100 Best American Drinks

Feature: One writer's quest to try every drink in the 'Drink Book'

December 26, 2016

Notebook entry dated "Afternoon, June 10"

Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? According to my mother, when I was three I wanted to be "the guy who makes the French fries at McDonald’s." Time passed, and my professed culinary inclinations gave way successively to paleontology, video game design, the cinema, poetry, construction/literary fiction, professor of Restoration and 18th century British literature, and tax law before I stumbled into literary and political journalism by way of substitute teaching after dropping out of high school and getting a good degree at a mediocre state university. As a husband and father I am more or less content with where I have ended up, though I wish I made more money and that I lived somewhere cheaper and more beautiful than dreary suburban Washington, D.C. If I can write a few biographies, raise my children, and somehow make it into purgatory, I’ll have done all right, I think.

Meanwhile I am being asked to drink for a living. My boss wants me to track down a copy of something from the ’50s called "The Drink Book" by a guy with the almost ludicrously WASPy-sounding name of L.L. Field, and sample every single item on his list of the "100 Greatest American Drinks." I cannot believe my luck. Every ounce of demon liquor I consume for this arduous project will be on my employer’s dime and, best of all, my deadline for the piece is, roughly, Christmas. The drink-to-word ratio underpinning the output of most journalists is staggeringly high, but in my case it will be purposefully so, at least for the next six months. "What wondrous life is this I lead!" as one of our English poets once put it.

Notebook entry dated "June 11"

While I wait for Field’s book to show up, I feel that it is important that I gather my thoughts on this high subject. I have been what you could call a serious drinker for about six years. I went through my first two years of college barely touching the stuff, preferring "hard Liberty," a kind of Leavisite austerity—Saturday afternoons devoted to Ellmann’s life of Joyce and tobacco enjoyed chiefly as an aid to concentration in the production of serious literary criticism—to the "easie yolk" of alcoholism. It was not until I spent a summer maxing out a tourist visa in the Land of the Rising Sun, where the legal drinking age is 20—"Hatachi desu"—that I began to get very serious about this. I remember one night I drank sake with a fireman, a man whose only English consisted of the two phrases "Budweiser, King of Beer" and "Japanese sake, once more" who politely assumed that every time I finished a cup his national spirit had somehow failed me. Ever since then I have gone through phases—craft beer, especially stouts; scotch; tempranillo; vodka soda—before settling into my current comfortable routine of expensive gin, Coors, and non-carbonation method sparkling wine. I am not, in other words, much of a cocktail man. Like Hobbes I intend to give up the whole thing in late middle age, but for now I am very comfortable with the idea that I am best known for my belief in the moral necessity of a Catholic confessional state and for my drinking habits.

Undated notebook entry, traceable to mid-June

Gin and Tonic
Gin and Tonic/ Credit: Flickr user Terry Brock

Field’s book has arrived, and I have just spent the better part of an afternoon scrutinizing his list. All the standard things are there: the G&T, which I live by, the Manhattan, which I hate, and the Singapore sling, which I tolerate. About one-fifth of these things have egg in them. This disgusts me. Have you ever looked at a cookbook from the ’50s, when everything had Jello and Spam in it? This book is roughly the alcohol equivalent, and I have never had so much faith in progress. Oh well: at least several of the nastiest-sounding drinks are punches, which means that I can force other people to share with me in the misery of consuming dark liquor mixed with egg and sugar and—if I’m being faithful to the spirit of the age—canned fruit and goodness knows what else. I have asked our office manager to purchase a punch bowl for public use.

Undated notebook entry, traceable to late June or early July

Prosecco / Credit: Flickr user Magalie L'Abbé

I suppose I had best get the easy things out of the way down at my local, where I will be charged only for half my drinks anyway and where I am loath to offend the sensibilities of my friends behind the bar. The other day I had eight gin and tonics over the course of a long evening with a friend in whose company I usually drink Miller Lite. They were all very nice. Field recommends lemon rather than lime, a deviation from my usual course about which I am dubious. Would it surprise you to hear that by number five or so I found myself not caring very much? At a Japanese restaurant down the street a few days later I had a Singapore Sling, a Manhattan, and an Old Fashioned. Yawn. A friend who enjoys Martinis far more than I, who despise olives, does not notice when I get mine, with Field’s tacit approval, con lemon peel. One morning at brunch I ask for an "Ambrosia," which calls for half a lump of sugar "saturated," whatever that means (the bartender just dumps it all in there), with bitters, and cognac and sparkling—the first new drink. It is delightful. Instead of "champagne," of course, I ask for whatever the house sparkling wine is. I cannot tell whether Field uses the term inaccurately or whether he really thinks it advisable to waste ounce upon ounce of one of the world’s most delightful and delightfully scarce beverages on his bizarre little concoctions. Either way, prosecco seems to get the job done. I also make sure to have a whiskey sour for the first time since CPAC 2013, when I drank about 12 in the course of an hour because they were free to me as a freshly minted representative of the national press and, for what I hope is the last time in my life, vomited in the street. The bowl has been ordered, but no office punches so far.

Entry on Hotel Portsmouth Bed and Breakfast stationary dated "July 12"

Mary Pickford / Credit: Flickr user Krista
Mary Pickford / Credit: Flickr user Krista

What a sad day for the republic. Bernie has endorsed Clinton. Portsmouth is a beautiful city, and though it is important that I file soon on this sad occurrence I must first get some lunch and knock off two or three items from my list. I have had no punches so far, but I get the sense that the bartender at this establishment with taps full of watermelon ales will not my mind my asking for a few bizarre cocktails before and after my food arrives. First, having glanced down at Field, I ask for a "Frisco," half an ounce of Bénédictine liequer and two ounces of bourbon with a lemon. I am not a whiskey man, but this is okay. It is certainly better than a "Mary Pickford," which calls for three quarters of an ounce of pineapple juice, three dashes of grenadine—which I have not had in a drink since the days when I would order Shirley Temples at the bowling alley with my old man—and two ounces of rum. Field in his write-up calls "the affinity of pineapple juice to rum … one of the beautiful love stories in the world of libations." Perhaps this is true if one does not despise rum, as I do. Malibu is the first hard stuff I ever drank, straight out of the cabinet at home when my parents were out of town. I was 13 or 14 and hated it and still do. Just to punish myself I finish off with an unimaginatively named "Puerto Rican Cocktail," i.e., pineapple and lime juice and rum.

Entry on Hotel Portsmouth Bed and Breakfast stationary dated "Late, July 12"

Ramos Gin Fizz
Ramos Gin Fizz / Credit: Flickr user Kevin O'Mara

After filing I walked to the water and had an early dinner at a place where I felt comfortable ordering two drinks with egg. The "Flip," with a teaspoon of brown sugar, a whole egg, and two ounces of rum, made me almost as uncomfortable as Field’s entry distinctly un-PC comments on "Ramos Gin Fizz" (lemon and lime juice, 1 tsp powdered sugar, 2 oz heavy—yuck—cream, a jigger of gin, the white of one egg, and soda): "This is the one and only genuine as originated at the famous Ramos bar in New Orleans, where a battery of blackamoors would toss the shaker from one to another in relays, their white teeth grinning like the keys of a grand piano."

Undated notebook entry traceable to the week of the Republican National Convention

Rob Roy / Credit: Flickr user Tim Sackton
Rob Roy / Credit: Flickr user Tim Sackton

A party with drinks the other night, one to which I was not invited. If you want to get into a party that your friends are on the list for but you are not, all you have to do is walk confidently past security. That is what I learned last night. I also learned, in between four G&Ts, that three more of Field’s favorites are not to my taste: the "Rob Roy" (one-third Vermouth to two-third Scotch), the "Presidente" (three-quarters of an ounce of Vermouth, a dash of grenadine, and a jigger of rum with ice), and the "Mamie Taylor," which is Scotch and ginger ale with lime juice and a rind over ice.

Undated notebook entry, traceable to the weekend between the Republican and Democratic conventions 

My wife and daughter are out of town, which means that I can make a fool of myself by purchasing Applejack and rum and assorted fruits in an attempt to make my way, in this disgustingly hot weather, through most of Field’s so-called "Warmers." Have I mentioned in this intermittent series that I have a hilariously weak stomach? After a "Black Stripe"—two crushed cherries, a teaspoon of honey, a lemon peel, rum, cinnamon, and, yes, boiling water—I am feeling slightly out of sorts. After a "Hot Buttered Rum," which consists of one tsp sugar, one slice of lemon, cinnamon, nutmeg, two oz rum, more boiling water, and unsalted butter, and another flaming teaspoon, I am distinctly ill, though I am also proud of myself for not having burned down the house. After a "Hot Rum Milk Punch," I am only slightly ashamed to admit that I spend half an hour lurching over the toilet doing my best to keep down sugar, bitters, rum, and a cup of boiling milk shaken in a mug with nutmeg. It appears that I am severely lactose intolerant. After two hours I manage to nurse a "Whaler’s Toddy," which Field says was once served with "scrimshaw toddy sticks of whalebone or ivory on many a voyage around the Horn." Reading Moby-Dick and listening to Philipe Entremont play Chopin makes me feel a bit better. Thank goodness the rum supply is starting to get low.

Breakfast has been interesting lately. Usually I’m just about up to making over-easy eggs and toast and putting an orange on the plate, but today I am attempting something far more ambitious. I have used up an ancient bottle of brandy and finished off the rum in the course of completing the "Warmers." I doubt anyone will be surprised to learn that "Grog"—lemon slice, orange rind, cinnamon, a lump of sugar, and two ounces of rum—is scarcely more pleasant than its name suggests. Frankly I am just grateful that I have managed to pull off its even more sinister-sounding cousin "Glögg"—a spoonful of sugar, cinnamon, four almonds, and raisins all tossed together in a flaming bowl—without setting off our one operational smoke detector. Ditto the "Café Brulot Antoine," which I was forced to fudge because I do not think even my generous employers are willing to buy me a "sautered silver bowl" in addition to footing the bill for brandy, lemons, cinnamon, and sugar just so that I can light the whole thing on fire and ladle it—"with the lights out," as Field insists for some reason—and then dump coffee on top of it.

I am unable to offer comment on the "Tom and Jerry" because after working sugar into a beaten yolk and adding spice and rum I somehow let things get away from me in the process of beating the egg white separately into a froth well before I combined the two ingredients with boiling water and dusted them with nutmeg. Instead I ended up with what looked like a microwaved S'more and the entrails of a gingerbread man scattered across two mixing bowls and a huge mess all over the counter and the kitchen floor. The rum is gone. Otherwise I would try my hand at "Cherry Bounce," a concoction that requires that demonic spirit, five pints of fruit, cheesecloth, brown sugar, ice cubes, and a week of refrigeration. Thank goodness I am home alone and have a fridge full of Coors Light. The "Brandy Shrub"—brandy, lemon juice, nutmeg, white wine, sugar—has been sitting in there for only a few hours rather than the three days specified, but either way I don’t want to drink it. I probably will, though.

Notebook entry dated "Late, July 25"

Whiskey Smash
Whiskey Smash / Credit: Flickr user Kevin O'Mara

People give Philadelphia so much guff, but her bartenders are some of the most decent and patient in the world. You never know when you will find someone willing to waste ingredients trying to pull off a perfect "Morning Glory," which requires egg white, lemon juice, Pernod, sugar, and whiskey to be shaken "until the tinkle of the ice becomes a soft purr." We—or rather she—tried it twice before we agreed that neither of us had any idea what the feline sound in question had to do with how the drink would taste. I’m pretty sure there was enough soda there that it didn’t matter. The "Golden Fizz," with lemon juice, sugar, an egg yolk, and gin, was easier to make but tasted worse. Thank goodness for the comparatively simple and delicious "Whiskey Smash": two good old ounces of whiskey, a few ice cubes, some sugar, and no questions for me about whether the mint leaves in the mix were sufficiently "young."

Undated notebook entry traceable to week of Democratic National Convention

Sidecar / Credit: Flickr user Dustin Diaz
Sidecar / Credit: Flickr user Dustin Diaz

At least I was properly invited to this event—sort of. In any case, a "Scotch Mist"—really just Scotch on the rocks with a lemon peel—is not so much to ask, even of one’s ideological opponents. Nor is a "Sidecar," which is one of many drinks that leaves me questioning whether Field possessed taste buds. His recipe calls for a third of a jigger each of lime juice, Triple Sec, and brandy, but he adds that it can also be made with anything from Applejack and rum to whiskey or gin and that "the white of an egg can be added with magical results." Could it? I have a hard time believing that anyone who can get behind a recipe as imprecise as "Basically any hard liquor plus Triple Sec plus lime with or without egg white" really knew what he was doing, much less cared whether his readers enjoyed the barely drinkable results of his scribbling.

Notebook entry dated "Late, July 29"

Cuba Libre
Cuba Libre / Credit: Flickr user Jon B

It’s been a relief to realize that in the course of my reporting I still had somehow not yet ordered a Tom Collins, a Moscow Mule, or a Cuba Libre—a fancy name for a rum and Coke with lime—all of which are readily available at airport bars. I’m going to be away from work for a while, ignoring news and drinking nothing but beer. This is a good way to ease into that.

Entry on SpringHill Suites hotel stationary dated "Aug. 18"

Mint Julep
/ Credit: Flickr user Danielle Scott

Of course there is no bar at the restaurant adjacent to the Noah’s Ark Museum. Thank goodness you can always count on Chinese restaurants—the second one I’ve been to in two days—for lengthy and varied cocktail menus, to say nothing to the patience of servers willing to take precise instructions. Not that they needed them. We’re a little more than an hour away from Louisville, but I doubt there’s a bartender in the state who doesn’t know how to a make a mint julep—and it’s easy enough to have one and then ask to substitute rum for a "Jamestown Julep" or a "Rum Sandagree," or to mix it up with some lemon juice and Curaçao for a "Rum Cobbler."

"Nowhere," Field writes in his entry on the original julep, "in the bibulous history of man is there evidence that this taste experience has been surpassed." In the right place at the right town, i.e., now, it is almost possible to agree with this lunatic about something.

Undated notebook entry, traceable to late August

Strawberry Daiquiri
Strawberry Daiquiri / Credit: Flickr user Valters Krontals

I’m at an Applebee’s, so I’d better do a daiquiri, right? I get one and for the first time in a dog’s age I am asked for my ID when ordering a drink, which serves me right. When the drink arrives almost 10 minutes later, it occurs to me:

"Uhhh, has this got egg in it?"


"You know, egg. Or actually egg white. Also, what about real sugar?"

I am surprised not to be thrown out.

Undated notebook entry, traceable to same period

It is time to take stock of where we are in this project. Some of these—the "Bacardi" with, well, Bacardi and grenadine and lemon or lime juice—could have been taken care of forever ago. Otherwise there are just a few milk-based punches and other emetic concoctions that I would like to pretend I never have to try. Until the other day there were quite a few Applejack items remaining on the list as well. A place my wife hates near my local took care of the "Applecar"—equal parts lime juice, Triple Sec, and Applejack—and the titular "Applejack Cocktail"—lime juice, sugar, and the monster in question—and a "Beachcomber," though I’m pretty sure the bartender used grenadine in place (if that’s a reasonable way of putting it) of Maraschino liqueur. Is it possible that I still have a quarter or so left of the list to go?

Notebook entry dated "Late, Sept. 13"

Vermouth Cassis
Vermouth Cassis / Credit: Flickr user me_maya

I had to kill a lot of time waiting for an Amtrak out of Philadelphia. Two drinks per hour seemed to fit the bill. First off were a nice Spritzer and a "Ward 8"—lemon juice, three dashes juice, rye, and soda—sans fresh fruit. I just didn’t have it in me to ask, even if I knew what fruit Field meant. No matter what I do it seems I cannot escape rum. There is the "Ipswich Switchell," with cranberry juice, lemon or lime juice, and "light" rum over ice. According to Field, this "dates back to 1640!" At least Planter’s Punch—rum, orange and lemon juice, and Curaçao—looked neat. Then a champagne—read, as usual, "moderately priced sparkling wine"—cocktail followed by "Vermouth Cassis," with pretty much what you’d expect plus soda and a lemon twist: absolutely gorgeous looking and delicious.

Notebook entry dated "Late, September 27"

A productive two days in New York before and after Trump and Clinton did their thing in vile Hempstead. Yesterday I let a bartender read Field’s recipe for a "Stirrup Cup" himself. It ends with the following warning: "Careful! No more than one of these for each stirrup, lest the guest and his horse ride off on different directions. Paul Revere made history with two of these and a horse."

"Is that supposed to be funny?" he asked.

I said I didn’t know.

At least the bartender was a self-professed "mixologist"—up there with "Scientologist" and "UFOlogist" for the worst 20th century abuse of that particular suffix—who didn’t bat an eyelash about the egg in my "Clover Club" and seemed almost as delighted as I was—perhaps even more so—by the "Crème de Menthe Frappé." He also ended up making me a gin rickey.

Today was more businesslike, going straight down the Bs: "Between the Sheets" (lemon juice, rum UGH, brandy UGH, Triple Sec), "Blinker" (whiskey, grapefruit juice, grenadine—really not bad but I felt embarrassed to do that even to bourbon), and a "Brandy Cocktail" that was basically a streamlined Old Fashioned.

Notebook entry dated "Oct. 8" 

St. Louis is such a beautiful city, perhaps the most beautiful in the Western Hemisphere. Atmosphere of state and local authorities wonderfully relaxed towards tobacco, Tridentine Mass widely available; combination of those two plus the domestic architecture allows one to pretend that the U. S. of A. equals a rather youthful tenuous French colony rather than doomed exercise in liberal hubris, corporate hegemony, &c &c that she is. Missing Lydia and Thisbe as usual, but looking forward to watching Jabrill do vicious things to Rutgers this afternoon. Nice to watch on a real TV for once. Went this afternoon to confession at the cathedral: a masterpiece, perhaps the loveliest on this continent. There are at least four bars here at this hotel; the one I have chosen has a large patio at which I am allowed to smoke and even offered a rather old-fashioned-looking crystal ashtray. I complement an otherwise liquid lunch with something called an "Asian garden salad" that turns out to be delicious and refreshing—but not as much as the "Strawberry Fizz." Like a fool I still have the book with me, but the bartender who comes outside is very kind and indulgent when I open it up and explain that I would like four ripe strawberries with one teaspoon of sugar in the juice of half a lemon, plus two dashes of sweet cream and a jigger of gin, shaken with ice, strained, and topped with soda. She writes it all down and brings it back to me about five minutes later—the bar appears to be empty—apologizing for taking so long. "I had to ask the kitchen about the cream!" At least she is amused when I suggest that, since she already has it up there, she might as well make me another one. After this she makes me an Orange Blossom—I don’t bother looking up the recipe—and something called a "Bronx" (half oz OJ, quarter oz Vermouth, one jigger gin, shaken with ice and strained).

Notebook entry dated "Late, Oct. 8"

Beautiful, simply beautiful. I cannot remember watching anything more humiliating in 20-some years of familiarity with organized sport. No first down for Rutgers until well into the fourth quarter, by which time we are using so many third-string players that I might as well be taking snaps or bowling over their pathetic offensive line. It occurs to me that Jabrill is from East Orange. Must look into getting a jersey. At this point I think there is something to the Woodson comparisons and the Heisman talk. Afterwards to bar with Field to celebrate with "Bamboo"—two oz dry sherry, three quarters oz dry Vermouth, stirred/shaken with cracked ice. What does Field mean when he says that this cocktail is "quite appropriate for the emancipated ‘tween angers’"? Is he advocating underage drinking? I approve. Anyway, I also bothered them again for heavy cream. I utterly despised the "Panama," with half an ounce of the latter, three quarters of an ounce of chocolate liqueur, and a jigger of brandy. I finish with a "Ponce de Leon," one of my favorite characters from our history, which is to say, half an ounce each of grapefruit juice and rum and brandy and Cointreau shaken with ice and topped off with sparkling wine, in this case so-called "Méthode traditionelle" California Chandon Brut. Not bad.

Note on Chase Park Plaza stationary dated "Quite late, Oct. 10"

I am privately convinced that my real work here is at the bar working on this feature. To Latin rosary and High Mass at the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales with the always delightful priests of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest yesterday morning. Afterwards a light lunch, some sort of "wrap," plus something called a "September Morn," another damned egg drink, with the white of the latter plus lemon juice AND lime juice, a tsp of brown sugar, and one jigger of rum. It is, quite simply, the worst thing I have ever drunk and the bartender seems to think I am some kind of lunatic when reading the ingredients to her. I explain that I have no choice in the matter, that it is a professional obligation, and she gains the impression that I must work for Wine Spectator. I do not attempt to dissuade her. Next I try a "Stinger," half Crème de Menthe, half brandy, all just above tolerable, probably only because shaken in ice. She says (rightly) that I am "Really going for all kinds of weird stuff," so for good measure before I leave for the debate I get a "Major Bailey," which calls for a teaspoon of powder sugar, four dashes of lime juice, and six sprigs of "tender mint"—I do not actually use the word "tender" when explaining it—with gin. It’s a sort of julep and I quite like it.

That was yesterday. Today I finish up a piece about the "Spin Room" and knock another four drinks off my list before, following a heavily delayed flight, returning home. It occurs to me that if my calculations are correct I can finish off all the remaining drinks that require cream before I leave St. Louis, which will be nice for my humiliation quotient. While I listen again to a recording of my adventures in the spin room last night I have an "Alexander," which calls for a third jigger of heavy cream, another third jigger of chocolate liqueur, and the same amount of gin. Field calls it a "gentle, lady-like drink" but "delightful." It is okay.

At an airport sushi bar, I disgust the bartender and my fellow patrons by ordering a "Black Velvet," i.e., half Guinness, half sparkling wine. I know I must have said this before, but this really, really, really is the worst thing I have ever drunk, simultaneously calling to mind everything from Yeats’s wheeze about the ceremony of innocence being drowned and our Lord’s injunctions against casting one’s pearls before swine. Can you imagine if I had followed Field literatim and actually requested champagne rather than whatever low-grade cava was on order here?

I am out of cigarettes and there are none to be had here unless I leave security and take a cab to the nearest gas station. Special music—I’m thinking one of the early Oscar Peterson songbook LPs—would go a long way. But I can’t find my headphones.

Notebook entry dated "Early morning, Oct. 20"

Champagne punch /
Champagne punch / Credit: Flickr user CLG_1551

To the Guilded Palace of Sin for the last presidential debate. Professionally it’s been a bit of a toss-up. I cannot remember what I wrote about Trump and Hillary, but I have been able to cross four drinks off the list. There is a "champagne bar" here on the floor of the casino at the Venetian. Have gotten professional about the whole business, memorizing the recipes in advance so that I don’t look like a moron drudging up a mildewy volume, which is not the best way to endear oneself to a bartender one is about to ask to prepare an unheard-of and very demanding cocktail. First I tried a "Remsen Cooler," which called for three dashes of grenadine and two oz gin. Turning to the book, I note Field saying, "So simple that it is known the world over," which would have come as a surprise to my man at the bar.

Still, he was very indulgent, esp. with my drunken mental math as I attempted to work through the proper proportions for single servings of some of the punches. "Champagne Punch" calls for four pineapples to be sliced and mixed with a pound—a pound!—of sugar, a pint of Puerto Rican rum, a pint of brandy, four jiggers of Cuarçao, juice from six lemons, and four bottles of champagne. "Just, uhh, give me, well, it’s supposed to be a punch, you know, but give me, say…" I must have hesitated for a dog’s age. "Give me about four ounces of champagne, a bit of rum, a bit of brandy, some Cuarçao, sugar, and a lemon." He did so without so much as blinking. The effect was vile, reminding me of a cousin of mine who when we were eight would run down the soda fountain at Taco Bell and insert a little bit of everything except the diet offerings into his large combo cup. Still, I soldiered on with no palate-cleanser save tobacco.

Five minutes later: "Uhh, yes, could I get"—I was attempting to describe something with the sinister-sounding appellation "Fish House Punch"—"a bit of rum, a bit of brandy, say a quarter glass of each, and a dash or two of lemon juice and some Applejack, ice, and soda to the top of the glass?" This time he looked at me like I was a moron. I told him the now-familiar story. He was unfazed. I suppose "I am a journalist getting paid to write about drink" is not a very weird story by Vegas standards. Anyway, the Fish House Punch was a bit more tolerable and I nursed it with two cigarettes before moving on to a similarly on-the-fly variation of "Halloween Applejack Punch." I did not bother asking him, per Field, to "Decorate with fresh fruit." My last order was "Philadelphia Boating Punch," which Field, for some reason, gives us the recipe for in single-serving form: two dashes each lemon and lime juice, three ounces Puerto Rican rum—the man was obsessed, clearly—and one of brandy. I now loathe brandy more than I do fideism.

It is very nice to be sitting here drinking water and listening to Glen Campbell, chain smoking in the large bathtub. It’s been a long day. Had a mimosa at Reagan this morning and three or four Miller Lites during layover in Chicago, then goodness knows how many—free!—Budweisers at the Anheuser-Busch beer garden next to the media filing center. Clearly this constitutes "overtime." Missed Compline. Time soon to say Matins and Lauds.

Undated notebook entry, traceable to the week before the election

French 75
French 75 / Credit: Flickr user Kenn Wilson

Struck out today, big league. What the hell is "Swedish Punch," as in something called a "Doctor" that calls for a jigger of the latter plus the juice of half a lime and some rum? Is it like the white-cherry version of Hawaiian Punch? I have no clue and neither did the bartender at the lunch dive I normally don’t go to except on Mondays. And speaking of "Hawaii," no she did not feel comfortable getting me an egg white plus orange bitters plus gin and pineapple juice to make me that, I guess, aptly named drink. Instead we settled on a "French 75" on the grounds that I settled for regular instead of powdered sugar and an old wine glass instead of a champagne flute—because otherwise gin and lemon are pretty simple.

Notebook entry dated "Nov. 7"

I really should get a bottle of Dubonnet to make Field’s gin cocktail of the same name. Might be one of the few instances in which it’s worth mixing Hendrick’s with something. It was funny when I asked for a "New Yorker"—whiskey with lime juice and grenadine—assuming that it was somewhat well known and the bartender here in rural Virginia misheard at first and assumed I was bragging about being a New Yorker, which, of course, I’m not. Even more confused when I told him I was going up there tomorrow.

Entries from iPhone notes app transcribed in turn from napkin entries traceable to Election Day and day after

Did I really go this long without having an Orange Blossom? I could have sworn I had one or two in St. Louis. "Brandy Daisy" = very nice with brandy, a good amount of grenadine and some lemon juice with soda.


All milk-based drinks are bad ideas, rum and powdered sugar and egg or no. "Milk Punch," that is, a teaspoon of sugar, half a pint of milk, and rum, is a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance.

Notebook entry, early Nov. 26


Here we are. I am roughly 95 percent of the way through this extraordinary list and find that I must embrace defeat. When was I ever going to get around to "Orange Shrub," I wonder? If you want evidence that Field was a strange man with an even stranger palate, just read the following: "Put 3 pints of orange juice and ¼ pound of loaf sugar"—whatever that might be—"to a gallon of Rum. Put all ingredients into a cask and let stand for 6 weeks, when it will be ready for use." This reads more like a recipe for homemade napalm than it does a guide to making a pleasant and refreshing cocktail for home consumption. Or take just the first sentence from his write-up of the similarly titled "Currant Shrub": "Gather your currants when full ripe, on a dry day." When in the world am I going to find myself picking currents, ripe or otherwise, come rain or shine? How many of his readers now or in the ’50s can have been living on a fruit farm in California or somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean? Then there is his recipe for "Chatham Artillery Punch," which I defy even the keenest boozehound-cum-arithmetician to scale down to anything like a manageable portion. It calls for, among other things, a gallon and a half of something called "Catawba Wine," a whole quart of gin, a half gallon of rum, one and a half quarts of whiskey, a gallon and a half of—yes—"strong tea," two and a half pounds of brown sugar, fresh-squeezed juice from neither one nor two but precisely one and a half oranges and lemons each. Got all that? Okay, mix it together, let it stew for two days straight, add champagne, and serve. He says it is meant to serve "a regiment of 100." I think I will stick with gin and tonic.