, pudgy, trembling young man in 23C who had been steadily vomiting for the past hour and a half. The smell, the noise, the sight of it all... none of it was intentional. The best thing anyone could do was grit their teeth and suffer through a flight from hell.

I was left alone to cope as best I could. 

When the plane left the terminal and began the taxi for takeoff, I was terrified that I would lose control yet again. After all, I was now out of air-sickness bags in my entire row. What would I do if...?

Alas, I had occasion to find out. My terror of further humiliation had amped up my adrenaline so much that just as the wheels left the ground, I felt another wave of nausea. With a voice that was spooky with dead, flat calmness, I gently asked the person sitting in front of me if I might have their bag. Three people passed me theirs.

It turned out that I barely even needed one bag. Vomiting, yes, but dry heaves. Yes, dry heaves as we gained altitude leaving Detroit. Why? Why me? I had nothing left to give, no further sacrifice to offer up for the gods of air travel. Why punish me so?

The heaving stopped as we leveled off. I just wanted to die in peace. 

The flight attendant came back to my seat and asked if there was anything I needed. Ashen-faced, drenched in sweat, trembling from my illness, half-blind with a terrible headache, I stared down at my hands. After a moment, I spoke, again in a voice that was so calm, so flat, so drained of energy and emotion that it must have been creepy as hell to hear.

"Yes," I said. "May I have a vodka tonic, please?"

(Note: you might think it strange that a 14-year-old would even know what a vodka tonic was, let alone order one on an airplane in a desperate attempt to find some way of calming his own overwrought nerves. I'll spare you the full background, but leave it by saying that a) that wasn't the first vodka tonic I'd ever ordered, and b) I had a strange childhood.)

If the flight attendant gave me a funny look, I didn't see it. What she did was to leave and return a moment later with a glass of iced tonic water, a lime wedge, and a little airline bottle of vodka. With my shaking, sweaty hands, I opened the bottle, poured it into the glass and stirred. I began to take small sips, one every few minutes as we flew on to New York.

The man sitting next to me, who seemed old at the time, but who was probably close to the same age I am now, spoke to me for the first time since we'd left St. Louis.

"Good idea. That'll help calm your nerves."

"Yes," I replied, "I hope so."

Neither of us spoke again. I finished my vodka tonic a little while before the approach to JFK. I didn't enjoy the landing, but I didn't throw up, either. 





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U is for Union Jack

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a cocktail that starts with "U"? I ask this so that you will have an idea of how hard I work for you.

The Union Jack cocktail is one that, frankly, I wasn't familiar with. After wracking my brain for weeks to come up with a drink for "U", I finally had to cheat and look one up in the index of my Old Mr. Boston Mixologist's Guide. (Side note: everyone should own that reference text. I'm on my second copy, the previous one having fallen apart from use.)

I'd never had a Union Jack, but, because this is all about ethics in blogging, I realized that I had to make one before I could write a blog post about it. No problem - 2 measures of gin, 1 measure of sloe gin, 1 measure of grenadine, stirred with ice and strained into a chilled glass. What could be easier?

Except I was out of sloe gin last night. Not sure how that happened, since my bar is pretty well stocked. What to do? I didn't have time to run out to get a bottle before the evening's activities, so I made do.

I substituted cointreau for the sloe gin. Not bad, but too sweet. I put it back in the icer, added a small slug of sweetened lime juice, stirred and decanted again. That did the trick. It cut through the sweet with a citrus tang, and gave a delicious, complex drink. The balance of sweet orange, lime, and pomegranate with the hot floral notes of the gin was very tasty.

Later today, I'll pick up a bottle of sloe gin and try a Union Jack according to the traditional recipe. I'm looking forward to it!

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T is for Tom Collins

Here's another simple one with a rich pedigree. Gin, lemon juice and simple syrup, topped up with soda water and ice. Pace yourself, and you can drink Tom Collinses all night.

So far as I know, this drink has nothing to do with Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice. I doubt that he would ever have the presence of mind to order one.

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S is for Sangria

What is Sangria doing on a list of cocktails? Isn't the primary ingredient red wine?

Yes, but all the best Sangria has a solid mass of brandy in the punchbowl. When made properly, it's so delicious, I'll stretch a point.

Slice a few oranges, apples and peaches into a punchbowl. If you have one, crush up a pomegranate, too. Pour in a few bottles of a robust red, a Beaujolais nouveau, one of the vin ordinaire that goes so well with bread, cheese, and an attractive member of your preferred sex. Four bottles should do it. Or half a case, maybe.

Add half a bottle of brandy. Again, don't try to impress anyone with the cask reserve stuff. Make it a drinkable label, but don't go to any dark corners of the cellar to get it.

Let the bowl sit for an hour or so before you add some ice. Chill the bowl down and serve by the pitcher.

And leave the pitcher on the table, so your guests can help themselves throughout the evening. Light some candles, put on some music, enjoy your Sangria.

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R is for Rum and Coke

I've been pretty scrupulous to avoid easy drinks for this A to Z cocktail catalog. It's just too easy to slap "... and Coke" onto any kind of booze and call it a cocktail.

The Rum and Coke, however, stands alone. It's a classic, just as simple as a martini, just as complex as a new love affair.

There are those purists who will immediately shout out for the Cuba Libre, made with the old style, cane-sugar cola and a splash of fresh lime. Other partisans will no doubt wave high the banners of RC Cola, Guaranito or some other favored cola brand. The champions of dark rum will rail against the champions of light rum, and the blenders will stand on the sidelines, brickbats at the ready.

Apostates of Coke Zero, Diet Pepsi and the like will wave their freak flags high in the face of near-universal scorn, while the Dr. Pepper, IBC Root Beer, and (God have mercy on our souls) Mountain Dew fans burn together in a hell of their own making.

Rum and Coke... was there ever a better combination to enjoy on a summer evening?

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Q is for Queen of the May

Dear reader, I have three confessions to make.

First, "Queen of the May" is a bit of a misnomer. The drink is better known as "May Queen", both of which are short for the drink's full and proper name, "To-morrow'll be of all the year the maddest, merriest day, for I'm to be Queen of the May, mother, I'm to be Queen of the May." As you might imagine, the full name can be a bit cumbersome to call out in a crowded bar.

Second, unlike every other cocktail in this A to Z catalog, which I have at one time or another actually tasted, I have not, in truth, had the pleasure of drinking a May Queen. One of the reasons I've never had this drink is that it is fictional (which is why I felt a bit better about garbling up the name in order to fit under a blog post about a "Q" cocktail, which, let's be honest, is a bit tough to swing no matter who you are.)

The May Queen was described by P.G. Wodehouse's Lord Ickenham (aka Uncle Fred, aka Uncle Dynamite) in the novel Uncle Fred in the Springtime, a first edition of which I happen to be the proud owner. Uncle Fred describes the drink thusly:
Its foundation is any good, dry champagne, to which is added liqueur brandy, armagnac, kummel, yellow chartreuse and old stout, to taste.

Another reason I've never had one is that it's a bloody complicated and expensive drink to make. It also sounds like the kind of thing that energetic young men on a pub crawl would order for each other late in the evening, then spend an hour daring each other to slug down.

Still, the May Queen regularly makes the lists for the most famous literary cocktails of all time, so I'm proud to give it a place here.

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P is for Planter's Punch

This is one of those very loose recipes that really depends on your taste and how active you plan to be for the rest of afternoon after you start drinking these. Perfect for a barbecue, a garden party, a croquet tournament, whatever.

Basically, you get a pitcher (or for a larger party, a punch bowl). Slosh in a lot of dark rum (for a party, pour in the whole bottle. Or two bottles. Again, whatever. Don't overthink this.) Add some fruit juices - plenty of orange juice, some lemon juice, some pineapple juice (if you have it), maybe some apple juice. Pour in enough grenadine to pink up the mix, add a few dashed of bitters (or not, if you don't like that sort of thing).

Stir it up and ladle it into ice-filled glasses. Want to garnish with orange slices and maraschino cherries? Go ahead. Want to add some of those paper umbrellas you got from the party store? Sure! Those make any party more festive.

However, the recipe doesn't really matter. Once the supply runs low, you can just start pouring in more ingredients to bring the level back up. The ratios of rum, fruit juices and grenadine will go wonky after the second punchbowl is emptied, so the taste will go a bit wide of the mark, too.

But, hey, you'll be having too much fun on the fourth wicket to care about such niceties!

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O is for Old Fashioned

Here's a funny story about the Old Fashioned.

After President Franklin Roosevelt died, President Truman and his wife eventually moved into the White House. At the time, the White House was staffed by a coterie of people who were deeply committed to the deceased FDR. This is not surprising, since he'd been in office for 13 years, steering the country through the Great Depression and World War II.

The staff was just as deeply resentful and dismissive of the Trumans. They saw the new President as a little man, a political hack, firmly in the vest pocket of Boss Pendergast, the king of the Kansas City machine. His dowdy, drab wife Bess they dismissed as a small-town housewifey woman who was everything that the eloquent, cosmopolitan, patrician Eleanor Roosevelt was not.

The Trumans always enjoyed a drink together before dinner each night, a habit of long standing throughout their marriage. Soon after moving in, the First Lady asked the White House dining room steward for an Old Fashioned. The steward, a mixologist of fine training, prepared an Old Fashioned according to a classic recipe: bourbon, bitters, and a sugar lump, mixed with a splash of spring water and garnished with the traditional orange slice and maraschino cherry.

Mrs. Truman drank it, but the next night, she asked for an Old Fashioned again, but this time, made properly. The steward, his professional pride no doubt stung, asked for specifics. "Not so sweet", she said.

So, the steward prepared another Old Fashioned, this time using a different brand of bourbon and a different recipe. He garnished it in the traditional way and served it. This time, Mrs. Truman did not finish the drink.

The next night, she told the steward that if she'd wanted a fruit salad before dinner she would have asked for one, and that if the man didn't know how to make an Old Fashioned, he should just say so and find someone who did. This time, the steward went behind the bar, sloshed some rye whiskey into a highball glass and served it to her, neat. While he stood waiting, she took a sip.

"Ah!", she said. "Now THAT'S an Old Fashioned!"

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N is for Negroni

Warning: DO NOT MAKE THIS DRINK.

I'm telling you, the Negroni is NOT something you will like. Why? I'll tell you why: it has Campari in it.

I made the mistake of buying a bottle of Campari years ago. Swayed by sexy ads like this one, I decided to try a drink I'd heard of but never had: Campari and soda.

Disgusting.

Lick the underside of a car battery from a 2004 Honda CRV. That's what Campari tastes like. There isn't enough soda water in all the universe to disguise that horrifically bitter taste.

Still, I persevered. Lots of people drink Campari, I thought. It's a sexy, hip, liqueur, I thought. Surely there must be some way to use it in a drink that would be palatable, I thought. Besides, having sunk the cost of the bottle, I wanted to get some return on the investment.

Gentle reader, I tried everything. Sweet, dry, strong, mild, dark, light, complex, simple, cold, warm, and everything in between.

The last drink I tried was a Negroni: one part each of gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari.

Conclusion: the Negroni is a complete waste of gin and sweet vermouth.

Let me say again, DO NOT MAKE THIS DRINK.

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M is for Manhattan

I'll be honest, dear reader. I came really close to writing about martinis instead of Manhattans for "M". I like a Manhattan every now and then, but they always seem to be overdone. Too many ingredients, too fussy, too much opportunity to get them wrong.

The wrong kind of whiskey, wrong brand of vermouth (or dry instead of sweet), too many cherries, orange slice isn't ripe enough (all color, no flavor), three dashes of bitters instead of two...

I'm all for individual preference, and drinking what you like, but I've never really gotten a Manhattan at a bar that I liked. They were always not quite right. That's why I make them at home when I have them. Even then, even when I get the drink exactly right, the Manhattan is almost more trouble than it's worth.

Almost.

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L is for Limoncello

I first had limoncello during a wonderful week in Sorrento, Italy. (Yes, Sorrento really looks like this picture - it's amazing.)

We'd strolled through the whitewashed villas atop the Isle of Capri, drinking Lachryma de Christo in a shady hilltop restaurant as the sunlight danced on the waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

We'd communed with the ghosts of Pompeii and Herculaneum, sipping surprising good cappuccino and dulce de leche in a tourist bar.

We'd driven the length of the Amalfi Coast, sucking gratefully at cool bottles of Peroni while the sweat dried on our bodies in the salt- and seaweed-scented breeze.

And, on what I believe was our last day, after our second day spent walking the streets of Sorrento, moving from cool shadow to blazing sun, we left the cobblestones, cathedrals and courtyards to settle into a streetside cafe where we had limoncello.

Dear reader, it was a transcendent experience. The intensity of the lemon flavor, the clean, biting top note of the alcohol, all supported by the sweetness of the liqueur, was just heavenly. It was like relaxation and serenity and contentment, carefully distilled to 100 proof and sealed in an oddly-shaped bottle.

You know what happens next, right?

Of course you do.

We bought a bottle (being VERY careful to get the same brand we'd just enjoyed), took it back home with us, and... were utterly disappointed. Out of context, it tasted nothing like what we'd had. It's possible we'd been rooked, and had overpaid for a cheap, crappy, tourist version of the heaven-in-a-glass that gave us such pleasure in Sorrento.

Such are the vicissitudes of travel. It broadens the mind, deepens the soul, and, if you let it, educates the palate.

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K is for Kümmel

Kümmel is, to say the least, an acquired taste. It's a liqueur with a strong caraway and anise flavor. Thick and sweet, a cordial of ice-cold kümmel was presented to me as a wonderful digestif, an after-dinner herbal infusion that helps to settle the stomach and aid digestion.

To be honest, it tasted to me like it would be more effective at aiding emesis than digestion, but I didn't want to be rude to my hosts.

I haven't tried a kümmel cordial in decades - the taste lingers that long in one's memory. Still, maybe I should give it another try. I used to despise Jägermeister, another herbal digestif, albeit one that is much better known to Americans. Now, I sometimes enjoy a cordial of Jägermeister, poured right from the bottle I keep in my freezer.

Is this appreciation of intense flavors the result of epicurean wisdom and a mature palate, gained through the experience of decades of adventuresome drinking? Or, now that I am past the mid-point of my life, is it a consequence of my taste buds slowly dying off, only one among the various harbingers of my inevitable (and, I hope, graceful) decline into senescence and death?

Something to think about as I sip my next glass of kümmel, anisette, or Jägermeister.


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J is for Julep

You might have thought that juleps came in only one flavor i.e., mint. In fact, a julep is any sort of fruit- or herb-infused cocktail, usually sweetened.

If you've never had one, you'll be surprised at how refreshing a mint julep can be. Crush the fresh mint leaves in the bottom of your glass, splash in the bourbon, as much simple syrup as you like and fill with crushed ice. Stir for a while before the first sip. You could strain it all off into a highball glass, or (as I do) sip straight from the muddling glass. It's a bit like sweet mint tea, with a nice, high-noted kick.

Here's this, though: you don't have to use mint.

Try crushing lemon balm leaves and using light rum. (Lemon balm is almost as easy to grow as mint.) Try crushing a rosemary sprig and using plum brandy. Or crushing some peaches and cinnamon sticks and using dark rum. Or go truly crazy and crush a few fresh basil leaves and use gin.

Instead of the simple syrup, use a bit of molasses. Or honey.

If you ever wanted a reason for an herb garden, the julep is a good one.

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I is for Irish Coffee

Could there be a more welcome marriage than that of alcohol, coffee, and sugar? Creamy and sweet, awash with the richness of heavy cream that belies the double bite of Jameson's and Jamaica Blue Mountain, Irish Coffee is the fulfillment of every dream of what a situationally perfect drink could be.

Think back, my friends: how many of your pub crawls have threatened to bog down in the wee hours, purely because fatigue, intoxication, and low blood sugar cause the revelers to stay on their stools instead of dancing with the crowd? Too much convivial beer, too much obvious tequila, not enough of the finer things in life?

I'm sure you know the cure for the 2 A.M. slows as well as I do: a big platter of fried mushrooms and a round of Irish Coffees. It feeds the soul even as it fuels the body, giving wings to desire and renewing the promise of every great pub crawl: "Sunrise is in three hours - let's go!"

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#AtoZChallenge 2015: Cocktails

This page will serve as a handy index to all of my cocktail posts as part of the 2015 A to Z Blogging Challenge. Enjoy!


A is for Absinthe B is for Bloody Mary C is for Caipirhina
D is for Daiquiri E is for Eggnog F is for Fuzzy Navel
G is for Gimlet H is for Harvey Wallbanger I is for Irish Coffee
J is for Julep K is for Kümmel L is for Limoncello
M is for Manhattan N is for Negroni O is for Old Fashioned
P is for Planter's Punch Q is for Queen of the May R is for Rum and Coke
S is for Sangria T is for Tom Collins U is for Union Jack
V is for Vodka Tonic W is for White Russian X is for X on the Beach
Y is for Yellow Bird
Z is for Zombie

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H is for Harvey Wallbanger

This one is a throwback to the late 1970s. Thanks to excessive pop culture references on "The Love Boat", "Three's Company", "Barney Miller", and "Welcome Back Kotter", the Harvey Wallbanger became a running joke. If Cutty Sark on the rocks was for a tough guy like Mannix, then the Harvey Wallbanger was for a schlub like Michael Stivic.

By the time I first ordered one at a bar (well after the 1907s were blessedly in the rear view mirror), the Harvey Wallbanger was like a mother-in-law joke told by a borscht belt comic making his twelfth appearance on the Johnny Carson show. I had an urge to satisfy a lingering curiosity about the drink. I did, but it was disappointing. To be honest, I couldn't taste the difference between a Harvey Wallbanger and a regular screwdriver. The galliano added no particular flavor that I could discern.

Upon reflection, maybe that was the whole point. Adding a jolt of a sweet, 80 proof liqueur would up the impact of the drink without upping the bite of the vodka or changing the flavor of the orange juice much.

The drink with the funny name that gets you drunk quick. Behold the Harvey Wallbanger - may it rest in peace.

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