Hangman’s Blood

HangeronProposed By: David

Reviewed By: Jonathan

Anthony Burgess was a British novelist, librettist, and composer, but he’s most famous for Clockwork Orange, the book that became a controversial Stanley Kubrick movie and assured Burgess’ lasting fame. That… and Hangman’s Blood, of course.

Hangman’s Blood was Burgess’ signature concoction, and if you’re a regular follower of this blog, perhaps you noticed the comment section stir (well, relative stir… we have about 25 regular readers) caused by my proposing Burgess’ favorite indulgence, a cocktail he said “tastes very smooth, induces a somewhat metaphysical elation, and rarely leaves a hangover” but which everyone else sees as the spirituous equivalent of a “suicide,” that fountain drink mixed from orange, Coca Cola, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, and Nehi Grape your seventh grade friend Mark (or Bobby or Steve or Jeff) dared you to drink:

1 1/4 oz gin
1 1/4 oz rum
1 1/4 oz whiskey
1 1/4 oz brandy
1 1/4 oz port
5 oz Guinness® stout or stout beer
4 oz Champagne

Add all five shots to a pint glass. Top to desired level with stout beer, 5 oz is just about right. Fill to top of glass with champagne.

Okay, so call me a fool if you like. I prefer to see myself as a thrill-seeker willing to stand apart from the genteel martini drinkers also after a spirituous experience but reluctant to say so. I could, of course, claim I meant to add to our list of literary drinks, the Hemingway Daiquiri, the Bobby Burns, etc. That, however, would be a lie. Mostly I wanted to see if something so crazy could possibly be good. I mean, it’s possible. Maybe I just grew tired of threatening and wanted to make good on the threat.

Was that a good idea? I’ll leave the review for later, but, well, hey, all hopes are somewhat foolish.

Jonathan and I both chose a collection of bottles to depict this drink—though he suggested it might have been more appropriate to show him stretched out on his den floor—and a row of spirits may be the best (and only possible) tribute to Burgess’ invention.

In any case, here’s Jonathan’s Review:

IMG_0204-2Nothing says Happy Valentine’s Day like an ice cold Hangman’s Blood. Most people were thinking about a nice bottle of bubbly, a glass of red wine, or perhaps an innocent cocktail like a mimosa. Not us, we were emptying the liquor cabinet, throwing in half a bottle of stout and for an ounce, or four, of redemption adding some champagne.

There’s an image of the rough guy who sits at a dimly lit bar. No one sits near him as he orders a beer with a shot a rye. He drops that shot in the pint glass and downs them together. He is the most basic and roughest drinker. That is until someone walks in, takes the bar stool right next to him and orders a Hangman’s Blood. Fifteen minutes later the bartender finishes grabbing half the bottles he has available, throwing on some beer and bubbly and presents the drink. The new drinker winks at his bar mate and downs the concoction in one long draught. The only options left for Mr. Boilermaker are to relinquish his status as the toughest fool there or wait ten minutes for Mr. Hangman to fall off that bar stool and take his rightful place on the floor with the peanut shells and pretzel crumbs.

I have dim memories of a punch that was popular among college students who had tired of mixing grain alcohol and fruit juices into PJ. Battleship Punch, and I am going from memory here since I can’t find it on the internet, is a mix of grain, vodka, brandy, and champagne among other liquors. There were some non-alcoholic ingredients but the concept was that the champagne hit you first followed by the brandy, vodka and grain in that order. By the time you had drunk too much it was too late. Your battleship was sunk.

This is that punch in cocktail form. I mixed up a half batch, shared that with my wife and still didn’t come close to finishing it. The effervescence helped the drink and brightened it, but nothing could erase the thought that I had just poured four liquors, one fortified wine and beer together before I had topped it with that champagne. My mind wouldn’t let me taste any subtlety, judge the color, or even start to think why someone would drink a full cocktail of this. Sorry David, I am not the meanest son of a gun at the bar.

Jonathan’s take: Champagne can redeem a drink. Not this one.

David’s take: Really awful. Sorry, Mr. Burgess. Sorry, everyone.

Next time (Proposed By Jonathan):

Ever since David proposed the current drink I have been trying to think of the sweetest drink, one that was mostly Irish Cream, or how I could mix crème de menthe and blue curacao. Guess what? There is drink called the Frostbite (perfect for the Chicago winter I suppose) that is tequila based but includes blue curacao, crème de menthe and a sweet element – chocolate liqueur. I hate there is no Irish Cream but you can’t have everything.



Winter Gin Sangaree

Proposed by: DavidSangaree1

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Participating in this blog has hardly made me more savvy—there’s so much more learning to do and it’s hard to do while you’re drinking. The experience has, however, honed my preferences. Looking at a cocktail’s ingredients is a more reliable method of guessing whether I’ll like it, and I’m beginning to make finer distinctions about various styles of spirits and the sorts of drinks they “do well.”

Gin has become my particular favorite because it adds a botanical element to every drink, sometimes harmonizing and sometimes singing solo. Unless you’re a character in a William Hogarth print, you probably don’t drink gin straight, but some of the varieties—like Old Tom and Tanqueray Rangpur—make me understand why gin was once the abetting sin of the low countries and England. The range of botanicals available to gin makers, as well as the distillation process and use of different types of barrel aging, give gins diverse and interesting possibilities. No wonder it’s become a popular DIY phenomenon.

This week’s cocktail calls for a “Winter Gin” created by Beefeaters using not only juniper but also cinnamon, orange rind, nutmeg, and pine shoots. I guess they were trying to invent a gin using the seasonings of the season and create a market for gin during a time when sales are low. But I have to guess. I couldn’t find this winter gin stuff, which is saying a lot, as I live in a city where no type of alcohol seems rare. Fortunately I found another recipe that suggested Old Tom, which I did have and do enjoy immensely.

2 oz. Old Tom Gin

.25 oz Simple Sugar

1 oz. Tawny Port

Pour the port first, then shake the gin and simple syrup with ice, and gently pour in the gin mixture into a fluted glass, straining. The clear liquid should sit on top of the port that way. Dust with grated nutmeg. Invite your guests (or yourself) to stir (or not) as you wish.

The august history of sangaree as a style of cocktail isn’t just for winter anyway. As I said last week, the name means “blood,” and, though I thought that meant red port was the central ingredient, I’ve since discovered that Jerry “The Professor” Thomas offered recipes for sangarees featuring sherry, brandy, gin, ale, and porter. The main classifier seems to be water, sugar, and nutmeg. A sangaree doesn’t necessarily need port or gin at all, which distinguishes it from sangria, which must have fruit juice and wine.

Sangarees are also much older than sangria—1736 versus 1961—and seem to have developed during gin’s (and genever’s) heyday. If you picture some Hogarthian wastrel with tankard to lips and some contemporary wastrel ladling another red solo cup of cut fruit crowded wine maybe the difference isn’t so great. Both sangarees and sangrias count as punches. “Sangaree” just happens to be more fun to say… and fewer people have heard of it… and its history stretches back to a time when the demon of hard alcohol made headway in London and other European capitals… and you will sound more savvy if you ask for it. As Paul Clarke said on his blog The Cocktail Chronicles, “If you’re looking for a new way to get tossed out of a bar, you could do worse than making it a habit to stroll in, rap loudly on the bartop with your knuckles and shout, ‘Barman! A Port Wine SAN-GAREE, extra nutmeg, s’il vous plait — and keep ‘em comin’!’

Today is my brother’s birthday, and I spent the day hoping he had a wonderful celebration. Though we don’t see each other as much as I’d like, he’s never far from my thoughts. This drink formed two layers as I poured the gin in, and that made it seem the perfect metaphor—though the two parts are separated, they were still one drink.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

20141207_185152_resizedDavid and I are the fourth and fifth children respectively in a family of five children. Growing up, our oldest brother had a room to himself (a loosely used term for the room/closet he occupied in our first house in Texas), our sisters shared a room, and as the youngest two children we shared a room. Bunk beds were the standard for most of those years and played into many of our adventures. Sometimes it was David sticking his head over the edge of the top bunk to inform me that the wind outside was actually an approaching hurricane after which he went to sleep while I stared at the swaying bushes. Other times some draped blankets transformed the lower bunk to a space capsule. We would pull a lamp into the capsule, snack on odd tube shaped space food and Tang, and spend the evening pretending we were on the way to the moon. Mostly we shared our everyday lives that were completely intertwined even if we spent our days in different places with our different friends.

Those of you who have sent or read comments can see David’s picture that appears with his responses. If I had an internet version of myself you would see that our literal profile is almost exactly the same. We both have a chin that gets pointier with every passing year, prominent foreheads that also seem to be growing, and hair that gets more similar as it gets more gray. That is not to say that we don’t have our differences. For instance, he is artistic, stylish and color is his playfield. I am color blind, color stupid and my style can be summarized by asking my wife (it was my sisters who I asked growing up) if I look presentable before I leave the house.

I say all of this to show that we do share the genetics of blood which is the basis of this drink proposal, but we also share so much more. The cocktail blog has increased our communication, but we have never had a need to increase our closeness. It has always been there from bunk bed hurricanes to adulthood.

Oh yeah, there was a drink this week. I did make an attempt to find winter gin because in my world there can’t be enough types of gin. Those attempts were in vain, however, so I used the gin made down the road from me in Kings Mountain – Cardinal. I have made the point a number of times that drinks fit moods and places and this drink needed a big winter meal, enjoyed slowly with the flickering light of candles. The smell of a freshly cut tree that had recently been dragged into the living room for decoration wouldn’t hurt either. Unfortunately we did not have that perfect combination and the drink was good but not great. The port and gin played well together, but would have welcomed more orange and spices beyond the subtle nutmeg. It is one that I may go back to at the right time and place to truly test my theory though.

Jonathan’s take: I wonder if they make a gin for every season?

David’s take: I like everything gin. This cocktail seemed a worthy variation, and I liked it… but my favorite? I’m still looking.

Next week (Proposed by Jonathan):

To celebrate our sons’ graduations last May, David suggested the Blue Sky cocktail. Two of my nieces were on hand to taste that one, and were polite enough to not spit it out. One of those nieces will be graduating from college next week and we will be on hand to celebrate that wonderful occasion so I wanted to find a tastier cocktail as part of that. Her school mascot is the mountaineer, and the colors are black and gold. I searched for a mountaineer cocktail, and not surprisingly many of them came back with moonshine as the main ingredient. Due to the odd fears of blindness and buying liquor sold in mason jars, I am proposing a black and gold cocktail instead. Black vodka is not available right now as they work through some import issues, so each of us will be on our own to dye vodka black or substitute an appropriate alternative.

A Sling of Sorts #2

Sling2Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

While I have no idea why this drink is labeled “#2,” the other part of its tail end, “Of Sorts,” seems important. The name needs “Of Sorts” because purists might be upset it’s called a “Sling” at all. A sling isn’t supposed to be a cocktail, as the term “cocktail” originally classified drinks that, unlike slings (and like this drink), contained bitters. The true sling, which predated cocktails, omitted bitters and featured some sort of alcohol (naturally), some sweetener (sugar or simple syrup), and water (bubbly or still). Most slings now contain fruit juices—especially the most famous Singapore Sling—but juices weren’t originally required. One site I visited said a sling must contain nutmeg to be a sling.

It’s a free country, and you purists, if you’re listening, have a perfect right to scoff at my not-so-savvy rube-ish-ness. However, I also have a right to say that attempts to maintain an earlier order often seem desperate, like insisting shorts aren’t really pants because they don’t reach your shoes or that harmonicas aren’t instruments because there’s no fingering. Words shift their meaning and, besides, I didn’t name this drink. All drinks fit under the umbrella of “cocktail” in this new golden age of mixology. My message to purists: get over it and join the modern world.

Still, I have to admit there’s a lot of perverse variation in this sling. It contains not only bitters (the original recipe called for Bolivar bitters, but Angostura is a type of Bolivar bitter), but also Aquavit, hardly your typical spirit, and Port, which probably has no business going near a cocktail, much less something called a sling.

Maybe this drink is yet another demonstration (as if I needed one) of my inner mad-scientist. I like trying stuff. Ask my kids about cookies made on the grill. It’s fun finding out what happens. I figure the worst outcome is discovering what doesn’t work. Ask my kids about cookies made on the grill.

Mistakes are useful. How often do these wild forays into randomness bring positive results? My lifetime success rate, I’d say, is about 30%. Not enough for most, but enough for me. If we’re out to enlarge our mixology palette and have Aquavit in our bars, why not use it? Doesn’t everyone want to brag about drinking something garnished with a fennel frond?

Here’s the recipe (adapted generically):

  • 1.75 oz Aquavit
  • .75 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • .75 oz Simple Syrup
  • .5 oz Port
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 2 oz Seltzer

Instructions: Shake all ingredients but the seltzer over ice. Add seltzer and double strain into collins glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a Fennel Frond.

Sling2aHere’s Jonathan’s Review:

So, here we are back to the traveling Aquavit. Combined with Port and bitters that can’t be found in Charlotte and I had to wonder what David was doing to us. It ends up he was sending a Valentine to Spring and the hope for warmer weather.

I had fled Charlotte this week for the warmer climate of Denver, yes that is in the correct order of places, only to return to the lingering remnants of the storm. Our weather is nothing compared to Chicago, but there has already been enough cold and now snow that I am ready for the longer, warmer days that are hopefully on the way.

This cocktail is a wonderful prelude to those days. It has been written many places that the best drinks are a combination of many ingredients, each enhancing the others. That’s true in this case. The Aquavit stands out, yet the other ingredients don’t disappear. I wish I was able to locate the Bolivar bitters, but the orange bitters I used acted as a perfect counterpoint with the simple syrup and lemon juice. Add a little seltzer and suddenly it was spring, even if my picture this week says otherwise. The final touch was the lovely color which I can only assume David intended to honor Valentine’s Day.

Jonathan’s Take: This could be a staple of spring and summer cocktails even with its odd ingredients.

David’s Take: A great discovery and worth revisiting, especially since I still have plenty of Aquavit.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

We started this project as beer drinkers and will stray from our cocktail mission to send each other samples of micro-brews. I have a cross section of NC beers to send that I will introduce and for which David can provide an opinion.