Tinker, Tailor, Soldier… Drunk

Who would serve a jug or pitcher of martini at a party?

Oh wait, only Kim Philby, one of Britain’s most notorious traitors.

  
I’ve just read a book entitled “a spy among friends” by Ben MacIntyre. It was the first book I’ve read in a long time that I struggled to put down. It documents the story of Harold ‘Kim’ Philby as he worked his way into the inner sanctums of British intelligence.

He was considered trustworthy for decades because he was seen as a part of the British ‘establishment’ (he came from a reputable family, went to public school, and attended Cambridge University). 

In stark contrast, however, he was a member of the infamous Cambridge Spy Network who wreaked untold damage on Western Cold War activities.

  

Philby was recruited by Soviet agents shortly after he graduated and provided Moscow with extensive British and American secrets for many years. By the time he defected to the USSR in the 1960s it is estimated that hundreds, if not thousands of people had died because of his actions.

The pressures of intelligence work evidently led to heavy drinking amongst most agents (this might continue today – I am not fully aware, although I’ve been told that consumption is a lot lower than it used to be).

The pressures of being a mole in this already stressful environment evidently took a particularly high toll on Philby – as well as his long-suffering family: his mother and second wife both died alcoholics while he himself was regularly seen in an unconscious state of inebriation. 

Despite his own alcohol intake, however, he managed to survive to the age of 76. In the end, he died in Moscow in 1988, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, ending the ideological regime he had believed in so steadfastly; the way of governance he betrayed so much for.

While reading about his eventful life I noticed the reappearance of martinis on several occasions and made a note of each one. Sir Ian Fleming pops up in the stories here and there, of course famous for his creation of martini fan James Bond.

  
A personal favourite was the story involving the cocktail bar in World War Two Istanbul. The lady who ran the bar mixed up “volcanic martinis” for her British officer clientele, then sat back and listened while they drunkenly spilled our state secrets for her to pass on to the Nazis. In vino veritas indeed, or should that be in martinis veritas?

The noteworthy ‘pitchers’ of martini were recorded at cocktail and dinner parties held at the Philby household in Washington DC. Intense drunkenness ensued with sometimes shocking social results.

Such parties involved an even greater level of risk when Philby allowed for the mixing of British agents, American agents and British spies working for the Soviets. I think it’s a wonder he got away with being a spy for so long without letting slip during one of his drunken binges. Evidently his lips were sealed even when he was at his most intoxicated. Stalin would have been impressed.

  
During later cocktail parties at his home in Beirut he taught his young son how to mix up a “fierce” martini for the guests. Start ’em young I say. I was taught how to pour G&Ts and whiskies with water for the family when I was well below drinking age so I don’t think it’s the worst thing to happen. Indeed I enjoyed being allowed to socialise with the adults at that age. It was a privilege for the well-behaved.

  
Ultimately though, Kim Philby’s life appears to have been one of loneliness and an ultimate lack of fulfilment. No-one ever truly knew him. While sexually intimate with several women, he was never psychologically intimate enough with anyone to truly bond or connect with them.

While I use martinis to bond with others, he used them to lull his potential foes and numb the pains of his own personal transgressions.

In the end he died with few, if any friends. He had betrayed most of them for an ideology soon to fall apart. What a terrible use of martinis.

I’ll tell you what isn’t a waste though: this book! 

Advertisements

How to make an Old Fashioned Cocktail

This is a slight departure from my normal work, but I’ve got a cold and was craving something less potent and more sweet and fruity than a martini.

  
Enter the Old Fashioned cocktail. 

Apparently emerging in the early 1800s (it might even have evolved towards the late 1700s), this drink is a lot older than a Martini.

It also has a reputation for being a bit of a “fog-cutter” – that is, the sort of drink you choose when you’ve got a hangover, something sweet to try and ease the pain and help you get back on your feet again. The Breakfast Martini can serve a similar purpose.

Such hangover tactics are completely contrary to modern medical advice, but by Jove, if people have been swearing by the technique for over 200 years then who am I to argue?

Recipes for an Old Fashioned today can involve ingredients such as soda water, maraschino cherries and slices of orange but I wanted to create something much more intense, and err… old fashioned.

I like to taste alcohol when I drink alcohol, you see.

I first drank an Old Fashioned in the office after a long, intense day. I think we were in the midst of monitoring the onset of the Arab Spring, a time when Middle Eastern governments tended to collapse on a Friday, leaving us working late into the evening while the rest of London descended unto the pub.

 

 I was told the cocktail was making a comeback because of its portrayal in the US series ‘Mad Men’. My industry might not have encouraged the same sort of working hours drinking habits of Don Draper but booze was a fairly vital commodity once we had finished our work at the end of the day.

Given the supply of various ingredients we routinely kept in our drawers our office was the perfect place for our first tipple. A quick mix and we could relax, chat about work and enjoy a short period of shared workplace quietude before we too joined the masses in the pubs.

The recipe we used in the office involved honey, but my recipe uses demarara sugar.

You will need:

  • Bourbon or Rye
  • Sugar (brown if possible)
  • Bitters (I used Angosturra)
  • An orange (just for the peel)
  • Two glasses (one for prep, one for serving)
  • Ice (I used spherical ice – as it melts slowly and looks good in the right glass)
  • A teaspoon
  • A little bit of water

  

  • Add 2 teaspoons of sugar to the prep glass.
  • Add 2 teaspoons of water.

  

  • Stir well to dissolve (this can take a minute or two).

  

  • If you mix these quite often you might want to make yourself some sugar syrup in advance which means you don’t need to go about dissolving sugar each time you pour a deink.
  • Add 250ml water to a kettle and bring to the boil.
  • Let it cool slightly then add it to a pouring bowl with 300g Demerara sugar.
  • Stir until it dissolves, allow to cool, then pour into a bottle or other container to store until needed.

  

  • Back to the mixing: add 2-3 dashes of bitters to the dissolved sugar (or equivalent of syrup) and stir.
  • Add 60ml bourbon or rye and stir a bit more.

  

  • Peel a strip of orange rind. 

  

  • Twist it over the serving glass to spray in the natural oil. Squeeze it, crush it slightly and rub it all round the inside of the glass to transfer as much of the oil as possible, then discard the piece (I actually just ate it outright, mainly for the vitamin C).
  • Peel a second strip of orange rind, twist it over the glass to release a bit more oil but try not to damage it.

  

  • Trim the strip of peel and put aside.

  

  • Add the ice to the serving glass.

   

  • Pour over the mixture from the other glass and swirl it around.
  • If you like bitters you can add in another dash now and watch it permeate through the drink.
  • Use the trimmed orange peel to stir, then drop it into the drink as well.

  

  • Serve in a nice setting with good company.

I picked the garden with the whippet puppies but indoor settings are more common; somewhere with dim lighting, leather furniture and perhaps some cigars would definitely work.

Because of its sweetness I don’t think this drink goes especially well with nibbles.

It could, however, be served both before or after a meal.

Indeed the drink’s versatility means that it could be served at a variety of times in a range of environments and settings.

Here, for example, is a perfect setting: a bar cabaret performance by the talented Cat Loud and Finn Anderson.

  

It also works well during more intense and strategic pursuits.

A breakfast gin and tonic in the Middle East



Flying back from a brief work assignment in Dubai, I decided to have a gin and tonic to help me relax.



I happened to be flying over Iranian airspace at the time, while it was also 7am in London. Thus two rules were very thoroughly broken. However, I think an early drink is acceptable when one is flying. It helped me sleep for much of the flight. It was also definitely past 5pm in Sydney.



Finally, it got me out of some hefty reading, so that’s another good point. So cheers from the Middle East!

The Peruvian Tiger’s Milk Martini (con Leche de Tigre)

I was once accused of being “an evil agent” working for the Chilean government to sabotage the reputation of Peru…  a little unforeseen side effect of my unusual career in the murky world of intelligence. Nonetheless, despite the attempted slander I am a firm fan of Peruvian cuisine and drinking culture. I love Pisco and prefer a Pisco Sour over most other cocktails.

Seafood plays a big role in some of the more distinctive dishes originating in Peru. Acclaimed Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa seems to use a lot of Peruvian-inspired recipes and I’ve had one or two delightful dishes in some of the Latin American restaurants in south London. So I decided to have a go myself. I made a very simple ceviche using a fresh salmon fillet, cut into pieces and left submerged in a tub containing the juice of three lemons, a chopped onion, a handful of chopped coriander, a chopped chilli and a dash of Sriracha sauce for five hours. I was slightly nervous about it, imagining that I would create some sort of monstrous fish-stinking disaster. However, when I served the fish it smelt fresh and zesty with a lovely silken texture like sashimi. Obviously you don’t need to cook the fish so it’s pretty easy after you’ve assembled everything.



Anyway I’m rambling. Here it is, served with the marinade in a shot glass. This is known as Leche de Tigre (Tiger’s milk) and is drunk as a shot. Apparently it’s an aphrodisiac; I found it refreshing and spicy.

So obviously I turned it into a martini. I couldn’t find anyone online who had done this before so here is my recipe:

1 measure of vermouth

1 measure of Leche de Tigre

4 measures of gin or vodka

Pour and stir. I served it without a garnish. It went down very well: I like a spicy martini but this one also had a really heady citrus kick to it as well. I really wasn’t sure whether or not any of this would work, the ceviche or the martini but I’m pleased to report that it was both very easy and tasty!

So, dear Peru, I’m not an evil agent of the Chilean government trying to bring you down. I’m very fond of your cuisine. Salud!

The Canadian Martini

Canada is one of Britain’s closest allies. It was only a matter of time before I wrote about the country. Have you ever heard of Five Eyes? It’s an intelligence term. I will let someone else give you the details, or you can read about it here. It’s basically an intelligence-sharing arrangement between five key countries – the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada.

IMG_8633.PNG
To be brief, I am extremely pro-Canadian (moderately concerned by Quebecois secession attempts but that’s another matter) and I regularly attend celebratory events on the 1st of July.

Perhaps more importantly, I’m also a fan of maple syrup. So here is an appropriate martini recipe:

Put 1-2 teaspoons of maple syrup in a martini glass (one for dry, two for sweet).

IMG_8634.JPG
Pour in a measure of vermouth and mix well.

Top up with gin or vodka and stir until the drink is a consistent golden/amber colour.

Serve cold. If you’re not in Canada this is a lovely winter drink. If you are in Canada this means it’s a lovely drink all throughout the year except June, July and August. And even then it’s still quite nice.

IMG_8624.JPG

The man from the Alphabet Agencies

While attending an ‘event’ in a certain Middle Eastern city, I was introduced to a charming gentleman from, shall we say, one of the ‘Alphabet Agencies’.

While our discussion covered subjects including politics, diplomacy and turmoil in the region, it settled upon the subject of martinis, of which we are both fond.

When one works in the business of ‘international affairs’, a strong martini is sometimes the only thing that will soothe your mind at the end of the day. I also mentioned earlier the inextricable link between martinis and a certain specialist in the field.

The gentleman gave me his variation on the classic version of a martini: add a teaspoon of limoncello.

IMG_8181.JPG
Made in Southern Italy (or your own home) by infusing clear spirit (such as vodka) with lemon peel (and adding sugar), limoncello is a popular drink in my household already (my mother makes the best).

IMG_8182.JPG
I have also written earlier about the importance of lemons to a martini.

The marriage of the two makes for a delightful variation on the classic.

“Shaken, not stirred”

Whether or not you are a fan of Ian Fleming’s work, you cannot deny the inextricable association of James Bond with martinis.

IMG_8158.JPG
When Mr. Fleming was writing about this complicated anti-hero character it was a time of austerity and post-war reconstruction, when international travel was for the few and parts of the world were rendered out-of-bounds by the Cold War. Part of the appeal of Bond was surely his international lifestyle, one of class, travel and sophistication.

The martini played right into this image.

The “shaken, not stirred” catch-phrase was apparently coined by Fleming at one of my favourite establishments: the bar at Dukes Hotel in St. James’s, London.

Shaking the drink with ice adds an effervescent quality. Stirring it leaves it slightly stronger and more viscous. I prefer the latter. If the gin is cold enough it has an almost oily quality.

Bond also liked vodka martinis (preferably Russian or Polish vodka). I’m a gin fan myself, but I’ve certainly been known to enjoy Polish vodka) on a number of occasions.

Whichever way you prefer your martini, I recommend at least one trip to Dukes bar during your lifetime. Go and have yourself a famous “Vesper” martini, named after the enduring Bond girl Vesper Lynd. Dress for the occasion and enjoy the experience.

But remember, Dukes bar adheres to the ‘two martini’ rule.