TT: Skiffy Cocktail Culture

JANE: Last time we were talking about cocktail culture.  Rather than recap, I’d like to let someone else explain some of the details.   Author Carrie Vaughn (Kitty and the Midnight Hour and many other books) provided a really interesting look at how cocktail culture is not only reviving, but thriving.  In answer to my question she said:

Speculative Cocktails

Speculative Cocktails

“It’s morphed.  There’s actually a huge surge in interest in vintage cocktails right now, running in parallel with a rise of local craft distilleries (much like craft breweries of 20 years ago) making small-batch hard liquors and vintage liqueurs.  Go into trendy bars and restaurants and you’ll actually see things like Old Fashioneds and Aviations on the menu, which wasn’t true even 5 years ago.  Absinthe is a thing now.  We have an absinthe bar here in Longmont CO [Colorado].

“Instead of ‘cocktail hour’ you’ll see dedicated ‘cocktail parties,’ where the whole point is to try out new labels of liquor and new (or vintage) recipes for cocktails.  Craft distilleries have tastings and mix up things like Moscow Mules and Sazaracs, and all kinds of vintage cocktails that are making a comeback over more mainstream drinks.

“So yes, cocktails are totally a thing but it’s kind of a younger, hipstery thing right now.”

ALAN: Since I’m neither young nor hipstery, I have no idea if this kind of thing happens here. But I suspect not – locally made movies and TV shows (which presumably reflect local culture) still show the bright young things drinking wine and beer.

JANE: Indeed, based on what my contacts (both younger and older) told me, wine and beer are still the most common party drinks.

Interestingly, cocktails may have evolved for a very practical reason.   Walter Jon Williams (author of all sorts of great books, including Hardwired and Metropolitan) offered some interesting (and humorous) thoughts on this.  He says:

“It’s my guess that a lot of classic cocktails, like the sazerac and the Manhattan/Brooklyn, were invented to disguise the fact that you were drinking crap liquor.  I mean, why else mix whiskey with fruit juice, unless you wanted to hide the taste of really bad whiskey?

“There are also the drinks that enabled the British to conquer their empire, one of which is (ironically) named the French 75.  Which may be French, but is still an artillery piece, what with a mixture of gin and champagne.

“And then there’s the pink gin, which sounds very civilized but is about 100% gin, with a couple drops of bitters to give it the color.  I’m guessing the Brits were 100% drunk all the time, which accounts for some of the places they ended up.  ‘Where are we?’ ‘Mandalay.’ ‘Blimey, last I remember was going into the lounge bar at the Elephant and Castle, and ordering a pink gin.’”

ALAN: That’s the most sensible explanation I’ve ever heard for the evolution of the British Empire. However I suspect the real truth of the matter is that the British created an empire so that they’d have someone to play cricket with.

JANE: How about a combination of both?  Excessive drinking to explain locations and cricket as a reason to keep expanding.  After all, they’d need to work hard to find other players!

But I grow silly (and I’m not even drinking).

 Since cocktails may have evolved to disguise the taste of the spirits, following the directions from another time and place may not be the best way to recreate the experience.

My friend Chris Krohn shared some of his experiences in this area: “We learned an important thing from the period recipes:  Step one is cut the lime juice amount in half.  WOW!   Another idea we tossed around was that everyone was smoking like chimneys, so they opted for really strong flavors to cut through to their smoke-dulled palates.”

ALAN: Iain Banks (a Scottish author who wrote a lot of SF under the impenetrable pseudonym of Iain M. Banks) once wrote a whole book about the history and production of whisky in Scotland. In order to gather research material, he visited all the distilleries and sampled their wares. He was astonished by the number of friends who offered to help him with this onerous task…

But didn’t you say something about SF related cocktails?

JANE: I did indeed.  Some are simply related to various works, others attempt to recreate cocktails mentioned in books.

George R.R. Martin is very proud that his Jean Cocteau Theater designs specific cocktails for each of their special guests.

He gave this example of the sort of “theme” cocktail the bartenders design:  “For instance, when Ernie Cline was here… we did an ‘Easter Egg’ cocktail with mini Rubik’s Cubes floating in it, and sold close sixty of ’em.”

Apparently, Game of Thrones has inspired numerous cocktails.  Prominent East Coast fan Dave Axler mentioned “…the ‘Dragon’s Egg’, which was served aflame!”

ALAN: Sometime in the 1970s I attended a theatrical performance of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Naturally, in the interval they served Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. I’m not sure of the exact recipe, but it involved copious quantities of champagne and lots of blue curacao, with dry ice to give the drink that authentic SF fuming effect. I recall that the second half of the show was rather blurred.

I suspect that other SF-related drinks may have made an appearance at various fan gatherings, though I don’t recall ever seeing any bottles of Sirian Panther Sweat, that tipple beloved by Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat…

JANE: Hmm…  I went and looked on-line.  I didn’t find a recipe for Sirian Panther Sweat, but I did find one for something called “Panther Sweat.”  It involved tequila, banana liqueur, triple sec, and grapefruit juice.  That sounds like something that should be banned on any world – civilized or not!

A quick check showed that various SF-themed cocktails have been created by experiment-minded fans.  Some are tied directly to drinks featured in stories, others are inspired by the stories.  Unsurprisingly, television shows and movies seem to inspire more than books – possibly because unless a drink is a specific plot element, it’s easier to overlook.

ALAN: So let’s have a party. I’ll bring the Victory Gin (from George Orwell’s 1984, there’s a free white stick given away with every bottle) and you bring the tonic.

JANE: I think I’d rather have a Romulan ale.  If I’m going to get blasted out of this world, I’d rather do it with alien booze.

I wonder if any of our readers have ever given or attended an SF-themed cocktail party?  Handled right, it could be a lot of fun.

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10 Responses to “TT: Skiffy Cocktail Culture”

  1. Peter Says:

    And here I was blaming the excessive drinking for cricket, not expansion of the empire…

    The most notable SFnal cocktail I’ve ever had was at a Toronto con called Ad Astra that served their signature fruit schnapps-based cocktail in the con suite. They called it, naturally, the Pear Ardua.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Pear Arudua? Educate me, please?

      • Peter Says:

        “Per ardua ad astra” – roughly “through struggle to the stars” – is the motto of (among others) the Royal Canadian Air Force (it goes back to H Rider Haggard by way of the foundation of the British Royal Flying Corps in 1912.)

  2. Paul Says:

    Not sure what they’re drinking, but large SF conventions often have large contingents of pros and fans at the bar. And of course there’s Callahan’s Bar…

  3. Heteromeles Says:

    Not a drinking comment directly, but I’d been under the impression (was it from Ivan Sanderson?) that British colonial capitols tended to be placed on coastal mudflats under perpetually hazy or cloudy skies, the better to ape London.

    The slightly more serious question is whether drinks in SFF are a form of fan-service, just as filkable songs are?

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      I don’t know. I’ve never done fan-service of any sort…

      That there are writer calculating enough to do so, I wouldn’t doubt.

      However, I think it’s more likely to be a reflection of an honest enthusiasm for the topic — whether music or an interesting drink.

  4. James M. Six Says:

    I’ve never been entirely sure if this book was satirical or denigrating toward fandom (possibly both), but “Bimbos of the Death Sun” by Sharyn McCrumb made a comment or two about Romulan Ale at the convention which was just “draft Moosehead with food coloring,”

  5. Lori F Says:

    Here in Vancouver BC we have a sci fi fantasy fandom getaway called the Storm Crow Tavern (and Alehouse). They have an inspired cocktail menu including Romulan Ale *and* the PanGalactic Gargle Blaster. Oh, and the random shots menu involves rolling a 20-sided die, to help you choose. (The die can also come into play for building your burger.) Check it out when you’re in the this part of the galaxy, or just cruise the menu for inspiration.
    http://www.stormcrowtavern.com/

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    • janelindskold Says:

      Sometimes I play a game of solitaire. Sometimes I go back and read the paragraphs leading up to where I plan to start. No one trick!

      Please remember. If you end up starting, then those ten to fifteen minutes aren’t wasted. They’re only wasted if you don’t start writing.

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