January 12th, 2010
Spirits in the night
It’s 2:00 a.m. The bars have closed. The party has ended. But you’re not ready to call it a night. You want to commune with the pre-dawn hours and exercise the remains of your higher brain function while watching army ants devour a scorpion on Animal Planet. The question is, what are you drinking?
I’m talking nightcaps. And I’m not talking the civilized kind you mix before curling up in bed with a book before midnight. These usually involve brandy, eggs or hot liquid, and are as innocent as a lullaby.
No, I’m talking a down-and-dirty, half-in-the-bag nightcap — a usually half-assed but sometimes inspired improvisation mixed with a combination of laziness and brio.
One night I came home and dumped the following ingredients into a rocks glass over ice: Hendrick’s gin, Navan vanilla liqueur, Zirbenz stone pine liqueur, lemon juice and grapefruit bitters. I’m telling you, it was a hell of a cocktail. (Unfortunately, I have never been able to reenact the magical proportioning of ingredients that produced that drink.)
You’ve got to figure that a lot of weird-sounding but good-tasting cocktails are created the same way. How else would someone have come up with a Blood and Sand? ‘Hmm, what’ve I got in my cabinet here? Scotch … sweet vermouth … cherry brandy. Oh, and a splash of OJ. Yeah!’
In my less successful experiments, I usually end up with some muddy mess of a Hanky Panky or Red Hook wannabe, with the wrong kind of bitters and an ill-advised dash of absinthe or Old Monk rum. Often, I throw improvisation out the window and simply pour a Scotch neat or a Negroni on the rocks, the latter with orange bitters substituting for a twist from the desiccated citrus fruit disgracing my kitchen counter.
Lately, I’ve been thinking of other easy but surefire mixtures to add to my nightcap repertoire. Like a Pink Gin (gin and Angostura bitters — you don’t even need ice!), an Upside-Down Martini (mostly dry vermouth with a splash of gin — Julia Child liked these) or … hey, what about a Bentley (half applejack, half Dubonnet)? Wow, that’s a classy way to slip into unconsciousness. Go, army ants, go!