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! 

Mini blini

 Here is a highly tasty and versatile nibble from Russia; a country with a huge amount of expertise when it comes to drinking and tradition.

 

 While I would normally encourage making things at home, I saw some miniature blini for sale in the supermarket and decided just to buy them for a martini accompaniment. Otherwise, I have seen several good recipes online. I found this one particularly interesting.

Otherwise, as per the instructions on the packet of any store-bought blinis, I baked them on a tray in the oven for 4 minutes.

Mix some sour cream with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and add a little to the blini. 

Add a topping. Popular items include pickled or smoked fish (I used hot, smoked salmon), boiled egg or fish roe, such as caviar. 

Serve with a Classic Martini (you might want to make it with vodka instead of gin to accompany this Russian speciality).

Na zdorovie!

The Japanese Pickled Ginger Martini

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Get ready for winter with this ice-cold Japanese-Russian-British infusion. If Moscow cuts off Europe’s gas supplies this is how to stay warm!

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I love gari (Japanese pickled ginger) and wanted to incorporate it into a drink for ages. Similar to making Limoncello the aim is to infuse clear spirit and add it to a classic martini.

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Take 1 small pile of gari slices (as in the picture above – the same amount you would be served with a dish in a Japanese restaurant) per 100ml clear spirit. Fill a container with the required ginger and clear spirit.

Add 1 tablespoon of sugar per 100ml, shake/stir until it has dissolved and leave for at least a week to infuse. For this recipe I used 340ml and the equivalent of 3-4 small piles of gari to infuse the spirit. I used Russian vodka but Polish or any other varieties are all fine (depending on your taste and/or national affiliations). Actually it doesn’t harm to use poorer quality vodkas for this recipe. Save good quality vodka for tasting in its own right.

When the time comes to pour, take a chilled martini glass and mix with the following measures:

Add 1 measure of sweet vermouth (or to taste)
Add 2 measures of the infused ginger vodka
Add 3-4 measures of chilled gin

Garnish with a slice of pickled ginger. If you have pink slices these are more visually attractive (I didn’t have any to hand for my latest attempts). When you finish the drink and eat the garnish it sends a bitter-warming-spicy chill down your spine.

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The ginger adds a nice warming quality to the drink. This makes it perfect for a cold evening, be it a clear day when you can wrap up warm and watch the early sunset outside, or for sipping indoors in front of a fire.

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You can also serve the ginger vodka straight up in a frozen shot glass if you want. Again, garnish with a slice of pickled ginger.

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Winter is the perfect time for this!

The Vesper Martini

The Vesper martini was invented by James Bond in Ian Fleming’s classic novel Casino Royale.
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He named it after the character Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green in the 2006 film version of the book.

The original recipe is as follows:

3 measures of gin
1 measure of vodka
Half a measure of Kina Lillet

Shake with ice then strain into a glass and serve with a thin slice of lemon peel.
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However, Kina Lillet is nearly impossible to acquire today without a time machine, so one must improvise with Lillet blanc, to which you could also add a dash of angostura bitters once the drink has been poured.

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Lillet blanc is a French aperitif ‘tonic’ wine, blended with citrus liqueurs and Cinchona bark. The citrus liqueurs include Mediterranean limes and oranges from countries such as Spain and Morocco, while Cinchona (which contains quinine) comes from Peru. Combine this with Russian or Polish vodka, British gin, perhaps some Sicilian olives, Middle Eastern pistachio nuts, Bombay mix and say, some ‘izakaya’ style snacks from Japan (see here for more ideas) and you’ve got yourself a perfect international fait accompli, synonymous with Britain’s favourite spy, played here by Daniel Craig:

You can’t beat a classic.